Book: the Bear and the Dragon



the Bear and the Dragon

The Bear And The Dragon

Tom Clancy

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President Jack Ryan faces a world crisis unlike any he has ever known, in Tom Clancy's extraordinary novel of international suspense....

A high-level assassination attempt in Russia has newly elected Ryan sending his most trusted eyes and ears--including antiterrorism specialist John Clark--to Moscow, for he fears the worst is yet to come. And he's right. The attempt has left the already unstable Russia vulnerable to ambitious forces in China eager to fulfill their destiny--and change the face of the world as we know it....

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History admires the wise, but it elevates the brave.--EDMUND MORRIS

PROLOGUE:

The White Mercedes

Going to work was the same everywhere, and the changeover from Marxism-Leninism to Chaos-Capitalism hadn't changed matters much--well, maybe things were now a little worse. Moscow, a city of wide streets, was harder to drive in now that nearly anyone could have a car, and the center lane down the wide boulevards was no longer tended by militiamen for the Politburo and used by Central Committee men who considered it a personal right-of-way, like Czarist princes in their troika sleds. Now it was a left-turn lane for anyone with a Zil or other private car. In the case of Sergey Nikolay'ch Golovko, the car was a white Mercedes 600, the big one with the S-class body and twelve cylinders of German power under the hood. There weren't many of them in Moscow, and truly his was an extravagance that ought to have embarrassed him ... but didn't. Maybe there were no more nomenklatura in this city, but rank did have its privileges, and he was chairman of the SVR. His apartment was also large, on the top floor of a high-rise building on Kutusovskiy Prospekt, a structure relatively new and well-made, down to the German appliances which were a long-standing luxury accorded senior government officials.

He didn't drive himself. He had Anatoliy for that, a burly former Spetsnaz special-operations soldier who carried a pistol under his coat and who drove the car with ferocious aggression, while tending it with loving care. The windows were coated with dark plastic, which denied the casual onlooker the sight of the people inside, and the windows were thick, made of polycarbonate and specced to stop anything up to a 12.7-mm bullet, or so the company had told Golovko's purchasing agents sixteen months before. The armor made it nearly a ton heavier than was the norm for an S600 Benz, but the power and the ride didn't seem to suffer from that. It was the uneven streets that would ultimately destroy the car. Road-paving was a skill that his country had not yet mastered, Golovko thought as he turned the page in his morning paper. It was the American International Herald Tribune, always a good source of news since it was a joint venture of The Washington Post and the New York Times, which were together two of the most skilled intelligence services in the world, if a little too arrogant to be the true professionals Sergey Nikolay'ch and his people were.

He'd joined the intelligence business when the agency had been known as the KGB, the Committee for State Security, still, he thought, the best such government department the world had ever known, even if it had ultimately failed. Golovko sighed. Had the USSR not fallen in the early 1990s, then his place as Chairman would have put him as a full voting member of the Politburo, a man of genuine power in one of the world's two superpowers, a man whose mere gaze could make strong men tremble ... but ... no, what was the use of that? he asked himself. It was all an illusion, an odd thing for a man of supposed regard for objective truth to value. That had always been the cruel dichotomy. KGB had always been on the lookout for hard facts, but then reported those facts to people besotted with a dream, who then bent the truth in the service of that dream. When the truth had finally broken through, the dream had suddenly evaporated like a cloud of steam in a high wind, and reality had poured in like the flood following the breakup of an icebound river in springtime. And then the Politburo, those brilliant men who'd wagered their lives on the dream, had found that their theories had been only the thinnest of reeds, and reality was the swinging scythe, and the eminence bearing that tool didn't deal in salvation.

But it was not so for Golovko. A dealer in facts, he'd been able to continue his profession, for his government still needed them. In fact, his authority was broader now than it would have been, because as a man who well knew the surrounding world and some of its more important personalities intimately, he was uniquely suited to advising his president, and so he had a voice in foreign policy, defense, and domestic matters. Of them, the third was the trickiest lately, which had rarely been the case before. It was now also the most dangerous. It was an odd thing. Previously, the mere spoken (more often, shouted) phrase "State Security!" would freeze Soviet citizens in their stride, for KGB had been the most feared organ of the previous government, with power such as Reinhart Heydrich's Sicherheitsdienst had only dreamed about, the power to arrest, imprison, interrogate, and to kill any citizen it wished, with no recourse at all. But that, too, was a thing of the past. Now KGB was split, and the domestic-security branch was a shadow of its former self, while the SVR--formerly the First Chief Directorate--still gathered information, but lacked the immediate strength that had come with being able to enforce the will, if not quite the law, of the communist government. But his current duties were still vast, Golovko told himself, folding the paper.

He was only a kilometer away from Dzerzhinskiy Square. That, too, was no longer the same. The statue of Iron Feliks was gone. It had always been a chilling sight to those who'd known who the man was whose bronze image had stood alone in the square, but now it, too, was a distant memory. The building behind it was the same, however. Once the stately home office of the Rossiya Insurance Company, it had later been known as the Lubyanka, a fearsome word even in the fearsome land ruled by Iosef Vissarionovich Stalin, with its basement full of cells and interrogation rooms. Most of those functions had been transferred over the years to Lefortovo Prison to the east, as the KGB bureaucracy had grown, as all such bureaucracies grow, filling the vast building like an expanding balloon, as it claimed every room and corner until secretaries and file clerks occupied the (remodeled) spaces where Kamenev and Ordzhonikidze had been tortured under the eyes of Yagoda and Beriya. Golovko supposed that there hadn't been too many ghosts.

Well, a new working day beckoned. A staff meeting at 8:45, then the normal routine of briefings and discussions, lunch at 12:15, and with luck he'd be back in the car and on his way back home soon after six, before he had to change for the reception at the French Embassy. He looked forward to the food and wine, if not the conversation.

Another car caught his eye. It was a twin to his own, another large Mercedes S-class, iceberg white just like his own, complete down to the American-made dark plastic on the windows. It was driving purposefully in the bright morning, as Anatoliy slowed and pulled behind a dump truck, one of the thousand such large ugly vehicles that covered the streets of Moscow like a dominant life-form, this one's load area cluttered with hand tools rather than filled with earth. There was yet another truck a hundred meters beyond, driving slowly as though its driver was unsure of his route. Golovko stretched in his seat, barely able to see around the truck in front of his Benz, wishing for the first cup of Sri Lankan tea at his desk, in the same room that Beriya had once ...

... the distant dump truck. A man had been lying in the back. Now he rose, and he was holding ...

"Anatoliy!" Golovko said sharply, but his driver couldn't see around the truck to his immediate front.

... it was an RPG, a slender pipe with a bulbous end. The sighting bar was up, and as the distant truck was now stopped, the man came up to one knee and turned, aiming his weapon at the other white Benz--

--the other driver saw it and tried to swerve, but found his way blocked by the morning traffic and--

--not much in the way of a visual signature, just a thin puff of smoke from the rear of the launcher-tube, but the bulbous part leapt off and streaked into the hood of the other white Mercedes, and there it exploded.

It hit just short of the windshield. The explosion wasn't the fireball so beloved of Western movies, just a muted flash and gray smoke, but the sound roared across the square, and a wide, flat, jagged hole blew out of the trunk of the car, and that meant that anyone inside the vehicle would now be dead, Golovko knew without pausing to think on it. Then the gasoline ignited, and the car burned, along with a few square meters of asphalt. The Mercedes stopped almost at once, its left-side tires shredded and flattened by the explosion. The dump truck in front of Golovko's car panic-stopped, and Anatoliy swerved right, his eyes narrowed by the noise, but not yet--

"Govno!" Now Anatoliy saw what had happened and took action. He kept moving right, accelerating hard and swerving back and forth as his eyes picked holes in the traffic. The majority of the vehicles in sight had stopped, and Golovko's driver sought out the holes and darted through them, arriving at the vehicle entrance to Moscow Center in less than a minute. The armed guards there were already moving out into the square, along with the supplementary response force from its shack just inside and out of sight. The commander of the group, a senior lieutenant, saw Golovko's car and recognized it, waved him inside and motioned to two of his men to accompany it to the drop-off point. The arrival time was now the only normal aspect of the young day. Golovko stepped out, and two young soldiers formed up in physical contact with his heavy topcoat. Anatoliy stepped out, too, his pistol in his hand and his coat open, looking back through the gate with suddenly anxious eyes. His head turned quickly.

"Get him inside!" And with that order, the two privates strong-armed Golovko through the double bronze doors, where more security troops were arriving.

"This way, Comrade Chairman," a uniformed captain said, taking Sergey Nikolay'ch's arm and heading off to the executive elevator. A minute later, he stumbled into his office, his brain only now catching up with what it had seen just three minutes before. Of course, he walked to the window to look down.

Moscow police--called militiamen--were racing to the scene, three of them on foot. Then a police car appeared, cutting through the stopped traffic. Three motorists had left their vehicles and approached the burning car, perhaps hoping to render assistance. Brave of them, Golovko thought, but an entirely useless effort. He could see better now, even at a distance of three hundred meters. The top had bulged up. The windshield was gone, and he looked into a smoking hole, which had minutes before been a hugely expensive vehicle, and which had been destroyed by one of the cheapest weapons the Red Army had ever mass-produced. Whoever had been inside had been shredded instantly by metal fragments traveling at nearly ten thousand meters per second. Had they even known what had happened? Probably not. Perhaps the driver had had time to look and wonder, but the owner of the car in the back had probably been reading his morning paper, before his life had ended without warning.

That was when Golovko's knees went weak. That could have been him ... suddenly learning if there were an afterlife after all, one of the great mysteries of life, but not one which had occupied his thoughts very often ...

But whoever had done the killing, who had been his target? As Chairman of the SVR, Golovko was not a man to believe in coincidences, and there were not all that many white Benz S600s in Moscow, were there?

"Comrade Chairman?" It was Anatoliy at the office door.

"Yes, Anatoliy Ivan'ch?"

"Are you well?"

"Better than he," Golovko replied, stepping away from the window. He needed to sit now. He tried to move to his swivel chair without staggering, for his legs were suddenly weak indeed. He sat and found the surface of his desk with both his hands, and looked down at the oaken surface with its piles of papers to be read--the routine sight of a day which was not now routine at all. He looked up.

Anatoliy Ivan'ch Shelepin was not a man to show fear. He'd served in Spetsnaz through his captaincy, before being spotted by a KGB talent scout for a place in the 8th "Guards" Directorate, which he'd accepted just in time for KGB to be broken apart. But Anatoliy had been Golovko's driver and bodyguard for years now, part of his official family, like an elder son, and Shelepin was devoted to his boss. He was a tall, bright man of thirty-three years, with blond hair and blue eyes that were now far larger than usual, because though Anatoliy had trained for much of his life to deal with and in violence, this was the first time he'd actually been there to see it when it happened. Anatoliy had often wondered what it might be like to take a life, but never once in his career had he contemplated losing his own, certainly not to an ambush, and most certainly not to an ambush within shouting distance of his place of work. At his desk outside Golovko's office, he acted like a personal secretary more than anything else. Like all such men, he'd grown casual in the routine of protecting someone whom no one would dare attack, but now his comfortable world had been sundered as completely and surely as that of his boss.

Oddly, but predictably, it was Golovko's brain that made it back to reality first.

"Anatoliy?"

"Yes, Chairman?"

"We need to find out who died out there, and then find out if it was supposed to be us instead. Call militia headquarters, and see what they are doing."

"At once." The handsome young face disappeared from the doorway.

Golovko took a deep breath and rose, taking another look out the window as he did so. There was a fire engine there now, and firefighters were spraying the wrecked car to extinguish the lingering flames. An ambulance was standing by as well, but that was a waste of manpower and equipment, Sergey Nikolay'ch knew. The first order of business was to get the license-plate number from the car and identify its owner, and from that knowledge determine if the unfortunate had died in Golovko's place, or perhaps had possessed enemies of his own. Rage had not yet supplanted the shock of the event. Perhaps that would come later, Golovko thought, as he took a step toward his private washroom, for suddenly his bladder was weak. It seemed a horrid display of frailty, but Golovko had never known immediate fear in his life, and, like many, thought in terms of the movies. The actors there were bold and resolute, never mind that their words were scripted and their reactions rehearsed, and none of it was anything like what happened when explosives arrived in the air without warning.

Who wants me dead? he wondered, after flushing the toilet.

The American Embassy a few miles away had a flat roof on which stood all manner of radio antennas, most of them leading to radio receivers of varying levels of sophistication, which were in turn attached to tape recorders that turned slowly in order to more efficiently use their tapes. In the room with the recorders were a dozen people, both civilian and military, all Russian linguists who reported to the National Security Agency at Fort Meade, Maryland, between Baltimore and Washington. It was early in the day, and these people were generally at work before the Russian officials whose communications they worked to monitor. One of the many radios in the room was a scanning monitor of the sort once used by American citizens to listen in on police calls. The local cops used the same bands and the exact same type of radios that their American counterparts had used in the 1970s, and monitoring them was child's play--they were not encrypted yet. They listened in on them for the occasional traffic accident, perhaps involving a big shot, and mainly to keep a finger on the pulse of Moscow, whose crime situation was bad and getting worse. It was useful for embassy personnel to know what parts of town to avoid, and to be able to keep track of a crime to one of the thousands of American citizens.

"Explosion?" an Army sergeant asked the radio. His head turned. "Lieutenant Wilson, police report an explosion right in front of Moscow Center."

"What kind?"

"Sounds like a car blew up. Fire department is on the scene now, ambulance ..." He plugged in headphones to get a better cut on the voice traffic. "Okay, white Mercedes-Benz, tag number--" He pulled out a pad and wrote it down. "Three people dead, driver and two passengers and ... oh, shit!"

"What is it, Reins?"

"Sergey Golovko ..." Sergeant Reins's eyes were shut, and he had one hand pressing the headphones to his ears. "Doesn't he drive a white Benz?"

"Oh, shit!" Lieutenant Wilson observed for herself. Golovko was one of the people whom her people routinely tracked. "Is he one of the deaders?"

"Can't tell yet, ell-tee. New voice ... the captain at the station, just said he's coming down. Looks like they're excited about this one, ma'am. Lotsa chatter coming up."

Lieutenant Susan Wilson rocked back and forth in her swivel chair. Make a call on this one or not? They couldn't shoot you for notifying your superiors of something, could they ...? "Where's the station chief?"

"On his way to the airport, ell-tee, he's flying off to St. Petersburg today, remember?"

"Okay." She turned back to her panel and lifted the secure phone, a STU-6 (for "secure telephone unit"), to Fort Meade. Her plastic encryption key was in its proper slot, and the phone was already linked and synchronized with another such phone at NSA headquarters. She punched the # key to get a response.

"Watch Room," a voice said half a world away.

"This is Station Moscow. We have an indication that Sergey Golovko may just have been assassinated."

"The SVR chairman?"

"Affirmative. A car similar to his has exploded in Dzerzhinskiy Square, and this is the time he usually goes to work."

"Confidence?" the disembodied male voice asked. It would be a middle-grade officer, probably military, holding down the eleven-to-seven watch. Probably Air Force. "Confidence" was one of their institutional buzzwords.

"We're taking this off police radios--the Moscow Militia, that is. We have lots of voice traffic, and it sounds excited, my operator tells me."

"Okay, can you upload it to us?"

"Affirmative," Lieutenant Wilson replied.

"Okay, let's do that. Thanks for the heads-up, we'll take it from here."

Okay, Station Moscow out," heard Major Bob Teeters. He was new in his job at NSA. Formerly a rated pilot who had twenty-one hundred hours in command of C-5s and C-17s, he'd injured his left elbow in a motorcycle accident eight months before, and the loss of mobility there had ended his flying career, much to his disgust. Now he was reborn as a spook, which was somewhat more interesting in an intellectual sense, but not exactly a happy exchange for an aviator. He waved to an enlisted man, a Navy petty officer first-class, to pick up on the active line from Moscow. This the sailor did, donning headphones and lighting up the word-processing program on his desktop computer. This sailor was a Russian linguist in addition to being a yeoman, and thus competent to drive the computer. He typed, translating as he listened in to the pirated Russian police radios, and his script came up on Major Teeters's computer screen.

I HAVE THE LICENSE NUMBER, CHECKING NOW, the first line read.

GOOD, QUICK AS YOU CAN.

WORKING ON IT, COMRADE. (TAPPING IN THE BACKGROUND, DO THE RUSSKIES HAVE COMPUTERS FOR THIS STUFF NOW?)

I HAVE IT, WHITE MERCEDES BENZ, REGISTERED TO G. F. AVSYENKO (NOT SURE OF SPELLING), 677 PROTOPOPOV PROSPEKT, FLAT 18A.

HIM? I KNOW THAT NAME!

Which was good for somebody, Major Teeters thought, but not all that great for Avsyenko. Okay, what next? The senior watch officer was another squid, Rear Admiral Tom Porter, probably drinking coffee in his office over in the main building and watching TV, maybe. Time to change that. He called the proper number.

"Admiral Porter."

"Sir, this is Major Teeters down in the watch center. We have some breaking news in Moscow."

"What's that, Major?" a tired voice asked.

"Station Moscow initially thought that somebody might have killed Chairman Golovko of the KG--the SVR, I mean."

"What was that, Major?" a somewhat more alert voice inquired.

"Turns out it probably wasn't him, sir. Somebody named Avsyenko--" Teeters spelled it out. "We're getting the intercepts off their police radio bands. I haven't run the name yet."

"What else?"

"Sir, that's all I have right now."

By this time, a CIA field officer named Tom Barlow was in the loop at the embassy. The third-ranking spook in the current scheme of things, he didn't want to drive over to Dzerzhinskiy Square himself, but he did the next best thing. Barlow called the CNN office, the direct line to a friend.

"Mike Evans."

"Mike, this is Jimmy," Tom Barlow said, initiating a prearranged and much-used lie. "Dzerzhinskiy Square, the murder of somebody in a Mercedes. Sounds messy and kinda spectacular."

"Okay," the reporter said, making a brief note. "We're on it."

At his desk, Barlow checked his watch: 8:52 local time. Evans was a hustling reporter for a hustling news service. Barlow figured there'd be a mini-cam there in twenty minutes. The truck would have its own Ku-band uplink to a satellite, down from there to CNN headquarters in Atlanta, and the same signal would be pirated by the DoD downlink at Fort Belvoir, Virginia, and spread around from there on government-owned satellites to interested parties. An attempt on the life of Chairman Golovko made it interesting as hell to a lot of people. Next he lit up his desktop Compaq computer and opened the file for Russian names that were known to CIA.

Aduplicate of that file resided in any number of CIA computers at Langley, Virginia, and on one of those in the CIA Operations Room on the 7th floor of the Old Headquarters Building, a set of fingers typed A-V S-Y E-N-K-O ... and came up with nothing other than:

ENTIRE FILE SEARCHED. THE SEARCH ITEM WAS NOT FOUND.

That evoked a grumble from the person on the computer. So, it wasn't spelled properly.

"Why does this name sound familiar?" he asked. "But the machine says no-hit."

"Let's see..." a co-worker said, leaning over and respelling the name. "Try this ..." Again a no-hit. A third variation was tried.

"Bingo! Thanks, Beverly," the watch officer said. "Oh, yeah, we know who this guy is. Rasputin. Low-life bastard--sure as hell, look what happened when he went straight," the officer chuckled.

Rasputin?" Golovko asked. "Nekulturniy swine, eh?" He allowed himself a brief smile. "But who would wish him dead?" he asked his security chief, who, if anything, was taking the matter even more seriously than the Chairman. His job had just become far more complicated. For starters, he had to tell Sergey Nikolay'ch that the white Mercedes was no longer his personal conveyance. Too ostentatious. His next task of the day was to ask the armed sentries who posted the corners of the building's roof why they hadn't spotted a man in the load area of a dump truck with an RPG--within three hundred meters of the building they were supposed to guard! And not so much as a warning over their portable radios until the Mercedes of Gregoriy Filipovich Avseyenko had been blown to bits. He'd sworn many oaths already on this day, and there would be more to come.

"How long has he been out of the service?" Golovko asked next.

"Since '93, Comrade Chairman," Major Anatoliy Ivan'ch Shelepin said, having just asked the same question and received the answer seconds earlier.

The first big reduction-in-force, Golovko thought, but it would seem that the pimp had made the transition to private enterprise well. Well enough to own a Mercedes Benz S- 600 ... and well enough to be killed by enemies he'd made along the way ... unless he'd unknowingly sacrificed his own life for that of another. That question still needed answering. The Chairman had recovered his self-control by this point, enough at any rate for his mind to begin functioning. Golovko was too bright a man to ask Why would anyone wish to end my life? He knew better than that. Men in positions like his made enemies, some of them deadly ones ... but most of them were too smart to make such an attempt. Vendettas were dangerous things to begin at his level, and for that reason, they never happened. The business of international intelligence was remarkably sedate and civilized. People still died. Anyone caught spying for a foreign government against Mother Russia was in the deepest of trouble, new regime or not--state treason was still state treason--but those killings followed ... what did the Americans call it? Due process of law. Yes, that was it. The Americans and their lawyers. If their lawyers approved of something, then it was civilized.

"Who else was in the car?" Golovko asked.

"His driver. We have the name, a former militiaman. And one of his women, it would seem, no name for her yet."

"What do we know of Gregoriy's routine? Why was he there this morning?"

"Not known at this time, Comrade," Major Shelepin replied. "The militia are working on it."

"Who is running the case?"

"Lieutenant Colonel Shablikov, Comrade Chairman."

"Yefim Konstantinovich--yes, I know him. Good man," Golovko allowed. "I suppose he'll need his time, eh?"

"It does require time," Shelepin agreed.

More than it took for Rasputin to meet his end, Golovko thought. Life was such a strange thing, so permanent when one had it, so fleeting when it was lost--and those who lost it could never tell you what it was like, could they? Not unless you believed in ghosts or God or an afterlife, things which had somehow been overlooked in Golovko's childhood. So, yet another great mystery, the spymaster told himself. It had come so close, for the first time in his life. It was disquieting, but on reflection, not so frightening as he would have imagined. The Chairman wondered if this was something he might call courage. He'd never thought of himself as a brave man, for the simple reason that he'd never faced immediate physical danger. It was not that he had avoided it, only that it had never come close until today, and after the outrage had passed, he found himself not so much bemused as curious. Why had this happened? Who had done it? Those were the questions he had to answer, lest it happen again. To be courageous once was enough, Golovko thought.

Dr. Benjamin Goodley arrived at Langley at 5:40, five minutes earlier than his customary time. His job largely denied him much of a social life, which hardly seemed fair to the National Intelligence Officer. Was he not of marriageable age, possessed of good looks, a man with good prospects both in the professional and business sense? Perhaps not the latter, Goodley thought, parking his car in a VIP slot by the cement canopy of the Old Headquarters Building. He drove a Ford Explorer because it was a nice car for driving in the snow, and there would be snow soon. At least winter was coming, and winter in the D.C. area was wholly unpredictable, especially now that some of the econuts were saying that global warming would cause an unusually cold winter this year. The logic of that escaped him. Maybe he'd have a chat with the President's Science Adviser to see if that made any sense talking with someone who could explain things. The new one was pretty good, and knew how to use single-syllable words.

Goodley made his way through the pass-gate and into the elevator. He walked into the Operations Room at 5:50 A.M.

"Hey, Ben," one said.

"Morning, Charlie. Anything interesting happening?"

"You're gonna love this one, Ben," Charlie Roberts promised. "A big day in Mother Russia."

"Oh?" Narrowed eyes. Goodley had his worries about Russia, and so did his boss. "What's that?"

"No big deal. Just somebody tried to whack Sergey Nikolay'ch."

His head snapped around like an owl's. "What?"

"You heard me, Ben, but they hit the wrong car with the RPG and took out somebody else we know--well, used to know," Roberts corrected himself.

"Start from the beginning."

"Peggy, roll the videotape," Roberts commanded his watch officer with a theatrical wave of the arm.

"Whoa!" Goodley said after the first five seconds. "So, who was it really?"

"Would you believe Gregoriy Filipovich Avseyenko?"

"I don't know that name," Goodley admitted.

"Here." The watch officer handed over a manila folder. "What we had on the guy when he was KGB. A real sweet-heart," she observed, in the woman's neutral voice of distaste.

"Rasputin?" Goodley said, scanning the first page. "Oh, okay, I have heard something about this one."

"So has the Boss, I bet."

"I'll know in two hours," Goodley imagined aloud. "What's Station Moscow saying?"

"The station chief is in St. Pete's for a trade conference, part of his cover duties. What we have is from his XO. The best bet to this point is that either Avseyenko made a big enemy in the Russian Mafia, or maybe Golovko was the real target, and they hit the wrong car. No telling which at this point." Followed by the usual NIO damned-if-I-know shrug.

"Who would want to take Golovko out?"

"Their Mafia? Somebody got himself an RPG, and they don't sell them in hardware stores, do they? So, that means somebody deeply into their criminal empire, probably, made the hit--but who was the real target? Avseyenko must have had some serious enemies along the way, but Golovko must have enemies or rivals, too." She shrugged again. "You pays your money and you takes your choice."



"The Boss likes to have better information," Goodley warned.

"So do I, Ben," Peggy Hunter replied. "But that's all I got, and even the fuckin' Russians don't have better at this point."

"Any way we can look into their investigation?"

"The Legal Attache, Mike Reilly, is supposed to be pretty tight with their cops. He got a bunch of them admitted to the FBI's National Academy post-grad cop courses down at Quantico."

"Maybe have the FBI tell him to nose around?"

Mrs. Hunter shrugged again. "Can't hurt. Worst thing anybody can say is no, and we're already there, right?"

Goodley nodded. "Okay, I'll recommend that." He got up. "Well," he observed on his way out the door, "the Boss won't bitch about how boring the world is today." He took the CNN tape with him and headed back to his SUV.

The sun was struggling to rise now. Traffic on the George Washington Parkway was picking up with eager-beaver types heading into their desks early, probably Pentagon people, most of them, Goodley thought, as he crossed over the Key Bridge, past Teddy Roosevelt Island. The Potomac was calm and flat, almost oily, like the pond behind a mill dam. The outside temperature, his dashboard said, was forty-four, and the forecast for the day was a high in the upper fifties, a few clouds, and calm winds. An altogether pleasant day for late fall, though he'd be stuck in his office for all of it, pleasant or not.

Things were starting early at The House, he saw on pulling in. The Blackhawk helicopter was just lifting off as he pulled into his reserved parking place, and the motorcade had already formed up at the West Entrance. It was enough to make him check his watch. No, he wasn't late. He hustled out of his car, bundling the papers and cassette into his arms as he hurried inside.

"Morning, Dr. Goodley," a uniformed guard said in greeting.

"Hi, Chuck." Regular or not, he had to pass through the metal detector. The papers and cassette were inspected by hand--as though he'd try to bring a gun in, Ben thought in passing irritation. Well, there had been a few scares, hadn't there? And these people were trained not to trust anybody.

Having passed the daily security test, he turned left, sprinted up the stairs, then left again to his office, where some helpful soul--he didn't know if it was one of the clerical staff or maybe one of the Service people--had his office coffee machine turning out some Gloria Jean's French Hazelnut. He poured himself a cup and sat down at his desk to organize his papers and his thoughts. He managed to down half of the cup before bundling it all up again for the ninety-foot walk. The Boss was already there.

"Morning, Ben."

"Good morning, Mr. President," replied the National Security Adviser.

"Okay, what's new in the world?" POTUS asked.

"It looks as though somebody might have tried to assassinate Sergey Golovko this morning."

"Oh?" President Ryan asked, looking up from his coffee. Goodley filled him in, then inserted the cassette in the Oval Office VCR and punched PLAY.

"Jeez," Ryan observed. What had been an expensive car was now fit only for the crushing machine. "Who'd they get instead?"

"One Gregoriy Filipovich Avseyenko, age fifty-two--"

"I know that name. Where from?"

"He's more widely known as Rasputin. He used to run the KGB Sparrow School."

Ryan's eyes went a little wider. "That cocksucker! Okay, what's the story on him?"

"He got RIF'd back in '93 or so, and evidently set himself up in the same business, and it would seem he's made some money at it, judging by his car, anyway. There was evidently a young woman in with him when he was killed, plus a driver. They were all killed."

Ryan nodded. The Sparrow School had been where for years the Soviets had trained attractive young women to be prostitutes in the service of their country both at home and abroad, because, since time immemorial, men with a certain weakness for women had often found their tongues loosened by the right sort of lubrication. Not a few secrets had been conveyed to the KGB by this method, and the women had also been useful in recruiting various foreign nationals for the KGB officers to exploit. So, on having his official office shut down, Rasputin--so called by the Soviets for his ability to get women to bend to his will--had simply plied his trade in the new free-enterprise environment.

"So, Avseyenko might have had 'business' enemies angry enough to take him out, and Golovko might not have been the target at all?"

"Correct, Mr. President. The possibility exists, but we don't have any supporting data one way or the other."

"How do we get it?"

"The Legal Attache at the embassy is well connected with the Russian police," the National Security Adviser offered.

"Okay, call Dan Murray at FBI and have his man nose around," Ryan said. He'd already considered calling Golovko directly--they'd known each other for more than ten years, though one of their initial contacts had involved Golovko's pistol right in Jack's face on one of the runways of Moscow's Sheremetyevo Airport--and decided against it. He couldn't show that much immediate interest, though later, if they had a private moment together, he'd be able to ask a casual question about the incident. "Same for Ed and MP at CIA."

"Right." Goodley made a note.

"Next?"

Goodley turned the page. "Indonesia is doing some naval exercises that have the Aussies a little interested...." Ben went on with the morning briefing for twenty more minutes, mainly covering political rather than military matters, because that's what national security had become in recent years. Even the international arms trade had diminished to the point that quite a few countries were treating their national military establishments as boutiques rather than serious instruments of statecraft.

"So, the world's in good shape today?" the President summarized.

"Except for the pothole in Moscow, it would seem so, sir."

The National Security Adviser departed, and Ryan looked at his schedule for the day. As usual, he had very little in the way of free time. About the only moments on his plan-of-the-day without someone in the office with him were those in which he'd have to read over briefing documents for the next meeting, many of which were planned literally weeks in advance. He took off his reading glasses--he hated them--and rubbed his eyes, already anticipating the morning headache that would come in about thirty minutes. A quick re-scan of the page showed no light moments today. No troop of Eagle Scouts from Wyoming, nor current World Series champs, nor Miss Plum Tomato from California's Imperial Valley to give him something to smile about. No. Today would be all work.

Shit, he thought.

The nature of the Presidency was a series of interlocking contradictions. The Most Powerful Man in the World was quite unable to use his power except under the most adverse circumstances, which he was supposed to avoid rather than to engage. In reality, the Presidency was about negotiations, more with the Congress than anyone else; it was a process for which Ryan had been unsuited until given a crash course by his chief of staff, Arnold van Damm. Fortunately, Arnie did a lot of the negotiations himself, then came into the Oval Office to tell the President what his (Ryan's) decision and/or position was on an issue, so that he (van Damm) could then do a press release or a statement in the Press Room. Ryan supposed that a lawyer treated his client that way much of the time, looking after his interests as best he could while not telling him what those interests were until they were already decided. The President, Arnie told everyone, had to be protected from direct negotiations with everyone--especially Congress. And, Jack reminded himself, he had a fairly tame Congress. What had it been like for presidents dealing with contentious ones?

And what the hell, he wondered, not for the first time, was he doing here?

The election process had been the purest form of hell--despite the fact that he'd had what Arnie invariably had called a cakewalk. Never less than five speeches per day, more often as many as nine, in as many different places before as many diverse groups--but always the same speech, delivered off file cards he kept in his pocket, changed only in minor local details by a frantic staff on the Presidential aircraft, trying to keep track of the flight plan. The amazing thing was that they'd never made a mistake that he'd caught. For variety, the President would alter the order of the cards. But the utility of that had faded in about three days.

Yes, if there were a hell in creation, a political campaign was its most tangible form, listening to yourself saying the same things over and over until your brain started rebelling and you started wanting to make random, crazy changes, which might amuse yourself, but it would make you appear crazy to the audience, and you couldn't do that, because a presidential candidate was expected to be a perfect automaton rather than a fallible man.

There had been an upside to it. Ryan had bathed in a sea of love for the ten weeks of the endurance race. The deafening cheers of the crowds, whether in a parking lot outside a Xenia, Ohio, shopping mall, or in Madison Square Garden in New York City, or Honolulu, or Fargo, or Los Angeles--it had all been the same. Huge crowds of ordinary citizens who both denied and celebrated the fact that John Patrick Ryan was one of them ... kind of, sort of, something like that--but something else, too. From his first formal speech in Indianapolis, soon after his traumatic accession to the Presidency, he'd realized just how strong a narcotic that sort of adulation was, and sure enough, his continued exposure to it had given him the same sort of rush that a controlled substance might. With it came a desire to be perfect for them, to deliver his lines properly, to seem sincere--as indeed he was, but it would have been far easier doing it once or twice instead of three hundred and eleven times, as the final count had been reckoned.

The news media in every place asked the same questions, written down or taped the same answers, and printed them as new news in every local paper. In every city and town, the editorials had praised Ryan, and worried loudly that this election wasn't really an election at all, except on the congressional level, and there Ryan had stirred the pot by giving his blessing to people of both major parties, the better to retain his independent status, and therefore to risk offending everyone.

The love hadn't quite been universal, of course. There were those who'd protested, who got their heads on the nightly commentary shows, citing his professional background, criticizing his drastic actions to stop the terrorist-caused Ebola plague that had threatened the nation so desperately in those dark days--"Yes, it worked in this particular case, but ... !"--and especially to criticize his politics, which, Jack said in his speeches, weren't politics at all, but plain common sense.

During all of this, Arnie had been a godsend, preselecting a response to every single objection. Ryan was wealthy, some said. "My father was a police officer" had been the answer. "I've earned every penny I have--and besides [going on with an engaging smile], now my wife makes a lot more money than I do."

Ryan knew nothing about politics: "Politics is one of those fields in which everybody knows what it is, but nobody can make it work. Well, maybe I don't know what it is, but I am going to make it work!"

Ryan had packed the Supreme Court: "I'm not a lawyer, either, sorry," he'd said to the annual meeting of the American Bar Association. "But I know the difference between right and wrong, and so do the justices."

Between the strategic advice of Arnie and the preplanned words of Callie Weston, he'd managed to parry every serious blow, and strike back with what was usually a soft and humorous reply of his own--leavened with strong words delivered with the fierce but quiet conviction of someone who had little left to prove. Mainly, with proper coaching and endless hours of preparation, he'd managed to present himself as Jack Ryan, regular guy.

Remarkably, his most politically astute move had been made entirely without outside expertise.

Morning, Jack," the Vice President said, opening the door unannounced.

"Hey, Robby." Ryan looked up from his desk with a smile. He still looked a little awkward in suits, Jack saw. Some people were born to wear uniforms, and Robert Jefferson Jackson was one of them, though the lapel of every suit jacket he owned sported a miniature of his Navy Wings of Gold.

"There's some trouble in Moscow," Ryan said, explaining on for a few seconds.

"That's a little worrisome," Robby observed.

"Get Ben to give you a complete brief-in on this. What's your day look like?" the President asked.

"Sierra-square, Delta-square." It was their personal code: SSDD--same shit, different day. "I have a meeting of the Space Council across the street in twenty minutes. Then tonight I have to fly down to Mississippi for a speech tomorrow morning at Ole Miss."

"You taking the wheel?" Ryan asked.

"Hey, Jack, the one good thing about this damned job is that I get to fly again." Jackson had insisted on getting rated on the VC-20B that he most often flew around the country on official trips under the code name "Air Force Two." It looked very good in the media, and it was also the best possible therapy for a fighter pilot who missed being in control of his aircraft, though it must have annoyed the Air Force flight crew. "But it's always to shit details you don't want," he added with a wink.

"It's the only way I could get you a pay raise, Robby. And nice quarters, too," he reminded his friend.

"You left out the flight pay," responded Vice Admiral R. J. Jackson, USN, retired. He paused at the door and turned. "What does that attack say about the situation over there in Russia?"

Jack shrugged. "Nothing good. They just can't seem to get ahead of things, can they?"

"I guess," the Vice President agreed. "Problem is, how the hell do we help them?"

"I haven't figured that one out yet," Jack admitted. "And we have enough potential economic problems on our horizon, with Asia sliding down the tubes."

"That's something I have to learn, this economic shit," Robby admitted.

"Spend some time with George Winston," Ryan suggested. "It's not all that hard, but you have to learn a new language to speak. Basis points, derivatives, all that stuff. George knows it pretty good."

Jackson nodded. "Duly noted, sir."

" 'Sir'? Where the hell did that come from, Rob?"

"You still be the National Command Authority, oh great man," Robby told him with a grin and a lower-Mississippi accent. "I just be da XO, which means Ah gits all the shit details."

"So, think of this as PCO School, Rob, and thank God you have a chance to learn the easy way. It wasn't like that for me--"

"I remember, Jack. I was here as J-3, remember? And you did okay. Why do you think I allowed you to kill my career for me?"

"You mean it wasn't the nice house and the drivers?"

The Vice President shook his head. "And it wasn't to be a first-black, either. I couldn't say 'no' when my President asks, even if it's a turkey like you. Later, man."

"See ya at lunch, Robby," Jack said as the door closed.

"Mr. President, Director Foley on three," the speakerphone announced.

Jack lifted the secure phone and punched the proper button. "Morning, Ed."

"Hi, Jack, we have some more on Moscow."

"How'd we get it?" Ryan asked first, just to have a way of evaluating the information he was about to receive.

"Intercepts," the Director of Central Intelligence answered, meaning that the information would be fairly reliable. Communications intelligence was the most trusted of all, because people rarely lied to one another over the radio or telephone. "It seems this case has a very high priority over there, and the militiamen are talking very freely over their radios."

"Okay, what do you got?"

"Initial thinking over there is that Rasputin was the main target. He was pretty big, making a ton of money with his female ... employees," Ed Foley said delicately, "and trying to branch out into other areas. Maybe he got a little pushy with someone who didn't like being pushed."

You think so?" Mike Reilly asked.

"Mikhail Ivan"ch, I am not sure what I think. Like you, I am not trained to believe in coincidences," replied Lieutenant Oleg Provalov of the Moscow Militia. They were in a bar which catered to foreigners, which was obvious from the quality of the vodka being served.

Reilly wasn't exactly new to Moscow. He'd been there fourteen months, and before that had been the Assistant Special Agent in Charge of the New York office of the FBI--but not for Foreign Counter-Intelligence. Reilly was an OC--Organized Crime--expert who'd spent fifteen busy years attacking the Five Families of the New York Mafia, more often called LCN by the FBI, for La Cosa Nostra. The Russians knew this, and he'd established good relations with the local cops, especially since he'd arranged for some senior militia officers to fly to America to participate in the FBI's National Academy Program, essentially a Ph.D. course for senior cops, and a degree highly prized in American police departments.

"You ever have a killing like this in America?"

Reilly shook his head. "No, you can get regular guns pretty easy at home, but not anti-tank weapons. Besides, using them makes it an instant Federal case, and they've learned to keep away from us as much as they can. Oh, the wiseguys have used car bombs," he allowed, "but just to kill the people in the car. A hit like this is a little too spectacular for their tastes. So, what sort of guy was Avseyenko?"

A snort, and then Provalov almost spat the words out: "He was a pimp. He preyed on women, had them spread their legs, and then took their money. I will not mourn his passing, Mishka. Few will, but I suppose it leaves a vacuum that will be filled in the next few days."

"But you think he was the target, and not Sergey Golovko?"

"Golovko? To attack him would be madness. The chief of such an important state organ? I don't think any of our criminals have the balls for that."

Maybe, Reilly thought, but you don't start off a major investigation by making assumptions of any kind, Oleg Gregoriyevich. Unfortunately, he couldn't really say that. They were friends, but Provalov was thin-skinned, knowing that his police department did not measure up well against the American FBI. He'd learned that at Quantico. He was doing the usual right now, rattling bushes, having his investigators talk to Avseyenko's known associates to see if he'd spoken about enemies, disputes, or fights of one sort or another, checking with informants to see if anyone in the Moscow underworld had been talking about such things.

The Russians needed help on the forensic side, Reilly knew. At the moment they didn't even have the dump truck. Well, there were a few thousand of them, and that one might have been stolen without its owner/operator even knowing that it had been missing. Since the shot had been angled down, according to eyewitnesses, there would be little if any launch signature in the load area to help ID the truck, and they needed the right truck in order to recover hair and fibers. Of course, no one had gotten the tag number, nor had anyone been around with a camera during rush hour--well, so far. Sometimes a guy would show up a day or two later, and in major investigations you played for breaks--and usually the break was somebody who couldn't keep his mouth shut. Investigating people who knew how to stay silent was a tough way to earn a living. Fortunately, the criminal mind wasn't so circumspect--except for the smart ones, and Moscow, Reilly had learned, had more than a few of them.

There were two kinds of smart ones. The first was composed of KGB officers cut loose in the series of major reductions-in-force--known to Americans as RIFs--similar to what had happened in the American military. These potential criminals were frightening, people with real professional training and experience in black operations, who knew how to recruit and exploit others, and how to function invisibly--people, as Reilly thought of it, who'd played a winning game against the FBI despite the best efforts of the Bureau's Foreign Counter-Intelligence Division.

The other was a lingering echo of the defunct communist regime. They were called tolkachi--the word meant "pushers"--and under the previous economic system they'd been the grease that allowed things to move. They were facilitators whose relationships with everyone got things done, rather like guerrilla warriors who used unknown paths in the wilderness to move products from one place to another. With the fall of communism their skills had become genuinely lucrative because it was still the case that virtually no one understood capitalism, and the ability to get things done was more valuable than ever--and now it paid a lot better. Talent, as it always did, went where the money was, and in a country still learning what the rule of law meant, it was natural for men with this skill to break what laws there were, first in the service of whoever needed them, and then, almost instantly afterward, in the service of themselves. The former tolkachi were the most wealthy men in their country. With that wealth had come power. With power had come corruption, and with corruption had come crime, to the point that the FBI was nearly as active in Moscow as CIA had ever been. And with reason.

The union between the former KGB and the former tolkachi was creating the most powerful and sophisticated criminal empire in human history.

And so, Reilly had to agree, this Rasputin--the name meant literally "the debauched one"--might well have been part of that empire, and his death might well have been something related to that. Or something else entirely. This would be a very interesting investigation.

"Well, Oleg Gregoriyevich, if you need any help, I will do my best to provide it for you," the FBI agent promised.

"Thank you, Mishka."

And they parted ways, each with his own separate thoughts.

Chapter 1

Echoes of the Boom

So, who were his enemies?" Lieutenant Colonel Shablikov asked.

"Gregoriy Filipovich had many. He was overly free with his words. He insulted too many people and--"

"What else?" Shablikov demanded. "He was not blown up in the middle of the street for abusing some criminal's feelings!"

"He was beginning to think about importing narcotics," the informant said next.

"Oh? Tell us more."

"Grisha had contacts with Colombians. He met them in Switzerland three months ago, and he was working to get them to ship him cocaine through the port of Odessa. I heard whispers that he was setting up a pipeline to transport the drugs from there to Moscow."

"And how was he going to pay them for it?" the militia colonel asked. Russian currency was, after all, essentially valueless.

"Hard currency. Grisha made a lot of that from Western clients, and certain of his Russian clients. He knew how to make such people happy, for a price."

Rasputin, the colonel thought. And surely he'd been the debauched one. Selling the bodies of Russian girls--and some boys, Shablikov knew--for enough hard currency to purchase a large German car (for cash; his people had checked on the transaction already) and then planning to import drugs. That had to be for cash "up front," too, as the Americans put it, which meant that he planned to sell the drugs for hard currency, too, since the Colombians probably had little interest in rubles. Avseyenko was no loss to his country. Whoever had killed him ought to get some reward ... except someone new would certainly move into the vacuum and take control of the pimp's organization ... and the new one might be smarter. That was the problem with criminals. There was a Darwinian process at work. The police caught some--even many--but they only caught the dumb ones, while the smart ones just kept getting smarter, and it seemed that the police were always trying to catch up, because those who broke the law always had the initiative.

"Ah, yes, and so, who else imports drugs?"

"I do not know who it is. There are rumors, of course, and I know some of the street vendors, but who actually organizes it, that I do not know."

"Find out," Shablikov ordered coldly. "It ought not to tax your abilities."

"I will do what I can," the informant promised.

"And you will do it quickly, Pavel Petrovich. You will also find out for me who takes over Rasputin's empire."

"Yes, Comrade Polkovnik Leytnant." The usual nod of submission.

There was power in being a senior policeman, Shablikov thought. Real human power, which you could impose on other men, and that made it pleasurable. In this case, he'd told a mid-level criminal what he had to do, and it would be done, lest his informant be arrested and find his source of income interrupted. The other side of the coin was protection of a sort. So long as this criminal didn't stray too far from what the senior cop found to be acceptable violations, he was safe from the law. It was the same over most of the world, Lieutenant Colonel Yefim Konstantinovich Shablikov of the Moscow Militia was sure. How else could the police collect the information they needed on people who did stray too far? No police agency in the world had the time to investigate everything, and thus using criminals against criminals was the easiest and least expensive method of intelligence-gathering.

The one thing to remember was that the informants were criminals, and hence unreliable in many things, too given to lying, exaggeration, to making up what they thought their master wanted to hear. And so Shablikov had to be careful believing anything this criminal said.

For his part, Pavel Petrovich Klusov had his own doubts, dealing as he did with this corrupted police colonel. Shablikov was not a former KGB officer, but rather a career policeman, and therefore not as smart as he believed himself to be, but more accustomed to bribes and informal arrangements with those he pursued. That was probably how he had achieved his fairly high rank. He knew how to get information by making deals with people like himself, Klusov thought. The informant wondered if the colonel had a hard-currency account somewhere. It would be interesting to find out where he lived, what sort of private car he or his wife drove. But he'd do what he was told, because his own "commercial" activities thrived under Shablikov's protection, and later that night he'd go out drinking with Irina Aganovna, maybe take her to bed later, and along the way find out how deeply mourned Avseyenko was by his ... former ... employees.

"Yes, Comrade Polkovnik Leytnant," Klusov agreed. "It will be as you say. I will try to be back with you tomorrow."

"You will not try. You will do it, Pasha," Shablikov told him, like a schoolmaster demanding homework from an underachieving child.

It is already under way," Zhang told his Premier.

"I trust this one will go more smoothly than its two predecessors," the Premier replied dryly. The risks attached to this operation were incomparably greater. Both previous times, with Japan's attempt to drastically alter the Pacific Rim equation, and Iran's effort to create a new nation from the ashes of the Soviet Union, the People's Republic had not done anything, just ... encouraged, behind the scenes. This venture, though, was different. Well, one could not really expect great things to happen on the cheap, could one?

"I--we have been unlucky."

"Perhaps so." A casual nod as he switched papers on his desk.

Zhang Han San's blood went a little cold at that. The Premier of the People's Republic was a man known for his detachment, but he'd always regarded his Minister Without Portfolio with a certain degree of warmth. Zhang was one of the few whose advice the Premier usually heeded. As indeed today the advice would be heeded, but without any feeling on the part of the senior official.

"We have exposed nothing and we have lost nothing," Zhang went on.

The head didn't come up. "Except that there is now an American ambassador in Taipei." And now there was talk of a mutual-defense treaty whose only purpose was to place the American navy between the two countries, regular port visits, perhaps even a permanent base (to be built entirely, most certainly, from Taiwanese money) whose only purpose, the Americans would innocently say, was merely to be a replacement for Subic Bay in the Philippines. The economy on Taiwan had exploded after the renewal of full U.S. diplomatic recognition, with an influx of massive new capital investments from all over the world. Much of that money would--and should--have come to the PRC, except for the change in America's outlook.

But the American President Ryan had taken his action entirely on his own, so the intelligence services claimed, contrary to political and diplomatic advice in Washington--though the American Secretary of State, that Adler man, had reportedly supported Ryan's foolish decision.

Zhang's blood temperature dropped another degree or so. Both of his plans had gone almost as he'd calculated they should, hadn't they? In neither case had his country risked anything of consequence--oh, yes, they'd lost a few fighter aircraft the last time around, but those things and their pilots regularly crashed to no purpose anyway. Especially in the case of Taiwan, the People's Republic had acted responsibly, allowing Secretary Adler to shuttle directly back and forth between Beijing and its wayward province across the Formosa Strait, as though giving them legitimacy--something obviously not intended by the PRC, but rather as a convenience to aid the American in his peacemaking task, so as to appear more reasonable to the Americans ... and so, why had Ryan done it? Had he guessed Zhang's play? That was possible, but it was more likely that there was a leak, an informer, a spy this close to the summit of political power in the People's Republic. The counterintelligence agencies were examining the possibility. There were few who knew what emerged from his mind and his office, and all of them would be questioned, while technical people checked his telephone lines and the very walls of his office. Had he, Zhang, been in error? Certainly not! Even if his Premier felt that way ... Zhang next considered his standing with the Politburo. That could have been better. Too many of them regarded him as an adventurer with too great an access to the wrong ear. It was an easy thing to whisper, since they'd be delighted to reap the profits from his policy successes, and only slightly less delighted to pull away from him if things went awry. Well, such were the hazards of having reached the summit of policy-making in a country such as his.



"Even if we wished to crush Taiwan, unless we opted for nuclear weapons, it would require years and vast amounts of treasure to construct the means to make it possible, and then it would be a vast risk to little profit. Better that the People's Republic should grow so successful economically that they come begging to us to be let back into the family home. They are not powerful enemies, after all. They are scarcely even a nuisance on the world stage." But for some reason, they were a specific nuisance to his Premier, Zhang reminded himself, like some sort of personal allergy that marked and itched his sensitive skin.

"We have lost face, Zhang. That is enough for the moment."

"Face is not blood, Xu, nor is it treasure."

"They have ample treasure," the Premier pointed out, still not looking at his guest. And that was true. The small island of Taiwan was immensely rich from the industrious effort of its mainly ethnic-Chinese inhabitants, who traded nearly everything to nearly everywhere, and the restoration of American diplomatic recognition had increased both their commercial prosperity and their standing on the world stage. Try as he might, wish as he might, Zhang could not discount either of those things.

What had gone wrong? he asked himself again. Were not his plays brilliantly subtle ones? Had his country ever overtly threatened Siberia? No. Did even the People's Liberation Army's leadership know what the plans were? Well, yes, he had to admit to himself, some did, but only the most trusted people in the operations directorate, and a handful of senior field commanders--the ones who would have to execute the plans if the time ever came. But such people knew how to keep secrets, and if they talked to anyone ... but they wouldn't, because they knew what happened to people who spoke of things best left unspoken in a society such as theirs, and they knew that the very air had ears at their level of "trust." They hadn't even commented on the draft plans to anyone, just made the usual adjustments in the technical arrangements, as senior officers always tended to do. And so, perhaps some file clerks had the ability to examine the plans, but that was exceedingly unlikely as well. Security in the PLA was excellent. The soldiers, from private to the lower general ranks, had no more freedom than a machine bolted to the factory floor, and by the time they reached senior rank they'd mainly forgotten how to think independently, except perhaps in some technical matters, like which sort of bridge to build over a particular river. No, to Zhang they might as well have been machines, and were just as trustworthy.

Back to the original question: Why had that Ryan fellow reestablished relations with the "Republic of China"? Had he guessed anything about the Japan and Iran initiatives? The incident with the airliner had certainly looked like the accident it was supposed to simulate, and afterward the PRC had invited the American navy to come to the area and "keep the peace," as they liked to put it, as though peace were something you could place in a metal box and guard. In reality it was the other way 'round. War was the animal you kept in a cage, and then released when the time suited.

Had this President Ryan guessed the PRC's intentions to begin the dismemberment of the former Soviet Union, and then decided to punish the People's Republic with his recognition of the renegades on Taiwan? It was possible. There were those who found Ryan to be unusually perceptive for an American political figure ... he was a former intelligence officer, after all, and had probably been a good one, Zhang reminded himself. It was always a serious mistake to underrate an adversary, as the Japanese and the Iranians had learned to their considerable sorrow. This Ryan fellow had responded skillfully to both of Zhang's plans, and yet he hadn't so much as whispered his displeasure to the PRC. There had been no American military exercises aimed even indirectly at the People's Republic, no "leaks" to the American media, and nothing that his country's own intelligence officers operating out of the embassy in Washington had discovered. And so, he was again back to the original question: Why had Ryan taken that action? He just didn't know. Not knowing was a great annoyance to a man at his level of government. Soon his Premier might ask a question for which he needed to have the answer. But for now the leader of his government was flipping papers on his desk, ostensibly to tell him, Zhang, that he, the Premier, was displeased, but not at this moment doing anything about his emotions.

Ten meters away through a solid-core wood door, Lian Ming had her own emotions. The secretarial chair she sat in was an expensive one, purchased from Japan, the price of it equal to the wages of a skilled worker for, what? Four months? Five? Certainly more than the price of the new bicycle she could have used.

A university graduate in modern languages, she spoke English and French well enough to make herself understood in any city in the world, and as a result she found herself going over all manner of diplomatic and intelligence documents for her boss, whose language skills were considerably less than her own. The comfortable chair represented her boss's solicitude for the way in which she organized his work and his day. And a little more.

Chapter 2

The Dead Goddess

This was where it had all happened, Chester Nomuri told himself. The vast expanse of Tiananmen Square, the "Square of Heavenly Peace," with the massive walls to his right, was like ... what? On reflection he realized that he had nothing with which to compare it. If there were another place in all the world like this place, he had neither visited nor even heard of it.

And yet the very paving stones seemed to drip with blood. It was almost as if he could smell it here, though that was more than ten years in the past, the massed students, not much younger than he had been at the time in California, rallying here to protest their government. They hadn't protested the form of their country's government so much as the corruption of those at its highest levels, and, predictably, such actions had been hugely offensive to the corrupted. Well, that's how it usually went. Only with discretion did one point out the nature of a powerful man to himself, Eastern or Western, but this was the most dangerous place of all, because of its long history of gross brutality. Here there was an expectation of it ...

... but the first time it had been tried right here, the soldiers ordered to clear things up had balked. And that must have frightened the leadership in their plush and comfortable offices, because when the organs of the state refused to do the bidding of the state, that was when something called "Revolution" started (and in a place where there had already been a Revolution, enshrined on this very spot). And so, the initial troop formations had been pulled back and replaced with others, drawn from farther away, young soldiers (all soldiers were young, Nomuri reminded himself). They had not yet been contaminated by the words and thoughts of their contemporaries demonstrating in the Square, not yet sympathetic with them, not yet willing to ask themselves why the government which gave them their weapons and uniforms wished for them to hurt these people instead of listening to what they had to say ... and so, they'd acted like the mindless automatons they'd been trained to be.

There, just a few yards away, were some soldiers of the People's Liberation Army on parade, wearing the strange wax-doll look they tended to have, looking not quite human in their green wool uniforms, almost as though they used makeup, Chet thought, wanting to look more closely at their faces to see if maybe they really did. He turned away with a shake of his head. He hadn't flown JAL to China for that. Wangling this assignment for Nippon Electric Company had been difficult enough. It was a major drag working two jobs, as an upper-middle account executive for NEC and a field intelligence officer for CIA. To succeed in the second, he had also to succeed in the first, and to succeed in the first he had to simulate a true Japanese salaryman, one who subordinated everything short of his breathing to the good of the company. Well, at least he got to keep both of his salaries, and the Japanese one wasn't all that bad, was it? Not at the current exchange rate, anyway.

Nomuri supposed that this whole deal was a great sign of confidence in his abilities--he'd established a modestly productive network of agents in Japan who would now report to other CIA case officers--and also of desperation. The Agency had been singularly unsuccessful in getting a spy network operating over here in the PRC. Langley hadn't recruited many Chinese Americans into the fold ... and one of those it had gotten was now in Federal prison after having developed a serious case of divided loyalties. It was a fact that certain federal agencies were allowed to be racist, and today Chinese ethnicity was strongly suspect at CIA headquarters. Well, there wasn't anything he could do about that--nor could he pretend to be Chinese himself, Nomuri knew. To some half-blind racist European types, everyone with crooked eyes looked the same, but here in Beijing, Nomuri, whose ancestry was a hundred percent Japanese (albeit entirely of the southern California variety), figured he stood out about as much as Michael Jordan would. It wasn't something to make an intelligence officer without diplomatic cover feel comfortable, especially since the Chinese Ministry of State Security was as active and well-supported as it was. MSS was every bit as powerful in this city as the Soviet KGB had ever been in Moscow, and was probably just as ruthless. China, Nomuri reminded himself, had been in the business of torturing criminals and other unloved ones for thousands of years ... and his ethnicity would not be overly helpful. The Chinese did business with the Japanese because it was convenient--necessary was a more accurate term--but there was precisely zero love lost between the countries. Japan had killed far more Chinese in World War II than Hitler had killed Jews, a fact little appreciated anywhere in the world, except, of course, in China, and that set of facts only added to a racial/ethnic antipathy that went back at least as far as Kublai Khan.

He'd gotten too used to fitting in. Nomuri had joined CIA to serve his country, and to have a little fun, he'd thought at the time. Then he'd learned what a deadly serious business field-intelligence was, followed by the challenge of slipping into places he wasn't supposed to be, of obtaining information he wasn't supposed to get, and then giving it to people who weren't supposed to know it. It wasn't just serving his country that kept Nomuri in the business. There was also the thrill, the rush of knowing what others didn't know, of beating people at their own game, on their own turf.

But in Japan he looked like everyone else. Not here in Beijing. He was also a few inches taller than the average Chinese--that came from his childhood diet and American furniture--and better dressed in Western-style clothes. The clothes he could fix. His face he could not. For starters, he'd have to change his haircut, Chet thought. At least that way he could disappear from behind, and perhaps shake an MSS tail that way. He had a car to drive around, paid for by NEC, but he'd get a bicycle, too, a Chinese make rather than an expensive European one. If asked about it, he'd say it was good exercise--and besides, wasn't it a perfectly fine socialist bicycle? But such questions would be asked, and notice of his presence would be taken, and in Japan, Nomuri realized, he'd gotten slack and comfortable running his agents. He'd known that he could disappear in a place as intimate as a steaming bathhouse, and there talk about women and sports and many other things, but rarely business. In Japan every business operation was secret at some level or other, and even with the intimate friends with whom he discussed their wives' shortcomings, a Japanese salaryman would not discuss goings-on in the office until after they were overt and public. And that was good for operational security, wasn't it?

Looking around like any other tourist, he wondered how he would handle such things here. But most of all he noticed that eyes lingered on him as he walked from one side of this immense square to the other. How had this place sounded when the tanks were here? He stood still for a moment, remembering ... it was right there, wasn't it? ... the guy with the briefcase and shopping bag who'd held up a company of tanks, just by standing there ... because even the private in the driver's seat of a Type 80 PRC tank didn't have the stones to run over the guy, despite whatever his captain might have been screaming at him over the inter-phones from his place on top of the turret. Yeah, it was right about here that had happened. Later on, of course, in about a week, the guy with the briefcase had been arrested by MSS, so said CIA's sources, and he'd been taken away and interrogated to see what had persuaded him to take so public and so foolish a political stand against both the government and the armed forces of his country. That had probably lasted a while, the CIA officer thought, standing here and looking around from the spot where one brave man had taken his stand ... because the MSS interrogators just wouldn't have believed that it had been one man acting on his own ... the concept of acting on one's own was not something encouraged in a communist regime, and was therefore entirely alien to those who enforced the will of the State on those who broke the State's rules. Whoever he'd been, the guy with the briefcase was dead now--the sources were pretty clear on that. An MSS official had commented on the matter with satisfaction later on, before someone whose ears were distantly connected to America. He'd taken the bullet in the back of the head, and his family--a wife and an infant son, the source believed--had been billed for the pistol round needed to execute the husband/ father/counterrevolutionary/enemy-of-the-state in question. Such was justice in the People's Republic of China.

And what was it they called foreigners here? Barbarians. Yeah, Nomuri thought, sure, Wilbur. The myth of central position was as alive here as it had been on the Ku-Damm of Adolf Hitler's Berlin. Racism was the same all over the world. Dumb. That was one lesson his country had taught the world, Chester Nomuri thought, though America still had to absorb the lesson herself.

She was a whore, and a very expensive one, Mike Reilly thought from his seat behind the glass. Her hair had been unnaturally blonded by some expensive shop in Moscow--she needed another treatment, since there was a hint of dark brown at the roots--but it went well with her cheekbones and eyes, which were not quite any shade of blue he'd ever seen in a woman's eyes. That was probably a hook for her repeat customers, the color, he thought, but not the expression. Her body could have been sculpted by Phidias of Athens to be a goddess fit for public worship, ample curves everywhere, the legs thinner than normal for Russian tastes, but ones that would have gotten along well at the comer of Hollywood and Vine, if that were still a nice neighborhood in which to be spotted ...

... but the expression in her lovely eyes could have stopped the heart of a marathon runner. What was it about prostitution that did this to women? Reilly shook his head. He hadn't worked that particular class of crime very often--it was mainly a violation for local cops--and not enough, he supposed, to understand its practitioners. The look in her eyes was frightening. Only men were supposed to be predators, so he and most men thought. But this woman belied that belief to a fare-thee-well.

Her name was Tanya Bogdanova. She was, she said, twenty-three years of age. She had the face of an angel, and the body of a movie star. It was her heart and soul the FBI agent was unsure of. Maybe she was just wired differently from normal people, as so many career criminals seemed to be. Maybe she'd been sexually abused in her youth. But even at twenty-three, her youth was a very distant thing, judging from the way her eyes looked at her interrogator. Reilly looked down at her dossier-folder from Militia headquarters. There was only one shot of her in it, a distant black-and-white of her with a john--well, probably an ivan, Reilly thought with a grunt--and in this photo her face was animated, youthful, and as alluring as the young Ingrid Bergman had been to Bogie in Casablanca. Tanya could act, Reilly thought. If this were the real Tanya in front of him, as it probably was, then the one in the photo was a construct, a role to be played, an illusion--a wonderful one, to be sure, but potentially a highly dangerous lie to anyone taken in by it. The girl on the other side of the one-way mirror could have dug a man's eyeballs out with her nail file, and then eaten them raw before going to her next appointment at the new Moscow Four Seasons Hotel and Convention Center.

"Who were his enemies, Tanya?" the militiaman asked in the interrogation room.

"Who were his friends?" she asked in bored reply. "He had none. Of enemies he had many." Her spoken language was literate and almost refined. Her English was supposed to be excellent as well. Well, she doubtless needed that for her customers ... it was probably worth a few extra bucks, D-marks, pounds, or euros, a nice hard currency for whose printed notes she'd give a discount, doubtless smiling in a coquettish way when she told her john, jean, johannes, or ivan about it. Before or after? Reilly wondered. He'd never paid for it, though looking at Tanya, he understood why some men might ...

"What's she charge?" he whispered to Provalov.

"More than I can afford," the detective lieutenant grunted. "Something like six hundred euros, perhaps more for an entire evening. She is medically clean, remarkably enough. A goodly collection of condoms in her purse, American, French, and Japanese brands."

"What's her background? Ballet, something like that?" the FBI agent asked, commenting implicitly on her grace.

Provalov grunted in amusement. "No, her tits are too big for that, and she's too tall. She weighs about, oh, fifty-five kilos or so, I would imagine. Too much for one of those little fairies in the Bolshoi to pick up and throw about. She could become a model for our growing fashion industry, but, no, on what you ask, her background is quite ordinary. Her father, deceased, was a factory worker, and her mother, also deceased, worked in a consumer-goods store. They both died of conditions consistent with alcohol abuse. Our Tanya drinks only in moderation. State education, undistinguished grades in that. No siblings, our Tanya is quite alone in the world--and has been so for some time. She's been working for Rasputin for almost four years. I doubt the Sparrow School ever turned out so polished a whore as this one. Gregoriy Filipovich himself used her many times, whether for sex or just for his public escort, we're not sure, and she is a fine adornment, is she not? But whatever affection he may have had for her, as you see, was not reciprocated."

"Anyone close to her?"

Provalov shook his head. "None known to us, not even a woman friend of note."

The interview was pure vanilla, Reilly saw, like fishing for bass in a well-stocked lake, one of twenty-seven interrogations to this point concerning the death of G. F. Avseyenko--everyone seemed to forget the fact that there had been two additional human beings in the car, but they probably hadn't been the targets. It wasn't getting any easier. What they really needed was the truck, something with physical evidence. Like most FBI agents, Reilly believed in tangibles, something you could hold in your hand, then pass off to a judge or jury, and have them know it was both evidence of a crime and proof of who had done it. Eyewitnesses, on the other hand, were often liars; at best they were easy for defense lawyers to confuse, and therefore they were rarely trusted by cops or juries. The truck might have blast residue from the RPG launch, maybe fingerprints on the greasy wrapping paper the Russians used for their weapons, maybe anything--best of all would be a cigarette smoked by the driver or the shooter, since the FBI could DNA-match the residual saliva on that to anyone, which was one of the Bureau's best new tricks (six-hundred-million-to-one odds were hard for people to argue with, even highly paid defense attorneys). One of Reilly's pet projects was to bring over the DNA technology for the Russian police to use, but for that the Russians would have to front the cash for the lab gear, which would be a problem--the Russians didn't seem to have the cash for anything important. All they had now was the remainder of the RPG warhead--it was amazing how much of the things actually did survive launch and detonation--which had a serial number that was being run down, though it was doubtful that this bit of information would lead anywhere. But you ran them all down because you never knew what was valuable and what was not until you got to the finish line, which was usually in front of a judge's bench with twelve people in a box off to your right. Things were a little different here in Russia, procedurally speaking, but the one thing he was trying to get through to the Russian cops he counseled was that the aim of every investigation was a conviction. They were getting it, slowly for most, quickly for a few, and also getting the fact that kicking a suspect's balls into his throat was not an effective interrogation technique. They had a constitution in Russia, but public respect for it still needed growing, and it would take time. The idea of the rule of law in this country was as foreign as a man from Mars.

The problem, Reilly thought, was that neither he nor anyone else knew how much time there was for Russians to catch up with the rest of the world. There was much here to admire, especially in the arts. Because of his diplomatic status, Reilly and his wife often got complimentary tickets to concerts (which he liked) and the ballet (which his wife loved), and that was still the class of the world ... but the rest of the country had never kept up. Some at the embassy, some of the older CIA people who'd been here before the fall of the USSR, said that the improvements were incredible. But if that were true, Reilly told himself, then what had been here before must have been truly dreadful to behold, though the Bolshoi had probably still been the Bolshoi, even then.

"That is all?" Tanya Bogdanova asked in the interrogation room.

"Yes, thank you for coming in. We may call you again."

"Use this number," she said, handing over her business card. "It's for my cellular phone." That was one more Western convenience in Moscow for those with the hard currency, and Tanya obviously did.

The interrogator was a young militia sergeant. He stood politely and moved to get the door for her, showing Bogdanova the courtesy she'd come to expect from men. In the case of Westerners, it was for her physical attributes. In the case of her countrymen, it was her clothing that told them of her newfound worth. Reilly watched her eyes as she left the room. The expression was like that of a child who'd expected to be caught doing something naughty, but hadn't. How stupid father was, that sort of smile proclaimed. It seemed so misplaced on the angel-face, but there it was, on the other side of the mirror.

"Oleg?"

"Yes, Mishka?" Provalov turned.

"She's dirty, man. She's a player," Reilly said in English. Provalov knew the cop-Americanisms.

"I agree, Mishka, but I have nothing to hold her on, do I?"

"I suppose not. Might be interesting to keep an eye on her, though."

"If I could afford her, I would keep more than my eye on her, Mikhail Ivan'ch."

Reilly grunted amusement. "Yeah, I hear that."

"But she has a heart of ice."

"That's a fact," the FBI agent agreed. And the game in which she was a player was at best nasty, and at its worst, lethal.

So, what do we have?" Ed Foley asked, some hours later across the river from Washington.

"Gornischt so far," Mary Pat replied to her husband's question.

"Jack wants to be kept up to speed on this one."

"Well, tell the President that we're running as fast as we can, and all we have so far is from the Legal Attache. He's in tight with the local cops, but they don't seem to know shit either. Maybe somebody tried to kill Sergey Nikolay'ch, but the Legat says he thinks Rasputin was the real target."

"I suppose he had his share of enemies," the Director of Central Intelligence conceded.

Thank you," the Vice President concluded to the packed house at the Ole Miss field house. The purpose of the speech was to announce that eight new destroyers would be built in the big Litton shipyard on the Mississippi Gulf Coast, which meant jobs and money for the state, always items of concern for the governor, who was now standing and applauding as though the Ole Miss football team had just knocked off Texas at the Cotton Bowl. They took their sports seriously down here. And their politics, Robby reminded himself, stifling a curse for this tawdry profession that was so much like medieval bargaining in a village square, three good pigs for a cow or something, toss in a mug of bitter ale. Was this how one governed a country? He grinned as he shook his head. Well, there had been politics in the Navy, too, and he'd scaled those heights, but he'd done it by being one hell of a good naval officer and the best fucking fighter pilot ever to catapult off a flattop. On the last score, of course he knew that every fighter pilot sitting and waiting for the cat shot felt exactly the same way ... it was just that he was totally correct in his self-assessment.

There were the usual hands to shake coming off the platform, guided by his Secret Service detail in their dark, forbidding shades, then down the steps and out the back door to his car, where another squad of armed men waited, their vigilant eyes looking ever outward, like the gunners on a B- 17 over Schweinfurt must have done, the Vice President thought. One of them held open the car door, and Robby slid in.

"TOMCAT is rolling," the chief of the VP detail told his microphone as the car headed off.

Robby picked up his briefing folder as the car got onto the highway for the airport. "Anything important happening in D.C.?"

"Not that they've told me about," the Secret Service agent answered.

Jackson nodded. These were good people looking after him. The detail chief, he figured, was a medium-to-senior captain, and the rest of his troops j.g.'s to lieutenant commanders, which was how Robby treated them. They were underlings, but good ones, well-trained pros who merited the smile and the nod when they did things right, which they nearly always did. They would have made good aviators, most of them--and the rest probably good Marines. The car finally pulled up to the VC-20B jet in an isolated corner of the general-aviation part of the airport, surrounded by yet more security troops. The driver stopped the car just twenty feet from the foot of the self-extending stairs.

"You going to drive us home, sir?" the detail chief asked, suspecting the answer.

"Bet your ass, Sam" was the smiling reply.

That didn't please the USAF captain detailed to be co-pilot on the aircraft, and it wasn't all that great for the lieutenant colonel supposed to be the pilot-in-command of the modified Gulfstream III. The Vice President liked to have the stick--in his case the yoke--in his hands at all times, while the colonel worked the radio and monitored the instruments. The aircraft spent most of its time on autopilot, of course, but Jackson, right seat or not, was determined to be the command pilot on the flight, and you couldn't very well say no to him. As a result, the captain would sit in the back and the colonel would be in the left seat, but jerking off. What the hell, the latter thought, the Vice President told good stories, and was a fairly competent stick for a Navy puke.

"Clear right," Jackson said, a few minutes later.

"Clear left," the pilot replied, confirming the fact from the plane-walker in front of the Gulfstream.

"Starting One," Jackson said next, followed thirty seconds later by "Starting Two."

The ribbon gauges came up nicely. "Looking good, sir," the USAF lieutenant colonel reported. The G had Rolls-Royce Spey engines, the same that had once been used on the U.K. versions of the F-4 Phantom fighter, but somewhat more reliable.

"Tower, this is Air Force Two, ready to taxi."

"Air Force Two, Tower, cleared to taxiway three."

"Roger, Tower AF-Two taxiing via three." Jackson slipped the brakes and let the aircraft move, its fighter engines barely above idle, but guzzling a huge quantity of fuel for all that. On a carrier, Jackson thought, you had plane handlers in yellow shirts to point you around. Here you had to go according to the map/diagram--clipped to the center of the yoke--to the proper place, all the while looking around to make sure some idiot in a Cessna 172 didn't stray into your path like a stray car in the supermarket parking lot. Finally, they reached the end of the runway, and turned to face down it.

"Tower, this is Spade requesting permission to take off." It just sort of came out on its own.

A laughing reply: "This ain't the Enterprise, Air Force Two, and we don't have cat shots here, but you are cleared to depart, sir."

You could hear the grin in the reply: "Roger, Tower, AF-TWO is rolling."

"Your call sign was really 'Spade'?" the assigned command pilot asked as the VC-20B started rolling.

"Got hung on by my first CO, back when I was a new nugget. And it kinda stuck." The Vice President shook his head. "Jesus, that seems like a long time ago."

"V-One, sir," the Air Force officer said next, followed by "V-R."

At velocity-rotation, Jackson eased back on the yoke, bringing the aircraft off the ground and into the air. The colonel retracted the landing gear on command, while Jackson flipped the wheel half an inch left and right, rocking the wings a little as he always did to make sure the aircraft was willing to do what he told it. It was, and inside of three minutes, the G was on autopilot, programmed to turn, climb, and level out at thirty-nine thousand feet.

"Boring, isn't it?"

"Just another word for safe, sir," the USAF officer replied.

Fucking trash-hauler, Jackson thought. No fighter pilot would say something like that out loud. Since when was flying supposed to be ... well, Robby had to admit to himself, he always buckled his seat belt before starting his car, and never did anything reckless, even with a fighter plane. But it offended him that this aircraft, like almost all of the new ones, did so much of the work that he'd been trained to do himself. It would even land itself ... well, the Navy had such systems aboard its carrier aircraft, but no proper naval aviator ever used it unless ordered to, something Robert Jefferson Jackson had always managed to avoid. This trip would go into his logbook as time in command, but it really wasn't. Instead it was a microchip in command, and his real function was to be there to take proper action in case something broke. But nothing ever did. Even the damned engines. Once turbojets had lasted a mere nine or ten hours before having to be replaced. Now there were Spey engines on the G fleet that had twelve thousand hours. There was one out there with over thirty thousand that Rolls-Royce wanted back, offering a free brand-new replacement because its engineers wanted to tear that one apart to learn what they'd done so right, but the owner, perversely and predictably, refused to part with it. The rest of the Gulfstream airframe was about that reliable, and the electronics were utterly state-of-the-art, Jackson knew, looking down at the color display from the weather-radar. It was a clear and friendly black at the moment, showing what was probably smooth air all the way to Andrews. There was as yet no instrument that detected turbulence, but up here at flight level three-niner-zero, that was a pretty rare occurrence, and Jackson wasn't often susceptible to airsickness, and his hand was inches from the yoke in case something unexpected happened. Jackson occasionally hoped that something would happen, since it would allow him to show just how good an aviator he was ... but it never did. Flying had become too routine since his childhood in the F-4N Phantom and his emerging manhood in the F-14A Tomcat. And maybe it was better that way. Yeah, he thought, sure.

"Mr. Vice President?" It was the voice of the USAF communications sergeant aboard the VC-20. Robby turned to see her with a sheaf of papers.

"Yeah, Sarge?"

"Flash traffic just came in on the printer." She extended her hand, and Robby took the paper.

"Colonel, your airplane for a while," the VP told the lieutenant colonel in the left seat.

"Pilot's airplane," the colonel agreed, while Robby started reading.

It was always the same, even though it was also always different. The cover sheet had the usual classification formatting. It had once impressed Jackson that the act of showing a sheet of paper to the wrong person could land him in Leavenworth Federal Penitentiary--at the time, actually, the since-closed Portsmouth Naval Prison in New Hampshire--but now as a senior government official in Washington, D.C., he knew he could show damned near anything to a reporter from The Washington Post and not be touched for it. It wasn't so much that he was above the law as he was one of the people who decided what the law meant. What was so damned secret and sensitive in this case was that CIA didn't know shit about the possible attempt on the life of Russia's chief spymaster ... which meant nobody else in Washington did, either....

Chapter 3

The Problems with Riches

The issue was trade, not exactly the President's favorite, but then, at this level, every issue took on sufficient twists that even the ones you thought you knew about became strange at best, unknown and alien at worst.

"George?" Ryan said to his Secretary of the Treasury, George Winston.

"Mr. Pres--"

"Goddammit, George!" The President nearly spilled his coffee with the outburst.

"Okay." SecTreas nodded submission. "It's hard to make the adjustment ... Jack." Ryan was getting tired of the Presidential trappings, and his rule was that here, in the Oval Office, his name was Jack, at least for his inner circle, of which Winston was one. After all, Ryan had joked a few times, after leaving this marble prison, he might be working for TRADER, as the Secret Service knew him, back in New York on The Street, instead of the other way 'round. After leaving the Presidency, something for which Jack prostrated himself before God every night--or so the stories went--he'd have to find gainful employment somewhere, and the trading business beckoned. Ryan had shown a rare gift for it, Winston reminded himself. His last such effort had been a California company called Silicon Alchemy, just one of many computer outfits, but the only one in which Ryan had taken an interest. So skillfully had he brought that firm to IPO that his own stock holdings in SALC--its symbol on the big board--were now valued at just over eighty million dollars, making Ryan by far the wealthiest American President in history. It was something his politically astute Chief of Staff, Arnold van Damm, did not advertise to the news media, who typically regarded every wealthy man as a robber baron, excepting, of course, the owners of the papers and TV stations themselves, who were, of course, the best of public-spirited citizens. None of this was widely known, even in the tight community of Wall Street big-hitters, which was remarkable enough. Should he ever return to The Street, Ryan's prestige would be sufficient to earn money while he slept in his bed at home. And that, Winston freely admitted, was something well and truly earned, and be damned to whatever the media hounds thought of it.

"It's China?" Jack asked.

"That's right, Boss," Winston confirmed with a nod. "Boss" was a term Ryan could stomach, as it was also the in-house term the Secret Service--which was part of Winston's Department of the Treasury--used to identify the man they were sworn to protect. "They're having a little cash-shortfall problem, and they're looking to make it up with us."

"How little?" POTUS asked.

"It looks as though it will annualize out to, oh, seventy billion or so."

"That is, as we say, real money."

George Winston nodded. "Anything that starts with a 'B' is real enough, and this is a little better than six 'Bs' a month."

"Spending it for what?"

"Not entirely sure, but a lot of it has to be military-related. The French arms industries are tight with them now, since the Brits kiboshed the jet-engine deal from Rolls-Royce."

The President nodded, looking down at the briefing papers. "Yeah, Basil talked the PM out of it." That was Sir Basil Charleston, chief of the British Secret Intelligence Service, sometimes called (erroneously) MI6. Basil was an old friend of Ryan's, going back to his CIA days. "It was a remarkably stand-up thing to do."

"Well, our friends in Paris don't seem to think the same way."

"They usually don't," Ryan agreed. The odd thing was the dichotomy inherent in dealing with the French. In some things, they weren't so much allies as blood brothers, but in others they were less than mere associates, and Ryan had trouble figuring out the logic by which the French changed their minds. Well, the President thought, that's what I have a State Department for.... "So, you think the PRC is building up its military again?"

"Big time, but not so much their navy, which makes our friends in Taiwan feel a little better."

That had been one of President Ryan's foreign-policy initiatives after concluding hostilities with the defunct United Islamic Republic, now restored to the separate nations of Iran and Iraq, which were at least at peace with each other. The real reasons for the recognition of Taiwan had never been made known to the public. It looked pretty clear to Ryan and his Secretary of State, Scott Adler, that the People's Republic of China had played a role in the Second Persian Gulf War, and probably in the preceding conflict with Japan, as well. Exactly why? Well, some in CIA thought that China lusted after the mineral riches in eastern Siberia--this was suggested by intercepts and other access to the electronic mail of the Japanese industrialists who'd twisted their nation's path into a not-quite-open clash with America. They'd referred to Siberia as the "Northern Resource Area," harkening back to when an earlier generation of Japanese strategists had called South Asia the "Southern Resource Area." That had been part of another conflict, one known to history as the Second World War. In any case, the complicity of the PRC with America's enemies had merited a countermove, Ryan and Adler had agreed, and besides, the Republic of China on Taiwan was a democracy, with government officials elected by the people of that nation island--and that was something America was supposed to respect.

"You know, it would be better if they started working their navy and threatening Taiwan. We are in a better position to forestall that than--"

"You really think so?" SecTreas asked, cutting his President off.

"The Russians do," Jack confirmed.

"Then why are the Russians selling the Chinese so much hardware?" Winston demanded. "That doesn't make sense!"

"George, there is no rule demanding that the world has to make sense." That was one of Ryan's favorite aphorisms. "That's one of the things you learn in the intelligence business. In 1938, guess who was Germany's number one trading partner?"

SecTreas saw that sandbag coming before it struck. "France?"

"You got it." Ryan nodded. "Then, in '40 and '41, they did a lot of trade with the Russians. That didn't work out so well either, did it?"

"And everyone always told me that trade was a moderating influence," the Secretary observed.

"Maybe it is among people, but remember that governments don't have principles so much as interests--at least the primitive ones, the ones who haven't figured it all out yet..."

"Like the PRC?"

It was Ryan's turn to nod. "Yeah, George, like those little bastards in Beijing. They rule a nation of a billion people, but they do it as though they were the new coming of Caligula. Nobody ever told them that they have a positive duty to look after the interests of the people they rule--well, maybe that's not true," Ryan allowed, feeling a little generous. "They have this big, perfect theoretical model, promulgated by Karl Marx, refined by Lenin, then applied in their country by a pudgy sexual pervert named Mao."

"Oh? Pervert?"

"Yeah." Ryan looked up. "We had the data over at Langley. Mao liked virgins, the younger the better. Maybe he liked to see the fear in their cute little virginal eyes--that's what one of our pshrink consultants thought, kinda like rape, not so much sex as power. Well, I guess it could have been worse--at least they were girls," Jack observed rather dryly, "and their culture is historically a little more liberal than ours on that sort of thing." A shake of the head. "You should see the briefs I get whenever a major foreign dignitary comes over, the stuff we know about their personal habits."

A chuckle: "Do I really want to know?"

A grimace: "Probably not. Sometimes I wish they didn't give me the stuff. You sit them down right here in the office, and they're charming and businesslike, and you can spend the whole fucking meeting looking for horns and hooves." That could be a distraction, of course, but it was more generally thought that as in playing poker for high stakes, the more you knew about the guy on the other side of the table, the better, even if it might make you want to throw up during the welcoming ceremony on the White House South Lawn. But that was the business of being President, Ryan reminded himself. And people actually fought like tigers to get there. And would again, when he left, POTUS reminded himself. And so, Jack, is it your job to protect your country from the kind of rat who lusts to be where all the really good cheese is stored? Ryan shook his head again. So many doubts. It wasn't so much that they never went away. They just kept getting bigger all the time. How strange that he understood and could recount every small step that had led him to this office, and yet he still asked himself several times every hour how the hell he'd come to be in this place ... and how the hell he'd ever get out. Well, he had no excuses at all this time. He'd actually run for election to the Presidency. If you could call it that--Arnie van Damm didn't, as a matter of fact--which you could, since he'd fulfilled the constitutional requirements, a fact on which just about every legal scholar in the nation had agreed, and talked about on every major news network ad nauseam. Well, Jack reminded himself, I wasn't watching much TV back then, was I? But it all really came down to one thing: The people you dealt with as President were very often people whom you would never willingly invite into your home, and it had nothing to do with any lack of manners or personal charm, which, perversely, they usually displayed in abundance. One of the things Arnie had told Jack early on was that the main requirement to enter the political profession was nothing more nor less than the ability to be pleasant to people whom you despised, and then to do business with them as if they were bosom friends.

"So, what do we know about our heathen Chinese friends?" Winston asked. "The current ones, that is."

"Not much. We're working on that. The Agency has a long way to go, though we are started on the road. We still get intercepts. Their phone system is leaky, and they use their cell phones too much without encrypting them. Some of them are men of commendable vigor, George, but nothing too terribly scandalous that we know about. Quite a few of them have secretaries who are very close to their bosses."

The Secretary of the Treasury managed a chuckle. "Well, a lot of that going around, and not just in Beijing."

"Even on Wall Street?" Jack inquired, with a theatrically raised eyebrow.

"I can't say for sure, sir, but I have heard the occasional rumor." Winston grinned at the diversion.

And even right here in this room, Ryan reminded himself. They'd changed the rug long since, of course, and all the furniture, except for the Presidential desk. One of the problems associated with holding this job was the baggage piled on your back by previous officeholders. They said the public had a short memory, but that wasn't true, was it? Not when you heard the whispers, followed by chuckles, and accompanied by knowing looks and the occasional gesture that made you feel dirty to be the subject of the chuckles. And all you could do about it was to live your life as best you could, but even then the best you could hope for was for people to think you were smart enough not to get caught, because they all did it, right? One of the problems with living in a free country was that anyone outside this palace/prison could think and say whatever he wished. And Ryan didn't even have the right that any other citizen might have to punch out whatever twit said something about his character that the twit was unwilling to back up. It hardly seemed fair, but as a practical matter, it would force Ryan to visit a lot of corner bars, and break a lot of knuckles, to little gain. And sending sworn cops or armed Marines out to handle matters wasn't exactly a proper use of Presidential power, was it?

Jack knew that he was far too thin-skinned to hold this job. Professional politicians typically had hides that made a rhinoceros's look like rose petals, because they expected to have things hurled at them, some true, some not. By cultivating that thick covering, they attenuated the pain somehow, until eventually people stopped hurling things at them, or such was the theory. Maybe it actually worked for some. Or maybe the bastards just didn't have consciences. You paid your money and you took your choice.

But Ryan did have a conscience. That was a choice he'd made long before. You still had to look in the mirror once a day, usually at shaving time, and there was no easy fix for not being able to like the face you saw there.

"Okay, back to the PRC's problems, George," the President commanded.

"They're going to juice up their trade--one way, that is. They're discouraging their own citizens from buying American, but all they can sell, they sell. Including some of Mao's young virgins, probably."

"What do we have to prove that?"

"Jack, I pay close attention to results, and I have friends in various businesses who shake the bushes and talk to people over drinks. What they learn frequently gets back to me. You know, a lot of ethnic Chinese have some weird medical condition. You get one drink into them, it's like four or five for us--and the second drink is like chugging a whole bottle of Jack Daniel's, but some of the dummies try to keep up anyway, some hospitality thing, maybe. Anyway, when that happens, well, the talk becomes freer, y'know? It's been going on quite a while, but lately Mark Gant set up a little program. Senior executives who go to certain special places, well, I do own the Secret Service now, and the Secret Service does specialize in economic crimes, right? And a lot of my old friends know who I am and what I do now, and they cooperate pretty nice, and so I get a lot of good stuff to write up. It mainly goes to my senior people across the street."

"I'm impressed, George. You cross-deck it to CIA?"

"I suppose I could, but I was afraid they'd get all pissy over turf rights and stuff."

Ryan rolled his eyes at that bit of information. "Not Ed Foley. He's a real pro from way back, and the bureaucracy over at Langley hasn't captured him yet. Have him over to your office for lunch. He won't mind what you're doing. Same thing with Mary Pat. She runs the Directorate of Operations. MP's a real cowgirl, and she wants results, too."

"Duly noted. You know, Jack, it's amazing how much people talk, and the things they talk about under the proper circumstances."

"How'd you make all that money on The Street, George?" Ryan asked.

"Mainly by knowing a little more than the guy across the street," Winston replied.

"Works the same way for me here. Okay, if our little friends go forward with this, what should we do?"

"Jack--no, now it's Mr. President--we've been financing Chinese industrial expansion for quite a few years now. They sell things to us, we pay cash for them, and then they either keep the money for their own purposes on the international money markets, or they purchase things they want from other countries, often things they could as easily buy from us, but maybe half a percent more expensive from an American manufacturer. The reason it's called 'trade' is that you theoretically exchange something of yours for something of the other guy's--just like kids with baseball cards, okay?--but they're not playing the game that way. They're also dumping some products just to get dollars, selling items here for less than what they sell them to their own citizens. Now, that is technically in violation of a couple federal statues. Okay," Winston shrugged, "it's a statute we enforce somewhat selectively, but it is on the books, and it is the law. Toss in the Trade Reform Act that we passed a few years ago because of the games the Japs were playing--"

"I remember, George. It kinda started a little shooting war in which some people got killed," POTUS observed dryly. Worst of all, perhaps, it had begun the process that had ended up with Ryan in this very room.

SecTreas nodded. "True, but it's still the law, and it was not a bill of attainder meant only to apply to Japan. Jack, if we apply the same trade laws to China that the Chinese apply to us, well, it'll put a major crimp in their foreign-exchange accounts. Is that a bad thing? No, not with the trade imbalance we have with them now. You know, Jack, if they start building automobiles and play the same game they're playing on everything else, our trade deficit could get real ugly real fast, and frankly I'm tired of having us finance their economic development, which they then execute with heavy equipment bought in Japan and Europe. If they want trade with the United States of America, fine, but let it be trade. We can hold our own in any truly fair trade war with any country, because American workers can produce as well as anybody in the world and better than most. But if we let them cheat us, we're being cheated, Jack, and I don't like that here any more than I do around a card table. And here, buddy, the stakes are a hell of a lot higher."

"I hear you, George. But we don't want to put a gun to their head, do we? You don't do that to a nation-state, especially a big nation-state, unless you have a solid reason for doing so. Our economy is chugging along rather nicely now, isn't it? We can afford to be a little magnanimous."

"Maybe, Jack. What I was thinking was a little friendly encouragement on our part, not a pointed gun exactly. The gun is always there in the holster--the big gun is most-favored-nation status, and they know it, and we know they know it. TRA is something we can apply to any country, and I happen to think the idea behind the law is fundamentally sound. It's been fairly useful as a club to show to a lot of countries, but we've never tried it on the PRC. How come?"

POTUS shrugged, with no small degree of embarrassment. "Because I haven't had the chance to yet, and before me too many people in this town just wanted to kiss their collective ass."

"Leaves a bad taste in your mouth when you do that, Mr. President, doesn't it?"

"It can," Jack agreed. "Okay, you want to talk this over with Scott Adler. The ambassadors all work for him."

"Who do we have in Beijing?"

"Carl Hitch. Career FSO, late fifties, supposed to be very good, and this is his sunset assignment."

"Payoff for all those years of holding coats?"

Ryan nodded. "Something like that, I suppose. I'm not entirely sure. State wasn't my bureaucracy." CIA, he didn't add, was bad enough.

It was a much nicer office, Bart Mancuso thought. And the shoulderboards on his undress whites were a little heavier now, with the four stars instead of the two he'd worn as COMSUBPAC. But no more. His former boss, Admiral Dave Seaton, had fleeted up to Chief of Naval Operations, and then the President (or someone close to him) had decided that Mancuso was the guy to be the next Commander in Chief, Pacific. And so he now worked in the same office once occupied by Chester Nimitz, and other fine--and some brilliant--naval officers since. It was quite a stretch since Plebe Summer at Annapolis, lo those many years before, especially since he'd had only a single command at sea, USS Dallas, though that command tour had been a noteworthy one, complete with two missions he could still tell no one about. And having been shipmates once and briefly with the sitting President probably hadn't hurt his career very much.

The new job came with a plush official house, a sizable team of sailors and chiefs to look after him and his wife--the boys were all away at college now--the usual drivers, official cars, and, now, armed bodyguards, because, remarkably enough, there were people about who didn't much care for admirals. As a theater commander Mancuso now reported directly to the Secretary of Defense, Anthony Bretano, who in turn reported directly to President Ryan. In return, Mancuso got a lot of new perks. Now he had direct access to all manner of intelligence information, including the holy of holies, sources and methods--where the information came from, and how we'd gotten it out--because as America's principal executor for a quarter of the globe's surface, he had to know it all, so that he'd know what to advise the SecDef, who would, in turn, advise the President of CINCPAC's views, intentions, and desires.

The Pacific, Mancuso thought, having just completed his first morning intel brief, looked okay. It hadn't always been like that, of course, including recently, when he'd fought a fairly major conflict--"war" was a word that had fallen very much out of favor in civilized discourse--with the Japanese, and that had included the loss of two of his nuclear submarines, killed with treachery and deceit, as Mancuso thought of it, though a more objective observer might have called the tactics employed by the enemy clever and effective.

Heretofore he'd been notified of the locations and activities of his various submarines, but now he also got told about his carriers, tin cans, cruisers, and replenishment ships, plus Marines, and even Army and Air Force assets, which were technically his as a theater commander-in-chief. All that meant that the morning intel brief lasted into a third cup of coffee, by the end of which he looked longingly to the executive head, just a few feet away from his desk. Hell, his intelligence coordinator, called a J-2, was, in fact, an Army one-star doing his "joint" tour, and, in fairness, doing it pretty well. This brigadier, named Mike Lahr, had taught political science at West Point, in addition to other assignments. Having to consider political factors was a new development in Mancuso's career, but it came with the increased command territory. CINCPAC had done his "joint" tour along the way, of course, and was theoretically conversant with the abilities and orientation of his brother armed services, but whatever confidence he'd had along those lines diminished in the face of having the command responsibility to utilize such forces in a professional way. Well, he had subordinate commanders in those other services to advise him, but it was his job to know more than just how to ask questions, and for Mancuso that meant he'd have to go out and get his clothes dirty seeing the practical side, because that was where the kids assigned to his theater would shed blood if he didn't do his job right.

The team was a joint venture of the Atlantic Richfield Company, British Petroleum, and the largest Russian oil exploration company. The last of the three had the most experience but the least expertise, and the most primitive methods. This was not to say that the Russian prospectors were stupid. Far from it. Two of them were gifted geologists, with theoretical insights that impressed their American and British colleagues. Better still, they'd grasped the advantages of the newest exploration equipment about as quickly as the engineers who'd designed it.

It had been known for many years that this part of eastern Siberia was a geological twin to the North Slope region of Alaska and Northern Canada, which had turned into vast oil fields for their parent countries to exploit. The hard part had been getting the proper equipment there to see if the similarity was more than just cosmetic.

Getting the gear into the right places had been a minor nightmare. Brought by train into southeastern Siberia from the port of Vladivostok, the "thumper trucks"--they were far too heavy to airlift--had then spent a month going cross-country, north from Magdagachi, through Aim and Ust Maya, finally getting to work east of Kazachye.

But what they had found had staggered them. From Kazachye on the River Yana all the way to Kolymskaya on the Kolyma was an oil field to rival the Persian Gulf. The thumper trucks and portable computer--carrying seismic-survey vehicles--had shown a progression of perfect underground dome formations in stunning abundance, some of them barely two thousand feet down, mere tens of vertical yards from the permafrost, and drilling through that would be about as hard as slicing a wedding cake with a cavalryman's saber. The scope of the field could not be ascertained without drilling test wells--over a hundred such wells, the chief American engineer thought, just from the sheer scope of the field--but no one had ever seen as promising or as vast a natural deposit of petroleum during his professional lifetime. The issues of exploitation would not be small ones, of course. Except for Antarctica itself, there was no place on the planet with a less attractive climate. Getting the production gear in here would take years of multistage investment, building airfields, probably building ports for the cargo ships that could alone deliver the heavy equipment--and then only in the brief summer months--needed to construct the pipeline which would be needed to get the oil out to market. Probably through Vladivostok, the Americans thought. The Russians could sell it from there, and supertankers, more precisely called VLCCs or ULCCs--for Very Large to Ultra-Large Crude Carriers--would move it out across the Pacific, maybe to Japan, maybe to America or elsewhere, wherever oil was needed, which was just about everywhere. From those users would come hard currency. It would take many more years until Russia could build the wherewithal needed for its own industries and consumers to use the oil, but, as such things happened, the cash generated from selling the Siberian crude could then be flipped and used to purchase oil from other sources, which would be much more easily transported to Russian ports and thence into existing Russian pipelines. The cash difference of selling and buying, as opposed to building a monstrous and monstrously expensive pipeline, was negligible in any case, and such decisions were usually made for political rather than economic reasons.

At precisely the same time, and only six hundred miles, or nine hundred sixty or so kilometers, away, another geology team was in the eastern extreme of the Sayan mountain range. Some of the semi-nomadic tribes in the area, who had made their living for centuries by herding reindeer, had brought into a government office some shiny yellow rocks. Few people in the world have been unaware of what such rocks mean, at least for the preceding thirty centuries, and a survey team had been dispatched from Moscow State University, still the nation's most prestigious school. They had been able to fly in, since their equipment was far lighter, and the last few hundred kilometers had been done on horseback, a wonderful anachronism for the survey team of academics, who were far more used to riding Moscow's fine subway system.

The first thing they'd found was an eighty-ish man living alone with his herd and a rifle to fend off wolves. This citizen had lived alone since the death of his wife, twenty years before, quite forgotten by the changing governments of his country, known to exist only by a few shopkeepers in a dreary village thirty kilometers to the south, and his mental state reflected his long-term isolation. He managed to shoot three or four wolves every year, and he kept the pelts as any hunter/herdsman might, but with a difference. First he took the pelts and, weighting them down with stones, set them in the small river that ran near his hut.

In Western literature there is the well-known story of Jason and the Argonauts, and their heroic quest for the Golden Fleece. It was not known until recently that the legend of the artifact sought was quite real: The tribesmen of Asia Minor had set the skins of sheep in their streams to catch the gold dust being washed down from deposits higher up, changing the pale wool fibers into something almost magical in appearance.

It was no different here. The wolf pelts the geologists found hanging inside the old soldier's hut looked on first inspection to be sculptures by Renaissance masters, or even artisans of the Pharaohs of dynastic Egypt, they were so evenly coated, and then the explorers found that each pelt weighed a good sixty kilograms, and there were thirty-four of them! Sitting down with him over the necessary bottle of fine vodka, they learned that his name was Pavel Petrovich Gogol, that he'd fought against the Fascisti in the Great Patriotic War as a sniper, and, remarkably, was twice a Hero of the Soviet Union for his marksmanship, mainly in the battles around Kiev and Warsaw. A somewhat grateful nation had allowed him to return to his ancestral lands--he was, it turned out, descended from the entrepreneurial Russians who'd come to Siberia in the early nineteenth century--where he'd been forgotten by the bureaucrats who never really wondered much where the reindeer meat eaten by the locals came from, or who might be cashing his pension checks to buy ammunition for his old bolt-action rifle. Pavel Petrovich knew the value of the gold he found, but he'd never spent any of it, as he found his solitary life quite satisfactory. The gold deposit a few kilometers upstream from the place where the wolves went for their last swim--as Pavel Petrovich described it with a twinkle in the eye and a snort of vodka--turned out to be noteworthy, perhaps as much as the South African strike of the mid-nineteenth century, and that had turned into the richest gold mine in the history of the world. The local gold had not been discovered for several reasons, mainly relating to the dreadful Siberian climate, which had, first, prevented a detailed exploratory survey, and, second, covered the local streams with ice so much of the time that the gold dust in the streambeds had never been noticed.

Both the oil and rock survey teams had traveled into the field with satellite phones, the more quickly to report what they found. This both teams did, coincidentally on the same day.

The Iridium satellite-communications system they used was a huge breakthrough in global communications. With an easily portable instrument, one could communicate with the low-altitude constellation of dedicated communications satellites which cross-linked their signals at the speed of light (which was almost instantaneous, but not quite) to conventional communications birds, and from there to the ground, which was where most people were most of the time.

The Iridium system was designed to speed communications worldwide. It was not, however, designed to be a secure system. There were ways to do that, but they all required the individual users to make their security arrangements. It was now theoretically possible to get commercially available 128-bit encryption systems, and these were extremely difficult to break even by the most sophisticated of nation-states and their black services ... or so the salesmen said. But the remarkable thing was that few people bothered. Their laziness made life a lot easier for the National Security Agency, located between Baltimore and Washington at Fort Meade, Maryland. There, a computer system called ECHELON was programmed to listen in on every conversation that crossed the ether, and to lock in on certain codewords. Most of those words were nouns with national-security implications, but since the end of the Cold War, NSA and other agencies had paid more attention to economic matters, and so some of the new words were "oil," "deposit," "crude," "mine," "gold," and others, all in thirty-eight languages. When such a word crossed ECHELON'S electronic ear, the continuing conversation was recorded onto electronic media and transcribed and, where necessary, translated--all by computer. It was by no means a perfect system, and the nuances of language were still difficult for a computer program to unravel--not to mention the tendency of many people to mutter into the phone--but where a goof occurred, the original conversation would be reviewed by a linguist, of which the National Security Agency employed quite a few.

The parallel reports of the oil and gold strikes came in only five hours apart, and made their way swiftly up the chain of command, ending in a "flash" priority Special National Intelligence Estimate (called a SNIE, and pronounced "snee") destined for the President's desk right after his next breakfast, to be delivered by his National Security Adviser, Dr. Benjamin Goodley. Before that, the data would be examined by a team from the Central Intelligence Agency's Directorate of Science and Technology, with a big assist from experts on the payroll of the Petroleum Institute in Washington, some of whose members had long enjoyed a cordial relationship with various government agencies. The preliminary evaluation--carefully announced and presented as such, preliminary, lest someone be charged for being wrong if the estimate proved to be incorrect someday--used a few carefully chosen superlatives.

Damn," the President observed at 8:10 EST. "Okay, Ben, how big are they really?"

"You don't trust our technical weenies?" the National Security Advisor asked.

"Ben, as long as I worked on the other side of the river, I never once caught them wrong on something like this, but damned if I didn't catch them underestimating stuff." Ryan paused for a moment. "But, Jesus, if these are lowball numbers, the implications are pretty big."

"Mr. President"--Goodley was not part of Ryan's inner circle--"we're talking billions, exactly how many nobody knows, but call it two hundred billion dollars in hard currency earnings over the next five to seven years at minimum. That's money they can use."

"And at maximum?"

Goodley leaned back for a second and took a breath. "I had to check. A trillion is a thousand billion. On the sunny side of that number. This is pure speculation, but the guys at the Petroleum Institute that CIA uses, the guys across the river tell me, spent most of their time saying 'Holy shit!' "

"Good news for the Russians," Jack said, flipping through the printed SNIE.

"Indeed it is, sir."

"About time they got lucky," POTUS thought aloud. "Okay, get a copy of this to George Winston. We want his evaluation of what this will mean to our friends in Moscow."

"I was planning to call some people at Atlantic Richfield. They were in on the exploration. I imagine they'll share in the proceeds. Their president is a guy named Sam Sherman. Know him?"

Ryan shook his head. "I know the name, but we've never met. Think I ought to change that?"

"If you want hard information, it can't hurt."

Ryan nodded. "Okay, maybe I'll have Ellen track him down." Ellen Sumter, his personal secretary, was located fifteen feet away through the sculpted door to his right. "What else?"

"They're still beating bushes for the people who blew up the pimp in Moscow. Nothing new to report on that, though."

"Would be nice to know what's going on in the world, wouldn't it?"

"Could be worse, sir," Goodley told his boss.

"Right." Ryan tossed the paper copy of the morning brief on his desk. "What else?"

Goodley shook his head. "And that's the way it is this morning, Mr. President." Goodley got a smile for that.

Chapter 4

Knob Rattling

It didn't matter what city or country you were in, Mike Reilly told himself. Police work was all the same. You talked to possible witnesses, you talked to the people involved, you talked to the victim.

But not the victim this time. Grisha Avseyenko would never speak again. The pathologist assigned to the case commented that he hadn't seen such a mess since his uniformed service in Afghanistan. But that was to be expected. The RPG was designed to punch holes in armored vehicles and concrete bunkers, which was a more difficult task than destroying a private-passenger automobile, even one so expensive as that stopped in Dzerzhinskiy Square. That meant that the body parts were very difficult to identify. It turned out that half the jaw had enough repaired teeth to say with great certainty that the decedent had indeed been Gregoriy Filipovich Avseyenko, and DNA samples would ultimately confirm this (the blood type also matched). There hadn't been enough of his body to identify--the face, for example, had been totally removed, and so had the left forearm, which had once borne a tattoo. The decedent's death had come instantaneously, the pathologist reported, after the processed remains had been packed into a plastic container, which in turn found its way into an oaken box for later cremation, probably--the Moscow Militia had to ascertain whether any family members existed, and what disposition for the body they might wish. Lieutenant Provalov assumed that cremation would be the disposal method of choice. It was, in its way, quick and clean, and it was easier and less expensive to find a resting place for a small box or urn than for a full-sized coffin with a cadaver in it.

Provalov took the pathology report back from his American colleague. He hadn't expected it to reveal anything of interest, but one of the things he'd learned from his association with the American FBI was that you checked everything thoroughly, since predicting how a criminal case would break was like trying to pick a ten-play football pool two weeks before the games were played. The human minds who committed crimes were simply too random in their operation for any sort of prediction.

And that had been the easy part. The pathology report on the driver had essentially been useless. The only data in it of any use at all had been blood and tissue types (which could be checked with his military-service records, if they could be located), since the body had been so thoroughly shredded as to leave not a single identifying mark or characteristic, though, perversely, his identity papers had survived in his wallet, and so, they probably knew who he had been. The same was true of the woman in the car, whose purse had survived virtually intact on the seat to the right of her, along with her ID papers ... which was a lot more than could be said for her face and upper torso. Reilly looked at the photos of the other victims--well, one presumed they matched up, he told himself. The driver was grossly ordinary, perhaps a little fitter than was the average here. The woman, yet another of the pimp's high-priced hookers with a photo in her police file, had been a dish, worthy of a Hollywood screen test, and certainly pretty enough for a Playboy centerfold. Well, no more.

"So, Mishka, have you handled enough of these crimes that it no longer touches you?" Provalov asked.

"Honest answer?" Reilly asked, then shook his head. "Not really. We don't handle that many homicides, except the ones that happen on Federal property--Indian reservations or military bases. I have handled some kidnappings, though, and those you never get used to." Especially, Reilly didn't add, since kidnapping for money was a dead crime in America. Now children were kidnapped for their sexual utility, and most often killed in five hours, often before the FBI could even respond to the initial request for assistance from the local police department. Of all the crimes which Mike Reilly had worked, those were by far the worst, the sort after which you retired to the local FBI bar--every field division had one--and had a few too many as you sat quietly with equally morose and quiet colleagues, with the occasional oaths that you were going to get this mutt no matter what it took. And, mostly, the mutts were apprehended, indicted, and then convicted, and the lucky ones went to death row. Those convicted in states without a death penalty went into the general prison population, where they discovered what armed robbers thought of the abusers of children. "But I see what you mean, Oleg Gregoriyevich. It's the one thing you have trouble explaining to an ordinary citizen." It was that the worst thing about a crime scene or autopsy photo was the sadness of it, how the victim was stripped not merely of life, but of all dignity. And these photos were particularly grisly. Whatever beauty this Maria Ivanovna Sablin had once had was only a memory now, and then mainly memories held by men who'd rented access to her body. Who mourned for a dead whore? Reilly asked himself. Not the johns, who'd move on to a new one with scarcely a thought. Probably not even her own colleagues in the trade of flesh and desire, and whatever family she'd left behind would probably remember her not as the child who'd grown up to follow a bad path, but as a lovely person who'd defiled herself, pretending passion, but feeling no more than the trained physician who'd picked her organs apart on the dented steel table of the city morgue. Is that what prostitutes were, Reilly wondered, pathologists of sex? A victimless crime, some said. Reilly wished that such people could look at these photos and see just how "victimless" it was when women sold their bodies.

"Anything else, Oleg?" Reilly asked.

"We continue to interview people with knowledge of the deceased." Followed by a shrug.

He offended the wrong people," an informant said, with a shrug of his own that showed how absurdly obvious the answer to the preceding question was. How else could a person of Avseyenko's stature turn up dead in so spectacular a way?

"And what people are they?" the militiaman asked, not expecting a meaningful answer, but you asked the question anyway because you didn't know what the answer was until you did.

"His colleagues from State Security," the informant suggested.

"Oh?"

"Who else could have killed him in that way? One of his girls would have used a knife. A business rival from the street would have used a pistol or a larger knife, but an RPG ... be serious, where does one get one of those?"

He wasn't the first to voice that thought, of course, though the local police did have to allow for the fact that all manner of weapons, heavy and light, had escaped one way or another from the coffers of what had once been called the Red Army into the active marketplace of criminal weapons.

"So, do you have any names for us?" the militia sergeant asked.

"Not a name, but I know the face. He's tall and powerfully built, like a soldier, reddish hair, fair skin, some freckles left over from his youth, green eyes." The informant paused. "His friends call him 'the boy,' because his appearance is so youthful. He was State Security once, but not a spy and not a catcher of spies. He was something else there, but I am not sure what."

The militia sergeant started taking more precise notes at this point, his pencil marks far more legible and much darker on the yellow page.

"And this man was displeased with Avseyenko?"

"So I have heard."

"And the reason for his displeasure?"

"That I do not know, but Gregoriy Filipovich had a way of offending men. He was very skilled at handling women, of course. For that he had a true gift, but the gift did not translate into his dealings with men. Many thought him a zhopnik, but he was not one of those, of course. He had a different woman on his arm every night, and none of them were ugly, but for some reason he didn't get along well with men, even those from State Security, where, he said, he was once a great national asset."

"Is that a fact," the militia sergeant observed, bored again. If there was anything criminals liked to do, it was boast. He'd heard it all a thousand times or more.

"Oh, yes. Gregoriy Filipovich claims to have supplied mistresses for all manner of foreigners, including some of ministerial rank, and says that they continue to supply valuable information to Mother Russia. I believe it," the informer added, editorializing again. "For a week with one of those angels, I would speak much."

And who wouldn't? the militiaman wondered with a yawn. "So, how did Avseyenko offend such powerful men?" the cop asked again.

"I have told you I do not know. Talk to 'the boy,' perhaps he will know."

"It is said that Gregoriy was beginning to import drugs," the cop said next, casting his hook into a different hole, and wondering what fish might lurk in the still waters.

The informant nodded. "That is true. It was said. But I never saw any evidence of it."

"Who would have seen evidence of it?"

Another shrug. "This I do not know. One of his girls, perhaps. I never understood how he planned to distribute what he thought about importing. To use the girls was logical, of course, but dangerous for them--and for him, because his whores would not have been loyal to him in the face of a trip to the camps. So, then, what does that leave?" the informant asked rhetorically. "He would have to set up an entirely new organization, and there were also dangers in doing that, were there not? So, yes, I believe he was thinking about importing drugs for sale, and making vast sums of money from it, but Gregoriy was not a man who wished to go to a prison, and I think he was merely thinking about it, perhaps talking a little, but not much. I do not think he had made his final decision. I do not think he actually imported anything before he met his end."

"Rivals with the same ideas?" the cop asked next.

"There are people who can find cocaine and other drugs for you, as you well know."

The cop looked up. In fact, the militia sergeant didn't know that for certain. He'd heard rumbles and rumors, but not statements of fact from informants he trusted (insofar as any cop in any city truly trusted any informant). As with many things, there was a buzz on the streets of Moscow, but like most Moscow cops he expected it to show up first in the Black Sea port of Odessa, a city whose criminal activity went back to the czars and which today, with the restoration of free trade with the rest of the world, tended to lead Russia in--well, led Russia to all forms of illicit activity. If there was an active drug trade in Moscow, it was so new and so small that he hadn't stumbled across it yet. He made a mental note to check with Odessa, to see what if anything was happening down there along those lines.

"And what people might they be?" the sergeant asked. If there was a growing distribution network in Moscow, he might as well learn about it.

Nomuri's job for Nippon Electric Company involved selling high-end desktop computers and peripherals. For him that meant the PRC government, whose senior bureaucrats had to have the newest and best of everything, from cars to mistresses, paid for in all cases by the government, which in turn took its money from the people, whom the bureaucrats represented and protected to the best of their abilities. As in many things, the PRC could have bought American brands, but in this case it chose to purchase the slightly less expensive (and less capable) computers from Japan, in the same way that it preferred to buy Airbus airlines from the European maker rather than Boeings from America--that had been a card played a few years before to teach the Americans a lesson. America had briefly resented it, then had quickly forgotten about it, in the way America seemed to handle all such slights, which was quite a contrast to the Chinese, who never forgot anything.

When President Ryan had announced the reestablishment of their official recognition of the Republic of China government on Taiwan, the repercussions had thundered through the corridors of power in Beijing like the main shocks of a major earthquake. Nomuri hadn't been here long enough yet to see the cold fury the move had generated, but the aftershocks were significant enough, and he'd heard echoes of it since his arrival in Beijing. The questions directed at himself were sometimes so direct and so demanding of an explanation that he'd momentarily wondered if his cover might have been blown, and his interlocutors had known that he was a CIA "illegal" field officer in the capital of the People's Republic of China, entirely without a diplomatic cover. But it hadn't been that. It was just a continuing echo of pure political rage. Paradoxically, the Chinese government was itself trying to shove that rage aside because they, too, had to do business with the United States of America, now their number one trading partner, and the source of vast amounts of surplus cash, which their government needed to do the things which Nomuri was tasked to find out about. And so, here he was, in the outer office of one of the nation's senior officials.

"Good day," he said, with a bow and a smile to the secretary. She worked for a senior minister named Fang Gan, he knew, whose office was close by. She was surprisingly well dressed for a semi-ordinary worker, in a nation where fashion statements were limited to the color of the buttons one wore on the Mao jacket that was as much a part of the uniform of civilian government workers as was the gray-green wool of the soldiers of the People's Liberation Army.

"Good day," the young lady said in reply. "Are you Nomuri?"

"Yes, and you are ... ?"

"Lian Ming," the secretary replied.

An interesting name, Chester thought. "Lian" in Mandarin meant "graceful willow." She was short, like most Chinese women, with a square-ish face and dark eyes. Her least attractive feature was her hair, short and cut in a manner that harkened back to the worst of the 1950s in America, and then only for children in Appalachian trailer parks. For all that, it was a classically Chinese face in its ethnicity, and one much favored in this tradition-bound nation. The look in her eyes, at least, suggested intelligence and education.

"You are here to discuss computers and printers," she said neutrally, having absorbed some of her boss's sense of importance and centrality of place in the universe.

"Yes, I am. I think you will find our new pin-matrix printer particularly appealing."

"And why is that?" Ming asked.

"Do you speak English?" Nomuri asked in that language.

"Certainly," Ming replied, in the same.

"Then it becomes simple to explain. If you transliterate Mandarin into English, the spelling, I mean, then the printer transposes into Mandarin ideographs automatically, like this," he explained, pulling a sheet of paper from his plastic folder and handing it to the secretary. "We are also working on a laser-printer system which will be even smoother in its appearance."

"Ah," the secretary observed. The quality of the characters was superb, easily the equal of the monstrous typewriting machine that secretaries had to use for official documents--or else have them hand-printed and then further processed on copying machines, mainly Canons, also of Japanese manufacture. The process was time-consuming, tedious, and much hated by the secretarial staff. "And what of inflection variations?"

Not a bad question, Nomuri noted. The Chinese language was highly dependent on inflection. The tone with which a word was delivered determined its actual meaning from as many as four distinct options, and it was also a determining factor in which ideograph it designated in turn.

"Do the characters appear on the computer screen in that way as well?" the secretary asked.

"They can, with just a click of the mouse," Nomuri assured her. "There may be a 'software' problem, insofar as you have to think simultaneously in two languages," he warned her with a smile.

Ming laughed. "Oh, we always do that here."

Her teeth would have benefited from a good orthodontist, Nomuri thought, but there weren't many of them in Beijing, along with the other bourgeois medical specialties, like reconstructive surgery. For all that, he'd gotten her to laugh, and that was something.

"Would you like to see me demonstrate our new capabilities?" the CIA field officer asked.

"Sure, why not?" She appeared a little disappointed that he wasn't able to do so right here and now.

"Excellent, but I will need you to authorize my bringing the hardware into the building. Your security people, you see."

How did I forget that? he saw her ask herself, blinking rather hard in a mild self-rebuke. Better to set the hook all the way.

"Do you have the authority for that, or must you consult someone more senior?" The most vulnerable point in any communist bureaucrat was their sense of importance-of-place.

A knowing smile: "Oh, yes, I can authorize that on my own authority."

A smile of his own: "Excellent. I can be here with my equipment at, say, ten in the morning."

"Good, the main entrance. They will be awaiting you."

"Thank you, Comrade Ming," Nomuri said with his best officious (short) bow to the young secretary--and, probably, mistress to her minister, the field officer thought. This one had possibilities, but he'd have to be careful with her both for himself and for her, he thought to himself while waiting for the elevator. That's why Langley paid him so much, not counting the princely salary from Nippon Electric Company that was his to keep. He needed it to survive here. The price of living was bad enough for a Chinese. For a foreigner, it was worse, because for foreigners everything was--had to be--special. The apartments were special--and almost certainly bugged. The food he bought in a special shop was more expensive--and Nomuri didn't object to that, since it was also almost certainly healthier.

China was what Nomuri called a thirty-foot country. Everything looked okay, even impressive, until you got within thirty feet of it. Then you saw that the parts didn't fit terribly well. He'd found it could be especially troublesome getting into an elevator, of all things. Dressed as he was in Western-made clothing (the Chinese thought of Japan as a Western country, which would have amused a lot of people, both in Japan and the West), he was immediately spotted as a qwai--a foreign devil--even before people saw his face. When that happened, the looks changed, sometimes to mere curiosity, sometimes to outright hostility, because the Chinese weren't like the Japanese; they weren't trained as thoroughly to conceal their feelings, or maybe they just didn't give a damn, the CIA officer thought behind his own blanked-out poker face. He'd learned the practice from his time in Tokyo, and learned it well, which explained both why he had a good job with NEC and why he'd never been burned in the field.

The elevator ran smoothly enough, but somehow it just didn't feel right. Maybe it was, again, because the pieces didn't quite seem to fit together. Nomuri hadn't had that feeling in Japan. For all their faults, the Japanese were competent engineers. The same was doubtless true of Taiwan, but Taiwan, like Japan, had a capitalist system which rewarded performance by giving it business and profits and comfortable salaries for the workers who turned out good work. The PRC was still learning how to do that. They exported a lot, but to this point the things exported were either fairly simple in design (like tennis shoes), or were manufactured mostly in strict accordance to standards established elsewhere and then slavishly copied here in China (like electronic gadgets). This was already changing, of course. The Chinese people were as clever as any, and even communism could keep them down only so long. Yet the industrialists who were beginning to innovate and offer the world genuinely new products were treated by their government masters as ... well, as unusually productive peasants at best. That was not a happy thought for the useful men who occasionally wondered over drinks why it was that they, the ones who brought wealth into their nation, were treated as ... unusually productive peasants, by the ones who deemed themselves the masters of their country and their culture. Nomuri walked outside, toward his parked automobile, wondering how long that could last.

This whole political and economic policy was schizophrenic, Nomuri knew. Sooner or later, the industrialists would rise up and demand that they be given a voice in the political operation of their country. Perhaps--doubtless--such whispers had happened already. If so, word had gotten back to the whisperers that the tallest tree is quickly cut for lumber, and the well with the sweetest water is first to be drunk dry, and he who shouts too loudly is first to be silenced. So, maybe the Chinese industrial leaders were just biding their time and looking around the rooms where they gathered, wondering which of their number would be the first to take the risk, and maybe he would be rewarded with fame and honor and later memories of heroism--or maybe, more likely, his family would be billed for the 7.62x39 cartridge needed to send him into the next life, which Buddha had promised but which the government contemptuously denied.

So, they haven't made it public yet. That's a little odd," Ryan thought aloud.

"It is," Ben Goodley agreed with a nod.

"Any idea why they're sitting on the news?"

"No, sir ... unless somebody is hoping to cash in on it somehow, but exactly how ..." CARDSHARP shrugged.

"Buy stock in Atlantic Richfield? Some mine-machine builder--"

"Or just buy options in some land in eastern Siberia," George Winston suggested. "Not that such a thing is ever done by the honorable servants of the people." The President laughed hard enough that he had to set his coffee down.

"Certainly not in this administration," POTUS pointed out. One of the benefits the media had with Ryan's team was that so many of them were plutocrats of one magnitude or another, not "working" men. It was as if the media thought that money just appeared in the hands of some fortunate souls by way of miracle ... or some unspoken and undiscovered criminal activity. But never by work. It was the oddest of political prejudices that wealth didn't come from work, but rather from something else, a something never really described, but always implied to be suspect.

"Yeah, Jack," Winston said, with a laugh of his own. "We've got enough that we can afford to be honest. Besides, who the hell needs an oil field or gold mine?"

"Further developments on the size of either?"

Goodley shook his head. "No, sir. The initial information is firming up nicely. Both discoveries are big. The oil especially, but the gold as well."

"The gold thing will distort the market somewhat," SecTreas opined. "Depending on how fast it comes on stream. It might also cause a shutdown of the mine we have operating in the Dakotas."

"Why?" Goodley asked.

"If the Russian strike is as good as the data suggests, they'll be producing gold for about twenty-five percent less than what it costs there, despite environmental conditions. The attendant reduction of the world price of gold will then make Dakota unprofitable to operate." Winston shrugged. "So, they'll mothball the site and sit until the price goes back up. Probably after the initial flurry of production, our Russian friends will scale things back so that they can cash in in a more, uh, orderly way. What'll happen is that the other producers, mainly South Africans, will meet with them and offer advice on how to exploit that find more efficiently. Usually the new kids listen to advice from the old guys. The Russians have coordinated diamond production with the De Beers people for a long time, back to when the country was called the Soviet Union. Business is business, even for commies. So, you going to offer our help to our friends in Moscow?" TRADER asked SWORDSMAN.

Ryan shook his head. "I can't yet. I can't let them know that we know. Sergey Nikolay'ch would start wondering how, and he'd probably come up with SIGINT, and that's a method of gathering information that we try to keep covert." Probably a waste of time, Ryan knew, but the game had rules, and everyone played by those rules. Golovko could guess at signals intelligence, but he'd never quite know. I'll probably never stop being a spook, the President admitted to himself. Keeping and guarding secrets was one of the things that came so easily to him--a little too easily, Arnie van Damm often warned. A modern democratic government was supposed to be more open, like a torn curtain on the bedroom window that allowed people to look in whenever they wished. That was an idea Ryan had never grown to appreciate. He was the one who decided what people were allowed to know and when they'd know it. It was a point of view he followed even when he knew it to be wrong, for no other reason than it was how he'd learned government service at the knee of an admiral named James Greer. Old habits were hard to break.

"I'll call Sam Sherman at Atlantic Richfield," Winston suggested. "If he breaks it to me, then it's in the open, or at least open enough."

"Can we trust him?"

Winston nodded. "Sam plays by the rules. We can't ask him to screw over his own board, but he knows what flag to salute, Jack."

"Okay, George, a discreet inquiry."

"Yes, sir, Mr. President, sir."

"God damn it, George!"

"Jack, when the hell are you going to learn to relax in this fucking job?" SecTreas asked POTUS.

"The day I move out of this goddamned museum and become a free man again," Ryan replied with a submissive nod. Winston was right. He had to learn to stay on a more even keel in the office of President. In addition to not being helpful to himself, it wasn't especially helpful to the country for him to be jumpy with the folderol of office-holding. That also made it easy for people like the Secretary of the Treasury to twist his tail, and George Winston was one of the people who enjoyed doing that ... maybe because it ultimately helped him relax, Ryan thought. Backwards English on the ball or something. "George, why do you think I should relax in this job?"

"Jack, because you're here to be effective, and being tight all the time does not make you more effective. Kick back, guy, maybe even learn to like some aspect of it."

"Like what?"

"Hell." Winston shrugged, and then nodded to the secretaries' office. "Lots of cute young interns out there."

"There's been enough of that," Ryan said crossly. Then he did manage to relax and smile a little. "Besides, I'm married to a surgeon. Make that little mistake and I could wake up without something important."

"Yeah, I suppose it's bad for the country to have the President's dick cut off, eh? People might not respect us anymore." Winston stood. "Gotta go back across the street and look at some economic models."

"Economy looking good?" POTUS asked.

"No complaints from me or Mark Gant. Just so the Fed Chairman leaves the discount rate alone, but I expect he will. Inflation is pretty flat, and there's no upward pressure anywhere that I see happening."

"Ben?"

Goodley looked through his notes, as though he'd forgotten something. "Oh, yeah. Would you believe, the Vatican is appointing a Papal Nuncio to the PRC?"

"Oh? What's that mean, exactly?" Winston asked, stopping halfway to the door.

"The Nuncio is essentially an ambassador. People forget that the Vatican is a nation-state in its own right and has the usual trappings of statehood. That includes diplomatic representation. A nuncio is just that, an ambassador--and a spook," Ryan added.

"Really?" Winston asked.

"George, the Vatican has the world's oldest intelligence service. Goes back centuries. And, yeah, the Nuncio gathers information and forwards it to the home office, because people talk to him--who better to talk to than a priest, right? They're good enough at gathering information that we've made the occasional effort to crack their communications. Back in the thirties, a senior cryppie at the State Department resigned over it," Ryan informed his SecTreas, reverting back to history teacher.

"We still do that?" Winston directed this question at Goodley, the President's National Security Adviser. Goodley looked first to Ryan, and got a nod. "Yes, sir. Fort Meade still takes a look at their messages. Their ciphers are a little old-fashioned, and we can brute-force them."

"And ours?"

"The current standard is called TAPDANCE. It's totally random, and therefore it's theoretically unbreakable--unless somebody screws up and reuses a segment of it, but with approximately six hundred forty-seven million trans-positions on every daily CD-ROM diskette, that's not very likely."

"What about the phone systems?"

"The STU?" Goodley asked, getting a nod. "That's computer-based, with a two-fifty-six-kay computer-generated encryption key. It can be broken, but you need a computer, the right algorithm, and a couple of weeks at least, and the shorter the message the harder it is to crack it, instead of the other way around. The guys at Fort Meade are playing with using quantum-physics equations to crack ciphers, and evidently they're having some success, but if you want an explanation, you're going to have to ask somebody else. I didn't even pretend to listen," Goodley admitted. "It's so far over my head I can't even see the bottom of it."

"Yeah, get your friend Gant involved," Ryan suggested. "He seems to know 'puters pretty well. As a matter of fact, you might want to get him briefed in on these developments in Russia. Maybe he can model the effects they'll have on the Russian economy."

"Only if everyone plays by the rules," Winston said in warning. "If they follow the corruption that's been gutting their economy the last few years, you just can't predict anything, Jack."

We cannot let it happen again, Comrade President," Sergey Nikolay'ch said over a half-empty glass of vodka. This was still the best in the world, if the only such Russian product of which he could make that boast. That thought generated an angry frown at what his nation had become.

"Sergey Nikolay'ch, what do you propose?"

"Comrade President, these two discoveries are a gift from Heaven itself. If we utilize them properly, we can transform our country--or at least make a proper beginning at doing that. The earnings in hard currencies will be colossal, and we can use that money to rebuild so much of our infrastructure that we can transform our economy. If, that is"--he held up a cautionary finger--"if we don't allow a thieving few to take the money and bank it in Geneva or Liechtenstein. It does us no good there, Comrade President."

Golovko didn't add that a few people, a few well-placed individuals, would profit substantially from this. He didn't even add that he himself would be one of them, and so would his president. It was just too much to ask any man to walk away from such an opportunity. Integrity was a virtue best found among those able to afford it, and the press be damned, the career intelligence officer thought. What had they ever done for his country or any other? All they did was expose the honest work of some and the dishonest work of others, doing little actual work themselves--and besides, they were as easily bribed as anyone else, weren't they?

"And so, who gets the concession to exploit these resources?" the Russian president asked.

"In the case of the oil, our own exploration company, plus the American company, Atlantic Richfield. They have the most experience in producing oil in those environmental conditions anyway, and our people have much to learn from them. I would propose a fee-for-service arrangement, a generous one, but not an ownership percentage in the oil field itself. The exploration contract was along those lines, generous in absolute terms, but no share at all in the fields discovered."

"And the gold strike?"

"Easier still. No foreigners were involved in that discovery at all. Comrade Gogol will have an interest in the discovery, of course, but he is an old man with no heirs, and, it would seem, a man of the simplest tastes. A properly heated hut and a new hunting rifle will probably make him very happy, from what these reports tell us."

"And the value of this venture?"

"Upwards of seventy billions. And all we need do is purchase some special equipment, the best of which comes from the American company Caterpillar."

"Is that necessary, Sergey?"

"Comrade President, the Americans are our friends, after a fashion, and it will not hurt us to remain on good terms with their President. And besides, their heavy equipment is the world's finest."

"Better than the Japanese?"

"For these purposes, yes, but slightly more expensive," Golovko answered, thinking that people really were all the same, and despite the education of his youth, in every man there seemed to be a capitalist, looking for ways to cut costs and increase his profits, often to the point of forgetting the larger issues. Well, that was why Golovko was here, wasn't it?

"And who will want the money?"

A rare chuckle in this office: "Comrade President, everyone wants to have money. In realistic terms, our military will be at the front of the line."

"Of course," the Russian president agreed, with a resigned sigh. "They usually are. Oh, any progress in the attack on your car?" he asked, looking up from his briefing papers.

Golovko shook his head. "No notable progress, no. The current thinking is that this Avseyenko fellow was the actual target, and the automobile was just a coincidence. The militia continues to investigate."

"Keep me posted, will you?"

"Of course, Comrade President."

Chapter 5

Headlines

Sam Sherman was one of those whom age hadn't treated kindly, though he himself hadn't helped. An avid golfer, he moved from lie to lie via cart. He was much too overweight to walk more than a few hundred yards in a day. It was rather sad for one who'd been a first-string guard for the Princeton Tigers, once upon a time. Well, Winston thought, muscle just turned to blubber if you didn't use it properly. But the overweight body didn't detract from the sharpness of his brain. Sherman had graduated about fifth in a class not replete with dummies, double-majoring in geology and business. He'd followed up the first sheet of parchment with a Harvard MBA, and a Ph.D. from the University of Texas, this one in geology as well, and so Samuel Price Sherman could not only talk rocks with the explorers but finance with his board members, and that was one of the reasons why Atlantic Richfield stock was as healthy as any oil issue in the known world. His face was lined by a lot of low sun and field grit, and his belly swollen by a lot of beers with the roughnecks out in many godforsaken places, plus hot dogs and other junk food preferred by the men who drifted into such employment. Winston was surprised that Sam didn't smoke, too. Then he spotted the box on the man's desk. Cigars. Probably good ones. Sherman could afford the best, but he still had the Ivy League manners not to light up in front of a guest who might be offended by the blue cloud they generated.

Atlantic Richfield's home office was elsewhere, but as with most major corporations, it didn't hurt to have a set of offices in Washington, the better to influence members of Congress with the occasional lavish party. Sherman's personal office was in a corner on the top floor, and plush enough, with a thick beige carpet. The desk was either mahogany or well-seasoned oak, polished like glass, and probably cost more than his secretary made in a year or two.

"So, how do you like working for the government, George?"

"It's really a fun change of pace. Now I can play with all the things I used to bitch about--so, I guess I've kinda given up my right to bitch."

"That is a major sacrifice, buddy," Sherman replied with a laugh. "It's kinda like going over to the enemy, isn't it?"

"Well, sometimes you gotta pay back, Sam, and making policy the right way can be diverting."

"Well, I have no complaints with what you guys are doing. The economy seems to like it. Anyway," Sherman sat up in his comfortable chair. It was time to change subjects. Sam's time was valuable, too, as he wanted his guest to appreciate. "You didn't come here for small talk. What can I do for you, Mr. Secretary?"

"Russia."

Sherman's eyes changed a little, as they might when the last card was laid in a high-stakes game of stud. "What about it?"

"You have a high-powered exploration team working with the Russians ... they find anything nice?"

"George, that's sensitive stuff you're asking. If you were still running Columbus, this would constitute insider-trading information stuff. Hell, I can't buy any more of our stock now, based on this stuff."

"Does that mean you'd like to?" TRADER asked with a smile.

"Well, it'll be public soon enough anyway. Yeah, George. Looks like we've found the biggest goddamned oil field ever, bigger 'n the Persian Gulf, bigger 'n Mexico, damned sight bigger than Prudhoe Bay and Western Canada combined. I'm talking big, billions and billions of barrels of what looks like the very best light-sweet crude, just sitting there and waiting for us to pump it out of the tundra. It's a field we'll measure in years of production, not just barrels."

"Bigger than the P.G.?"

Sherman nodded. "By a factor of forty percent, and that's a very conservative number. The only beef is where it is. Getting that crude out is going to be a mother-humper--to get started, anyway. We're talking twenty billion dollars just for the pipeline. It'll make Alaska look like a kindergarten project, but it'll be worth it."

"And your end of it?" the Secretary of the Treasury asked.

That question generated a frown. "We're negotiating that now. The Russians seem to want to pay us a flat consulting fee, like a billion dollars a year--they're talking a lot less than that now, but you know how the hog-tradin' works at this stage, right? They say a couple of hundred million, but they mean a billion a year, for seven to ten years, I'd imagine. And that isn't bad for what we'd have to do for the money, but I want a minimum of five percent of the find, and that's not at all an unreasonable request on our part. They have some good people in the geology business, but nobody in the world can sniff out oil in ice like my people can, and they've got a lot to learn about how to exploit something like this. We've been there and done that in these environmental conditions. Ain't nobody knows this like we do, even the guys at BP, and they're pretty good--but we're the best in the world, George. That's the barrel we have them over. They can do it without us, but with us helping, they'll make a ton more cash, and a hell of a lot faster, and they know that, and we know they know that. So, I got my lawyers talking to their lawyers--actually, they have diplomats doing the negotiating." Sherman managed a grin. "They're dumber than my lawyers."

Winston nodded. Texas turned out more good private-practice attorneys than most parts of America, and the excuse was that in Texas there were more men needin' killin' than horses needin' stealin'. And the oil business paid the best, and in Texas, like everyplace else, talent went where the money was.

"When will this go public?"

"The Russians are trying to keep a cork in it. One of the things we're getting from our lawyers is that they're worried about how to exploit this one--really who to keep out of it, you know, their Mafia and stuff. They do have some serious corruption problems over there, and I can sympathize--"

Winston knew he could ignore the next part. The oil industry did business all over the world. Dealing with corruption on the small scale (ten million dollars or less), or even the monstrous scale (ten billion dollars or more), was just part of the territory for such companies as Sam Sherman ran, and the United States government had never probed too deeply into that. Though there were federal statutes governing how American companies handled themselves abroad, many of those laws were selectively enforced, and this was merely one such example. Even in Washington, business was business.

"--and so they're trying to keep it quiet until they can make the proper arrangements," Sherman concluded.

"You hearing anything else?"

"What do you mean?" Sherman asked in reply.

"Any other geological windfalls," Winston clarified.

"No, I'm not that greedy in what I pray for. George, I haven't made it clear enough, just how huge this oil field is. It's--"

"Relax, Sam, I can add and subtract with the best of 'em," SecTreas assured his host.


"Something I need to know about?" Sherman only saw hesitation. "Give and take, George. I played fair with you, remember?"

"Gold," Winston clarified.

"How much?"

"They're not sure. South Africa at least. Maybe more."

"Really? Well, that's not my area of expertise, but sounds like our Russian friends are having a good year for a change. Good for them," Sherman thought.

"You like them?"

"Yeah, as a matter of fact. They're a lot like Texans. They make good friends and fearsome enemies. They know how to entertain, and Jesus, do they know how to drink. About time they got some good luck. Christ knows they've had a lot of the other kind. This is going to mean a lot for their economy, and damned near all of it's going to be good news, 'specially if they can handle the corruption stuff and keep the money inside their borders where it'll do them some good, instead of finding its way onto some Swiss bank's computer. That new Mafia they have over there is smart and tough ... and a little scary. They just got somebody I knew over there."

"Really? Who was that, Sam?"

"We called him Grisha. He took care of some high rollers in Moscow. Knew how to do it right. He was a good name to know if you had some special requirements," Sherman allowed. Winston recorded the information in his mind for later investigation.

"Killed him?"

Sherman nodded. "Yup, blew him away with a bazooka right there on the street--it made CNN, remember?" The TV news network had covered it as a crime story with no further significance except for its dramatic brutality, a story gone and forgotten in a single day.

George Winston vaguely remembered it, and set it aside. "How often you go over there?"

"Not too often, twice this year. Usually hop my G-V over direct out of Reagan or Dallas/Fort Worth. Long flight, but it's a one-hop. No, I haven't seen the new oil field yet. Expect I'll have to in a few months, but I'll try for decent weather. Boy, you don't know what cold means 'til you go that far north in the winter. Thing is, it's dark then, so you're better off waiting 'til summer anyway. But at best you can leave the sticks at home. Ain't no golf a' tall in that part of the world, George."

"So take a rifle and bag yourself a bear, make a nice rug," Winston offered.

"Gave that up. Besides, I got three polar bears. That one is number eight in the Boone and Crockett all-time book," Sherman said, pointing to a photo on the far wall. Sure enough, it showed a hell of a big polar bear. "I've made two kids on that rug," the president of Atlantic Richfield observed, with a sly smile. The pelt in question lay before his bedroom fireplace in Aspen, Colorado, where his wife liked to ski in the winter.

"Why'd you give it up?"

"My kids think there aren't enough polar bears anymore. All that ecology shit they learn in school now."

"Yeah," SecTreas said sympathetically, "and they do make such great rugs."

"Right, well, that rug was threatening some of our workers up at Prudhoe Bay back in ... '75, as I recall, and I took him at sixty yards with my .338 Winchester. One shot," the Texan assured his guest. "I suppose nowadays you have to let the bear kill a human bein', and then all you're supposed to do is just cage him and transport him to another location so the bear doesn't get too traumatized, right?"

"Sam, I'm Secretary of the Treasury. I leave the birds and bees to EPA. I don't hug trees, not until they turn the wood chips into T-Bills, anyway."

A chuckle: "Sorry, George. I'm always hearing that stuff at home. Maybe it's Disney. All wild animals wear white gloves and talk to each other in good Midwestern Iowa English."

"Cheer up, Sam. At least they're laying off the supertankers out of Valdez now. How much of the eastern Alaska/Western Canada strike is yours?"

"Not quite half, but that'll keep my stockholders in milk and cookies for a long time."

"So, between that one and Siberia, how many options will they give you to exercise?" Sam Sherman got a nice salary, but at his level the way you earned your keep was measured in the number of options in the stock whose value your work had increased, invariably offered you by the board of directors, whose own holdings you inflated in value through your efforts.

A knowing smile, and a raised eyebrow: "A lot, George. Quite a lot."

Married life agrees with you, Andrea," President Ryan observed with a smile at his Principal Agent. She was dressing better, and there was a definite spring in her step now. He wasn't sure if her skin had a new glow, or maybe her makeup was just different. Jack had learned never to comment on a woman's makeup. He always got it wrong.

"You're not the only one to say that, sir."

"One hesitates to say such things to a grown adult female, especially if you're fashion-bereft, as I am," Jack said, his smile broadening somewhat. His wife, Cathy, still said she had to dress him because his taste was entirely, she said, in his mouth. "But the change is sufficiently marked that even a man such as myself can see it."

"Thank you, Mr. President. Pat is a very good man, even for a Bureau puke."

"What's he doing now?"

"He's up in Philadelphia right now. Director Murray sent him off on a bank robbery, two local cops got killed in that one."

"Caught that one on TV last week. Bad."

The Secret Service agent nodded. "The way the subjects killed the cops, both in the back of the head, that was pretty ruthless, but there's people out there like that. Anyway, Director Murray decided to handle that one with a Roving Inspector out of Headquarters Division, and that usually means Pat gets to go do it."

"Tell him to be careful," Ryan said. Inspector Pat O"Day had saved his daughter's life less than a year before, and that act had earned him undying Presidential solicitude.

"Every day, sir," Special Agent Price-O'Day made clear.

"Okay, what's the schedule look like?" His "business" appointments were on his desk already. Andrea Price-O' Day filled him in every morning, after his national-security briefing from Ben Goodley.

"Nothing unusual until after lunch. National Chamber of Commerce delegation at one-thirty, and then at three the Detroit Red Wings, they won the Stanley Cup this year. Photo op, TV pukes and stuff, take about twenty minutes or so."

"I ought to let Ed Foley do that one. He's the hockey fanatic--"

"He's a Caps fan, sir, and the Red Wings swept the Caps four straight in the finals. Director Foley might take it personally," Price-O'Day observed with half a smile.

"True. Well, last year we got the jerseys and stuff for his son, didn't we?"

"Yes, sir."

"Good game, hockey. Maybe I ought to catch a game or two. Trouble to arrange that?"

"No, sir. We have standing agreements with all the local sports facilities. Camden Yards even has that special box for us--they let us help design it, the protective stuff, that is."

Ryan grunted. "Yeah, I have to remember all the people who'd like to see me dead."

"My job to think about that, sir, not yours," Price-O'Day told him.

"Except when you won't let me go shopping or to a movie." Neither Ryan nor his family was entirely used to the restrictions imposed on the life of the President of the United States or his immediate family members. It was getting especially tough on Sally, who'd started dating (which was hard on her father), and dating was difficult with a lead car and a chase car (when the young gentleman drove himself) or an official car with a driver and a second armed agent up front (when he did not), and guns all over the place. It tended to restrain the young gentlemen in question--and Ryan hadn't told his daughter that this was just fine with him, lest she stop speaking to him for a week or so. Sally's Principal Agent, Wendy Merritt, had proven to be both a good Secret Service agent and a superb big sister of sorts. They spent at least two Saturdays per month shopping with a reduced detail--actually it wasn't reduced at all, but it appeared so to Sally Ryan when they went out to Tyson's Corner or the Annapolis Mall for the purpose of spending money, something for which all women seemed to have a genetic predisposition. That these shopping expeditions had been planned days in advance, with every site scouted by the Secret Service, and a supplementary detail of young agents selected for their relative invisibility who showed up there an hour before SHADOW'S arrival, had never occurred to Sally Ryan. That was just as well, as the dating problems grated on her badly enough, along with being followed around St. Mary's School in Annapolis by the rifle squad, as she sometimes termed it. Little Jack, on the other hand, thought it was pretty neat, and had recently learned to shoot at the Secret Service Academy in Beltsville, Maryland, with his father's permission (and something he'd not allowed the press to learn, lest he get hammered on the front page of the New York Times for the social indiscretion of encouraging his own son to touch, much less actually to fire, something so inherently evil as a pistol!). Little Jack's Principal Agent was a kid named Mike Brennan, a South Boston Irishman, a third-generation Secret Service agent with fiery red hair and a ready laugh, who'd played baseball at Holy Cross and frequently played catch and pepper with the President's son on the South Lawn of the White House.

"Sir, we never don't let you do anything," Price said.

"No, you're pretty subtle about it," Ryan allowed. "You know that I'm too considerate of other people, and when you tell me about all the crap you people have to go through so that I can buy a burger at Wendy's, I usually back off ... like a damned wimp." The President shook his head. Nothing frightened him more than the prospect that he'd somehow get used to all this panoply of "specialness," as he thought of it. As though he'd only recently discovered royal parentage, and was now to be treated like a king, hardly allowed to wipe his own ass after taking a dump. Doubtless some people who'd lived in this house had gotten used to it, but that was something John Patrick Ryan, Sr., wanted to avoid. He knew that he was not all that special, and not deserving of all this folderol ... and besides, like every other man in the world, when he woke up in the morning the first thing he did was head to the bathroom. Chief Executive he might be, but he still had a working-class bladder. And thank God for that, the President of the United States reflected.

"Where's Robby today?"

"Sir, the Vice President is in California today, the Navy base at Long Beach, giving a speech at the shipyard."

Ryan grinned a little sideways. "I work him pretty hard, don't I?"

"That's the Vice President's job," Arnie van Damm said from the door. "And Robby's a big boy about it," added the President's Chief of Staff.

"Your vacation was good for you," Ryan observed. He had a very nice tan. "What did you do?"

"Mainly I laid on the beach and read all the books I haven't had time for. Thought I'd die of boredom," van Damm added.

"You actually thrive on this crap, don't you?" Jack asked, a little incredulous at the thought.

"It's what I do, Mr. President. Hey, Andrea," he added with a slight turn of the head.

"Good morning, Mr. van Damm." She turned to Jack. "That's all I have for you this morning. If you need me, I'll be in the usual place." Her office was in the Old Executive Office Building, just across the street, and upstairs from the new Secret Service command post, called JOC, for Joint Operations Center.

"Okay, Andrea, thanks." Ryan nodded, as she withdrew into the secretaries' room, from which she'd head down to the Secret Service Command Post. "Arnie, get some coffee?"

"Not a bad idea, boss." The Chief of Staff took his usual seat and poured a cup. The coffee in the White House was especially good, a rich blend, about half Colombian and half Jamaica Blue Mountain, the sort of thing that Ryan could get used to as President. There had to be some place he could buy this after escaping from his current job, he hoped.

"Okay, I've had my national security brief and my Secret Service brief. Now tell me about politics for the day."

"Hell, Jack, I've been trying to do that for over a year now, and you still aren't getting it very well."

Ryan allowed his eyes to flare at the simulated insult. "That's a cheap shot, Arnie. I've been studying this crap pretty hard, and even the damned newspapers say I'm doing fairly well."

"The Federal Reserve is doing a brilliant job of handling the economy, Mr. President, and that has damned little to do with you. But since you are the President, you get credit for all the good things that happen, and that's nice, but do remember, you will also get the blame for all the bad things that are going to happen--and some will, remember that--because you just happen to be here, and the citizens out there think you can make the rain fall on their flowers and the sun come out for their picnics just by wishing it so.

"You know, Jack," the Chief of Staff said after sipping his coffee. "We really haven't got past the idea of kings and queens. A lot of people really do think you have that sort of personal power--"

"But I don't, Arnie, how can that be?"

"It just is the truth, Jack. It doesn't have to make sense. It just is. Deal with it."

I do so love these lessons, Ryan thought to himself. "Okay, today is ... ?"

"Social Security."

Ryan's eyes relaxed. "I've been reading up on that. The third rail of American political life. Touch it and die."

For the next half hour, they discussed what was wrong and why, and the irresponsibility of the Congress, until Jack sat back with a sigh.

"Why don't they learn, Arnie?"

"What do they need to learn?" Arnie asked, with the grin of a Washington insider, one of the anointed of God. "They've been elected. They must know it all already! How else do you think they got here?"

"Why the hell did I allow myself to stay in this damned place?" the President asked rhetorically.

"Because you had a conscience attack and decided to do the right thing for your country, you dumbass, that's why."

"Why is it you're the only person who can talk to me like that?"

"Besides the Vice President? Because I'm your teacher. Back to today's lesson. We could leave Social Security alone this year. It's in decent enough fiscal shape to last another seven to nine years without intervention, and that means you could leave it to your successor to handle--"

"That's not ethical, Arnie," Ryan snapped.

"True," the Chief of Staff agreed, "but it's good politics, and fairly Presidential. It's called letting sleeping dogs lie."

"You don't do that in the knowledge that as soon as it wakes up, it's going to rip the baby's throat out."

"Jack, you really ought to be a king. You'd be a good one," van Damm said, with what appeared to be genuine admiration.

"Nobody can handle that kind of power."

"I know: 'Power corrupts, and absolute power is actually pretty neat.' So said a staffer for one of your predecessors."

"And the bastard wasn't hanged for saying it?"

"We need to work on that sense of humor, Mr. President. That was meant as a joke."

"The scariest part of this job is that I do see the humor of it. Anyway, I told George Winston to start a quiet project to see what we can do with Social Security. Quiet project, I mean classified--black, this project doesn't exist."

"Jack, if you have one weakness as President, that's it. You're into this secrecy thing too much."

"But if you do something like this in the open, you get clobbered by ill-informed criticism before you manage to produce anything, and the press crawls up your ass demanding information you don't have yet, and so then they go make up stuff on their own, or they go to some yahoo who just makes up bullshit, and then we have to answer it."

"You are learning," Arnie judged. "That's exactly how it works in this town."

"That does not constitute 'working' by any definition I know of."

"This is Washington, a government town. Nothing is really supposed to function efficiently here. It would scare the hell out of the average citizen if the government started to function properly."

"How about I just fucking resign?" Jack asked the ceiling. "If I can't get this damned mess to start working, then why the hell am I here?"

"You're here because some Japanese 747 pilot decided to crash the party at the House Chamber fifteen months ago."

"I suppose, Arnie, but I still feel like a damned fraud."

"Well, by my old standards, you are a fraud, Jack."

Ryan looked up. "Old standards?"

"Even when Bob Fowler took over the statehouse in Ohio, Jack, even he didn't try as hard as you to play a fair game, and Bob got captured by the system, too. You haven't yet, and that's what I like about you. More to the point, that's what Joe Citizen likes about you. They may not like your positions, but everybody knows you try damned hard, and they're sure you're not corrupt. And you're not. Now: Back to Social Security."

"I told George to get a small group together, swear them to secrecy, and make recommendations--more than one--and at least one of them has to be completely outside the box."

"Who's running this?"

"Mark Gant, George's technical guy."

The Chief of Staff thought that one over for a moment. "Just as well you keep it quiet. The Hill doesn't like him. Too much of a smart-ass."

"And they're not?" SWORDSMAN asked.

"You were naive with that, Jack. The people you tried to get elected, non-politicians, well, you semi-succeeded. A lot of them were regular people, but what you didn't allow for was the seductive nature of life in elected government service. The money isn't all that great, but the perks are, and a lot of people like being treated like a medieval prince. A lot of people like being able to enforce their will on the world. The people who used to be there, the ones that pilot fried in their seats, they started off as pretty good people, too, but the nature of the job is to seduce and capture. Actually, the mistake you made was to allow them to keep their staffs. Honestly, I think the problem down there is in the staffers, not the bosses. You have ten or more people around you all the time telling you how great you are, sooner or later you start believing that crap."

"Just so you don't do that to me."

"Not in this lifetime," Arnie assured him, as he stood to leave. "Make sure Secretary Winston keeps me in the loop on the Social Security project."

"No leaks," Ryan told his Chief of Staff forcefully.

"Me? Leak something? Me?" van Damm replied with open hands and an innocent face.

"Yeah, Arnie, you." As the door closed, the President wondered how fine a spook Arnie might have made. He lied with the plausibility one might associate with a trusted member of the clergy, and he could hold all manner of contradictory thoughts in his head at the same time, like the best of circus jugglers ... and somehow they never quite crashed to earth. Ryan was the current president, but the one member of the administration who could not be replaced was the chief of staff he'd inherited from Bob Fowler, by way of Roger Durling ...

And yet, Jack wondered, how much was he being manipulated by this staff employee? The truthful answer was that he couldn't tell, and that was somewhat troubling. He trusted Arnie, but he trusted Arnie because he had to trust him. Jack would not know what to do without him ... but was that a good thing?

Probably not, Ryan admitted to himself, checking over his appointment list, but neither was being here in the Oval Office, and Arnie was at worst one more thing not to like about this job, and at best, he was a scrupulously honest, extremely hardworking, and utterly dedicated public servant ...

... just like everyone else in Washington, D.C., Ryan's cynicism added.

CHAPTER 6

Expansion

Moscow is eight hours ahead of Washington, a source of annoyance to diplomats who are either a day behind the times or too far out of synch with their body clocks to conduct business properly. This was more a problem for the Russians, as by five or six in the evening, most of them had had a few stiff drinks, and given the relative speed of all diplomatic exchange, it was well into the falling night in Moscow before American diplomats emerged from their "working lunches" to issue a demarche or communique, or a simple letter of reply to whatever the Russians had issued the previous working day. In both capitals, of course, there was always a night crew to read and evaluate things on a more timely basis, but these were underlings, or at best people on their way up but not quite there yet, who always had to judge which possibility was worse: waking up a boss with something unworthy of the nighttime phone call, or delaying until the post-breakfast morning something that the minister or secretary ought to have been informed of right now! And more than one career had been made or broken on such seeming trivialities.

In this particular case, it would not be a diplomat's hide at risk. It was six-fifteen on the Russian spring evening, the sun high in the sky still, in anticipation of the "White Nights" for which the Russian summer is justly famous.

"Yes, Pasha?" Lieutenant Provalov said. He'd taken over Klusov from Shablikov. This case was too important to leave in anyone else's hands--and besides, he'd never really trusted Shablikov: There was something a little too corrupt about him.

Pavel Petrovich Klusov was not exactly an advertisement for the quality of life in the new Russia. Hardly one hundred sixty-five centimeters or so in height, but close to ninety kilos, he was a man the bulk of whose calories came in liquid form, who shaved poorly when he bothered at all, and whose association with soap was less intimate than it ought to have been. His teeth were crooked and yellow from the lack of brushing and a surfeit of smoking cheap, unfiltered domestic cigarettes. He was thirty-five or so, and had perhaps a fifty-fifty chance of making forty-five, Provalov estimated. It was not as though he'd be much of a loss to society, of course. Klusov was a petty thief, lacking even the talent--or courage--to be a major violator of the law. But he knew those who were, and evidently scampered around them like a small dog, performing minor services, like fetching a bottle of vodka, the Militia lieutenant thought. But Klusov did have ears, which many people, especially criminals, had an odd inability to consider.

"Avseyenko was killed by two men from St. Petersburg. I do not know their names, but I think they were hired by Klementi Ivan'ch Suvorov. The killers are former Spetsnaz soldiers with experience in Afghanistan, in their late thirties, I think. One is blond, the other red-haired. After killing Grisha, they flew back north before noon on an Aeroflot flight."

"That is good, Pasha. Have you seen their faces?"

A shake of the head: "No, Comrade Lieutenant. I learned this from ... someone I know, in a drinking place." Klusov lit a new cigarette with the end of its predecessor.

"Did your acquaintance say why our friend Suvorov had Avseyenko killed?" And who the hell is Klementi Ivan'ch Suvorov? the policeman wondered. He hadn't heard that name before, but didn't want Klusov to know that quite yet. Better to appear omniscient.

The informant shrugged. "Both were KGB, maybe there was bad blood between them."

"What exactly is Suvorov doing now?"

Another shrug: "I don't know. Nobody does. I am told he lives well, but the source of his income, no one knows."

"Cocaine?" the cop asked.

"It is possible, but I do not know." The one good thing about Klusov was that he didn't invent things. He told the (relatively) unvarnished truth ... most of the time, the militia lieutenant told himself.

Provalov's mind was already spinning. Okay, a former KGB officer had hired two former Spetsnaz soldiers to eliminate another former KGB officer who'd specialized in running girls. Had this Suvorov chap approached Avseyenko for cooperation in a drug venture? Like most Moscow cops, he'd never grown to like the KGB. They'd been arrogant bullies most of the time, too besotted with their power to perform proper investigations, except against foreigners, for whom the niceties of civilized behavior were necessary, lest foreign nations treat Soviet citizens--worse, Soviet diplomats--the same way.

But so many KGB officers had been let go by their parent service, and few of them had drifted into menial labor. No, they had training in conspiracy, and many had done foreign travel, and there met all manner of people, most of whom, Provalov was sure, could be persuaded to undertake illegal operations for the right inducement, which invariably meant money. For money, people would do anything, a fact known by every police officer in every country in the world.

Suvorov. Must track that name down, the militia lieutenant told himself as he took a casual sip of his vodka. Examine his background, determine his expertise, and get a photo. Suvorov, Klementi Ivanovich.

"Anything else?" the lieutenant asked.

Klusov shook his head. "That is all I have uncovered."

"Well, not too bad. Get back to work, and call me when you discover more."

"Yes, Comrade Lieutenant." The informant stood up to leave. He left the bill with the cop, who'd pay it without much in the way of annoyance. Oleg Gregoriyevich Provalov had spent enough time in police work to understand that he might just have discovered something important. Of course, you couldn't tell at this stage, not until you ran it down, every single option and blind alley, which could take rather some time ... but if it turned out to be something important, then it was worth it. And if not, it was just another blind alley, of which there were many in police work.

Provalov reflected on the fact that he hadn't asked his informant exactly who had given him this new flood of information. He hadn't forgotten, but perhaps had allowed himself to be a little gulled by the descriptions of the alleged former Spetsnaz soldiers who'd made the murder. He had their descriptions in his mind, and then removed his pad to write them down. Blond and red-haired, experience in Afghanistan, both living in St. Petersburg, flew back just before noon on the day Avseyenko was murdered. So, he would check for the flight number and run the names on the manifest through the new computers Aeroflot used to tie into the global ticketing system, then cross-check it against his own computer with its index of known and suspected criminals, and also with the army's records. If he got a hit, he'd have a man talk to the cabin crew of that Moscow--St. Petersburg flight to see if anyone remembered one or both of them. Then he'd have the St. Petersburg militia do a discreet check of these people, their addresses, criminal records if any, a normal and thorough background check, leading, possibly, to an interview. He might not conduct it himself, but he'd be there to observe, to get a feel for the suspects, because there was no substitute for that, for looking in their eyes, seeing how they talked, how they sat, if they fidgeted or not, if the eyes held those of the questioner, or traveled about the room. Did they smoke then, and if so, rapidly and nervously or slowly and contemptuously ... or just curiously, as would be the case if they were innocent of this charge, if not, perhaps, of another.

The militia lieutenant paid the bar bill and headed outside.

"You need to pick a better place for your meets, Oleg," a familiar voice suggested from behind. Provalov turned to see the face.

"It is a big city, Mishka, with many drinking places, and most of them are poorly lit."

"And I found yours, Oleg Gregoriyevich," Reilly reminded him. "So, what have you learned?"

Provalov summarized what he'd found out this evening.

"Two shooters from Spetsnaz? I suppose that makes some sense. What would that cost?"

"It would not be inexpensive. As a guess ... oh, five thousand euros or so," the lieutenant speculated as they walked up the street.

"And who would have that much money to throw around?"

"A Muscovite criminal ... Mishka, as you well know, there are hundreds who could afford it, and Rasputin wasn't the most popular of men ... and I have a new name, Suvorov, Klementi Ivan'ch."

"Who is he?"

"I do not know. It is a new name for me, but Klusov acted as though I ought to have known it well. Strange that I do not," Provalov thought aloud.

"It happens. I've had wise guys turn up from nowhere, too. So, check him out?"

"Yes, I will run the name. Evidently he, too, is former KGB."

"There are a lot of them around," Reilly agreed, steering his friend into a new hotel's bar.

"What will you do when CIA is broken up?" Provalov asked.

"Laugh," the FBI agent promised.

The city of St. Petersburg was known to some as the Venice of the North for the rivers and canals that cut through it, though the climate, especially in winter, could hardly have been more different. And it was in one of those rivers that the next clue appeared.

A citizen had spotted it on his way to work in the morning, and, seeing a militiaman at the next corner, he'd walked that way and pointed, and the policeman had walked back, and looked over the iron railing at the space designated by the passing citizen.

It wasn't much to see, but it only took a second for the cop to know what it was and what it would mean. Not garbage, not a dead animal, but the top of a human head, with blond or light brown hair. A suicide or a murder, something for the local cops to investigate. The militiaman walked to the nearest phone to make his call to headquarters, and in thirty minutes a car showed up, followed in short order by a black van. By this time, the militiaman on his beat had smoked two cigarettes in the crisp morning air, occasionally looking down into the water to make sure that the object was still there. The arriving men were detectives from the city's homicide bureau. The van that had followed them had a pair of people called technicians, though they had really been trained in the city's public-works department, which meant water-and-sewer workers, though they were paid by the local militia. These two men took a look over the rail, which was enough to tell them that recovering the body would be physically difficult but routine. A ladder was set up, and the junior man, dressed in waterproof coveralls and heavy rubber gauntlets, climbed down and grabbed the submerged collar, while his partner observed and shot a few frames from his cheap camera and the three policemen on the scene observed and smoked from a few feet away. That's when the first surprise happened.

The routine was to put a flexible collar on the body under the arms, like that used by a rescue helicopter, so that the body could be winched up. But when he worked to get the collar under the body, one of the arms wouldn't move at all, and the worker struggled for several unpleasant minutes, working to get the stiff dead arm upward ... and eventually found that it was handcuffed to another arm.

That revelation caused both detectives to toss their cigarettes into the water. It was probably not a suicide, since that form of death was generally not a team sport. The sewer rat--that was how they thought of their almost-police comrades--took another ten minutes before getting the hoist collar in place, then came up the ladder and started cranking the winch.

It was clear in a moment. Two men, not old ones, not badly dressed. They'd been dead for several days, judging by the distortion and disfigurement of their faces. The water had been cold, and that had slowed the growth and hunger of the bacteria that devoured most bodies, but water itself did things to bodies that were hard on the full stomach to gaze upon, and these two faces looked like ... like Pokemon toys, one of the detectives thought, just like perverse and horrible Pokemon toys, like those that one of his kids lusted after. The two sewer rats loaded the bodies into body bags for transport to the morgue, where the examinations would take place. As yet, they knew nothing except that the bodies were indeed dead. There were no obviously missing body parts, and the general dishevelment of the bodies prevented their seeing anything like a bullet or knife wound. For the moment, they had what Americans would call two John Does, one with blond or light brown hair, the other with what appeared to be reddish hair. From appearances, they'd been in the water for three or four days. And they'd probably died together, handcuffed as they were, unless one had murdered the other and then jumped to his own death, in which case one or both might have been homosexual, the more cynical of the two detectives thought. The beat cop was told to write up the proper reporting forms at his station, which, the militiaman thought, would be nice and warm. There was nothing like finding a corpse or two to make a cold day colder still.

The body-recovery team loaded the bags into their van for the drive to the morgue. The bags were not properly sealed because of the handcuffs, and they sat side by side on the floor of the van, perversely like the hands of lovers reaching out to each other in death ... as they had in life? one of the detectives wondered aloud back in their car. His partner just growled at that one and continued his drive.

It was, agreeably, a slow day in the St. Petersburg morgue. The senior pathologist on duty, Dr. Aleksander Koniev, had been in his office reading a medical journal and well bored by the inactivity of the morning, when the call came in, a possible double homicide. Those were always interesting, and Koniev was a devotee of murder mysteries, most of them imported from Britain and America, which also made them a good way to polish up his language skills. He was waiting in the autopsy room when the bodies arrived, were transferred to gurneys at the loading ramp and rolled together into his room. It took a moment to see why the two gurneys were wheeled side by side.

"So," the pathologist asked with a sardonic grin, "were they killed by the militia?"

"Not officially," the senior detective replied, in the same emotional mode. He knew Koniev.

"Very well." The physician switched on the tape recorder. "We have two male cadavers, still fully dressed. It is apparent that both have been immersed in water--where were they recovered?" he asked, looking up at the cops. They answered. "Immersed in fresh water in the Neva. On initial visual inspection, I would estimate three to four days' immersion after death." His gloved hands felt around one head, and the other. "Ah," his voice said. "Both victims seem to have been shot. Both have what appear to be bullet holes in the center of the occipital region of both bodies. Initial impression is a small-caliber bullet hole in both victims. We'll check that later. Yevgeniy," he said, looking up again, this time at his own technician. "Remove the clothing and bag it for later inspection."

"Yes, Comrade Doctor." The technician put out his cigarette and came forward with cutting tools.

"Both shot?" the junior detective asked.

"In the same place in both heads," Koniev confirmed. "Oh, they were handcuffed after death, strangely enough. No immediately visible bruising on either wrist. Why do it afterwards?" the pathologist wondered.

"Keeps the bodies together," the senior detective thought aloud--but why might that be important? he wondered to himself. The killer or killers had an overly developed sense of neatness? But he'd been investigating homicides long enough to know that you couldn't fully explain all the crimes you solved, much less the ones you'd newly encountered.

"Well, they were both fit," Koniev said next, as his technician got the last of their clothes off. "Hmm, what's that?" He walked over and saw a tattoo on the left biceps of the blond one, then turned to see--"They both have the same tattoo."

The senior detective came over to see, first thinking that maybe his partner had been right and there was a sexual element to this case, but--

"Spetsnaz, the red star and thunderbolt, these two were in Afghanistan. Anatoliy, while the doctor conducts his examination, let's go through their clothing."

This they did, and in half an hour determined that both had been well dressed in fairly expensive clothing, but in both cases entirely devoid of identification of any kind. That was hardly unusual in a situation like this, but cops, like everyone else, prefer the easy to the hard. No wallet, no identity papers, not a banknote, key chain, or tie tack. Well, they could trace them through the labels on the clothes, and nobody had cut their fingertips off, and so they could also use fingerprints to identify them. Whoever had done the double murder had been clever enough to deny the police some knowledge, but not clever enough to deny them everything.

What did that mean? the senior detective wondered. The best way to prevent a murder investigation was to make the bodies disappear. Without a body there was no proof of death, and therefore, no murder investigation, just a missing person who could have run off with another woman or man, or just decided to go someplace to start life anew. And disposing of a body was not all that difficult, if you thought about it a little. Fortunately, most killings were, if not exactly impulse crimes, then something close to it, and most killers were fools who would later seal their own fates by talking too much.

But not this time. Had this been a sexual killing, he probably would have heard about it by now. Such crimes were virtually advertised by their perpetrators in some perverse desire to assure their own arrest and conviction, because no one who committed that kind of crime seemed able to keep his mouth shut about anything.

No, this double killing had every hallmark of professionalism. Both bodies killed in the same way, and only then handcuffed together ... probably for better and/or lengthier concealment. No sign of a struggle on either body, and both were manifestly fit, trained, dangerous men. They'd been taken unawares, and that usually meant someone they both knew and trusted. Why criminals trusted anyone in their community was something neither detective quite understood. "Loyalty" was a word they could scarcely spell, much less a principle to which any of them adhered ... and yet criminals gave strange lip-service to it.

As the detectives watched, the pathologist drew blood from both bodies for later toxicology tests. Perhaps both had been drugged as a precursor to the head shots, not likely, but possible, and something to be checked. Scrapings were taken from all twenty fingernails, and those, too, would probably be valueless. Finally, fingerprints were taken so that proper identification could be made. This would not be very fast. The central records bureau in Moscow was notoriously inefficient, and the detectives would beat their own local bushes in the hope of finding out who these two cadavers had once been.

"Yevgeniy, these are not men of whom I would have made enemies lightly."

"I agree, Anatoliy," the elder of the two said. "But someone either did not fear them at all ... or feared them sufficiently to take very drastic action." The truth of the matter was that both men were accustomed to solving easy murders where the killer confessed almost at once, or had committed his crime in front of numerous witnesses. This one would challenge their abilities, and they would report that to their lieutenant, in the hope of getting additional assets assigned to the case.

As they watched, photos were taken of the faces, but those faces were so distorted as to be virtually unrecognizable, and the photos would then be essentially useless for purposes of identification. But taking them prior to opening the skull was procedure, and Dr. Koniev did everything by the book. The detectives stepped outside to make a few phone calls and smoke in a place with a somewhat more palatable ambience. By the time they came back, both bullets were in plastic containers, and Koniev told them that the presumptive cause of both deaths was a single bullet in each brain, with powder tattooing evident on both scalps. They'd both been killed at short range, less than half a meter, the pathologist told them, with what appeared to be a standard, light 2.6-gram bullet fired from a 5.45-mm PSM police pistol. That might have generated a snort, since this was the standard-issue police side arm, but quite a few had found their way into the Russian underworld.

"The Americans call this a professional job," Yevgeniy observed.

"Certainly it was accomplished with skill," Anatoliy agreed. "And now, first ..."

"First we find out who these unlucky bastards were. Then, who the hell were their enemies."

The Chinese food in China wasn't nearly as good as that to be found in LA, Nomuri thought. Probably the ingredients, was his immediate analysis. If the People's Republic had a Food and Drug Administration, it had been left out of his premission briefing, and his first thought on entering this restaurant was that he didn't want to check the kitchen out. Like most Beijing restaurants, this one was a small mom-and-pop operation operating out of the first floor of what was in essence a private home, and serving twenty people out of a standard Chinese communist home kitchen, which must have involved considerable acrobatics. The table was circular, small, and eminently cheap, and the chair was uncomfortable, but for all that, the mere fact that such a place existed was testimony to fundamental changes in the political leadership of this country.

But the mission of the evening sat across from him. Lian Ming. She wore the standard off-blue boiler suit that was virtually the uniform of low- to mid-level bureaucrats in the various government ministries. Her hair was cut short, almost like a helmet. The fashion industry in this city must have been established by some racist son of a bitch who loathed the Chinese and tried his level best to make them as unattractive as he could. He'd yet to see a single local female citizen who dressed in a manner that anyone could call attractive--except, maybe, for some imports from Hong Kong. Uniformity was a problem with the Orient, the utter lack of variety, unless you counted the foreigners who were showing up in ever-increasing numbers, but they stuck out like roses in a junkyard, and that merely emphasized the plethora of junk. Back home, at USC, one could have--well, one could look at, the CIA officer corrected himself--any sort of female to be had on the planet. White, black, Jewish, gentile, yellow in various varieties, Latina, some real Africans, plenty of real Europeans--and there you had ample variety, too: the dark-haired, earthy Italians, the haughty French, the proper Brits, and the stiff Germans. Toss in some Canadians, and the Spanish (who went out of their way to be separated from the local Spanish speakers) and lots of ethnic Japanese (who were also separated from the local Japanese, though in this case at the will of the latter rather than the former), and you had a virtual deli of people. The only sameness there came from the Californian atmosphere, which commanded that every individual had to work hard to be presentable and attractive, for that was the One Great Commandment of life in California, home of Rollerblading and surfing, and the tight figures that went along with both pastimes.

Not here. Here everyone dressed the same, looked the same, talked the same, and largely acted the same way ... ... except this one. There was something else to be had here, Nomuri thought, and that's why he'd asked her to dinner.

It was called seduction, which had been part of the spy's playbook since time immemorial, though it would be a first for Nomuri. He hadn't been quite celibate in Japan, where mores had changed in the past generation, allowing young men and young women to meet and ... communicate on the most basic of levels--but there, in a savage, and for Chester Nomuri a rather cruel, irony, the more available Japanese girls had a yen for Americans. Some said it was because Americans had a reputation for being better equipped for lovemaking than the average Japanese male, a subject of much giggling for Japanese girls who have recently become sexually active. Part of it was also that American men were reputed to treat their women better than the Japanese variety, and since Japanese women were far more obsequious than their Western counterparts, it probably worked out as a good deal for both sides of the partnerships that developed. But Chet Nomuri was a spook covered as a Japanese salaryman, and had learned to fit in so well that the local women regarded him as just another Japanese male, and so his sex life had been hindered by his professional skills, which hardly seemed fair to the field officer, brought up, like so many American men, on the movies of 007 and his numerous conquests: Mr. Kiss-Kiss Bang-Bang, as he was known in the West Indies. Well, Nomuri hadn't handled a pistol either, not since his time at The Farm--the CIA's training school off Interstate 64 near Yorktown, Virginia--and hadn't exactly broken any records there in the first place.

But this one had possibilities, the field officer thought, behind his normal, neutral expression, and there was nothing in the manual against getting laid on the job--what a crimp on Agency morale that would have been, he considered. Such stories of conquest were a frequent topic of conversation at the rare but real field-officer get-togethers that the Agency occasionally held, usually at The Farm, for the field spooks to compare notes on techniques--the after-hour beer sessions often drifted in this direction. For Chet Nomuri since getting to Beijing, his sex life had consisted of prowling Internet pornography sites. For one reason or another, the Asian culture made for an ample collection of such things, and while Nomuri wasn't exactly proud of this addiction, his sexual drive needed some outlet.

With a little work, Ming might have been pretty, Nomuri thought. First of all she needed long hair. Then, perhaps, better frames on her eyeglasses. Those she wore had all the attraction of recycled barbed wire. Then some makeup. Exactly what sort Nomuri wasn't sure--he was no expert on such things, but her skin had an ivory-like quality to it that a little chemical enhancement might turn into something attractive. But in this culture, except for people on the stage (whose makeup was about as subtle as a Las Vegas neon sign), makeup meant washing your face in the morning, if that. It was her eyes, he decided. They were lively and ... cute. There was life in them, or behind them, however that worked. She might even have had a decent figure, but it was hard to tell in that clothing.

"So, the new computer system works well?" he asked, after the lingering sip of green tea.

"It is magical," she replied, almost gushing. "The characters come out beautifully, and they print up perfectly on the laser printer, as though from a scribe."

"What does your minister think?"

"Oh, he is very pleased. I work faster now, and he is very pleased by that!" she assured him.

"Pleased enough to place an order?" Nomuri asked, reverting back to his salaryman cover.

"This I must ask the chief of administration, but I think you will be satisfied by the response."

That will make NEC happy, the CIA officer thought, again wondering briefly how much money he'd made for his cover firm. His boss in Tokyo would have gagged on his sake to know whom Nomuri really worked for, but the spook had won all of his promotions at NEC on merit, while moonlighting for his true country. It was a fortunate accident, Chet thought, that his real job and his cover one blended so seamlessly. That and the fact that he'd been raised in a very traditional home, speaking two native tongues ... and more than that, the sense of on, the duty owed to his native land, far over and above that he pretended to owe to his parent culture. He'd probably gotten that from seeing his grandfather's framed plaque, the Combat Infantryman's Badge in the center on the blue velvet, surrounded by the ribbons and medallions that designated awards for bravery, the Bronze Star with combat "V," the Presidential Distinguished Unit Citation, and the campaign ribbons won as a grunt with the 442nd Regimental Combat team in Italy and Southern France. Fucked over by America, his grandfather had earned his citizenship rights in the ultimate and best possible way before returning home to the landscaping business that had educated his sons and grandsons, and taught one of them the duty he owed his country. And besides, this could be fun.

It was now, Nomuri thought, looking deeply into Ming's dark eyes, wondering what the brain behind them was thinking. She had two cute dimples at the sides of her mouth, and, he thought, a very sweet smile on an otherwise unremarkable face.

"This is such a fascinating country," he said. "By the way, your English is very good." And good that it was. His Mandarin needed a lot of help, and one doesn't seduce women with sign language.

A pleased smile. "Thank you. I do study very hard."

"What books do you read?" he asked with an engaging smile of his own.

"Romances, Danielle Steel, Judith Krantz. America offers women so many more opportunities than what we are used to here."

"America is an interesting country, but chaotic," Nomuri told her. "At least in this society one can know his place."

"Yes." She nodded. "There is security in that, but sometimes too much. Even a caged bird wishes to spread its wings."

"I will tell you one thing I find bad here."

"What is that?" Ming asked, not offended, which, Nomuri thought, was very good indeed. Maybe he'd get a Steele novel and read up on what she liked.

"You should dress differently. Your clothing is not flattering. Women should dress more attractively. In Japan there is much variety in clothing, and you can dress Eastern or Western as the spirit moves you."

She giggled. "I would settle for the underthings. They must feel so nice on the skin. That is not a very socialist thought," she told him, setting down her cup. The waiter came over, and with Nomuri's assent she ordered mao-tai, a fiery local liqueur. The waiter returned rapidly with two small porcelain cups and a flask, from which he poured daintily. The CIA officer nearly gasped with his first sip, and it went down hot, but it certainly warmed the stomach. Ming's skin, he saw, flushed from it, and there came the fleeting impression that a gate had just been opened and passed ... and that it probably led in the right direction.

"Not everything can be socialist," Nomuri judged, with another tiny sip. "This restaurant is a private concern, isn't it?"

"Oh, yes. And the food is better than what I cook. That is a skill I do not have."

"Truly? Then perhaps you will allow me to cook for you sometime," Chet suggested.

"Oh?"

"Certainly." He smiled. "I can cook American style, and I am able to shop at a closed store to get the correct ingredients." Not that the ingredients would be worth a damn, shipped in as they were, but a damned sight better than the garbage you got here in the public markets, and a steak dinner was probably something she'd never had. Could he justify getting CIA to put a few Kobe beef steaks on his expense account? Nomuri wondered. Probably. The bean-counters at Langley didn't bother the field spooks all that much.

"Really?"

"Of course. There are some advantages to being a foreign barbarian," he told her with a sly smile. The giggling response was just right, he thought. Yeah. Nomuri took another careful sip of this rocket fuel. She'd just told him what she wanted to wear. Sensible, too, for this culture. However comfy it might be, it would also be quite discreet.

"So, what else can you tell me about yourself?" he asked next.

"There is little to tell. My job is beneath my education, but it carries prestige for ... well, for political reasons. I am a highly educated secretary. My employer--well, technically I work for the state, as do most of us, but in fact I work for my minister as if he were in the capitalist sector and paid me from his own pocket." She shrugged. "I suppose it has always been so. I see and hear interesting things."

Don't want to ask about them now, Nomuri knew. Later, sure, but not now.

"It is the same with me, industrial secrets and such. Ahh," he snorted. "Better to leave such things at my official desk. No, Ming, tell me about you."

"Again, there is little to tell. I am twenty-four. I am educated. I suppose I am lucky to be alive. You know what happens to many girl babies here ..."

Nomuri nodded. "I have heard the stories. They are distasteful," he agreed with her. It was more than that. It was not unknown for the father of a female toddler to drop her down a well in the hope that his wife would bear him a son on the next try. One-baby-per-family was almost a law in the PRC, and like most laws in a communist state, that one was ruthlessly enforced. An unauthorized baby was often allowed to come to term, but then as birth took place, when the baby "crowned," the top of the head appearing, the very moment of birth, the attending physician or nurse would take a syringe loaded with formaldehyde, and stab it into the soft spot at the crown of the almost-newborn's head, push the plunger, and extinguish its life at the moment of its beginning. It wasn't something the government of the PRC advertised as government policy, but government policy it was. Nomuri's one sister, Alice, was a physician, an obstetrician /gynecologist trained at UCLA, and he knew that his sister would take poison herself before performing such a barbarous act, or take a pistol to use on whoever demanded that she do it. Even so, some surplus girl babies somehow managed to be born, and these were often abandoned, and then given up for adoption, mainly to Westerners, because the Chinese themselves had no use for them at all. Had it been done to Jews, it would have been called genocide, but there were a lot of Chinese to go around. Carried to extremes, it could lead to racial extinction, but here it was just called population control. "In due course Chinese culture will again recognize the value of women, Ming. That is certain."

"I suppose it is," she allowed. "How are women treated in Japan?"

Nomuri allowed himself a laugh. "The real question is how well they treat us, and how well they permit us to treat them!"

"Truly?"

"Oh, yes. My mother ruled the house until she died."

"Interesting. Are you religious?"

Why that question? Chet wondered.

"I have never decided between Shinto and Zen Buddhism," he replied, truthfully. He'd been baptized a Methodist, but fallen away from his church many years before. In Japan he'd examined the local religions just to understand them, the better to fit in, and though he'd learned much about both, neither had appealed to his American upbringing. "And you?"

"I once looked into Falun Gong, but not seriously. I had a friend who got very involved. He's in prison now."

"Ah, a pity." Nomuri nodded sympathetically, wondering how close the friend had been. Communism remained a jealous system of belief, intolerant of competition of any sort. Baptists were the new religious fad, springing up as if from the very ground itself, started off, he thought, from the Internet, a medium into which American Christians, especially Baptists and Mormons, had pumped a lot of resources of late. And so Jerry Falwell was getting some sort of religious/ideological foothold here? How remarkable--or not. The problem with Marxism-Leninism, and also with Mao it would seem, was that as fine as the theoretical model was, it lacked something the human soul craved. But the communist chieftains didn't and couldn't like that very much. The Falun Gong group hadn't even been a religion at all, not to Nomuri's way of thinking, but for some reason he didn't fully understand, it had frightened the powers that be in the PRC enough to crack down on it as if it had been a genuinely counterrevolutionary political movement. He heard that the convicted leaders of the group were doing seriously hard time in the local prisons. The thought of what constituted especially hard time in this country didn't bear much contemplation. Some of the world's most vicious tortures had been invented in this country, where the value of human life was a far less important thing than in the nation of his origin, Chet reminded himself. China was an ancient land with an ancient culture, but in many ways these people might as well have been Klingons as fellow human beings, so detached were their societal values from what Chester Nomuri had grown up with. "Well, I really don't have much in the way of religious convictions."

"Convictions?" Ming asked.

"Beliefs," the CIA officer corrected. "So, are there any men in your life? A fiance, perhaps?"

She sighed. "No, not in some time."

"Indeed? I find that surprising," Nomuri observed with studied gallantry.

"I suppose we are different from Japan," Ming admitted, with just a hint of sadness in her voice.

Nomuri lifted the flask and poured some more mao-tai for both. "In that case," he said, with a smile and a raised eyebrow, "I offer you a friendly drink."

"Thank you, Nomuri-san."

"My pleasure, Comrade Ming." He wondered how long it would take. Perhaps not too long at all. Then the real work would begin.

Chapter 7

Developing Leads

It was the sort of coincidence for which police work is known worldwide. Provalov called militia headquarters, and since he was investigating a homicide, he got to speak with the St. Petersburg murder squad leader, a captain. When he said he was looking for some former Spetsnaz soldiers, the captain remembered his morning meeting in which two of his men had reported finding two bodies bearing possible Spetsnaz tattoos, and that was enough to make him forward the call.

"Really, the RPG event in Moscow?" Yevgeniy Petrovich Ustinov asked. "Who exactly was killed?"

"The main target appears to have been Gregoriy Filipovich Avseyenko. He was a pimp," Provalov told his colleague to the north. "Also his driver and one of his girls, but they appear to have been inconsequential." He didn't have to elaborate. You didn't use an anti-tank rocket to kill a chauffeur and a whore.

"And your sources tell you that two Spetsnaz veterans did the shooting?"

"Correct, and they flew back to St. Petersburg soon thereafter."

"I see. Well, we fished two such people from the River Neva yesterday, both in their late thirties or so, and both shot in the back of the head."

"Indeed?"

"Yes. We have fingerprints from both bodies. We're waiting for Central Army Records to match them up. But that will not be very fast."

"Let me see what I can do about that, Yevgeniy Petrovich. You see, also present at the murder was Sergey Nikolay'ch Golovko, and we have concerns that he might have been the true target of the killing."

"That would be ambitious," Ustinov observed coolly. "Perhaps your friends at Dzerzhinskiy Square can get the records morons moving?"

"I will call them and see," Provalov promised.

"Good, anything else?"

"Another name, Suvorov, Klementi Ivan'ch, reportedly a former KGB officer, but that is all I have at the moment. Does the name mean anything to you?" You could hear the man shaking his head over the phone, Provalov noted.

"Nyet, never heard that one," the senior detective replied as he wrote it down. "Connection?"

"My informant thinks he's the man who arranged the killing."

"I'll check our records here to see if we have anything on him. Another former 'Sword and Shield' man, eh? How many of those guardians of the state have gone bad?" the St. Petersburg cop asked rhetorically.

"Enough," his colleague in Moscow agreed, with an unseen grimace.

"This Avseyenko fellow, also KGB?"

"Yes, he reportedly ran the Sparrow School."

Ustinov chuckled at that one. "Oh, a state-trained pimp. Marvelous. Good girls?"

"Lovely," Provalov confirmed. "More than we can afford."

"A real man doesn't have to pay for it, Oleg Gregoriyevich," the St. Petersburg cop assured his Moscow colleague.

"That is true, my friend. At least not until long afterwards," Provalov added.

"That is the truth!" A laugh. "Let me know what you find out?"

"Yes, I will fax you my notes."

"Excellent. I will share my information with you as well," Ustinov promised. There is a bond among homicide investigators across the world. No country sanctions the private taking of human life. Nation-states reserve such power for themselves alone.

In his dreary Moscow office, Lieutenant Provalov made his notes for several minutes. It was too late to call the RVS about rattling the Central Army Records cage. First thing in the morning, he promised himself. Then it was time to leave. He picked his coat off the tree next to his desk and headed out to where his official car was parked. This he drove to a corner close to the American Embassy, and a place called Boris Godunov's, a friendly and warm bar. He'd only been there for five minutes when a familiar hand touched his shoulder.

"Hello, Mishka," Provalov said, without turning.

"You know, Oleg, it's good to see that Russian cops are like American cops."

"It is the same in New York?"

"You bet," Reilly confirmed. "After a long day of chasing bad guys, what's better than a few drinks with your pals?" The FBI agent waved to the bartender for his usual, a vodka and soda. "Besides, you get some real work done in a place like this. So, anything happening on the Pimp Case?"

"Yes, the two who did the killing may have shown up dead in St. Petersburg." Provalov tossed down the last of his straight vodka and filled the American in on the details, concluding, "What do you make of that?"

"Either it's revenge or insurance, pal. I've seen it happen at home."

"Insurance?"

"Yeah, had it happen in New York. The Mafia took Joey Gallo out, did it in public, and they wanted it to be a signature event, so they got a black hood to do the hit--but then the poor bastard gets shot himself about fifteen feet away. Insurance, Oleg. That way the subject can't tell anybody who asked him to take the job. The second shooter just walked away, never did get a line on him. Or it could have been a revenge hit: whoever paid them to do the job whacked them for hitting the wrong target. You pays your money and you takes your choice, pal."

"How do you say, wheels within wheels?"

Reilly nodded. "That's how we say it. Well, at least it gives you some more leads to run down. Maybe your two shooters talked to somebody. Hell, maybe they even kept a diary." It was like tossing a rock into a pond, Reilly thought. The ripples just kept expanding in a case like this. Unlike a nice domestic murder, where a guy whacked his wife for fucking around, or serving dinner late, and then confessed while crying his eyes out at what he'd done. But by the same token, it was an awfully loud crime, and those, more often than not, were the ones you broke because people commented on the noise, and some of those people knew things that you could use. It was just a matter of getting people out on the street, rattling doorknobs and wearing out shoes, until you got what you needed. These Russian cops weren't dumb. They lacked some of the training that Reilly took for granted, but for all that, they had the proper cop instincts, and the fact of the matter was that if you followed the proper procedures, you'd break your cases, because the other side wasn't all that smart. The smart ones didn't break the law in so egregious a way. No, the perfect crime was the one you never discovered, the murder victim you never found, the stolen funds missed by bad accounting procedures, the espionage never discovered. Once you knew a crime had been committed, you had a starting place, and it was like unraveling a sweater. There wasn't all that much holding the wool together if you just kept picking at it.

"Tell me, Mishka, how worthy were your Mafia adversaries in New York?" Provalov asked after sipping his second drink.

Reilly did the same. "It's not like the movies, Oleg. Except maybe Goodfellas. They're cheap hoods. They're not educated. Some of them are pretty damned dumb. Their cachet was that once upon a time they didn't talk, omerta they used to call it, the Law of Silence. I mean, they'd take the fall and never cooperate. But that changed over time. The people from the Old Country died out and the new generation was softer--and we got tougher. It's a lot easier to laugh your way through three years than it is to handle ten, and on top of that the organization broke down. They stopped taking care of the families while the dad was in the slammer, and that was real bad for morale. So, they started talking to us. And we got smarter, too, with electronic surveillance--now it's called 'special operations'; back then it was a 'black bag job'--and we weren't always very careful about getting a warrant. I mean, back in the '60s, a Mafia don couldn't take a leak without us knowing what color it was."

"And they never fought back?"

"You mean fuck with us? Mess with an FBI agent?" Reilly grinned at the very thought. "Oleg, nobody ever messes with the FBI. Back then, and still somewhat to this day, we are the Right Hand of God Himself, and if you mess with us, some really bad things are going to happen. The truth of the matter is that nothing like that has ever happened, but the bad guys worry that it might. The rules get bent some, but, no, we never really break them--at least not that I know about. But if you threaten a hood with serious consequences for stepping over the line, chances are he'll take you seriously."

"Not here. They do not respect us that much yet."

"Well, then you have to generate that respect, Oleg." And it really was about that simple in concept, though bringing it about, Reilly knew, would not be all that easy. Would it take having the local cops go off the reservation once in a while, to show the hoods the price of lese-majeste? That was part of American history, Reilly thought. Town sheriffs like Wyatt Earp, Bat Masterson, and Wild Bill Hickok, Lone Wolf Gonzales of the Texas Rangers, Bill Tilghman and Billy Threepersons of the U.S. Marshal Service, the cops of their time who didn't so much enforce the law as embody it in the way they walked down the street. There was no corresponding Russian lawman of legend. Maybe they needed one. It was part of the heritage of every American cop, and from watching movies and TV westerns, American citizens grew up with the expectation that breaking the law would bring such a man into your life, and not to your personal profit. The FBI had grown up in an era of increased crime during the Great Depression, and had exploited the existing Western tradition with modern technology and procedures to create its own institutional mystique. To do that had meant convicting a lot of criminals, and killing a few on the street as well. In America there was the expectation that cops were heroic figures who didn't merely enforce the law, but who protected the innocent as well. There was no such tradition here. Growing it would solve many of the problems in the former Soviet Union, where the lingering tradition was of oppression rather than protection. No John Wayne, no Melvin Purvis in Russian movies, and this nation was the poorer for it. As much as Reilly liked working here, and as much as he'd come to like and respect his Russian counterparts, it was much like being dumped into a trash heap with instructions to make it as orderly as Bergdorf-Goodman's in New York. All the proper things were there, but organizing them made Hercules' task in the Augean stables seem trivial in comparison. Oleg had the right motivation, and the right set of skills, but it was some job he had ahead of him. Reilly didn't envy him the task, but he had to help as best he could.

"I do not envy you very much, Mishka, but your organization's status in your country is something I would like to have."

"It didn't just happen, Oleg. It's the product of many years and a lot of good men. Maybe I should show you a Clint Eastwood movie."

"Dirty Harry? I have seen it." Entertaining, the Russian thought, but not overly realistic.

"No, Hang 'Em High, about the Marshal Service, back in the Old West, when men were men and women were grateful. Actually it's not true in the usual sense. There wasn't much crime in the Old West."

That made the Russian look up from his drink in surprise. "Then why do all the movies say otherwise?"

"Oleg, movies have to be exciting, and there isn't much exciting about raising wheat or punching cattle. The American West was mainly settled by veterans of our Civil War. That was a hard and cruel conflict, but no man who'd survived the Battle of Shiloh was likely to be intimidated by some bozo on a horse, gun or not. A professor at Oklahoma State University did a book on this subject twenty or so years ago. He checked court records and such, and found out that except for saloon shootings--guns and whiskey make a crummy mix, right?--there wasn't a hell of a lot of crime in the West. The citizens could look after themselves, and the laws they had were pretty tough--not a hell of a lot of repeat offenders--but what it really came down to was that the citizens all had guns and all pretty much knew how to use them, and that is a big deterrent for the bad guys. A cop's less likely to shoot you than an aroused citizen, when you get down to it. He doesn't want to do all the paperwork if he can avoid it, right?" A sip and a chuckle from the American.

"In that we are the same, Mishka," Provalov agreed.

"And, by the way, all this quick-draw stuff in the movies. If it ever happened for real, I've never heard of such a case. No, that's all Hollywood bullshit. You can't draw and fire accurately that way. If you could, they would have trained us to do it that way at Quantico. But except for people who practice for special performances and tournaments and stuff, and that's always at the same angle and the same distance, it just can't be done."

"You're sure of that?" Legends die hard, especially for an otherwise pretty smart cop who had, however, seen his share of Westerns.

"I was a Principal Instructor in my Field Division, and damned if I can do it."

"You are good shot, eh?"

Reilly nodded with uncharacteristic modesty on this particular issue. "Fair," he allowed. "Pretty fair." There were less than three hundred names on the FBI Academy's "Possible Board," identifying those who'd fired a perfect qualifying course on graduating. Mike Reilly was one of them. He'd also been assistant head of the SWAT team in his first field division in Kansas City before moving over to the chess players in the OC--Organized Crime--depart--ment. It made him feel a little naked to walk around without his trusty S&W 1076 automatic, but that was life in the FBI's diplomatic service, the agent told himself. What the hell, the vodka was good here, and he was developing a taste for it. For that his diplomatic license plates helped. The local cops were pretty serious about giving tickets out. It was a pity they still had so much to learn about major criminal investigations.

"So, our pimp friend was probably the primary target, Oleg?"

"Yes, I think that is likely, but not entirely certain yet." He shrugged. "But we'll keep the Golovko angle open. After all," Provalov added, after a long sip of his glass, "it will get us lots of powerful cooperation from other agencies."

Reilly had to laugh at that. "Oleg Gregoriyevich, you know how to handle the bureaucratic part of the job. I couldn't do that better myself!" Then he waved to the bartender. He'd spring for the next round.

The Internet had to be the best espionage invention ever made, Mary Patricia Foley thought. She also blessed the day that she'd personally recommended Chester Nomuri to the Directorate of Operations. That little Nisei had some beautiful moves for an officer still on the short side of thirty. He'd done superb work in Japan, and had volunteered in a heartbeat for Operation GENGHIS in Beijing. His cover job at Nippon Electric Company could hardly have been better suited to the mission requirements, and it seemed that he'd waltzed into his niche like Fred Astaire on a particularly good day. The easiest part of all, it seemed, was getting the data out.

Six years before, CIA had gone to Silicon Valley--undercover, of course--and commissioned a modern manufacturer to set up a brief production run of a very special modem. In fact, it seemed to many to be a sloppy one, since the linkup time it used was four or five seconds longer than was the usual. What you couldn't tell was that the last four seconds weren't random electronic noise at all, but rather the mating of a special encryption system, which when caught on a phone tap sounded just like random noise anyway. So, all Chester had to do was set up his message for transmission and punch it through. To be on the safe side, the messages were super-encrypted with a 256-bit system specially made at the National Security Agency, and the double-encipherment was so complex that even NSA's own bank of supercomputers could only crack it with difficulty and after a lot of expensive time. After that, it was just a matter of setting up a www-dot-something domain through an easily available public vendor and a local ISP--Internet Service Provider--with which the world abounded. It could even be used on a direct call from one computer to another--in fact, that was the original application, and even if the opposition had a hardwire phone tap, it would take a mathematical genius plus the biggest and baddest supercomputer that Sun Microsystems made even to begin cracking into the message.

Lian Ming, Mary Pat read, secretary to ... to him, eh? Not a bad potential source. The most charming part of all was that Nomuri included the sexual possibilities implicit in the recruitment. The kid was still something of an innocent; he'd probably blushed writing this, the Deputy Director (Operations) of the Central Intelligence Agency thought to herself, but he'd included it because he was so damned honest in everything he did. It was time to get Nomuri a promotion and a raise. Mrs. Foley made the appropriate note on a Post-it for attachment to his file. James Bond-san, she thought with an internal chuckle. The easiest part was the reply: Approved, proceed. She didn't even have to add the "with caution" part. Nomuri knew how to handle himself in the field, which was not always the rule for young field officers. Then she picked up the phone and called her husband on the direct line.

"Yeah, honey?" the Director of Central Intelligence said.

"Busy?"

Ed Foley knew that wasn't a question his wife asked lightly. "Not too busy for you, baby. Come on down." And hung up.

The CIA Director's office is relatively long and narrow, with floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking the woods and the special-visitors' parking lot. Beyond that are the trees overlooking the Potomac Valley and the George Washington Parkway, and little else. The idea of anyone having a direct line of sight into any part of this building, much less the Office of the Director, would have been the cause of serious heartburn for the security pukes. Ed looked up from his paperwork when his wife came in and took the leather chair across from his desk.

"Something good?"

"Even better than Eddie's marks at school," she replied with a soft, sexy smile she reserved for her husband alone. And that had to be pretty good. Edward Foley, Jr., was kicking ass up at Rensselaer Polytechnic in New York, and a starter on their hockey team, which damned near always kicked ass itself in the NCAA. Little Ed might earn a place on the Olympic team, though pro hockey was out. He'd make too much money as a computer engineer to waste his time in so pedestrian a pursuit. "I think we may have something here."

"Like what, honey?"

"Like the executive secretary to Fang Gan," she replied. "Nomuri's trying to recruit her, and he says the prospects are good."

"GENGHIS," Ed observed. They ought to have picked a different name, but unlike most CIA operations, the name for this one hadn't been generated by a computer in the basement. The fact of the matter was that this security measure hadn't been applied for the simple reason that nobody had ever expected anything to come of it. CIA had never gotten any kind of agent into the PRC government. At least not above the rank of captain in the People's Liberation Army. The problems were the usual ones. First, they had to recruit an ethnic Chinese, and CIA hadn't had much success at that; next, the officer in question had to have perfect language skills, and the ability to disappear into the culture. For a variety of reasons, none of that had ever happened. Then Mary Pat had suggested trying Nomuri. His corporation did a lot of business in China, after all, and the kid did have good instincts. And so, Ed Foley had signed off on it, not really expecting much to result. But again his wife's field instincts had proven superior to his. It was widely believed that Mary Pat Foley was the best field officer the Agency had had in twenty years, and it looked as if she was determined to prove that. "How exposed is Chet?"

His wife had to nod her concern at that one. "He's hanging out there, but he knows how to be careful, and his communications gear is the best we have. Unless they brute-force him, you know, just pick him up because they don't like his haircut, he ought to be pretty safe. Anyway--" She handed over the communication from Beijing.

The DCI read it three times before handing it back. "Well, if he wants to get laid--it's not good fieldcraft, honey. Not good to get that involved with your agent--"

"I know that, Ed, but you play the cards you're dealt, remember? And if we get her a computer like the one Chet's using, her security won't be all that bad either, will it?"

"Unless they have somebody pick it apart," Ed Foley thought aloud.

"Oh, Jesus, Ed, our best people would have a cast-iron motherfucker of a time figuring it all out. I ran that project myself, remember? It's safe!"

"Easy, honey." The DCI held up his hand. When Mary used that sort of language, she was really into the matter at hand. "Yeah, I know, it's secure, but I'm the worrier and you're the cowgirl, remember?"

"Okay, honey-bunny." The usual sweet smile that went with seduction and getting her way.

"You've already told him to proceed?"

"He's my officer, Eddie."

A resigned nod. It wasn't fair that he had to work with his wife here. He rarely won any arguments at the office, either. "Okay, baby. It's your operation, run with it, but--"

"But what?"

"But we change GENGHIS to something else. If this one pans out, then we go to a monthly name cycle. This one has some serious implications, and we've got to go max-security on it."

She had to agree with that. As case officers, the two of them had run an agent known in CIA legend as CARDINAL, Colonel Mikhail Semyonovich Filitov, who'd worked inside the Kremlin for more than thirty years, feeding gold-plated information on every aspect of the Soviet military, plus some hugely valuable political intelligence. For bureaucratic reasons lost in the mists of time, CARDINAL had not been handled as a regular agent-in-place, and that had saved him from Aldrich Ames and his treacherous betrayal of a dozen Soviet citizens who'd worked for America. For Ames it had worked out to roughly $100,000 per life given away. Both of the Foleys regretted the fact that Ames was allowed to live, but they weren't in the law-enforcement business.

"Okay, Eddie, monthly change-cycle. You're always so careful, honey. You call or me?"

"We'll wait until she gives us something useful before going to all the trouble, but let's change GENGHIS to something else. It's too obviously a reference to China."

"Okay." An impish smile. "How about SORGE for the moment?" she suggested. The name was that of Richard Sorge, one of the greatest spies who'd ever lived, a German national who'd worked for the Soviets, and just possibly the man who'd kept Hitler from winning his Eastern Front war with Stalin. The Soviet dictator, knowing this, hadn't lifted a hand to save him from execution. "Gratitude," Iosif Vissarionovich had once said, "is a disease of dogs."

The DCI nodded. His wife had a lively sense of humor, especially as applied to business matters. "When do you suppose we'll know if she'll play ball with us?"

"About as soon as Chet gets his rocks off, I suppose."

"Mary, did you ever ... ?"

"In the field? Ed, that's a guy thing, not a girl thing," she told her husband with a sparkling grin as she lifted her papers and headed back out. "Except with you, honey-bunny."

The Alitalia DC-10 touched down about fifteen minutes early due to the favorable winds. Renato Cardinal DiMilo was pleased enough to think through an appropriate prayer of thanksgiving. A longtime member of the Vatican's diplomatic service, he was accustomed to long flights, but that wasn't quite the same as enjoying them. He wore his red--"cardinal"--and black suit that was actually more akin to an official uniform, and not a conspicuously comfortable one at that, despite the custom tailoring that came from one of Rome's better shops. One of the drawbacks to his clerical and diplomatic status was that he'd been unable to shed his suit coat for the flight, but he'd been able to kick off his shoes, only to find that his feet had swollen on the flight, and getting them back on was more difficult than usual. That evoked a sigh rather than a curse, as the plane taxied to the terminal. The senior flight attendant ushered him to the forward door and allowed him to leave the aircraft first. One advantage to his diplomatic status was that all he ever had to do was wave his diplomatic passport at the control officers, and in this case a senior PRC government official was there to greet him at the end of the jetway.

"Welcome to our country," the official said, extending his hand.

"It is my pleasure to be here," the cardinal replied, noting that this communist atheist didn't kiss his ring, as was the usual protocol. Well, Catholicism in particular and Christianity in general were not exactly welcome in the People's Republic of China, were they? But if the PRC expected to live in the civilized world, then they'd have to accept representation with the Holy See, and that was that. And besides, he'd go to work on these people, and, who knew, maybe he could convert one or two. Stranger things had happened, and the Roman Catholic Church had handled more formidable enemies than this one.

With a wave and a small escort group, the demi-minister conducted his distinguished visitor through the concourse toward the place where the official car and escort waited.

"How was your flight?" the underling asked.

"Lengthy but not unpleasant" was the expected reply. Diplomats had to act as though they loved flying, though even the flight crews found journeys of this length tiresome. It was his job to observe the new ambassador of the Vatican, to see how he acted, how he looked out the car's windows, even, which, in this case, was not unlike all the other first-time diplomats who came to Beijing. They looked out at the differences. The shapes of the buildings were new and different to them, the color of the bricks, and how the brickwork looked close up and at a distance, the way in which things that were essentially the same became fascinating because of differences that were actually microscopic when viewed objectively.

It took a total of twenty-eight minutes to arrive at the residence/embassy. It was an old building, dating back to the turn of the previous century, and had been the largish home of an American Methodist missionary--evidently one who liked his American comforts, the official thought--and had passed through several incarnations, including, he'd learned the previous day, that of a bordello in the diplomatic quarter in the 1920s and '30s, because diplomats liked their comforts as well. Ethnic Chinese, he wondered, or Russian women who'd always claimed to be of the Czarist nobility, or so he'd heard. After all, Westerners enjoyed fucking noblewomen for some reason or other, as if their body parts were different somehow. He'd heard that one, too, at the office, from one of the archivists who kept track of such things at the Ministry. Chairman Mao's personal habits were not recorded, but his lifelong love for deflowering twelve-year-olds was well known in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Every national leader had something odd and distasteful about him, the young official knew. Great men had great aberrations.

The car pulled up to the old wooden frame house, where a uniformed policeman opened the door for the visiting Italian, and even saluted, earning himself a nod from the man wearing the ruby-red skullcap.

Waiting on the porch was yet another foreigner, Monsignor Franz Schepke, whose diplomatic status was that of DCM, or deputy chief of mission, which usually meant the person who was really in charge of things while the ambassador--mainly a man chosen for political reasons--reigned in the main office. They didn't know if that were the case here yet.

Schepke looked as German as his ancestry was, tall and spare with gray-blue eyes that revealed nothing at all, and a wonderful language gift that had mastered not only the complex Chinese language, but also the local dialect and accent as well. Over the phone this foreigner could pass for a party member, much to the surprise of local officials who were not in the least accustomed to foreigners who could even speak the language properly, much less master it.

The German national, the Chinese official saw, kissed his superior's ring. Then the Italian shook his hand and embraced the younger churchman. They probably knew each other. Cardinal DiMilo then led Schepke to the escort and introduced them--they'd met many times before, of course, and that made the senior churchman appear just a little backward to the local official. In due course, the luggage was loaded into the residence/embassy building, and the Chinese official got back in the official car for the ride to the Foreign Ministry, where he'd make his contact report. The Papal Nuncio was past his prime, he'd write, a pleasant enough old chap, perhaps, but no great intellect. A fairly typical Western ambassador, in other words.

No sooner had they gotten inside than Schepke tapped his right ear and gestured around the building.

"Everywhere?" the cardinal asked.

"Ja, doch," Monsignor Schepke replied in his native German, then shifted to Greek. Not modern, but Attic Greek, that spoken by Aristotle, similar to but different from the modern version of that language, a language perpetuated only by a handful of scholars at Oxford and a few more Western universities. "Welcome, Eminence."

"Even airplanes can take too long. Why can we not travel by ship? It would be a much gentler way to getting from point to point."

"The curse of progress," the German priest offered weakly. The Rome-Beijing flight was only forty minutes longer than the one between Rome and New York, after all, but Renato was a man from a different and more patient age.

"My escort. What can you tell me of him?"

"His name is Qian. He's forty, married, one son. He will be our point of contact with the Foreign Ministry. Bright, well educated, but a dedicated communist, son of another such man," Schepke said, speaking rapidly in the language learned long before in seminary. He and his boss knew that this exchange would probably be recorded, and would then drive linguists in the Foreign Ministry to madness. Well, it was not their fault that such people were illiterate, was it?

"And the building is fully wired, then?" DiMilo asked, heading over to a tray with a bottle of red wine on it.

"We must assume so," Schepke confirmed with a nod, while the cardinal poured a glass. "I could have the building swept, but finding reliable people here is not easy, and ..." And those able to do a proper sweep would then use the opportunity to plant their own bugs for whatever country they worked for--America, Britain, France, Israel, all were interested in what the Vatican knew.

The Vatican, located in central Rome, is technically an independent country, hence Cardinal DiMilo's diplomatic status even in a country where religious convictions were frowned upon at best, and stamped into the earth at worst. Renato Cardinal DiMilo had been a priest for just over forty years, most of which time had been spent in the Vatican's foreign service. His language skills were not unknown within the confines of his own service, but rare even there, and damned rare in the outside world, where men and women took a great deal of time to learn languages. But DiMilo picked them up easily--so much so that it surprised him that others were unable to do so as well. In addition to being a priest, in addition to being a diplomat, DiMilo was also an intelligence officer--all ambassadors are supposed to be, but he was much more so than most. One of his jobs was to keep the Vatican--therefore the Pope--informed of what was happening in the world, so that the Vatican--therefore the Pope--could take action, or at least use influence in the proper direction.

DiMilo knew the current Pope quite well. They'd been friends for years before his election to the chair of the Pontifex Maximus ("maximus" in this context meaning "chief," and "pontifex" meaning "bridge-builder," as a cleric was supposed to be the bridge between men and their God). DiMilo had served the Vatican in this capacity in seven countries. Before the fall of the Soviet Union, he'd specialized in Eastern European countries, where he'd learned to debate the merits of communism with its strongest adherents, mostly to their discomfort and his own amusement. Here would be different, the cardinal thought. It wasn't just the Marxist beliefs. This was a very different culture. Confucius had defined the place of a Chinese citizen two millennia before, and that place was different from what Western culture taught. There was a place for the teachings of Christ here, of course, as there was everywhere. But the local soil was not as fertile for Christianity as it was elsewhere. Local citizens who sought out Christian missionaries would do so out of curiosity, and once exposed to the gospel would find Christian beliefs more curious still, since they were so different from the nation's more ancient teachings. Even the more "normal" beliefs that were in keeping, more or less, with Chinese traditions, like the Eastern Spiritualist movement known as Falun Gong, had been ruthlessly, if not viciously, repressed. Cardinal DiMilo told himself that he'd come to one of the few remaining pagan nations, and one in which martyrdom was still a possibility for the lucky or luckless, depending on one's point of view. He sipped his wine, trying to decide what time his body thought it was, as opposed to what time it was by his watch. In either case, the wine tasted good, reminding him as it did of his home, a place which he'd never truly left, even in Moscow or Prague. Beijing, though--Beijing might be a challenge.

Chapter 8

Underlings and Underthings

It wasn't the first time he'd done this. It was exciting in its way, and arousing, and marginally dangerous because of the time and place. Mainly it was an exercise in effective memory and the discerning eye. The hardest part was converting the English units to metric. The perfect female form was supposed to be 36-24-36, not 91.44-60.96- 91.44.

The last time he'd been in a place like this had been in the Beverly Center Mall in Los Angeles, buying for Maria Castillo, a voluptuous Latina who'd been delighted at his error, taking her waist for twenty-four rather than its true twenty-seven. You wanted to err on the low side in numbers, but probably the big side in letters. If you took a 36B chest to be a 34C, she wouldn't be mad, but if you took a twenty-four-inch waist for a twenty-eight-inch, she'd probably be pissed. Stress, Nomuri told himself with a shake of the head, came in many shapes and sizes. He wanted to get this right because he wanted Ming as a source, but he wanted her as a mistress, too, and that was one more reason not to make a mistake.

The color was the easy part. Red. Of course, red. This was still a country in which red was the "good" color, which was convenient because red had always been the lively choice in women's underthings, the color of adventure and giggles and ... looseness. And looseness served both his biological and professional purposes. He had other things to figure out, too. Ming was not tall, scarcely five feet--151 centimeters or so, Nomuri thought, doing the conversion in his head. She was short but not really petite. There was no real obesity in China. People didn't overeat here, probably because of the lingering memory of times when food had not been in abundance and overeating was simply not possible. Ming would have been considered overweight in California, Chester thought, but that was just her body type. She was squat because she was short, and no amount of dieting or working out or makeup could change it. Her waist wouldn't be much less than twenty-seven inches. For her chest, 34B was about the best he could hope for ... well, maybe 34C--no, he decided, B+ at most. So, a 34B bra, and medium shorts--panties--red silk, something feminine ... something on the wild, whorish side of feminine, something that she could look into the mirror alone with and giggle ... and maybe sigh at how different she looked wearing such things, and maybe smile, that special inward smile women had for such moments. The moment when you knew you had them--and the rest was just dessert.

The best part of Victoria's Secret was the catalog, designed for men who really, and sensibly, wanted to buy the models themselves, despite the facial attitudes that sometimes made them look like lesbians on quaaludes--but with such bodies, a man couldn't have everything, could he? Fantasies, things of the mind. Nomuri wondered if the models really existed or were the products of computers. They could do anything with computers these days--make Rosie O'Donnell into Twiggy, or Cindy Crawford obsolete.

Back to work, he told himself. This might be a place for fantasies, but not that one, not yet. Okay, it had to be sexy. It had to be something that would both amuse and excite Ming, and himself, too: That was all part of it. Nomuri took the catalog off the pile because it was a lot easier for him to see what he wanted in a filled rather than an unfilled condition. He turned pages and stopped dead on page 26. There was a black girl modeling it, and whatever genetic stew she'd come from must have had some fine ingredients, as her face would have appealed to a member of Hitler's SS just as much as Idi Amin. It was that sort of face. Better yet, she wore something called a Racerback bra with matching string bikini panties, and the color was just perfect, a red-purple that the Romans had once called Tyrrian Scarlet, the color on the toga stripe of members of the senatorial order, reserved by price and custom to the richest of the Roman nobility, not quite red, not quite purple. The bra material was satin and Lycra, and it closed in front, the easier for a girl to put it on, and the more interesting for a guy to take it off, his mind thought, as he headed over to the proper rack of clothing. Thirty-four-B, he thought. If too small, it would be all the more flattering ... small or medium on the string bikini? Shit, he decided, get one of each. Just to be sure, he also got a no-wire triangle-pattern bra and thong panties in an orange-red color that the Catholic Church would call a mortal sin just for looking at. On impulse he got several additional panties on the assumption that they soiled more quickly than bras did, something he wasn't sure of despite being a field intelligence officer of the Central Intelligence Agency. They didn't tell you about such things at The Farm. He'd have to do a memo on that. It might give MP a chuckle in her seventh-floor office at Langley.

One other thing, he thought. Perfume. Women liked perfume. You'd expect them to like it, especially here. The entire city of Beijing smelled like a steel mill, lots of coal dust and other pollutants in the air--as Pittsburgh had probably been at the turn of the last century--and the sad truth was that the Chinese didn't bathe as diligently as Californians did, and nowhere nearly as regularly as the Japanese. So, something that smelled nice ...

"Dream Angels," the brand was called. It came in a perfume spray, lotion, and other applications that he didn't understand, but he was sure Ming would, since she was a girl, and this was a quintessential girl thing. So, he bought some of that, too, using his NEC credit card to pay for it--his Japanese bosses would understand. There were skillfully arranged and choreographed sex tours that took Japanese salarymen to various places in Asia that catered to the sex trade. That was probably how AIDS had gotten to Japan, and why Nomuri used a condom for everything there except urinating. The total came to about 300 euros. The salesclerk wrapped everything and commented that the lady in his life was very lucky.

She will be, Nomuri promised himself. The underthings he'd just bought her, well, the fabrics felt as smooth as flexible glass, and the colors would arouse a blind man. The only question was how they would affect a dumpy Chinese female secretary to a government minister. It wasn't as though he was trying to seduce Suzie Wong. Lian Ming was pretty ordinary rather than ordinarily pretty, but you never knew. Amy Irvin, his first conquest at the ripe old age of seventeen years and three months, had been pretty enough to inspire him--which meant, for a boy of that age, she had the requisite body parts, no beard like a Civil War general, and had showered in the previous month. At least Ming wouldn't be like so many American women now who'd visited the plastic surgeon to have their tummies tucked, tits augmented to look like cereal bowls, and lips pumped full of chemicals until they looked like some strange kind of two-part fruit. What women did to attract men ... and what men did in the hope of seducing them. What a potential energy source, Nomuri thought, as he turned the key in his company Nissan.

What is it today, Ben?" Ryan asked his National Security Adviser.

"CIA is trying to get a new operation under way in Beijing. For the moment it's called SORGE."

"As in Richard Sorge?"

"Correct."

"Somebody must be ambitious. Okay, tell me about it."

"There's an officer named Chester Nomuri, an illegal, he's in Beijing covered as a computer salesman for NEC. He's trying to make a move on a secretary, female, for a senior PRC minister, a guy named Fang Gan--"

"Who is?" Ryan asked over his coffee mug.

"Sort of a minister without portfolio, works with the Premier and the Foreign Minister."

"Like that Zhang Han San guy?"

"Not as senior, but yes. Looks like a very high-level gofer type. Has contacts in their military and foreign ministries, good ideological credentials, sounding board for others in their Politburo. Anyway, Nomuri is trying to make a move on the girl."

"Bond," Ryan observed in a studiously neutral voice, "James Bond. I know Nomuri's name. He did some good work for us in Japan when I had your job. This is for information only, not my approval?"

"Correct, Mr. President. Mrs. Foley is running this one, and wanted to give you a heads-up."

"Okay, tell MP that I'm interested in whatever take comes out of this." Ryan fought off the grimace that came from learning of another person's private--well, if not private, then his sex--life.

"Yes, sir."

Chapter 9

Initial Results

Chester Nomuri had learned many things in his life, from his parents and his teachers and his instructors at The Farm, but one lesson he'd yet to learn was the value of patience, at least as it applied to his personal life. That didn't keep him from being cautious, however. That was why he'd sent his plans to Langley. It was embarrassing to have to inform a woman of his proposed sex life--MP was a brilliant field spook, but she still took her leaks sitting down, Nomuri reminded himself--but he didn't want the Agency to think that he was an alley cat on the government payroll, because the truth was, he liked his job. The excitement was at least as addictive as the cocaine that some of his college chums had played with.

Maybe that's why Mrs. Foley liked him, Nomuri speculated. They were of a kind. Mary Pat, they said in the Directorate of Operations, was The Cowgirl. She'd swaggered through the streets of Moscow during the last days of the Cold War like Annie Fucking Oakley packing heat, and though she'd been burned by KGB's Second Chief Directorate, she hadn't given the fuckers anything, and whatever operation she'd run--this was still very, very secret--it must have been a son of a bitch, because she'd never gone back in the field but had scampered up the CIA career ladder like a hungry squirrel up an oak tree. The President thought she was smart, and if you wanted a friend in this business, the President of the United States was right up there, because he knew the spook business. Then came the stories about what President Ryan had once done. Bringing out the chairman of the fucking KGB? MP must have been part of that, the boys and girls of the DO all thought. All they knew even within the confines of CIA--except, of course, for those who needed to know (both of them, the saying went)--was what had been published in the press, and while the media generally knew jack shit about black operations, a CNN TV crew had put a camera in the face of a former KGB chairman now living in Winchester, Virginia. While he hadn't spilled many beans, the face of a man the Soviet government had declared dead in a plane crash was bean enough to make a very rich soup indeed. Nomuri figured he was working for a couple of real pros, and so he let them know what he was up to, even if that meant causing a possible blush for Mary Patricia Foley, Deputy Director (Operations) of the Central Intelligence Agency.

He'd picked a Western-style restaurant. There were more than a few of them in Beijing now, catering both to the locals and to tourists who felt nostalgic for the taste of home (or who worried about their GI systems over here--not unreasonably, Nomuri thought). The quality wasn't anything close to a real American restaurant, but it was considerably more appealing than the deep-fried rat he suspected was on the menu of many Beijing eateries.

He'd arrived first, and was relaxing with a cheap American bourbon when Ming came through the door. Nomuri waved in what he hoped was not an overly boyish way. She saw him do so, and her resulting smile was just about right, he thought. Ming was glad to see him, and that was step one in the plan for the evening. She made her way to his corner table in the back. He stood, showing a degree of gentlemanliness unusual in China, where women were nowhere near as valued as they were back home. Nomuri wondered if that would change, if all the killing of female babies could suddenly make Ming a valuable commodity, despite her plainness. He still couldn't get over the casual killing of children; he kept it in the front of his mind, just to keep clear who the good guys were in the world, and who the bad guys were.

"It's so good to see you," he said with an engaging smile. "I was worried you might not meet me here."

"Oh, really? Why?"

"Well, your superior at work ... I'm sure that he ... well ... needs you, I suppose is the polite way to put it," Nomuri said with a hesitant voice, delivering his rehearsed line pretty well, he thought. He had. The girl giggled a little.

"Comrade Fang is over sixty-five," she said. "He is a good man, a good superior, and a fine minister, but he works long hours, and he is no longer a young man."

Okay, so he fucks you, but not all that much, Nomuri interpreted that to mean. And maybe you'd like a little more, from somebody closer to your age, eh? Of course, if Fang was over sixty-five and still getting it on, then maybe he is worthy of some respect, Nomuri added to himself, then tossed the thought aside.

"Have you eaten here before?" The place was called Vincenzo's, and pretended to be Italian. In fact the owner/operator was a half-breed Italian-Chinese from Vancouver, whose spoken Italian would have gotten him hit by the Mafia had he tried it in Palermo, or even Mulberry Street in Manhattan, but here in Beijing it seemed genuinely ethnic enough.

"No," Ming replied, looking around at, to her, this most exotic of locations. Every table had an old wine bottle, its bottom wrapped in twine, and an old drippy red candle at the top. The tablecloth was checked white and red. Whoever had decorated this place had evidently seen too many old movies. That said, it didn't look anything like a local restaurant, even with the Chinese servers. Dark wood paneling, hooks near the door for hanging coats. It could have been in any East Coast city in America, where it would have been recognized as one of those old family Italian places, a mom-and-pop joint with good food and little flash. "What is Italian food like?"

"At its best, Italian cooking is among the very finest in the world," Nomuri answered. "You've never had Italian food? Never at all? Then may I select for you?"

Her response was girlish in its charm. Women were all the same. Treat them in the right way, and they turn into wax in your hand, to be kneaded and shaped to your will. Nomuri was starting to like this part of the job, and someday it might be useful in his personal personal life, too. He waved to the waiter, who came over with a subservient smile. Nomuri first of all ordered a genuine Italian white wine--strangely, the wine list here was actually first rate, and quite pricey to boot, of course--and, with a deep breath, fettuccine Alfredo, quintessential Italian heart-attack food. From looking at Ming, he figured that she'd not refuse rich food.

"So, the new computer and printer systems continue to work out?"

"Yes, and Minister Fang has praised me before the rest of the staff for choosing it. You have made me something of a hero, Comrade Nomuri."

"I am pleased to hear that," the CIA officer replied, wondering if being called "comrade" was a good thing for the current mission or a bad one. "We are bringing out a new portable computer now, one you could take home with you, but which has the same power as your office mainframe, with all the same features and software, of course, even a modem for accessing the Internet."

"Really? I get to do that so seldom. At work, you see, it is not encouraged for us to surf the 'Net, except when the Minister wants something specific."

"Is that so? What 'Net interests does Minister Fang have?"

"Mainly political commentary, and mainly in America and Europe. Every morning I print up various pieces from the newspapers, the Times of London, New York Times, Washington Post, and so on. The Minister especially likes to see what the Americans are thinking."

"Not very much," Nomuri observed, as the wine arrived.

"Excuse me?" Ming asked, getting him to turn back.

"Hmph, oh, the Americans, they don't think very much. The shallowest people I have ever encountered. Loud, poorly educated, and their women ..." Chet let his voice trail off.

"What of their women, Comrade Nomuri?" Ming asked, virtually on command.

"Ahh." He took a sip of the wine and nodded for the waiter to serve it properly. It was a pretty good one from Tuscany. "Have you ever seen the American toy, the Barbie doll?"

"Yes, they are made here in China, aren't they?"

"That is what every American woman wishes to be, hugely tall, with massive bosoms, a waist you can put your hands around. That is not a woman. It's a toy, a mannequin for children to play with. And about as intelligent as your average American woman. Do you think they have language skills, as you do? Consider: We now converse in English, a language native to neither of us, but we converse well, do we not?"

"Yes," Ming agreed.

"How many Americans speak Mandarin, do you suppose? Or Japanese? No, Americans have no education, no sophistication. They are a backward nation, and their women are very backward. They even go to surgeons to have their bosoms made bigger, like that stupid child's doll. It's comical to see them, especially to see them nude," he concluded with a dangle.

"You have?" she asked, on cue.

"Have what--you mean seen American women nude?" He got a welcome nod for his question. This was going well. Yes, Ming, I am a man of the world. "Yes, I have. I lived there for some months, and it was interesting in a grotesque sort of way. Some of them can be very sweet, but not like a decent Asian woman with proper proportions, and womanly hair that doesn't come from some cosmetics bottle. And manners. Americans lack the manners of an Asian."

"But there are many of our people over there. Didn't you ... ?"

"Meet one? No, the round-eyes keep them for themselves. I suppose their men appreciate real women, even while their own women turn into something else." He reached to pour some more wine into Ming's glass. "But in fairness, there are some things Americans are good at."

"Such as?" she asked. The wine was already loosening her tongue.

"I will show you later. Perhaps I owe you an apology, but I have taken the liberty of buying you some American things."

"Really?" Excitement in her eyes. This was really going well, Nomuri told himself. He'd have to go easier on the wine. Well, half a bottle, two of these glasses, wouldn't hurt him in any way. How did that song go ... It's okay to do it on the first date... Well, he didn't have to worry about much in the way of religious convictions or inhibitions here, did he? That was one advantage to communism, wasn't it?

The fettuccine arrived right on time, and surprisingly it was pretty good. He watched her eyes as she took her first forkful. (Vincenzo's used silverware instead of chopsticks, which was a better idea for fettuccine Alfredo anyway.) Her dark eyes were wide as the noodles entered her mouth.

"This is fine ... lots of eggs have gone into it. I love eggs," she confided.

They're your arteries, honey, the case officer thought. He watched her inhale the first bit of the fettuccine. Nomuri reached across the table to top off her wineglass once more. She scarcely noticed, she attacked her pasta so furiously.

Halfway through the plate of pasta, she looked up. "I have never had so fine a dinner," Ming told him.

Nomuri responded with a warm grin. "I am so pleased that you are enjoying yourself." Wait'll you see the drawers I just got you, honey.

Attention to orders!"

Major General Marion Diggs wondered what his new command would bring him. The second star on his shoulder ... well, he told himself that he could feel the additional weight, but the truth was that he couldn't, not really. His last five years in the uniform of his country had been interesting. The first commander of the reconstituted 10th Armored Cavalry Regiment--the Buffalo Soldiers--he'd made that ancient and honored regiment into the drill masters of the Israeli army, turning the Negev Desert into another National Training Center, and in two years he'd hammered every Israeli brigade commander into the ground, then built them up again, tripling their combat effectiveness by every quantifiable measure, so that now the Israeli troopers' swagger was actually justified by their skills. Then he'd gone off to the real NTC in the high California desert, where he'd done the same thing for his own United States Army. He'd been there when the Bio War had begun, with his own 11th ACR, the famous Blackhorse Cavalry, and a brigade of National Guardsmen, whose unexpected use of advanced battlefield-control equipment had surprised the hell out of the Blackhorse and their proud commander, Colonel Al Hamm. The whole bunch had deployed to Saudi, along with the 10th from Israel, and together they'd given a world-class bloody nose to the army of the short-lived United Islamic Republic. After acing his colonel-command, he'd really distinguished himself as a one-star, and that was the gateway to the second sparkling silver device on his shoulder, and also the gateway to his new command, known variously as "First Tanks," "Old Ironsides," or "America's Armored Division." It was the 1st Armored Division, based in Bad Kreuznach, Germany, one of the few remaining heavy divisions under the American flag.

Once there had been a lot of them. Two full corps of them right here in Germany, 1st and 3rd Armored, 3rd and 8th Infantry, plus a pair of Armored Cavalry Regiments, 2nd and 11th, and the POMCUS sites--monster equipment warehouses--for stateside units like the 2nd Armored, and the 1 st Infantry, the Big Red One out of Fort Riley, Kansas, which could redeploy to Europe just as fast as the airlines could deliver them, there to load up their equipment and move out. All that force--and it was a whole shitload of force, Diggs reflected--had been part of NATO's commitment to defend Western Europe from a country called the Soviet Union and its mirror-image Warsaw Pact, huge formations whose objective was the Bay of Biscay, or so the operations and intelligence officers in Mons, Belgium, had always thought. And quite a clash it would have been. Who would have won? Probably NATO, Diggs thought, depending on political interference, and command skills on both sides of the equation.

But, now, the Soviet Union was no more. And with it was also gone the need for the presence of V and VII Corps in Western Germany, and so, 1st Armored was about the only vestige left of what had once been a vast and powerful force. Even the cavalry regiments were gone, the 11th to be the OpFor--"opposing force," or Bad Guys--at the National Training Center and the 2nd "Dragoon" Regiment essentially disarmed at Fort Polk, Louisiana, trying to make up new doctrine for weaponless troopers. That left Old Ironsides, somewhat reduced in size from its halcyon days, but still a formidable force. Exactly whom Diggs might fight in the event hostilities sprang unexpectedly from the ground, he had no idea at the moment.

That, of course, was the job of his G-2 Intelligence Officer, Lieutenant Colonel Tom Richmond, and training for it was the problem assigned to his G-3 Operations Officer, Colonel Duke Masterman, whom Diggs had dragged kicking and screaming from the Pentagon. It was not exactly unknown in the United States Army for a senior officer to collect about him younger men whom he'd gotten to know on the way up. It was his job to look after their careers, and their jobs to take care of their mentor--called a "rabbi" in the NYPD or a "Sea Daddy" in the United States Navy--in a relationship that was more father/son than anything else. Neither Diggs nor Richmond nor Masterman expected much more than interesting professional time in the 1 st Armored Division, and that was more than enough. They'd seen the elephant--a phrase that went back in the United States Army to the Civil War to denote active participation in combat operations--and killing people with modern weapons wasn't exactly a trip to Disney World. A quiet term of training and sand-table exercises would be plenty, they all thought. Besides, the beer was pretty good in Germany.

"Well, Mary, it's all yours," outgoing Major General (promotable) Sam Goodnight said after his formal salute. "Mary" was a nickname for Diggs that went back to West Point, and he was long since past getting mad about it. But only officers senior to him could use that moniker, and there weren't all that many of them anymore, were there?

"Sam, looks like you have the kids trained up pretty well," Diggs told the man he'd just relieved.

"I'm especially pleased with my helicopter troops. After the hoo-rah with the Apaches down in Yugoslavia, we decided to get those people up to speed. It took three months, but they're ready to eat raw lion now--after they kill the fuckers with their pocketknives."

"Who's the boss rotor-head?"

"Colonel Dick Boyle. You'll meet him in a few minutes. He's been there and done that, and he knows how to run his command."

"Nice to know," Diggs allowed, as they boarded the World War II command car to troop the line, a goodbye ride for Sam Goodnight and welcome for Mary Diggs, whose service reputation was as one tough little black son of a bitch. His doctorate in management from the University of Minnesota didn't seem to count, except to promotion boards, and whatever private company might want to hire him after retirement, a possibility he had to consider from time to time now, though he figured two stars were only about half of what he had coming. Diggs had fought in two wars and comported himself well in both cases. There were many ways to make a career in the armed services, but none so effective as successful command on the field of battle, because when you got down to it, the Army was about killing people and breaking things as efficiently as possible. It wasn't fun, but it was occasionally necessary. You couldn't allow yourself to lose sight of that. You trained your soldiers so that if they woke up the next morning in a war, they'd know what to do and how to go about it, whether their officers were around to tell them or not.

"How about artillery?" Diggs asked, as they drove past the assembled self-propelled 155-mm howitzers.

"Not a problem there, Mary. In fact, no problems anywhere. Your brigade commanders all were there in 1991, mainly as company commanders or battalion S-3s. Your battalion commanders were almost all platoon leaders or company XOs. They're pretty well trained up. You'll see," Goodnight promised.

Diggs knew it would all be true. Sam Goodnight was a Major General (promotable), which meant he was going to get star number three as soon as the United States Senate got around to approving the next bill with all the flag officers on it, and that couldn't be rushed. Even the President couldn't do that. Diggs had screened for his second star six months earlier, just before leaving Fort Irwin, to spend a few months parked in the Pentagon--an abbreviated "joint-ness" tour, as it was called--before moving back to Germany. The division was slated to run a major exercise against the Bundeswehr in three weeks. First AD vs. four German brigades, two tanks, two mechanized infantry, and that promised to be a major test of the division. Well, that was something for Colonel Masterman to worry about. It was his neck on the line. Duke had come to Germany a week early to meet with his also-outgoing predecessor as divisional operations officer and go over the exercise's rules and assumptions. The German commander in the exercise was Generalmajor Siegfried Model. Siggy, as he was known to his colleagues, was descended from a pretty good Wehrmacht commander from the old-old days, and it was also said of him that he regretted the fall of the USSR, because part of him wanted to take the Russian Army on and rape it. Well, such things had been said about a lot of German, and a few American senior officers as well, and in nearly every case it was just that--talk, because nobody who'd seen one battlefield ever yearned to see another.

Of course, Diggs thought, there weren't many Germans left who had ever seen a battlefield.

"They look good, Sam," Diggs said, as they passed the last static display.

"It's a hell of a tough job to leave, Marion. Damn." The man was starting to fight back tears, which was one way of telling who the really tough ones were in this line of work, Diggs knew. Walking away from the command of soldiers was like leaving your kid in the hospital, or maybe even harder. They'd all been Sam's kids, and now they would be his kids, Diggs thought. On first inspection, they looked healthy and smart enough.

Yeah, Arnie," President Ryan said. His voice betrayed his emotions more than a growl or a shout could have.

"Nobody ever said the job was fun, Jack. Hell, I don't know why you're complaining. You don't have to schmooze people to raise money for your reelection campaign, do you? You don't have to kiss ass. All you have to do is your work, and that saves you a good hour--maybe an hour and a half--per day to watch TV and play with your kids." If there was anything Arnie loved, Ryan thought, it was telling him (Ryan) how easy he had it in this fucking job.

"But I still spend half my day doing unproductive shit instead of doing what I'm paid to do."

"Only half, and still he complains," Arnie told the ceiling. "Jack, you'd better start liking this stuff, or it'll eat you up. This is the fun part of being President. And, hell, man, you were a government employee for fifteen years before you came here. You should love being unproductive!"

Ryan nearly laughed, but managed to contain himself. If there was anything Arnie knew how to do, it was to soften his lessons with humor. That could be annoying as hell.

"Fine, but exactly what do I promise them?"

"You promise that you'll support this dam and barge-canal scheme."

"But it's probably a waste of money."

"No, it is not a waste of money. It provides employment in this two-state area, which is of interest to not one, not two, but three United States Senators, all of whom support you steadfastly on the Hill, and whom you, therefore, must support in turn. You reward them for helping you by helping them get reelected. And you help them get reelected by allowing them to generate about fifteen thousand construction jobs in the two states."

"And screw with a perfectly good river for"--Ryan checked the briefing folder on his desk--"three and a quarter billion dollars ... Jesus H. Christ," he finished with a long breath.

"Since when have you been a tree-hugger? Cutthroat trout don't vote, Jack. And even if the barge traffic up the river doesn't develop, you'll still have one hell of a recreation area for people to water-ski and fish, toss in a few new motels, maybe a golf course or two, fast-food places ..."

"I don't like saying things and doing things I don't believe in," the President tried next.

"For a politician, that is like color blindness or a broken leg: a serious handicap," van Damm noted. "That's part of the job, too. Nikita Khrushchev said it: 'Politicians are the same all over the world, we build bridges where there aren't any rivers.' "

"So wasting money is something we're supposed to do? Arnie, it isn't our money! It's the people's money. It belongs to them, and we don't have the right to piss it away!"

"Right? Who ever said this is about what's right?" Arnie asked patiently. "Those three senators who're"--he checked his watch--"on their way down here right now got you your defense appropriations bill a month ago, in case you didn't remember, and you may need their votes again. Now, that appropriations bill was important, wasn't it?"

"Yes, of course it was," President Ryan responded with guarded eyes.

"And getting that bill through was the right thing for the country, wasn't it?" van Damm asked next.

A long sigh. He could see where this was going. "Yes, Arnie, it was."

"And so, doing this little thing does help you to do the right thing for the country, doesn't it?"

"I suppose." Ryan hated conceding such things, but arguing with Arnie was like arguing with a Jesuit. You were almost always outgunned.

"Jack, we live in an imperfect world. You can't expect to be doing the right thing all the time. The best you can expect to do is to make the right thing happen most of the time--actually, you will do well to have the right things outbalance the not-so-right things over the long term. Politics is the art of compromise, the art of getting the important things you want, while giving to others the less important things they want, and doing so in such a way that you're the one doing the giving, not them doing the taking--because that's what makes you the boss. You must understand that." Arnie paused and took a sip of coffee. "Jack, you try hard, and you're learning pretty well--for a fourth-grader in graduate school--but you have to learn this stuff to the point that you don't even think about it. It has to become as natural as zipping your pants after you take a piss. You still have no idea how well you're doing." And maybe that's a good thing, Arnie added to himself alone.

"Forty percent of the people don't think I'm doing a good job."

"Fifty-nine percent do, and some of those forty percent voted for you anyway!"

The election had been a remarkable session for write-in candidates, and Mickey Mouse had done especially well, Ryan reminded himself.

"What am I doing to offend those others?" Ryan demanded.

"Jack, if the Gallup Poll had been around in ancient Israel, Jesus would probably have gotten discouraged and gone back to carpentry."

Ryan punched a button on his desk phone. "Ellen, I need you."

"Yes, Mr. President," Mrs. Sumter replied to their not-so-secret code. Thirty seconds later, she appeared through the door with her hand at her side. Approaching the President's desk, she extended her hand with a cigarette in it. Jack took it and lit it with a butane lighter, removing a glass ashtray from a desk drawer.

"Thanks, Ellen."

"Surely." She withdrew. Every other day Ryan would slip her a dollar bill to pay off his cigarette debt. He was getting better at this, mooching usually no more than three smokes on a stressful day.

"Just don't let the media catch you doing that," Arnie advised.

"Yeah, I know. I can get it on with a secretary right here in the Oval Office, but if I get caught smoking, that's like goddamned child abuse." Ryan took a long hit on the Virginia Slim, also knowing what his wife would say if she caught him doing this. "If I were king, then I'd make the goddamned rules!"

"But you're not, and you don't," Arnie pointed out.

"My job is to preserve, protect, and defend the country--"

"No, your job is to preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution, which is a whole lot more complicated. Remember, to the average citizen 'preserve, protect, and defend' means that they get paid every week, and they feed their families, get a week at the beach every year, or maybe Disney World, and football every Sunday afternoon in the fall. Your job is to keep them content and secure, not just from foreign armies, but from the general vicissitudes of life. The good news is that if you do that, you can be in this job another seven-plus years and retire with their love."

"You left out the legacy part."

That made Arnie's eyes flare a bit. "Legacy? Any president who worries too much about that is offending God, and that's almost as dumb as offending the Supreme Court."

"Yeah, and when the Pennsylvania case gets there--"

Arnie held up his hands as though protecting against a punch. "Jack, I'll worry about that when the time comes. You didn't take my advice on the Supreme Court, and so far you've been lucky, but if--no, when that blows up in your face, it won't be pretty." Van Damm was already planning the defense strategy for that.

"Maybe, but 1 won't worry about it. Sometimes you just let the chips fall where they may."

"And sometimes you look out to make sure the goddamned tree doesn't land on you."

Jack's intercom buzzed just as he put out the cigarette. It was Mrs. Sumter's voice. "The senators just came through the West Entrance."

"I'm out of here," Arnie said. "Just remember, you will support the dam and canal on that damned river, and you value their support. They'll be there when you need them, Jack. Remember that. And you do need them. Remember that, too."

"Yes, Dad," Ryan said.

You walked here?" Nomuri asked, with some surprise.

"It is only two kilometers," Ming replied airily. Then she giggled. "It was good for my appetite."

Well, you went through that fettuccine like a shark through a surfer, Nomuri thought. I suppose your appetite wasn't hurt very much. But that was unfair. He'd thought this evening through very carefully, and if she'd fallen into his trap, it was his fault more than hers, wasn't it? And she did have a certain charm, he decided as she got into his company car. They'd already agreed that they'd come to his apartment so that he could give her the present he'd already advertised. Now Nomuri was getting a little excited. He'd planned this for more than a week, and the thrill of the chase was the thrill of the chase, and that hadn't changed in tens of thousands of years of male humanity ... and now he wondered what was going on in her head. She'd had two stiff glasses of wine with the meal--and she'd passed on dessert. She'd jumped right to her feet when he'd suggested going to his place. Either his trap had been superbly laid, or she was more than ready herself.... The drive was short, and it passed without words. He pulled into his numbered parking place, wondering if anyone would take note of the fact that he had company today. He had to assume that he was watched here. The Chinese Ministry of State Security probably had an interest in all foreigners who lived in Beijing, since all were potential spies. Strangely, his apartment was not in the same part of the building as the Americans and other Westerners. It wasn't overt segregation or categorization, but it had worked out that way, the Americans largely in one section, along with most of the Europeans ... and the Taiwanese, too, Nomuri realized. And so, whatever surveillance existed was probably over on that end of the complex. A good thing now for Ming, and later, perhaps, a good thing for himself.

His place was a corner second-story walk-up in a Chinese interpretation of an American garden-apartment complex. The apartment was spacious enough, about a hundred square meters, and was probably not bugged. At least he'd found no microphones when he'd moved in and hung his pictures, and his sweep gear had discovered no anomalous signals--his phone had to be bugged, of course, but just because it was bugged didn't mean that there was somebody going over the tapes every day or even every week. MSS was just one more government agency, and in China they were probably little different from those in America, or France for that matter, lazy, underpaid people who worked as little as possible and served a bureaucracy that didn't encourage singular effort. They probably spent most of their time smoking the wretched local cigarettes and jerking off.

He had an American Yale lock on the door, with a pick-resistant tumbler and a sturdy locking mechanism. If asked about this, he'd explain that when living in California for NEC, he'd been burglarized--the Americans were such lawless and uncivilized people--and he didn't want that to happen again.

"So, this is the home of a capitalist," Ming observed, looking around. The walls were covered with prints, mainly movie posters.

"Yes, well, it's the home of a salaryman. I don't really know if I'm a capitalist or not, Comrade Ming," he added, with a smile and arched eyebrow. He pointed to his couch. "Please have a seat. Can I get you anything?"

"Another glass of wine, perhaps?" she suggested, spotting and then looking at the wrapped box on the chair opposite the couch.

Nomuri smiled. "That I can do." He headed off into the kitchen, where he had a bottle of California Chardonnay chilling in the fridge. Popping the cork was easy enough, and he headed back to the living room with two glasses, one of which he handed to his guest. "Oh," he said then. "Yes, this is for you, Ming." With that he handed over the box, wrapped fairly neatly in red--of course--gift paper.

"May I open it now?"

"Certainly." Nomuri smiled, in as gentlemanly a lustful way as he could manage. "Perhaps you would want to unwrap it, well ..."

"Are you saying in your bedroom?"

"Excuse me. Just that you might wish some privacy when you open it. Please pardon me if I am too forward."

The mirth in her eyes said it all. Ming took a deep sip of her white wine and walked off into that room and closed the door. Nomuri took a small sip of his own and sat down on the couch to await developments. If he'd chosen unwisely, she might throw the box at him and storm out ... not much chance of that, he thought. More likely, even if she found him too forward, she'd keep the present and the box, finish her wine, make small talk, and then take her leave in thirty minutes or so, just to show good manners--effectively the same result without the overt insult--and Nomuri would have to search for another recruitment prospect. No, the best outcome would be ...

... the door opened, and there she stood with a small, impish smile. The boiler suit was gone. Instead she wore the red-orange bra and panties set, the one with the front closure. She stood there holding her wineglass in salute, and it looked as if she'd taken another sip of her drink, maybe to work up her courage ... or to loosen her inhibitions.

Nomuri found himself suddenly apprehensive. He took another drink himself before standing, and he walked slowly, and a little uneasily, to the bedroom doorway.

Her eyes, he saw, were a little uneasy themselves, a little frightened, and with luck maybe his were, too, because women everywhere liked their men to be just a little vulnerable. Maybe John Wayne hadn't gotten all the action he wanted, Nomuri thought quickly. Then he smiled.

"I guessed right on the size."

"Yes, and it feels wonderful, like a second skin, smooth and silky." Every woman has it, Nomuri realized: the ability to smile and, regardless of the exterior, show the woman within, often a perfect woman, full of tenderness and desire, demureness and coquetry, and all you had to do ...

... his hand came out and touched her face as gently as his slight shaking allowed. What the hell was this? he demanded of himself. Shaking? James Bond's hands never shook. This was the time when he was supposed to scoop her up in his arms and stride in a masterful way off to the bed, there to possess her like Vince Lombardi taking over a football team, like George Patton leading an attack. But for all his triumphal anticipation of this moment, things were different from what he'd expected. Whoever or whatever Ming was, she was giving herself to him. There was no more in her than that--that was all she had. And she was giving it to him.

He bent his head down to kiss her, and there he caught the scent of the Dream Angel perfume, and somehow it suited the moment perfectly. Her arms came around him sooner than he'd expected. His hands replicated her gesture, and he found that her skin was smooth, like oiled silk, and his hands rubbed up and down of their own accord. He felt something strange on his chest and looked down to see her small hands undoing his buttons, and then her eyes looked into his, and her face was no longer plain. He unbuttoned his own cuffs, and she forced his shirt off, down his back, then lifted his T-shirt over his head--or tried to, for her arms were too short to make it quite all the way--and then he hugged her tighter, feeling the silklike artificial fibers of her new bra rub on his hairless chest. It was then that his hug became harder, more insistent, and his kiss harder on her mouth, and he took her face in his hands and looked hard into her dark, suddenly deep eyes, and what he saw was woman.

Her hands moved and unfastened his belt and slacks, which fell to his ankles. He nearly fell himself when he moved one leg, but Ming caught him and both laughed a little as he lifted his feet clear of his loafers and the slacks, and with that they both took a step toward the bed. Ming took another and turned, displaying herself for him. He'd underestimated the girl. Her waist was a full four inches slimmer than he'd thought--must be the damned boiler suit she wore to work, Nomuri thought at once--and her breasts filled the bra to perfection. Even the awful haircut seemed right just now, somehow fitting the amber skin and slanted eyes.

What came next was both easy and very, very hard. Nomuri reached out to her side, pulling her close, but not too close. Then he let his hand wander across her chest, for the first time feeling her breast through the gossamer fabric of the bra, at the same time watching her eyes closely for a reaction. There was little of that, though her eyes did seem to relax, perhaps even smile just a little at his touch, and then came the obligatory next step. With both hands, he unfastened the front closure of the bra. Instantly Ming's hands dropped to cover herself. What did that mean? the CIA officer wondered, but then her hands dropped and she pulled him to her, and their bodies met and his head came down to kiss her again, and his hands slid the bra straps off her arms and onto the floor. There was little left to be done, and both, so it seemed, advanced with a combination of lust and fear. Her hands went down and loosened the elastic band of his briefs, with her eyes now locked on his, and this time she smiled, a for-real smile that made him blush, because he was as ready as he needed to be, and then her hands pushed down on the briefs, and all that left was his socks, and then it was his turn to kneel and pull down on the red silklike panties. She kicked them loose and each stood apart to inspect the other. Her breasts were about a large B, Nomuri thought, the nipples brown as potting soil. Her waist was not nearly model-thin, but a womanly contrast with both the hips and upper body. Nomuri took a step and then took her hand and walked her to the bed, laying her down with a gentle kiss, and for this moment he was not an intelligence officer for his country.

Chapter 10

Lessons of the Trade

The pathway started in Nomuri's apartment, and from there went to a Web site established in Beijing, notionally for Nippon Electric Company, but the site had been designed for NEC by an American citizen who worked for more than one boss, one of whom was a front operated by and for the Central Intelligence Agency. The precise address point for Nomuri's e-mail was then accessible to the CIA's Beijing station chief, who, as a matter of fact, didn't know anything about Nomuri. That was a security measure to which he would probably have objected, but which he would have understood as a characteristic of Mary Patricia Foley's way of running the Directorate of Operations--and besides which, Station Beijing hadn't exactly covered itself with glory in recruiting senior PRC officials to be American agents-in-place.

The message the station chief downloaded was just gibberish to him, scrambled letters that might as easily have been typed by a chimpanzee in return for a bunch of bananas at some research university, and he took no note of it, just super-encrypting on his own in-house system called TAPDANCE and cross-loading it to an official government communications network that went to a communications satellite, to be downloaded at Sunnyvale, California, then uploaded yet again, and downloaded at Fort Belvoir, Virginia, across the Potomac River from Washington, D.C. From there the message went by secure fiber-optic landline to CIA headquarters at Langley, and then first of all into Mercury, the Agency's communications center, where the Station Beijing super-encryption was stripped away, revealing the original gibberish, and then cross-loaded one last time to Mrs. Foley's personal computer terminal, which was the only one with the encryption system and daily key-selection algorithm for the counterpart system on Chet Nomuri's laptop, which was called INTERCRYPT. MP was doing other things at the time, and took twenty minutes to log into her own system and note the arrival of a SORGE message. That piqued her interest at once. She executed the command to decrypt the message, and got gibberish, then realized (not for the first time) that Nomuri was on the other side of the date line, and had therefore used a different key sequence. So, adjust the date for tomorrow... and, yes! She printed a hard copy of the message for her husband, and then saved the message to her personal hard drive, automatically encrypting it along the way. From there, it was a short walk to Ed's office.

"Hey, baby," the DCI said, without looking up. Not too many people walked into his office without announcement. The news had to be good. MP had a beaming smile as she handed the paper over.

"Chet got laid last night!" the DDO told the DCI.

"Am I supposed to break out a cigar?" the Director of Central Intelligence asked. His eyes scanned the message.

"Well, it's a step forward."

"For him, maybe," Ed Foley responded with a twinkling eye. "I suppose you can get pretty horny on that sort of assignment, though I never had that problem myself." The Foleys had always worked the field as a married couple, and had gone through The Farm together. It had saved the senior Foley from all the complications that James Bond must have encountered.

"Eddie, you can be such a mudge!"

That made the DCI look up. "Such a what?"

"Curmudgeon!" she growled. "This could be a real breakthrough. This little chippy is personal secretary to Fang Gan. She knows all sorts of stuff we want to know."

"And Chet got to try her out last night. Honey, that's not the same thing as recruitment. We don't have an agent-in-place quite yet," he reminded his wife.

"I know, I know, but I have a feeling about this."

"Woman's intuition?" Ed asked, scanning the message again for any sordid details, but finding only cold facts, as though The Wall Street Journal had covered the seduction. Well, at least Nomuri had a little discretion. No rigid quivering rod plunging into her warm moist sheath--though Nomuri was twenty-nine, and at that age the rod tended to be pretty rigid. Chet was from California, wasn't he? the DCI wondered. So, probably not a virgin, maybe even a competent lover, though on the first time with anybody you mainly wanted to see if the pieces fit together properly--they always did, at least in Ed Foley's experience, but you still wanted to check and see. He remembered Robin Williams's takeoff on Adam and Eve, "Better stand back, honey. I don't know how big this thing gets!" The combination of careful conservatism and out-of-control wishful thinking common to the male of the species. "Okay, so, what are you going to reply? 'How many orgasms did the two of you have'?"

"God damn it, Ed!" The pin in the balloon worked, the DCI saw. He could almost see steam coming out of his wife's pretty ears. "You know damned well what I'm going to suggest. Let the relationship blossom and ease her into talking about her job. It'll take a while, but if it works it'll be worth the wait."

And if it doesn't work, it's not a bad deal for Chester, Ed Foley thought. There weren't many professions in the world in which getting sex was part of the job that earned you promotions, were there?

"Mary?"

"Yes, Ed?"

"Does it strike you as a little odd that the kid's reporting his sex life to us? Does it make you blush a little?"

"It would if he were telling me face-to-face. The e-mail method is best for this, I think. Less human content."

"You're happy with the security of the information transfer?"

"Yeah, we've been through this. The message could just be sensitive business information, and the encryption system is very robust. The boys and girls at Fort Meade can break it, but it's brute force every time, and it takes up to a week, even after they make the right guesses on how the encryption system works. The PRC guys would have to go from scratch. The trapdoor in the ISP was very cleverly designed, and the way we tap into it should also be secure--and even then, just because an embassy phone taps into an ISP doesn't mean anything. We have a consular official downloading pornography from a local Web site through that ISP as another cover, in case anybody over there gets real clever." That had been carefully thought through. It would be something that one would wish to be covert, something the counterintelligence agency in Beijing would find both understandable and entertaining in its own right, if and when they cracked into it.

"Anything good?" Ed Foley asked, again, just to bedevil his wife.

"Not unless you're into child abuse. Some of the subjects for this site are too young to vote. If you downloaded it over here, the FBI might come knocking on your door."

"Capitalism really has broken out over there, eh?"

"Some of the senior Party officials seem to like this sort of thing. I guess when you're pushing eighty, you need something special to help jump-start the motor." Mary Pat had seen some of the photographs, and once had been plenty. She was a mother, and all of those photographic subjects had been infants once, strange though that might seem to a subscriber to that Web site. The abusers of girls must have thought that they all sprang into life with their legs spread and a welcoming look in their doll-child faces. Not quite, the DDO thought, but her job wasn't to be a clergyman. Sometimes you had to do business with such perverts, because they had information which her country needed. If you were lucky, and the information was really useful, then you often arranged for them to defect, to live in the United States, where they could live and enjoy their perversions to some greater or lesser degree, after being briefed on the law, and the consequences of breaking it. Afterward there was always a bathroom and soap to wash your hands. It was a need of which she'd availed herself more than once. One of the problems with espionage was that you didn't always do business with the sort of people whom you'd willingly invite into your home. But it wasn't about Miss Manners. It was about getting information that your country needed to guard its strategic interests, and even to prevail in war, if it came to that. Lives were often at stake, either directly or indirectly. And so, you did business with anyone who had such information, even if he or she wasn't exactly a member of the clergy.

"Okay, babe. Keep me posted," Foley told his wife.

"Will do, honey-bunny." The DDO headed back to her own office. There she drew up her reply to Nomuri: MESSAGE RECEIVED. KEEP US POSTED ON YOUR PROGRESS. MP. ENDS.

The reply came as a relief to Nomuri when he woke and checked his e-mail. It was a disappointment that he didn't wake up with company, but to expect that would have been unrealistic. Ming would have been ill-advised to spend the night anywhere but in her own bed. Nomuri couldn't even drive her back. She'd just left, carrying her presents--well, wearing some of them--for the walk back to her own shared flat where, Nomuri fervently hoped, she wouldn't discuss her evening's adventures with her room-mates. You never knew about women and how they talked. It wasn't all that dissimilar with some men, Nomuri remembered from college, where some of his chums had talked at length about their conquests, as though they'd slain a dragon with a Popsicle stick. Nomuri had never indulged in this aural spectator sport. Either he'd had a spy's mentality even then, or he'd been somehow imbued with the dictum that a gentleman didn't kiss and tell. But did women? That was a mystery to him, like why it was that women seemed to go to the bathroom in pairs--he'd occasionally joked that that was when they'd held their "union meetings." Anyway, women talked more than men did. He was sure of that. And while they kept many secrets from men, how many did they keep from other women? Jesus, all that had to happen was for her to tell a roomie that she'd had her brains fucked out by a Japanese salaryman, and if that roomie was an informant to the MSS, Ming would get a visit from a security officer, who at the very least would counsel her never to see Nomuri again. More likely, the counseling would involve a demand to send that degenerate American bourgeois trash (the Victoria's Secret underthings) back to him, plus a threat to lose her ministry job if she ever appeared on the same street with him again. And that also meant that he'd be tailed and observed and investigated by the MSS, and that was something he had to take seriously. They didn't have to catch him committing espionage. This was a communist country, where due process of law was a bourgeois concept unworthy of serious consideration, and civil rights were limited to doing what one was told. As a foreigner doing business in the PRC, he might get some easiness of treatment, but not all that much.

So, he hadn't just gotten his rocks off, Nomuri told himself, past the delightful memories of a passionate evening. He'd crossed a wide red line in the street, and his safety depended entirely upon on how discreet Ming was. He hadn't--could not have--warned her to keep her mouth shut about their time together. Such things weren't said, because they added a level of gravity to what was supposed to have been a time of joy and friendship ... or even something potentially bigger than friendship. Women thought in such terms, Chester reminded himself, and for that reason he might see a pointed nose and whiskers the next time he looked in the mirror, but this was business, not personal, he told himself as he shut down his computer.

Except for one small thing. He'd had sexual relations with an intelligent and not entirely unattractive young female human being, and the problem was that when you gave a little bit of your heart away, you never really got it back. And his heart, Nomuri belatedly realized, was distantly connected to his dick. He wasn't James Bond. He could not embrace a woman as a paid whore embraced a man. It just wasn't in him to be that sort of heartless swine. The good news was that for this reason he could stand to look in a mirror for the time being. The bad news was that this ability might be short-lived, if he treated Ming as a thing and not a person.

Nomuri needed advice on how to feel about this operation, and he didn't have a place to get it. It wasn't the sort of thing to e-mail to Mary Pat or to one of the pshrinks the Agency employed for counseling DO people who needed a little guidance with their work. This sort of thing had to be handled face-to-face with a real person, whose body language you could read and whose tone of voice would deliver its own content. No, e-mail wasn't the medium he needed right now. He needed to fly to Tokyo and meet a senior officer of the Directorate of Operations who could counsel him on how to handle things. But if the guy told him to cut himself off from intimate contact with Ming, then what would he do? Nomuri asked himself. It wasn't as though he had a girlfriend of any kind, and he had his needs for intimacy, too--and besides, if he cut her off, what effect would that have on his potential, prospective agent? You didn't check your humanity by the door when you joined up with the Agency, despite what all the books said and the public expectations were. All the chuckles over beer during the nights after training sessions seemed a distant thing now, and all the expectations he and his colleagues had had back then. They'd been so far off the mark, in spite of what their training officers had told them. He'd been a child then, and to some extent even in Japan, but suddenly he was a man, alone in a country that was at best suspicious, and at worst hostile to him and his country. Well, it was in her hands now, and that was something he couldn't change.

Her co-workers noted a slight difference in their colleague. She smiled a little more, and in a somewhat different way. Something good must have happened to her, some of them thought, and for this they rejoiced, albeit in a reserved and private way. If Ming wished to share the experience with them, all well and good, and if not, that, too, was okay with them, because some things were private, even among a group of women who shared virtually everything, including stories of their minister and his fumbling, lengthy, and occasionally futile efforts at lovemaking. He was a wise man, and usually a gentle one, though as a boss he had his bad points. But Ming would notice none of those today. Her smile was sweeter than ever, and her eyes twinkled like little diamonds, the rest of the admin/secretarial staff all thought. They'd all seen it before, though not with Ming, whose love life had been an abbreviated one, and whom the minister liked a little too much, but whom he serviced imperfectly and too seldom. She sat at her computer to do her correspondence and translations of Western news articles that might be of interest to the Minister. Ming had the best English skills of anyone in this corner of the building, and the new computer system worked superbly. The next step, so the story went, was a computer into which you'd just speak, making the characters appear by voice command, sure to become the curse of every executive secretary in the world, because it would largely make them obsolete. Or maybe not. The boss couldn't fuck a computer, could he? Not that Minister Fang was all that intrusive in his demands. And the perks he delivered in return weren't bad at all.

Her first morning assignment took the customary ninety minutes, after which she printed up the resulting copy and stapled the pages together by article. This morning she'd translated pieces by the Times of London, and the New York Times, plus The Washington Post, so that her Minister would know what the barbarians around the world thought of the enlightened policy of the People's Republic.

In his private office, Minister Fang was going over other things. The MSS had a double report on the Russians: both oil and gold, the reports said. So, he thought, Zhang had been right all along, even more right than he knew. Eastern Siberia was indeed a treasure-house, full of things everyone needed. Oil, because petroleum was the very blood of modern society, and gold, because in addition to its negotiable value as an old but still very real medium of exchange, it still had industrial and scientific uses as well. And each had a cache of its own. What a pity that such riches should fall to a people without the wit to make proper use of them. It was so strange, the Russians who had given the world the gift of Marxism but then failed to exploit it properly, and then abandoned it, only to fail also in their transition to a bourgeois capitalist society. Fang lit a cigarette, his fifth of the day (he was trying to cut back as his seventieth birthday approached), and set the MSS report down on his desk before leaning back in his chair to puff on his unfiltered smoke and consider the information this morning had brought. Siberia, as Zhang had been saying for some years now, had so much that the PRC needed, timber, minerals in abundance--even greater abundance, so these intelligence documents said--and space, which China needed above all things.

There were simply too many people in China, and that despite population-control measures that could only be called draconian both in their content, and in their ruthless application. Those measures were an affront to Chinese culture, which had always viewed children as a blessing, and now the social engineering was having an unexpected result. Allowed only one child per married couple, the people often chose to have boys instead of girls. It was not unknown for a peasant to take a female toddler of two years and drop her down a well--the merciful ones broke their necks first--to dispose of the embarrassing encumbrance. Fang understood the reasons for this. A girl child grew up to marry, to join her life to a man, while a boy child could always be depended upon to support and honor his parents, and provide security. But a girl child would merely spread her legs for some other couple's boy child, and where was the security for her parents in that?

It had been true in Fang's case. As he'd grown to a senior party official, he'd made sure that his own mother and father had found a comfortable place to live out their lives, for such were the duties of a child for those who had given him life. Along the way, he'd married, of course--his wife was long dead of cardiovascular disease--and he'd given some lip service to his wife's parents ... but not as much as he'd done for his own. Even his wife had understood that, and used her shadow-influence as the wife of a party official to make her own special but lesser arrangements. Her brother had died young, at the hands of the American army in Korea, and was therefore just a memory without practical value.

But the problem for China that no one really talked about, even at Politburo level, was that their population policy was affecting the demographics of their country. In elevating the value of boy children over girls, the PRC was causing an imbalance that was becoming statistically significant. In fifteen years or so, there would be a shortage of women--some said that this was a good thing, because they would achieve the overarching national objective of population stability faster but it also meant that for a generation, millions of Chinese men would have no women to marry and mate with. Would this turn into a flood of homosexuality? PRC policy still frowned upon that as a bourgeois degeneracy, though sodomy had been decriminalized in 1998. But if there were no women to be had, what was a man to do? And in addition to killing off surplus girl babies, those abandoned by their parents were often given away, to American and European couples unable to have children of their own. This happened by the hundreds of thousands, with the children disposed of as readily and casually as Americans sold puppies in shopping malls. Something in Fang's soul bridled at that, but his feelings were mere bourgeois sentimentality, weren't they? National policy dictated what must be, and policy was the means to achieving the necessary goal.

His was a life as comfortable as privilege could make it. In addition to a plush office as pleasant as any capitalist's, he had an official car and driver to take him to his residence, an ornate apartment with servants to look after his needs, the best food that his country could provide, good beverages, a television connected to a satellite service so that he could receive all manner of entertainment, even including Japanese pornographic channels, for his manly drives had not yet deserted him. (He didn't speak Japanese, but you didn't need to understand the dialogue in such movies, did you?)

Fang still worked long hours, rising at six-thirty, and was at his desk before eight every morning. His staff of secretaries and assistants took proper care of him, and some of the female ones were agreeably compliant, once, occasionally twice per week. Few men of his years had his vigor, Fang was sure, and unlike Chairman Mao, he didn't abuse children, which he'd known of at the time and found somewhat distasteful. But great men had their flaws, and you overlooked them because of the greatness that made them who they were. As for himself and people like him, they were entitled to the proper environments in which to rest, good nourishment to sustain their bodies through their long and grueling workdays, and the opportunities for relaxation and recreation that men of vigor and intelligence needed. It was necessary that they live better than most other citizens of their country, and it was also earned. Giving direction to the world's most populous country was no easy task. It demanded their every intellectual energy, and such energy needed to be conserved and restored. Fang looked up as Ming entered with her folder of news articles.

"Good morning, Minister," she said with proper deference.

"Good morning, child." Fang nodded with affection. This one shared his bed fairly well, and for that reason merited more than a grunt. Well, he'd gotten her a very comfortable office chair, hadn't he? She withdrew, bowing proper respect for her father figure, as she always did. Fang noticed nothing particularly different about her demeanor, as he lifted the folder and took out the news articles, along with a pencil for making notations. He'd compare these with MSS estimates of the mood of other countries and their governments. It was Fang's way of letting the Ministry of State Security know that the Politburo members still had minds of their own with which to think. The MSS had signally failed to predict America's diplomatic recognition of Taiwan, though in fairness, the American news media didn't seem to predict the actions of this President Ryan all that well, either. What an odd man he was, and certainly no friend of the People's Republic. A peasant, the MSS analysts called him, and in many ways that seemed both accurate and appropriate. He was strangely unsophisticated in his outlook, something the New York Times commented upon rather frequently. Why did they dislike him? Was he not capitalist enough, or was he too capitalist? Understanding the American news media was beyond Fang's powers of analysis, but he could at least digest the things they said, and that was something the intelligence "experts" at the MSS Institute for American Studies were not always able to do. With that thought, Fang lit another cigarette and settled back in his chair.

It was a miracle, Provalov thought. Central Army Records had gotten the files, fingerprints, and photographs of the two bodies recovered in St. Petersburg--but perversely sent the records to him rather than to Abramov and Ustinov, doubtless because he was the one who had invoked the name of Sergey Golovko. Dzerzhinskiy Square still inspired people to do their jobs in a timely fashion. The names and vital statistics would be faxed at once to St. Petersburg so that his northern colleagues might see what information could be developed. The names and photographs were only a start--documents nearly twenty years old showing youthful, emotionless faces. The service records were fairly impressive, though. Once upon a time, Pyotr Alekseyevich Amalrik and Pavel Borissovich Zimyanin had been considered superior soldiers, smart, fit ... and highly reliable, politically speaking, which was why they'd gone to Spetsnaz school and sergeant school. Both had fought in Afghanistan, and done fairly well--they'd survived Afghanistan, which was not the usual thing for Spetsnaz troops, who'd drawn all of the dirtiest duty in an especially dirty war. They'd not reenlisted, which was not unusual. Hardly anyone in the Soviet Army had ever reenlisted voluntarily. They'd returned to civilian life, both working in the same factory outside Leningrad, as it had been called then. But Amalrik and Zimyanin had both found ordinary civilian life boring, and both, he gathered, had drifted into something else. He'd have to let the investigators in St. Petersburg find out more. He pulled a routing slip from his drawer and rubber-banded it to the records package. It would be couriered to St. Petersburg, where Abramov and Ustinov would play with the contents.

A Mr. Sherman, Mr. Secretary," Winston's secretary told him over the intercom. "Line three."

"Hey, Sam," SecTreas said, as he picked up the phone. "What's new?"

"Our oil field up north," the president of Atlantic Richfield replied.

"Good news?"

"You might say that. Our field people say the find is about fifty percent bigger than our initial estimates."

"How solid is that information?"

"About as reliable as one of your T-bills, George. My head field guy is Ernie Beach. He's as good at finding oil as you used to be playing up on The Street." Maybe even better , Sam Sherman didn't add. Winston was known to have something of an ego on the subject of his own worth. The addendum got through anyway.

"So, summarize that for me," the Secretary of the Treasury commanded.

"So, when this field comes on line, the Russians will be in a position to purchase Saudi Arabia outright, plus Kuwait and maybe half of Iran. It makes east Texas look like a fart in a tornado. It's huge, George."

"Hard to get out?"

"It won't be easy, and it won't be inexpensive, but from an engineering point of view it's pretty straightforward. If you want to buy a hot stock, pick a Russian company that makes cold-weather gear. They're going to be real busy for the next ten years or so," Sherman advised.

"Okay, and what can you tell me of the implications for Russia in economic terms?"

"Hard to say. It will take eight to twelve years to bring this field fully on line, and the amount of crude this will dump on the market will distort market conditions quite a bit. We haven't modeled all that out--but it's going to be huge, like in the neighborhood of one hundred billion dollars per year, current-year dollars, that is."

"For how long?" Winston could almost hear the shrug that followed.

"Twenty years, maybe more. Our friends in Moscow still want us to sit on this, but word's perking out in our company, like trying to hide a sunrise, y'know? I give it a month before it breaks out into the news media. Maybe a little longer'n that, but not much."

"What about the gold strike?"

"Hell, George, they're not telling me anything about that, but my guy in Moscow says the cat's gobbled down some kind of canary, or that's how it appears to him. That will probably depress the world price of gold about five, maybe ten percent, but our models say it'll rebound before Ivan starts selling the stuff he pulls out of the ground. Our Russian friends--well, their rich uncle just bit the big one and left them the whole estate, y'know?"

"And no adverse effects on us," Winston thought aloud.

"Hell, no. They'll have to buy all sorts of hardware from our people, and they'll need a lot of expertise that only we have, and after that's over, the world price of oil goes down, and that won't hurt us either. You know, George, I like the Russians. They've been unlucky sonsabitches for a long time, but maybe this'll change that for'em."

"No objections here or next door, Sam," TRADER assured his friend. "Thanks for the information."

"Well, you guys still collect my taxes." You bastards, he didn't add, but Winston heard it anyway, including the chuckle. "See you around, George."

"Right, have a good one, Sam, and thanks." Winston killed one button on his phone, selected another line, and hit his number nine speed-dial line.

"Yeah?" a familiar voice responded. Only ten people had access to this number.

"Jack, it's George, just had a call from Sam Sherman, Atlantic Richfield."

"Russia?"

"Yeah. The field is fifty percent bigger than they initially thought. That makes it pretty damned big, biggest oil strike ever, as a matter of fact, bigger than the whole Persian Gulf combined. Getting the oil out will be a little expensive, but Sam says it's all cookbook stuff--hard, but they know how it's done, no new technology to invent, just a matter of spending the money--and not even all that much, 'cause labor is a lot cheaper there than it is here. The Russians are going to get rich."

"How rich?" the President asked.

"On the order of a hundred billion dollars per year once the field is fully on line, and that's good for twenty years, maybe more."

Jack had to whistle at that. "Two trillion dollars. That's real money, George."

"That's what we call it on The Street, Mr. President," Winston agreed. "Sure as hell, that's real money."

"And what effect will it have on the Russian economy?"

"It won't hurt them very much," SecTreas assured him. "It gets them a ton of hard currency. With that money they can buy the things they'd like to have, and buy the tools to build the things they can make on their own. This will re-industrialize their country, Jack, jump-start them into the new century, assuming they have the brains to make proper use of it and not let it all bug out to Switzerland and Liechtenstein."

"How can we help them?" POTUS asked.

"Best answer to that, you and I and two or three others sit down with our Russian counterparts and ask them what they need. If we can get a few of our industrialists to build some plants over there, it won't hurt, and it'll damned sure look good on TV."

"Noted, George. Get me a paper on that by the beginning of next week, and then we'll see if we can figure out a way to let the Russians know what we know."

It was the end of another overlong day for Sergey Golovko. Running the SVR was job enough for any man, but he also had to back up Eduard Petrovich Grushavoy, President of the Russian Republic. President Grushavoy had his own collection of ministers, some of them competent, the others selected for their political capital, or merely to deny them to the political opposition. They could still do damage on the inside of Grushavoy's administration, but less than on the outside. On the inside they had to use small-caliber weapons, lest they be killed by their own shots.

The good news was that the Economics Minister, Vasily Konstantinovich Solomentsev, was intelligent and seemingly honest as well, as rare a combination in the Russian political spectrum as anywhere else in the known world. He had his ambitions--it was a rare minister who did not--but mainly, it seemed, he wanted his nation to prosper, and didn't want to profit himself all that much. A little self-enrichment was all right with Golovko, just so that a man wasn't a pig about it. The line, for Sergey Nikolay'ch, was about twenty million euros. More than that was hoggish, but less was understandable. After all, if a minister was successful at helping his country, he or she was entitled to get a proper reward for doing so. The ordinary working people out there wouldn't mind, if the result was a better life for them, would they? Probably not, the spymaster thought. This wasn't America, overrun with pointless and counterproductive "ethics" laws. The American President, whom Golovko knew well, had an aphorism that the Russian admired : If you have to write your ethics rules down, you've already lost. No fool, that Ryan, once a deadly enemy, and now a good friend, or seemingly so. Golovko had cultivated that friendship by providing help to America in two serious international crises. He'd done it because it had, first of all, been in his nation's interest, and secondly, because Ryan was a man of honor, and unlikely to forget such favors. It had also amused Golovko, who'd spent most of his adult-hood in an agency devoted to the destruction of the West.

But what about himself? Was someone intent on his own destruction? Had someone desired to end his life in a loud and spectacular manner on the paving stones of Dzerzhinskiy Square? The more his mind dwelt on that question, the more frightening it became. Few healthy men could contemplate the end of their lives with equanimity, and Golovko wasn't one of them. His hands never shook, but he didn't argue at all with Major Shelepin's increasingly invasive measures to keep him alive. The car changed every day in color, and sometimes in make, and the routes to his office shared only the starting place--the SVR building was sufficiently large that the daily journey to work had a total of five possible end points. The clever part, which Golovko admired, was that he himself occasionally rode in the front seat of the lead vehicle, while some functionary sat in the back seat of the putative guarded car. Anatoliy was no fool, and even showed the occasional spark of creativity.

But none of that now. Golovko shook his head and opened his last folder of the day, scanning first of all the executive summary--and his mind skidded to an almost instant halt, his hand reaching for a phone and dialing a number.

"This is Golovko," he told the male voice who answered. He didn't have to say anything else.

"Sergey Nikolay'ch," the minister's voice greeted him pleasantly five seconds later. "What can I do for you?"

"Well, Vasily Konstantinovich, you can confirm these numbers to me. Are they possible?"

"They are more than possible, Sergey. They are as real as the sunset," Solomentsev told the intelligence chief cum chief minister and advisor to President Grushavoy.

"Solkin syn," the intelligence chief muttered. Son of a bitch! "And this wealth has been there for how long?" he asked incredulously.

"The oil, perhaps five hundred thousand years; the gold, rather longer, Sergey."

"And we never knew," Golovko breathed.

"No one really looked, Comrade Minister. Actually, I find the gold report the more interesting. I must see one of these gold-encrusted wolf pelts. Something for Prokofiev, eh? Peter and the Golden Wolf."

"An entertaining thought," Golovko said, dismissing it immediately. "What will it mean to our country?"

"Sergey Nikolay'ch, I would have to be a fortune-teller to answer that substantively, but it could be the salvation of our country in the long term. Now we have something that all nations want--two somethings, as a matter of fact--and it belongs to us, and for it those foreigners will pay vast sums of money, and do so with a smile. Japan, for example. We will answer their energy needs for the next fifty years, and along the way we will save them vast sums in transportation costs--ship the oil a few hundred kilometers instead of ten thousand. And perhaps America, too, though they've made their own big strike on the Alaskan-Canadian border. The question becomes how we move the oil to market. We'll build a pipeline from the field to Vladivostok, of course, but maybe another one to St. Petersburg so that we can sell oil more easily to Europe as well. In fact, we can probably have the Europeans, especially the Germans, build the pipeline for us, just to get a discount on the oil. Serge, if we'd found this oil twenty years ago, we--"

"Perhaps." It wasn't hard to imagine what would come next: The Soviet Union would not have fallen but grown strong instead. Golovko had no such illusions. The Soviet government would have managed to fuck up these new treasures as it had fucked up everything else. The Soviet government had owned Siberia for seventy years but had never even gone looking for what might have been there. The country had lacked the proper experts to do the looking, but was too proud to let anyone else do it, lest they think less of the Motherland. If any one thing had killed the USSR, it wasn't communism, or even totalitarianism. It was that perverse amour propre that was the most dangerous and destructive aspect of the Russian character, created by a sense of inferiority that went back to the House of Romanov and beyond. The Soviet Union's death had been as self-inflicted as any suicide's, just slower and therefore far deadlier in coming. Golovko endured the next ninety seconds of historical speculation from a man who had little sense of history, then spoke: "All this is good, Vasily Konstantinovich, but what of the future? That is the time in which we will all live, after all."

"It will do us little harm. Sergey, this is the salvation of our country. It will take ten years to get the full benefit from the outfields, but then we shall have a steady and regular income for at least one whole generation, and perhaps more besides."

"What help will we need?"

"The Americans and the British have expertise which we need, from their own exploitation of the Alaskan fields. They have knowledge. We shall learn it and make use of it. We are in negotiations now with Atlantic Richfield, the American oil company, for technical support. They are being greedy, but that's to be expected. They know that only they have what we need, and paying them for it is cheaper than having to replicate it ourselves. So, they will get most of what they now demand. Perhaps we will pay them in gold bricks," Solomentsev suggested lightly.


Golovko had to resist the temptation to inquire too deeply into the gold strike. The oil field was far more lucrative, but gold was prettier. He, too, wanted to see one of those pelts that this Gogol fellow had used to collect the dust. And this lonely forest-dweller would have to be properly taken care of--no major problem, as he lived alone and was childless. Whatever he got, the state would soon get back, old as he was. And there'd be a TV show, maybe even a feature film, about this hunter. He'd once hunted Germans, after all, and the Russians still made heroes of such men. That would make Pavel Petrovich Gogol happy enough, wouldn't it?

"What does Eduard Petrovich know?"

"I've been saving the information until I had a full and reliable reading on it. I have that now. I think he will be pleased at the next cabinet meeting, Sergey Nikolay'ch."

As well he should, Golovko thought. President Grushavoy had been as busy as a one-armed, one-legged paperhanger for three years. No, more like a stage magician or conjurer, forced to produce real things from nothing, and his success in keeping the nation moving often seemed nothing short of miraculous. Perhaps this was God's own way of rewarding the man for his efforts, though it would not be an entirely unmixed blessing. Every government agency would want its piece of the gold-and-oil pie, each with its needs, all of them presented by its own minister as vital to the security of the state, in white papers of brilliant logic and compelling reasoning. Who knew, maybe some of them would even be telling the truth, though truth was so often a rare commodity in the cabinet room. Each minister had an empire to build, and the better he built it, the closer he would come to the seat at the head of the table that was occupied, for now, by Eduard Petrovich Grushavoy. Golovko wondered if it had been this way under the czars. Probably, he decided at once. Human nature didn't change very much. The way people had acted in Babylon or Byzantium was probably little different from the way they'd act at the next cabinet meeting, three days hence. He wondered how President Grushavoy would handle the news.

"How much has leaked out?" the spymaster asked.

"There are doubtless some rumors," Minister Solomentsev answered, "but the current estimates are less than twenty-four hours old, and it usually takes longer than that to leak. I will have these documents messengered to you--tomorrow morning?"

"That will be fine, Vasily. I'll have some of my own analysts go over the data, so that I can present my own independent estimate of the situation."

"I have no objection to that," the economics minister responded, surprising Golovko more than a little. But then this wasn't the USSR anymore. The current cabinet might be the modern counterpart to the old Politburo, but nobody there told lies ... well, at least not big lies. And that was a measure of progress for his country, wasn't it?

Chapter 11

Faith of the Fathers

His name was Yu Fa An, and he said he was a Christian. That was rare enough that Monsignor Schepke invited him in at once. What he saw was a Chinese national of fifty-plus years and stooped frame, with hair a curious mix of black and gray that one saw only rarely in this part of the world.

"Welcome to our embassy. I am Monsignor Schepke." He bowed quickly and then shook the man's hand.

"Thank you. I am the Reverend Yu Fa An," the man replied with the dignity of truth, one cleric to another.

"Indeed. Of what denomination?"

"I am a Baptist."

"Ordained? Is that possible?" Schepke motioned the visitor to follow him, and in a moment they stood before the Nuncio. "Eminence, this is the Reverend Yu Fa An--of Beijing?" Schepke asked belatedly.

"Yes, that is so. My congregation is mainly northwest of here."

"Welcome." Cardinal DiMilo rose from his chair for a warm handshake, and guided the man to the comfortable visitor's chair. Monsignor Schepke went to fetch tea. "It is a pleasure to meet a fellow Christian in this city."

"There are not enough of us, and that is a fact, Eminence," Yu confirmed.

Monsignor Schepke swiftly arrived with a tray of tea things, which he set on the low coffee table.

"Thank you, Franz."

"I thought that some local citizens should welcome you. I expect you've had the formal welcome from the Foreign Ministry, and that it was correct ... and rather cold?" Yu asked.

The Cardinal smiled as he handed a cup to his guest. "It was correct, as you say, but it could have been warmer."

"You will find that the government here has ample manners and good attention to protocol, but little in the way of sincerity," Yu said, in English, with a very strange accent.

"You are originally from ... ?"

"I was born in Taipei. As a youth, I traveled to America for my education. I first attended the University of Oklahoma, but the call came, and I transferred to Oral Roberts University in the same state. There I got my first degree--in electrical engineering--and went on for my doctor of divinity and my ordination," he explained.

"Indeed, and how did you come to be in the People's Republic?"

"Back in the 1970s, the government of Chairman Mao was ever so pleased to have Taiwanese come here to live--rejecting capitalism and coming to Marxism, you see," he added with a twinkling eye. "It was hard on my parents, but they came to understand. I started my congregation soon after I arrived. That was troublesome for the Ministry of State Security, but I also worked as an engineer, and at the time the state needed that particular skill. It is remarkable what the State will accept if you have something it needs, and back then their need for people with my degree was quite desperate. But now I am a minister on a full-time basis." With the announcement of his triumph, Yu lifted his own teacup for a sip.

"So, what can you tell us about the local environment?" Renato asked.

"The government is truly communist. It trusts and tolerates no loyalty to anything except itself. Even the Falun Gong, which was not truly a religion--that is, not really a belief system as you or I would understand the term--has been brutally suppressed, and my own congregation has been persecuted. It is a rare Sunday on which more than a quarter of my congregation comes to attend services. I must spend much of my time traveling from home to home to bring the gospel to my flock."

"How do you support yourself?" the Cardinal asked.

Yu smiled serenely. "That is the least of my problems. American Baptists support me most generously. There is a group of churches in Mississippi that is particularly generous--many are black churches, as it turns out. I just received some letters from them yesterday. One of my classmates at Oral Roberts University has a large congregation near Jackson, Mississippi. His name is Gerry Patterson. We were good friends then, and he remains a friend in Christ. His congregation is large and prosperous, and he still looks after me." Yu almost added that he had far more money than he knew how to spend. In America, such prosperity would have translated into a Cadillac and a fine parsonage. In Beijing, it meant a nice bicycle and gifts to the needy of his flock.

"Where do you live, my friend?" the Cardinal asked.

The Reverend Yu fished in his pocket for a business card and handed it over. Like many such Chinese cards, it had a sketch-map on the back. "Perhaps you would be so kind as to join my wife and myself for dinner. Both of you, of course," he added.

"We should be delighted. Do you have children?"

"Two," Yu replied. "Both born in America, and so exempt from the bestial laws the communists have in place here."

"I know of these laws," DiMilo assured his visitor. "Before we can make them change, we need more Christians here. I pray on this subject daily."

"As do I, Eminence. As do I. I presume you know that your dwelling here is, well ..."

Schepke tapped his ear and pointed his finger around the room. "Yes, we know."

"You have a driver assigned to you?"

"Yes, that was very kind of the ministry," Schepke noted. "He's a Catholic. Isn't that remarkable?"

"Is that a fact?" Yu asked rhetorically, while his head shook emphatically from side to side. "Well, I am sure he's loyal to his country as well."

"But of course," DiMilo observed. It wasn't much of a surprise. The Cardinal had been in the Vatican's diplomatic service a long time, and he'd seen most of the tricks at least once. Clever though the Chinese communists were, the Catholic Church had been around a lot longer, loath though the local government might be to admit that fact.

The chitchat went on for another thirty minutes before the Reverend Yu took his leave, with another warm handshake to send him on his way.

"So, Franz?" DiMilo asked outside, where a blowing breeze would impede any microphones installed outside the dwelling itself.

"First time I've seen the man. I've heard his name since I arrived here. The PRC government has indeed given him a bad time, and more than once, but he is a man of strong faith and no small courage. I hadn't known of his educational background. We could check on this."

"Not a bad idea," the Papal Nuncio said. It wasn't that he distrusted or disbelieved Yu, just that it was good to be sure of things. Even the name of a classmate, now an ordained minister, Gerry Patterson. Somewhere in Mississippi, USA. That would make it easy. The message to Rome went out an hour later, over the Internet, a method of communication that lent itself so readily to intelligence operations.

In this case, the time differences worked for them, as sometimes happened when the inquiries went west instead of east. In a few hours, the dispatch was received, decrypted, and forwarded to the proper desk. From there, a new dispatch, also encrypted, made its way to New York, where Timothy Cardinal McCarthy, Archbishop of New York and the chief of the Vatican's intelligence operations in the United States of America, received his copy immediately after breakfast. From there, it was even easier. The FBI remained a bastion of Irish-Catholic America, though not so much as in the 1930s, with a few Italians and Poles tossed in. The world was an imperfect place, but when the Church needed information, and as long as the information was not compromising to American national security, it was gotten, usually very quickly.

In this case, particularly so. Oral Roberts University was a very conservative institution, and therefore ready to cooperate with the FBI's inquiries, official or not. A clerk there didn't even consult her supervisor, so innocuous was the phoned inquiry from Assistant Special Agent in Charge Jim Brennan of the FBI's Oklahoma City office. It was quickly established via computer records that one Yu Fa An had graduated the university, first with a bachelor of science degree in electrical engineering, and then spent an additional three years in the university for his doctor of divinity, both degrees attained "with distinction," the clerk told Brennan, meaning nothing lower than a B+. The alumni office added that the Reverend Yu's current address was in Beijing, China, where he evidently preached the gospel courageously in the land of the pagans. Brennan thanked the clerk, made his notes, and replied to the e-mail inquiry from New York, then went off to his morning meeting with the SAC to review the Field Division's activities in enforcing federal law in the Sooner State.

It was a little different in Jackson, Mississippi. There it was the SAC--Special Agent in Charge--himself who made the call on Reverend Gerry Patterson's First Baptist Church, located in an upscale suburb of the Mississippi state capital. The church was three-quarters of the way into its second century, and among the most prosperous of such congregations in the region. The Reverend Patterson could scarcely have been more impressive, impeccably turned out in a white button-down shirt and a striped blue tie. His dark suit coat was hung in a corner in deference to the local temperature. He greeted the visiting FBI official with regal manners, conducted him to his plush office, and asked how he could be of service. On hearing the first question, he replied, "Yu! Yes, a fine man, and a good friend from school. We used to call him Skip--Fa sounded too much like something from The Sound of Music, you know? A good guy, and a fine minister of the gospel. He could give lessons in faith to Jerry Falwell. Correspond with him? You bet I do! We send him something like twenty-five thousand dollars a year. Want to see a picture? We have it in the church itself. We were both a lot younger then," Patterson added with a smile. "Skip's got real guts. It can't be much fun to be a Christian minister in China, you know? But he never complains. His letters are always upbeat. We could use a thousand more men like him in the clergy."

"So, you are that impressed with him?" SAC Mike Leary asked.

"He was a good kid in college, and he's a good man today, and a fine minister of the gospel who does his work in a very adverse environment. Skip is a hero to me, Mr. Leary." Which was very powerful testimony indeed from so important a member of the community. First Baptist Church hadn't had a mortgage in living memory, despite its impressive physical plant and amply cushioned pews.

The FBI agent stood. "That's about all I need. Thank you, sir."

"Can I ask why you came here to ask about my friend?"

Leary had expected that question, and so had preframed his answer. "Just a routine inquiry, sir. Your friend isn't in any trouble at all--at least not with the United States government."

"Good to know," the Reverend Patterson responded, with a smile and a handshake. "You know, we're not the only congregation that looks after Skip."

Leary turned. "Really?"

"Of course. You know Hosiah Jackson?"

"Reverend Jackson, the Vice President's dad? Never met him, but I know who he is."

Patterson nodded. "Yep. Hosiah's as good as they come." Neither man commented on how unusual it would have been a mere forty years earlier for a white minister to comment so favorably on a black one, but Mississippi had changed over time, in some ways even faster than the rest of America. "I was over at his place a few years ago and we got talking about things, and this subject came up. Hosiah's congregation sends Skip five or ten thousand dollars a year also, and he organized some of the other black congregations to help us look after Skip as well."

Mississippi whites and blacks looking after a Chinese preacher, Leary thought. What was the world coming to? He supposed that Christianity might really mean something after all, and headed back to his office in his official car, content at having done some actual investigative work for a change, if not exactly for the FBI.

Cardinal McCarthy learned from his secretary that his two requests for information had been answered before lunch, which was impressive even by the standards of the FBI-Catholic Church alliance. Soon after his midday meal, Cardinal McCarthy personally encrypted both of the replies and forwarded them back to Rome. He didn't know why the inquiry had come, but figured that he'd find out in due course if it were important, and if not, then not. It amused the churchman to be the Vatican's master spy in America.

It would have amused him less to know that the National Security Agency at Fort Meade, Maryland, was interested in this sideshow activity also, and that their monster Thinking Machines, Inc., supercomputer in the cavernous basement under the main building in the sprawling complex was on the case. This machine, whose manufacturer had gone bankrupt some years before, had been both the pride and joy and the greatest disappointment in the huge collection of computers at NSA, until quite recently, when one of the agency's mathematicians had finally figured out a way to make use of it. It was a massive parallel-processing machine and supposedly operated much as the human brain did, theoretically able to attack a problem from more than one side simultaneously, just as the human brain was thought to do. The problem was that no one actually knew how the human brain worked, and as a result drafting the software to make full use of the hugely powerful computer had been impossible for some years. This had relegated the impressive and expensive artifact to no more practical utility than an ordinary workstation. But then someone had recognized the fact that quantum mechanics had become useful in the cracking of foreign ciphers, wondered why this should be the case, and started looking at the problems from the programming unit. Seven months later, that intellectual sojourn had resulted in the first of three new operating systems for the Thinking Machines Super-Cruncher, and the rest was highly classified history. NSA was now able to crack any book or machine cipher in the world, and its analysts, newly rich with information, had pitched in to have a woodworker construct a sort of pagan altar to put before the Cruncher for the notional sacrifice of goats before their new god. (To suggest the sacrifice of virgins would have offended the womenfolk at the agency.) NSA had long been known for its eccentric institutional sense of humor. The only real fear was that the world would learn about the TAPDANCE system NSA had come up with, which was totally random, and therefore totally unbreakable, plus easy to manufacture--but it was also an administrative nightmare, and that would prevent most foreign governments from using it.

The Cardinal's Internet dispatches were copied, illegally but routinely, by NSA and fed into the Cruncher, which spat out the clear text, which found its way quickly to the desk of an NSA analyst, who, it had been carefully determined beforehand, wasn't Catholic.

That's interesting, the analyst thought. Why is the Vatican interested in some Chink minister? And why the hell did they go to New York to find out about him? Oh, okay, educated over here, and friends in Mississippi ... what the hell is this all about? He was supposed to know about such things, but that was merely the theory under which he operated. He frequently didn't know beans about the information he looked at, but was honest enough to tell his superiors that. And so, his daily report was forwarded electronically to his supervisor, who looked it over, coded it, and then forwarded it to CIA, where three more analysts looked it over, decided that they didn't know what to make of it either, and then filed it away, electronically. In this case, the data went onto VHS-sized tape cassettes, one of which went into storage container Doc, and the other into Grumpy--there are seven such storage units in the CIA computer room, each named after one of Disney's Seven Dwarfs--while the reference names went into the mainframe so that the computer would know where to look for the data for which the United States government as yet had no understanding. That situation was hardly unknown, of course, and for that reason CIA had every bit of information it generated in a computerized and thoroughly cross-referenced index, instantly accessible, depending on classification, to anyone in either the New or Old Headquarters Buildings located one ridgeline away from the Potomac River. Most of the data in the Seven Dwarfs just sat there, forevermore to be untouched, footnotes to footnotes, never to be of interest even to the driest of academics.

And so?" Zhang Han San asked.

"And so, our Russian neighbors have the luck of the devil," Fang Gan replied, handing the folder over to the senior Minister Without Portfolio. Zhang was seven years older than Fang, closer to his country's Premier. But not that much, and there was little competition between the two ministers. "What we could do with such blessings ..." His voice trailed off.

"Indeed." That any country could have made constructive use of oil and gold was an obvious truth left unsaid. What mattered here and now was that China would not, and Russia would.

"I had planned for this, you know."

"Your plans were masterful, my friend," Fang said from his seat, reaching inside his jacket for a pack of cigarettes. He held it up to seek approval from his host, who'd quit the habit five years before. The response was a dismissive wave of the hand, and Fang tapped one out and lit it from a butane lighter. "But anyone can have bad luck."

"First the Japanese failed us, and then that religious fool in Tehran," Zhang groused. "Had either of our supposed allies performed as promised, the gold and the oil would now be ours ..."

"Useful, certainly, for our own purposes, but I am somewhat doubtful on the subject of world acceptance of our notionally prosperous status," Fang said, with a lengthy puff.

The response was yet another wave of the hand. "You think the capitalists are governed by principle? They need oil and gold, and whoever can provide it cheaply gets to sell the most of it. Look whom they buy from, my old friend, anyone who happens to have it. With all the oil in Mexico, the Americans can't even work up the courage to seize it. How cowardly of them! In our case, the Japanese, as we have learned to our sorrow, have no principles at all. If they could buy oil from the company which made the bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, they would. They call it realism," Zhang concluded scornfully. The real cite came from Vladimir Il'ych Ulyanov, Lenin himself, who'd predicted, not unreasonably, that capitalist nations would compete among themselves to sell the Soviet Union the rope with which the Russians would later hang them all. But Lenin had never planned for Marxism to fail, had he? Just as Mao hadn't planned for his perfect political/economic vision to fail in the People's Republic, as evidenced by such slogans as "The Great Leap Forward," which, among other things, had encouraged ordinary peasants to smelt iron in their backyards. That the resulting slag hadn't been useful even to make andirons with was a fact not widely advertised in the East or West.

"Alas, fortune did not smile upon us, and so, the oil and gold are not ours."

"For the moment," Zhang murmured.

"What was that?" Fang asked, not having quite caught the comment.

Zhang looked up, almost startled from his internal reverie. "Hmph? Oh, nothing, my friend." And with that the discussion turned to domestic matters. It lasted a total of seventy-five minutes before Fang went back to his office. There began another routine. "Ming," Fang called, gesturing on the way to his inner office.

The secretary stood and scampered after him, closing the door behind before finding her seat.

"New entry," Fang said tiredly, for it had been a lengthy day. "Regular afternoon meeting with Zhang Han San, and we discussed ..." His voice went on, relating the substance and contents of the meeting. Ming duly took her notes for her minister's official diary. The Chinese were inveterate diarists, and besides that, members of the Politburo felt both an obligation (for scholarly history) and a personal need (for personal survival) to document their every conversation on matters political and concerning national policy, the better to document their views and careful judgment should one of their number make an error of judgment. That this meant his personal secretary, as, indeed, all of the Politburo members' personal secretaries, had access to the most sensitive secrets of the land was not a matter of importance, since these girls were mere robots, recording and transcription machines, little more than that--well, a little more, Fang and a few of his colleagues thought with the accompanying smile. You couldn't have a tape machine suck on your penis, could you? And Ming was especially good at it. Fang was a communist, and had been for all of his adult life, but he was not a man entirely devoid of heart, and he had the affection for Ming that another man, or even himself, might have had for a favored daughter ... except that you usually didn't fuck your own daughter.... His diary entry droned on for twenty minutes, his trained memory recounting every substantive part of his exchange with Zhang, who was doubtless doing the same with his own private secretary right at this moment--unless Zhang had succumbed to the Western practice of using a tape machine, which would not have surprised Fang. For all of Zhang's pretended contempt for Westerners, he emulated them in so many ways.

They'd also tracked down the name of Klementi Ivan'ch Suvorov. He was yet another former KGB officer, part then of the Third Chief Directorate, which had been a hybrid department of the former spy agency, tasked to overseeing the former Soviet military, and also to overseeing certain special operations of the latter force, like the Spetsnaz, Oleg Provalov knew. He turned a few more pages in Suvorov's package, found a photograph and fingerprints, and also discovered that his first assignment had been in the First Chief Directorate, known as the Foreign Directorate because of its work in gathering intelligence from other nations. Why the change? he wondered. Usually in KGB, you stayed where you were initially put. But a senior officer in the Third had drafted him by name from the First ... why? Suvorov, K. I., asked for by name by General Major Pavel Konstantinovich Kabinet. The name made Provalov pause. He'd heard it somewhere, but exactly where, he couldn't recall, an unusual state of affairs for a long-term investigator. Provalov made a note and set it aside.

So, they had a name and a photo for this Suvorov fellow. Had he known Amalrik and Zimyanin, the supposed--and deceased--killers of Avseyenko the pimp? It seemed possible. In the Third Directorate he would have had possible access to the Spetsnaz, but that could have been a mere coincidence. The KGB's Third Directorate had been mainly concerned with political control of the Soviet military, but that was no longer something the State needed, was it? The entire panoply of political officers, the zampoliti who had so long been the bane of the Soviet military, was now essentially gone.

Where are you now? Provalov asked the file folder. Unlike Central Army Records, KGB records were usually pretty good at showing where former intelligence officers lived, and what they were doing. It was a carryover from the previous regime that worked for the police agencies, but not in this case. Where are you? What are you doing to support yourself? Are you a criminal? Are you a murderer? Homicide investigations by their nature created more questions than answers, and frequently ended with many such questions forever unanswered because you could never look inside the mind of a killer, and even if you could, what you might find there didn't have to make any sort of sense.

This murder case had begun as a complex one, and was only becoming more so. All he knew for certain was that Avseyenko was dead, along with his driver and a whore. And now, maybe, he knew even less. He'd assumed almost from the beginning that the pimp had been the real target, but if this Suvorov fellow had hired Amalrik and Zimyanin to do the killing, why would a former--he checked--lieutenant colonel in the Third Chief Directorate of the KGB go out of his way to kill a pimp? Was not Sergey Golovko an equally likely target for the killing, and would that not also explain the murder of the two supposed killers, for eliminating the wrong target? The detective lieutenant opened a desk drawer for a bottle of aspirin. It wasn't the first headache this case had developed, and it didn't seem likely that this would be the last. Whoever Suvorov was, if Golovko had been the target, he had not made the decision to kill the man himself. He'd been a contract killer, and therefore someone else had made the decision to do the killing.

But who?

And why?

Cui bonuo was the ancient question--old enough that the adage was in a dead language. To whom the good? Who profited from the deed?

He called Abramov and Ustinov. Maybe they could run Suvorov down, and then he'd fly north to interview the man. Provalov drafted the fax and fired it off to St. Petersburg, then left his desk for the drive home. He checked his watch. Only two hours late. Not bad for this case.

General Lieutenant Gennady Iosifovich Bondarenko looked around his office. He'd had his three stars for a while, and sometimes he wondered if he'd get any further. He'd been a professional soldier for thirty-one years, and the job to which he'd always aspired was Commanding General of the Russian Army. Many good men, and some bad ones, had been there. Gregoriy Zhukov, for one, the man who'd saved his country from the Germans. There were many statues to Zhukov, whom Bondarenko had heard lecture when he was a wet-nosed cadet all those years before, seeing the blunt, bulldog face and ice-blue determined eyes of a killer, a true Russian hero whom politics could not demean, and whose name the Germans had come to fear.

That Bondarenko had come this far was no small surprise even to himself. He'd begun as a signals officer, seconded briefly to Spetsnaz in Afghanistan, where he'd cheated death twice, both times taking command of a panic-worthy situation and surviving with no small distinction. He'd taken wounds, and killed with his own hands, something few colonels do, and few colonels relished, except at a good officers' club bar after a few stiff ones with their comrades.

Like many generals before him, Bondarenko was something of a "political" general. He'd hitched his career-star to the coattails of a quasi-minister, Sergey Golovko, but in truth he'd never have gone to general-lieutenant's stars without real merit, and courage on the battlefield went as far in the Russian army as it did in any other. Intelligence went further still, and above all came accomplishment. His job was what the Americans called J-3, Chief of Operations, which meant killing people in war and training them in peace. Bondarenko had traveled the globe, learning how other armies trained their men, sifted through the lessons, and applied them to his own soldiers. The only difference between a soldier and a civilian was training, after all, and Bondarenko wanted no less than to bring the Russian army to the same razor-sharp and granite-hard condition with which it had kicked in the gates of Berlin under Zhukov and Koniev. That goal was still off in the future, but the general told himself that he'd laid the proper foundation. In ten years, perhaps, his army would be at that goal, and he'd be around to see it, retired by then, of course, honorably so, with his decorations framed and hanging on the wall, and grandchildren to bounce on his knee ... and occasionally coming in to consult, to look things over and offer his opinion, as retired general officers often did.

For the moment, he had no further work to do, but no particular desire to head home, where his wife was hosting the wives of other senior officers. Bondarenko had always found such affairs tedious. The military attache in Washington had sent him a book, Swift Sword, by a Colonel Nicholas Eddington of the American Army National Guard. Eddington, yes, he was the colonel who'd been training with his brigade in the desert of California when the decision had come to deploy to the Persian Gulf, and his troops--civilians in uniform, really--had performed well: Better than well, the Russian general told himself. They'd exercised the Medusa Touch, destroying everything they'd touched, along with the regular American formations, the 10th and 11th cavalry regiments. Together that one division-sized collection of forces had smashed a full four corps of mechanized troops like so many sheep in the slaughter pen. Even Eddington's guardsmen had performed magnificently. Part of that, Gennady Iosifovich knew, was their motivation. The biological attack on their homeland had understandably enraged the soldiers, and such rage could make a poor soldier into an heroic one as easily as flipping a light switch. "Will to combat" was the technical term. In more pedestrian language, it was the reason a man put his life at risk, and so it was a matter of no small importance to the senior officers whose job it was to lead those men into danger.

Paging through the book, he saw that this Eddington--also a professor of history, the flap said; wasn't that interesting? --paid no small attention to that factor. Well, maybe he was smart in addition to being lucky. He'd had the good fortune to command reserve soldiers with many years of service, and while they'd only had part-time practice for their training, they'd been in highly stable units, where every soldier knew every other, and that was a virtually unknown luxury for regular soldiers. And they'd also had the revolutionary new American IVIS gear, which let all the men and vehicles in the field know exactly what their commander knew, often in great detail ... and in turn told their commander exactly what his men saw. Eddington said that had made his job a lot easier than any mechanized-force commander had ever had it.

The American officer also talked about knowing not only what his subordinate commanders were saying, but also the importance of knowing what they were thinking, the things they didn't have the time to say. The implicit emphasis was on the importance of continuity within the officer corps, and that, Bondarenko thought as he made a marginal note, was a most important lesson. He'd have to read this book in detail, and maybe have Washington purchase a hundred or so for his brother officers to read ... even get reprint rights in Russia for it? It was something the Russians had done more than once.

CHAPTER 12

Conflicts of the Pocket

Okay, George, let's have it," Ryan said, sipping his coffee. The White House had many routines, and one that had evolved over the past year was that, after the daily intelligence briefing, the Secretary of the Treasury was Ryan's first appointment two or three days of the week. Winston most often walked across--actually under--15th Street via a tunnel between the White House and Treasury Building that dated back to the time of FDR. The other part of the routine was that the President's Navy messmen laid out coffee and croissants (with butter) in which both men indulged to the detriment of their cholesterol numbers.

"The PRC. The trade negotiations have hit the wall pretty hard. They just don't want to play ball."

"What are the issues?"

"Hell, Jack, what aren't the friggin' issues?" TRADER took a bite of croissant and grape jelly. "That new computer company their government started up is ripping off a proprietary hardware gadget that Dell has patented--that's the new doohickey that kicked their stock up twenty percent, y'know? They're just dropping the things into the boxes they make for their own market and the ones they just started selling in Europe. That's a goddamned violation of all sorts of trade and patent treaties, but when we point that out to them over the negotiating table, they just change the subject and ignore it. That could cost Dell something like four hundred million dollars, and that's real money for one company to lose, y"know? If I was their corporate counsel, I'd be flipping through the Yellow Pages for Assassins 'R Us. Okay, that's one. Next, they've told us that if we make too big a deal of these 'minor' disagreements, Boeing can forget the 777 order--twenty-eight aircraft they've optioned--in favor of Airbus."

Ryan nodded. "George, what's the trade balance with the PRC now?"

"Seventy-eight billion, and it's their way, not ours, as you know."

"Scott's running this over at Foggy Bottom?"

SecTreas nodded. "He's got a pretty fair team in place, but they need a little more in the way of executive direction."

"And what's this doing to us?"

"Well, it gets our consumers a lot of low-cost goods, about seventy percent of which is in low-tech stuff, lots of toys, stuffed animals, like that. But, Jack, thirty percent is upscale stuff. That amount's almost doubled in two and a half years. Pretty soon that's going to start costing us jobs, both in terms of production for domestic consumption and lost exports. They're selling a lot of laptops domestically--in their country, I mean--but they don't let us into the market, even though we've got 'em beat in terms of performance and price. We know for sure they're taking part of their trading surplus with us and using it to subsidize their computer industries. They want to build that up for strategic reasons, I suppose."

"Plus selling weapons to people we'd prefer not to have them," POTUS added. Which they also do for strategic reasons. "Well, doesn't everybody need an AK-47 to take care of his gophers?" A shipment of fourteen hundred true--that is, fully automatic--assault rifles had been seized in the Port of Los Angeles two weeks before, but the PRC had denied responsibility, despite the fact that U.S. intelligence services had tracked the transaction order back to a particular Beijing telephone number. That was something Ryan knew, but it had not been allowed to leak, lest it expose methods of intelligence collection--in this case to the National Security Agency at Fort Meade. The new Beijing telephone system hadn't been built by an American firm, but much of the design work had been contracted to a company that had made a profitable arrangement with an agency of the United States government. It wasn't strictly legal, but different rules were attached to national security matters.

"They just don't play by the rules, do they?"

Winston grunted. "Not hardly."

"Suggestions?" President Ryan asked.

"Remind the little slant-eyed fucks that they need us a shitload more than we need them."

"You have to be careful talking like that to nation-states, especially ones with nuclear weapons," Ryan reminded his Treasury Secretary. "Plus the racial slur."

"Jack, either it's a level playing field or it isn't. Either you play fair or you don't. If they keep that much more of our money than we do of theirs, then it means they've got to start playing fair with us. Okay, I know"--he held his hands up defensively--"their noses are a little out of joint over Taiwan, but that was a good call, Jack. You did the right thing, punishing them. Those little fucks killed people, and they probably had complicity in our last adventure in the Persian Gulf--and the Ebola attack on us--and so they had it coming. But nooooo, we can't punish them for murder and complicity in an act of war on the United States, can we? We have to be too big and strong to be so petty. Petty, my ass, Jack! Directly or indirectly, those little bastards helped that Daryaei guy kill seven thousand of our citizens, and establishing diplomatic relations with Taiwan was the price they paid for it--and a damned small price that was, if you ask me. They ought to understand that. They've got to learn that the world has rules. So, what we have to do is show them that there's pain when you break the rules, and we have to make the pain stick. Until they understand that, there's just going to be more trouble. Sooner or later, they have to learn. I think it's been long enough to wait."

"Okay, but remember their point of view: Who are we to tell them the rules?"

"Horseshit, Jack!" Winston was one of the very few people who had the ability--if not exactly the right--to talk that way in the Oval Office. Part of it came from his own success, part of it from the fact that Ryan respected straight talk, even if the language was occasionally off-color. "Remember, they're the ones sticking it to us. We are playing fair. The world does have rules, and those rules are honored by the community of nations, and if Beijing wants to be part of that community, well, then they have to abide by the same rules that everyone else does. If you want to join the club, you have to pay the cost of admittance, and even then you still can't drive your golf cart on the greens. You can't have it both ways."

The problem, Ryan reflected, was that the people who ran entire nations--especially large, powerful, important nations--were not the sort to be told how or why to do anything at all. This was all the more true of despotic countries. In a liberal democracy the idea of the rule of law applied to just about everyone. Ryan was President, but he couldn't rob a bank just because he needed pocket change.

"George, okay. Sit down with Scott and work something out that I can agree to, and we'll have State explain the rules to our friends in Beijing." And who knows, maybe it might even work this time. Not that Ryan would bet money on it.

This would be the important evening, Nomuri thought. Yeah, sure, he'd banged Ming the night before, and she seemed to have liked it, but now that she'd had time to think it over, would her reaction be the same? Or would she reflect that he'd plied her with liquor and taken advantage of her? Nomuri had dated and bedded his share of women, but he didn't confuse amorous successes with any sort of understanding of the female psyche.

He sat at the bar of the medium-sized restaurant--different from the last one--smoking a cigarette, which was new for the CIA officer. He wasn't coughing, though his first two had made the room seem to spin around some. Carbon monoxide poisoning, he thought. Smoking reduced the oxygen supply to your brain, and was bad for you in so many ways. But it also made waiting a lot easier. He'd bought a Bic lighter, blue, with a facsimile of the PRC flag on it, so that it appeared like their banner was waving in a clear sky. Yeah, he thought, sure, and here I am wondering if my girl will show up, and she's already--he checked his watch--nine minutes late. Nomuri waved to the bartender and ordered another Scotch. It was a Japanese brand, drinkable, not overly expensive, and when you got down to it, booze was booze, wasn't it?

Are you coming, Ming? the case officer's mind asked the air around him. Like most bars around the world, this one had a mirror behind the glasses and bottles, and the California native examined his face quizzically, pretending it was someone else's, wondering what someone else might see in it. Nervousness? Suspicion? Fear? Loneliness? Lust? There could be someone making that evaluation right now, some MSS counterintelligence officer doing his stakeout, careful not to look toward Nomuri too much of the time. Maybe using the mirror as an indirect surveillance tool. More likely sitting at an angle so that his posture naturally pointed his eyes to the American, whereas Nomuri would have to turn his head to see him, giving the surveillance agent a chance to avert his glance, probably toward his partner--you tended to do this with teams rather than an individual--whose head would be on the same line of sight, so that he could survey his target without seeming to do so directly. Every nation in the world had police or security forces trained in this, and the methods were the same everywhere because human nature was the same everywhere, whether your target was a drug dealer or a spook. That's just the way it was, Nomuri said to himself, checking his watch again. Eleven minutes late. It's cool, buddy, women are always late. They do it because they can't tell time, or it takes them fucking forever to get dressed and do their makeup, or because they don't remember to wear a watch ... or most likely of all, because it gives them an advantage. Such behavior, perhaps, made women appear more valuable to men--after all, men waited for them, right? Not the other way around. It put a premium on their affection, which if not waited for, might not appear one day, and that gave men something to fear.

Chester Nomuri, behavioral anthropologist, he snorted to himself, looking back up in the mirror.

For Christ's sake, dude, maybe she's working late, or the traffic is heavy, or some friend at the office needed her to come over and help her move the goddamned furniture. Seventeen minutes. He fished out another Kool and lit it from his ChiComm lighter. The East is Red, he thought. And maybe this was the last country in the world that really was red ... wouldn't Mao be proud ... ?

Where are you?

Well, whoever from the MSS might be watching, if he had any doubts about what Nomuri was doing, they'd damned sure know he was waiting for a woman, and if anything his stress would look like that of a guy bewitched by the woman in question. And spooks weren't supposed to be bewitched, were they?

What are you worrying about that for, asshole, just because you might not get laid tonight?

Twenty-three minutes late. He stubbed out one cigarette and lit another. If this was a mechanism women used to control men, then it was an effective one.

James Bond never had these problems, the intelligence officer thought. Mr. Kiss-Kiss Bang-Bang was always master of his women--and if anyone needed proof that Bond was a character of fiction, that was sure as hell it!

As it turned out, Nomuri was so entranced with his thoughts that he didn't see Ming come in. He felt a gentle tap on his back, and turned rapidly to see--

--she wore the radiant smile, pleased with herself at having surprised him, the beaming dark eyes that crinkled at the corners with the pleasure of the moment.

"I am so sorry to be late," she said rapidly. "Fang needed me to transcribe some things, and he kept me in the office late."

"I must talk to this old man," Nomuri said archly, hauling himself erect on the bar stool.

"He is, as you say, an old man, and he does not listen very well. Perhaps age has impeded his hearing."

No, the old fucker probably doesn't want to listen, Nomuri didn't say. Fang was probably like bosses everywhere, well past the age when he looked for the ideas of others.

"So, what do you want for dinner?" Nomuri asked, and got the best possible answer.

"I'm not hungry." With sparkles in the dark eyes to affirm what she did want. Nomuri tossed off the last of his drink, stubbed out his cigarette, and walked out with her.

So?" Ryan asked.

"So, this is not good news," Arnie van Damm replied.

"I suppose that depends on your point of view. When will they hear arguments?"

"Less than two months, and that's a message, too, Jack. Those good 'strict-constructionist' justices you appointed are going to hear this case, and if I had to bet, I"d wager they're hot to overturn Roe."

Jack settled back in his chair and smiled up at his Chief of Staff. "Why is that bad, Arnie?"

"Jack, it's bad because a lot of the citizens out there like to have the option to choose between abortion or not. That's why. 'Pro choice' is what they call it, and so far it's the law."

"Maybe that'll change," the President said hopefully, looking back down at his schedule. The Secretary of the Interior was coming in to talk about the national parks.

"That is not something to look forward to, damn it! And it'll be blamed on you!"

"Okay, if and when that happens, I will point out that I am not a justice of the United States Supreme Court, and stay away from it entirely. If they decide the way I--and I guess you--think they will, abortion becomes a legislative matter, and the legislature of the 'several states,' as the Constitution terms them, will meet and decide for themselves if the voters want to be able to kill their unborn babies or not--but, Arnie, I've got four kids, remember. I was there to see them all born, and be damned if you are going to tell me that abortion is okay!" The fourth little Ryan, Kyle Daniel, had been born during Ryan's Presidency, and the cameras had been there to record his face coming out of the delivery room, allowing the entire nation--and the world, for that matter--to share the experience. It had bumped Ryan's approval rating a full fifteen points, pleasing Arnie very greatly at the time.

"God damn it, Jack, I never said that, did I?" van Damm demanded. "But you and I do objectionable things every so often, don't we? And we don't deny other people the right to do such things, too, do we? Smoke, for example?" he added, just to twist Ryan's tail a little.

"Arnie, you use words as cleverly as any man I know, and that was a good play. I'll give you that. But there's a qualitative difference between lighting up a goddamned cigarette and killing a living human being."

"True, if a fetus is a living human being, which is something for theologians, not politicians."

"Arnie, it's like this. The pro-abortion crowd says that whether or not a fetus is human is beside the point because it's inside a woman's body, and therefore her property to do with as she pleases. Fine. It was the law in the Roman Republic and Empire that a wife and children were property of the paterfamilias, the head of the family, and he could kill them anytime he pleased. You think we should go back to that?"

"Obviously not, since it empowers men and disempowers women, and we don't do things like that anymore."

"So, you've taken a moral issue and degraded it to what's good politically and what's bad politically. Well, Arnie, I am not here to do that. Even the President is allowed to have some moral principles, or am I supposed to check my ideas of right and wrong outside the door when I show up for work in the morning?"

"But he's not allowed to impose it on others. Moral principles are things you keep on the inside, for yourself."

"What we call law is nothing more or less than the public's collective belief, their conviction of what right and wrong is. Whether it's about murder, kidnapping, or running a red light, society decides what the rules are. In a democratic republic, we do that through the legislature by electing people who share our views. That's how laws happen. We also set up a constitution, the supreme law of the land, which is very carefully considered because it decides what the other laws may and may not do, and therefore it protects us against our transitory passions. The job of the judiciary is to interpret the laws, or in this case the constitutional principles embodied in those laws, as they apply to reality. In Roe versus Wade, the Supreme Court went too far. It legislated; it changed the law in a way not anticipated by the drafters, and that was an error. All a reversal of Roe will do is return the abortion issue to the state legislatures, where it belongs."

"How long have you been thinking about that speech?" Arnie asked. Ryan's turn of phrase was too polished for extemporaneous speech.

"A little while," the President admitted.

"Well, when that decision comes through, be ready for a firestorm," his Chief of Staff warned. "I'm talking demonstrations, TV coverage, and enough newspaper editorials to paper the walls of the Pentagon, and your Secret Service people will worry about the additional danger to your life, and your wife's life, and your kids. If you think I'm kidding, ask them."

"That doesn't make any sense."

"There's no law, federal, state, or local, which compels the world to be logical, Jack. The people out there depend on you to keep the fucking weather pleasant, and they blame you when you don't. Deal with it." With that, an annoyed Chief of Staff headed out and west toward his corner office.

"Crap," Ryan breathed, as he flipped to the briefing papers for the Secretary of the Interior. Smokey Bear's owner. Also custodian of the national parks, which the President only got to see on the Discovery Channel, on such nights as he had free time to switch the TV on.

There wasn't much to be said for the clothing people wore in this place, Nomuri thought again, except for one thing. When you undid the buttons and found the Victoria's Secret stuff underneath, well, it was like having a movie switch from black-and-white to Technicolor. This time Ming allowed him to do her buttons, then slide the jacket down her arms, and then get her trousers off. The panties looked particularly inviting, but then, so did her entire body. Nomuri scooped her up in his arms and kissed her passionately before dropping her on the bed. A minute later, he was beside her.

"So, why were you late?"

She made a face. "Every week Minister Fang meets with other ministers, and when he comes back, he has me transcribe the notes of the meetings so that he has a record of everything that was said."

"Oh, do you use my new computer for that?" The question concealed the quivering Jesus! he felt throughout his body on hearing Ming's words. This girl could be one hell of a source! Nomuri took a deep breath and resumed his poker face of polite disinterest.

"Of course."

"Excellent. It's equipped with a modem, yes?"

"Of course, I use it every day to retrieve Western news reports and such from their media Web sites."

"Ah, that is good." So, he'd taken care of business for the day, and with that job done, Nomuri leaned over for a kiss.

"Before I came into the restaurant, I put the lipstick on," Ming explained. "I don't wear it at work."

"So I see," the CIA officer replied, repeating the initial kiss, and extending it in time. Her arms found their way around his neck. The reason for her lateness had nothing to do with a lack of affection. That was obvious now, as his hands started to wander also. The front-closure on the bra was the smartest thing he'd done. Just a flick of thumb and forefinger and it sprang open, revealing both of her rather cute breasts, two more places for his hand to explore. The skin there was particularly silky ... and, he decided a few seconds later, tasty as well.

This resulted in an agreeable moan and squirm of pleasure from his ... what? Friend? Well, okay, but not enough. Agent? Not yet. Lover would do for the moment. They'd never talked at The Farm about this sort of thing, except the usual warnings not to get too close to your agent, lest you lose your objectivity. But if you didn't get a little bit close, you'd never recruit the agent, would you? Of course, Chester knew that he was far more than a little bit close at the moment.

Whatever her looks, she had delightful skin, and his fingertips examined it in great detail as his eyes smiled into hers, with the occasional kiss. And her body wasn't bad at all. A nice shape even when she stood. A little too much waist, maybe, but this wasn't Venice Beach, and the hourglass figure, however nice it might look in pictures, was just that, a picture look. Her waist was smaller than her hips, and that was enough for the moment. It wasn't as though she'd be walking down the ramp at some New York fashion show, where the models looked like boys anyway. So, Ming is not now and would never be a supermodel--deal with it, Chet, the officer told himself. Then it was time to put all the CIA stuff aside. He was a man, dressed only in boxer shorts, next to a woman, dressed only in panties. Panties large enough maybe to make a handkerchief, though orange-red wouldn't be a good color for a man to pull from his back pocket, especially, he added to himself with a smile, in some artificial silk fabric.

"Why do you smile?" Ming asked.

"Because you are pretty," Nomuri replied. And so she was, now, with that particular smile on her face. No, she'd never be a model, but inside every woman was the look of beauty, if only they would let it out. And her skin was first-class, especially her lips, coated with after-work lipstick, smooth and greasy, yet making his lips linger even so. Soon their bodies touched almost all over, and a warm, comfortable feeling it was, so nicely she fit under one arm, while his left hand played and wandered. Ming's hair didn't tangle much. She could evidently brush it out very easily, it was so short. Her underarms, too, were hairy, like many Chinese women's, but that only gave Nomuri something else to play with, teasing and pulling a little. That evidently tickled her. Ming giggled playfully and hugged him tighter, then relaxed to allow his hand to wander more. As it passed her navel, she lay suddenly still, relaxing herself in some kind of invitation. Time for another kiss as his fingertips wandered farther, and there was humor in her eyes now. What game could this be ... ?

As soon as his hands found her panties, her bottom lifted off the mattress. He sat up halfway and pulled them down, allowing her left foot to kick them into the air, where the red-orange pants flew like a mono-colored rainbow, and then--

"Ming!" he said in humorous accusation.

"I've heard that men like this," she said with a sparkle and a giggle.

"Well, it is different," Nomuri replied, as his hands traced over skin even smoother than the rest of her body. "Did you do this at work?"

A riotous laugh now: "No, fool! This morning at my apartment! In my own bathroom, with my own razor."

"Just wanted to make sure," the CIA officer assured her. Damn, isn't this something! Then her hand moved to do to him much the same as he was doing to her.

"You are different from Fang," her voice told him in a playful whisper.

"Oh? How so?"

"I think the worst thing a woman can say to a man is 'Are you in yet?' One of the other secretaries said that to Fang once. He beat her. She came into work the next day with black eyes--he made her come in--and then the next night... well, he had me to bed," she admitted, not so much with shame as embarrassment. "To show what a man he still is. But I knew better than to say that to him. We all do, now."

"Will you say that to me?" Nomuri asked with a smile and another kiss.

"Oh, no! You are a sausage, not a string bean!" Ming told him enthusiastically.

It wasn't the most elegant compliment he'd ever had, but it sufficed for the moment, Nomuri thought.

"Do you think it's time for the sausage to find a home?"

"Oh, yes!"

As he rolled on top, Nomuri saw two things under him. One was a girl, a young woman with the usual female drives, which he was about to answer. The other was a potential agent, with access to political intelligence such as an experienced case officer only dreamed about. But Nomuri wasn't an experienced case officer. He was still a little wet behind the ears, and so he didn't know what was impossible. He'd have to worry about his potential agent, because if he ever recruited her successfully, her life would be in the gravest danger... he thought about what would happen, how her face would change as the bullet entered her brain... but, no, it was too ugly. With an effort, Nomuri forced the thought aside as he slipped into her. If he were to recruit her at all, he had to perform this function well. And if it made him happy, too, well, that was just a bonus.

I'll think about it," POTUS promised the Secretary of the Interior, walking him to the door that led to the corridor, to the left of the fireplace. Sorry, buddy, but the money isn't there to do all that. His SecInterior was by no means a bad man, but it seemed he'd been captured by his departmental bureaucracy, which was perhaps the worst danger of working in Washington. He sat back down to read the papers the Secretary had handed over. Of course he wouldn't have time to read it all over himself. On a good day, he'd be able to skim through the Executive Summary of the documents, while the rest went to a staffer who'd go through it all and draft a report to the President--in effect, another Executive Summary of sorts, and from that document, typed up by a White House staff member of maybe twenty-eight years, policy would actually be made.

And that was crazy! Ryan thought angrily. He was supposed to be the chief executive of the country. He was the only one who was supposed to make policy. But the President's time was valuable. So valuable, in fact, that others guarded it for him--and really those others guarded his time from himself, because ultimately it was they who decided what Ryan saw and didn't see. Thus, while Ryan was the Chief Executive, and did alone make executive policy, he made that policy often based solely on the information presented to him by others. And sometimes it worried him that he was controlled by the information that made it to his desk, rather as the press decided what the public saw, and thus had a hand in deciding what the public thought about the various issues of the day.

So, Jack, have you been captured by your bureaucracy, too? It was hard to know, hard to tell, and hard to decide how to change the situation, if the situation existed in the first place.

Maybe that's why Arnie likes me to get out of this building to where the real people are, Jack realized.

The more difficult problem was that Ryan was a foreign-policy and national-security expert. In those areas he felt the most competent. It was on domestic stuff that he felt disconnected and dumb. Part of that came from his personal wealth. He'd never worried about the cost of a loaf of bread or a quart of milk--all the more so in the White House, where you never saw milk in a quart container anyway, but only in a chilled glass on a silver tray, carried by a Navy steward's mate right to your hands while you sat in your easy chair. There were people out there who did worry about such things, or at least worried about the cost of putting little Jimmy through college, and Ryan, as President, had to concern himself with their worries. He had to try to keep the economy in balance so that they could earn their decent livings, could go to Disney World in the summer, and the football games in the fall, and splurge to make sure there were plenty of presents under the Christmas tree every year.

But how the hell was he supposed to do that? Ryan remembered a lament attributed to the Roman Emperor Caesar Augustus. On learning that he'd been declared a god, and that temples had been erected to him, and that people sacrificed to the statues of himself in those temples, Augustus angrily inquired: When someone prays to me to cure his gout, what am I supposed to do? The fundamental issue was how much government policy really had to do with reality. That was a question seldom posed in Washington even by conservatives who ideologically despised the government and everything it did in domestic terms, though they were often in favor of showing the flag and rattling the national saber overseas--exactly why they enjoyed this Ryan had never thought about. Perhaps just to be different from liberals who flinched from the exercise of force like a vampire from the cross, but who, like vampires, liked to extend government as far as they could get away with into the lives of everyone, and so suck their blood--in reality, use the instrument of taxation to take more and more to pay for the more and more they would have the government do.

And yet the economy seemed to move on, regardless of what government did. People found their jobs, most of them in the private sector, providing goods and services for which people paid voluntarily with their after-tax money. And yet "public service" was a phrase used almost exclusively by and about political figures, almost always the elected sort. Didn't everyone out there serve the public in one way or another? Physicians, teachers, firefighters, pharmacists. Why did the media say it was just Ryan and Robby Jackson, and the 535 elected members of the Congress? He shook his head.

Damn. Okay, I know how I got here, but why the hell did I allow myself to run for election? Jack asked himself. It had made Arnie happy. It had even made the media happy--perhaps because they loved him as a target? the President asked himself--and Cathy had not been cross with him about it. But why the hell had he ever allowed himself to be stampeded into this? He fundamentally didn't know what he was supposed to do as President. He had no real agenda, and sort of bumped along from day to day. Making tactical decisions (for which he was singularly unqualified) instead of large strategic ones. There was nothing important he really wanted to change about his country. Oh, sure, there were a few problems to be fixed. Tax policy needed rewriting, and he was letting George Winston ramrod that. And Defense needed firming up, and he had Tony Bretano working on that. He had a Presidential Commission looking at health-care policy, which his wife, actually, was overseeing in a distant way, along with some of her Hopkins colleagues, and all of that was kept quiet. And there was that very black look at Social Security, being guided by Winston and Mark Gant.

The "third rail of American politics," he thought again. Step on it and die. But Social Security was something the American people really cared about, not for what it was, but for what they wrongly thought it to be--and, actually, they knew that their thoughts were wrong, judging by the polling data. As thoroughly mismanaged as any financial institution could possibly be, it was still part of a government promise made by the representatives of the people to the people. And somehow, despite all the cynicism out there--which was considerable--the average Joe Citizen really did trust his government to keep its word. The problem was that union chiefs and industrialists who'd dipped into pension funds and gone to federal prison for it had done nothing compared to what succeeding Congresses had done to Social Security--but the advantage of a crook in Congress was that he or she was not a crook, not legally. After all, Congress made the law. Congress made government policy, and those things couldn't be wrong, could they? Yet another proof that the drafters of the Constitution had made one simple but far-reaching error. They'd assumed that the people selected by The People to manage the nation would be as honest and honorable as they'd been. One could almost hear the "Oops!" emanating from all those old graves. The people who'd drafted the Constitution had sat in a room dominated by George Washington himself, and whatever honor they'd lacked he'd probably provided from his own abundant supply, just by sitting there and looking at them. The current Congress had no such mentor/living god to take George's place, and more was the pity, Ryan thought. The mere fact that Social Security had shown a profit up through the 1960s had meant that--well, Congress couldn't let a profit happen, could it? Profits were what made rich people (who had to be bad people, because no one grew rich without having exploited someone or other, right?, which never stopped members of the Congress from going to those people for campaign contributions, of course) rich, and so profits had to be spent, and so Social Security taxes (properly called premiums, because Social Security was actually called OASDI, for Old Age, Survivors, and Disability Insurance) were transformed into general funds, to be spent along with everything else. One of Ryan's students from his days of teaching history at the Naval Academy had sent him a small plaque to keep on his White House desk. It read: THE AMERICAN REPUBLIC WILL ENDURE UNTIL THE DAY CONGRESS DISCOVERS THAT IT CAN BRIBE THE PUBLIC WITH THE PUBLIC'S MONEY--ALEXIS DE TOCQUEVILLE. Ryan paid heed to it. There were times when he wanted to grab Congress by its collective neck and throttle it, but there was no single such neck, and Arnie never tired of telling him how tame a Congress he had, the House of Representatives especially, which was the reverse of how things usually went.

The President grumbled and checked his daily schedule for his next appointment. As with everything else, the President of the United States lived a schedule determined by others, his appointments made weeks in advance, the daily briefing pages prepared the day before so that he'd know who the hell was coming in, and what the hell he, she, or they wanted to talk about, and also what his considered position (mainly drafted by others) was. The President's position was usually a friendly one so that the visitor(s) could leave the Oval Office feeling good about the experience, and the rules were that you couldn't change the agenda, lest the Chief Executive say, "What the hell are you asking me for now!" This would alarm both the guest and the Secret Service agents standing right behind them, hands close to their pistols--just standing there like robots, faces blank but scanning, ears taking everything in. After their shift ended, they probably headed off to whatever cop bar they frequented to chuckle over what the City Council President of Podunk had said in the Oval Office that day--"Jesus, did you see the Boss's eyes when that dumb bastard ... ?"--because they were bright, savvy people who in many ways understood his job better than he did, Ryan reflected. Well they should. They had the double advantage of having seen it all, and not being responsible for any of it. Lucky bastards, Jack thought, standing for his next appointment.

If cigarettes were good for anything, it was for this, Nomuri thought. His left arm was curled around Ming, his body snuggled up against her, staring at the ceiling in the lovely, relaxed, deflationary moment, and puffing gently on his Kool as an accent to the moment, feeling Ming's breathing, and feeling very much like a man. The sky outside the windows was dark. The sun had set.

Nomuri stood, stopping first in the bathroom and then heading to the kitchenette. He returned with two wine-glasses. Ming sat up in bed and took a sip from hers. For his part, Nomuri couldn't resist reaching over to touch her. Her skin was just so smooth and inviting.

"My brain is still not working," she said, after her third sip.

"Darling, there are times when men and women don't need their brains."

"Well, your sausage doesn't need one," she responded, reaching down to fondle it.

"Gently, girl! He's run a long hard race!" the CIA officer warned her with an inner smile.

"Oh, so he has." Ming bent down to deliver a gentle kiss. "And he won the race."

"No, but he did manage to catch up with you." Nomuri lit another cigarette. Then he was surprised to see Ming reach into her purse and pull out one of her own. She lit it with grace and took a long puff, finally letting the smoke out her nose.

"Dragon girl!" Nomuri announced with a laugh. "Do flames come next? I didn't know you smoked."

"At the office, everyone does."

"Even the minister?"

Another laugh: "Especially the minister."

"Someone should tell him that smoking is dangerous to the health, and not good for the yang."

"A smoked sausage is not a firm sausage," Ming said, with a laugh. "Maybe that's his problem, then."

"You do not like your minister?"

"He is an old man with what he thinks is a young penis. He uses the office staff as his personal bordello. Well, it could be worse," Ming admitted. "It's been a long time since I was his favorite. Lately he's fixed on Chai, and she is engaged, and Fang knows it. That is not a civilized act on the part of a senior minister."

"The laws do not apply to him?"

She snorted with borderline disgust. "The laws apply to none of them. Nomuri-san, these are government ministers. They are the law in this country, and they care little for what others think of them or their habits--few enough find out in any case. They are corrupt on a scale that shames the emperors of old, and they say they are the guardians of the common people, the peasants and workers they claim to love as their own children. Well, I suppose sometimes I am one of those peasants, eh?"

"And I thought you liked your minister," Nomuri responded, goading her on. "So, what does he talk about?"

"What do you mean?"

"The late work that kept you away from here," he answered, waving at the bedclothes with a smile.

"Oh, talk between the ministers. He keeps an extensive personal political diary--in case the president might want to oust him, that is his defense, you see, something he could present to his peers. Fang doesn't want to lose his official residence and all the privileges that come along with it. So, he keeps records of all he does, and I am his secretary, and I transcribe all his notes. Sometimes it can take forever."

"On your computer, of course."

"Yes, the new one, in perfect Mandarin ideographs now that you've given us the new software."

"You keep it on your computer?"

"On the hard drive, yes. Oh, it's encrypted," she assured him. "We learned that from the Americans, when we broke into their weapons records. It's called a robust encryption system, whatever that means. I select the file I wish to open and type in the decryption key, and the file opens. Do you want to know what key I use?" She giggled. "YELLOW SUBMARINE. In English because of the keyboard--it was before your new software--and it's from a Beatles song I heard on the radio once. 'We all live in a yellow submarine,' something like that. I listened to the radio a lot back then, when I was first studying English. I spent half an hour looking up submarines in the dictionary and then the encyclopedia, trying to find out why a ship was painted yellow. Ahh!" Her hands flew up in the air.

The encryption key! Nomuri tried to hide his excitement. "Well, it must be a lot of folders. You've been his secretary for a lot of time," he said casually.

"Over four hundred documents. I keep them by number instead of making up new names for them. Today was number four hundred eighty-seven, as a matter of fact."

Holy shit, Nomuri thought, four hundred eighty-seven computer documents of inside-the-Politburo conversations. This makes a gold mine look like a toxic waste dump.

"What exactly do they talk about? I've never met a senior government functionary," Nomuri explained.

"Everything!" she answered, finishing her own cigarette. "Who's got ideas in the Politburo, who wants to be nice to America, who wants to hurt them--everything you can imagine. Defense policy. Economic policy. The big one lately is how to deal with Hong Kong. 'One Country, Two Systems' has developed problems with some industrialists around Beijing and Shanghai. They feel they are treated with less respect than they deserve--less than they get in Hong Kong, that is--and they are unhappy about it. Fang's one of the people trying to find a compromise to make them happy. He might. He's very clever at such things."

"It must be fascinating to see such information--to really know what's going on in your country!" Nomuri gushed. "In Japan, we never know what the zaibatsu and the MITI people are doing--ruining the economy, for the most part, the fools. But because nobody knows, no action is ever taken to fix things. Is it the same here?"

"Of course!" She lit another smoke, getting into the conversation, and hardly noticing that it wasn't about love anymore. "Once I studied my Marx and my Mao. Once I believed in it all. Once I even trusted the senior ministers to be men of honor and integrity, and totally believed the things they taught me in school. But then I saw how the army has its own industrial empire, and that empire keeps the generals rich and fat and happy. And I saw how the ministers use women, and how they furnish their apartments. They've become the new emperors. They have too much power. Perhaps a woman could use such power without being corrupted, but not a man."

Feminism's made it over here, too? Nomuri reflected. Maybe she was too young to remember Mao's wife, Jiang Qing, who could have given corruption lessons to the court of Byzantium.

"Well, that is not a problem for people like us. And at least you get to see such things, and at least you get to know it. That makes you even more unique, Ming-chan," Nomuri suggested, tracing the palm of his hand over her left nipple. She shivered right on command.

"You think so?"

"Of course." A kiss this time, a nice lingering one, while his hand stroked her body. He was so close. She had told him of all the information she had--she'd even given him the fucking encryption key! So her 'puter was wired into the phone system--that meant he could call in to it, and with the right software he could go snooping around her hard drive, and with the encryption key he could lift things right off, and cross-load them right to Mary Pat's desk. Damn, first I get to fuck a Chinese citizen, and then I can fuck their whole country. It didn't get much better than this, the field spook decided, with a smile at the ceiling.

Chapter 13

Penetration Agent

Well, he left the prurient parts out this time, Mary Pat saw when she lit up her computer in the morning. Operation SORGE was moving right along. Whoever this Ming girl was, she talked a little too much. Odd. Hadn't the MSS briefed all the executive secretaries about this sort of thing? Probably--it would have been a remarkable oversight if they hadn't--but it also seemed likely that of the well-known reasons for committing treason and espionage (known as MICE: Money, Ideology, Conscience, and Ego), this one was Ego. Young Miss Ming was being used sexually by her Minister Fang, and she didn't much like it, and that made perfect sense to Mary Patricia Foley. A woman only had so much to give, and to have it taken coercively by a man of power wasn't something calculated to make a woman happy--though ironically the powerful man in question probably thought he was honoring her with his biological attention. After all, was he not a great man, and was she not a peasant? The thought was good for a snort as she took a sip of morning seventh-floor coffee. It didn't matter what culture or race, men were all the same, weren't they? So many of them thought from the dick instead of the brain. Well, it was going to cost this one dearly, the Deputy Director (Operations) concluded.

Ryan saw and heard the PDB, the President's Daily Brief, every day. It covered intelligence information developed by CIA, was prepared late every night and printed early every morning, and there were less than a hundred copies, almost all of which were shredded and burned later in the day of delivery. A few copies, maybe three or four, were kept as archives, in case the electronic files somehow got corrupted, but even President Ryan didn't know where the secure-storage site was. He hoped it was carefully guarded, preferably by Marines.

The PDB didn't contain everything, of course. Some things were so secret that even the President couldn't be trusted. That was something Ryan accepted with remarkable equanimity. Sources' names had to remain secret, even from him, and methods were often so narrowly technical that he'd have trouble understanding the technology used anyway. But even some of the "take," the information obtained by the CIA through nameless sources and overly intricate methods, was occasionally hidden from the Chief Executive, because some information had to come from a certain limited number of sources. The intelligence business was one in which the slightest mistake could end the life of a priceless asset, and while such things had happened, nobody had ever felt good about it--though to some politicians, it had been a matter of infuriating indifference. A good field spook viewed his agents as his own children, whose lives were to be protected against all hazards. Such a point of view was necessary. If you didn't care that much, then people died--and with their lost lives went lost information, which was the whole point of having a clandestine service in the first place.

"Okay, Ben," Ryan said, leaning back in his chair and flipping through the PDB pages. "What's interesting?"

"Mary Pat has something happening in China. Not sure what it is, though. She's keeping these cards pretty close. The rest of today's document you can get on CNN."

Which was, depressingly, not infrequently the case. On the other hand, the world was fairly sedate, and penetrating information wasn't all that necessary ... or apparently so, Ryan corrected himself. You could never tell. He'd learned that one at Langley, too.

"Maybe I'll call her about it," POTUS said, flipping the page. "Whoa!"

"The Russian oil and gold?"

"Are these numbers for real?"

"It appears so. They track with what TRADER'S been feeding us from his sources, step for step."

"Ummhmm," Ryan breathed, looking over the resulting forecasts for the Russian economy. Then he frowned with some disappointment. "George's people did a better evaluation of results."

"Think so? CIA's economics troops have a pretty decent track record."

"George lives in that business. That's better than being an academic observer of events, Ben. Academia is fine, but the real world is the real world, remember."

Goodley nodded. "Duly noted, sir."

"Throughout the '80s, CIA overestimated the Soviet economy. Know why?"

"No, I don't. What went wrong?"

Jack smiled wryly. "It wasn't what was wrong. It was what was right. We had an agent back then who fed us the same information the Soviet Politburo got. It just never occurred to us that the system was lying to itself. The Politburo based its decisions on a chimera. Their numbers were almost never right because the underlings were covering their own asses. Oops."

"Same thing in China, you suppose?" Goodley asked. "They're the last really Marxist country, after all."

"Good question. Call Langley and ask. You'll get an answer from the same sort of bureaucrat the Chinese have in Beijing, but to the best of my knowledge we don't have a penetration agent in Beijing who can give us the numbers we want." Ryan paused and looked at the fireplace opposite his desk. He'd have to have the Secret Service put a real fire in it someday ... "No, I expect the Chinese have better numbers. They can afford to. Their economy is working, after a fashion. They probably deceive themselves in other ways. But they do deceive themselves. It's a universal human characteristic, and Marxism doesn't ameliorate it very much." Even in America, with its free press and other safeguards, reality often slapped political figures in the face hard enough to loosen some teeth. Everywhere, people had theoretical models based on ideology rather than facts, and those people usually found their way into academia or politics, because real-world professions punished that sort of dreamer more than politics ever did.

"Morning, Jack," a voice said from the corridor door.

"Hey, Robby." POTUS pointed to the coffee tray. Vice President Jackson got himself a cup, but passed on the croissants. His waistline looked a little tight. Well, Robby had never looked like a marathoner. So many fighter pilots tended to have thick waists. Maybe it was good for fighting g-forces, Jack speculated.

"Read the PDB this morning. Jack, this Russian oil and gold thing. Is it really that big?"

"George says it's even bigger. You ever sit down with him to learn economics?"

"End of the week, we're going to play a round at Burning Tree, and I'm reading Milton Friedman and two other books to bone up for it. You know, George comes across as pretty smart."

"Smart enough to make a ton of money on The Street--and I mean if you put his money in hundred-dollar bills and weigh them, it is a fucking ton of money."

"Must be nice," breathed a man who'd never made more than $130,000 in a year before taking on his current job.

"Has its moments, but the coffee here's still pretty good."

"It was better on Big John, once upon a time."

"Where?"

"John F. Kennedy, back when I was an O-3, and doing fun work, like driving Tomcats off the boat."

"Robby, hate to tell you, my friend, but you're not twenty-six anymore."

"Jack, you have such a way of brightening up my days for me. I've walked past death's door before, but it's safer and a hell of a lot more fun to do it with a fighter plane strapped to your back."

"What's your day look like?"

"Believe it or not, I have to drive down to the Hill and preside at the Senate for a few hours, just to show I know what the Constitution says I'm supposed to do. Then a dinner speech in Baltimore about who makes the best brassieres," he added with a smile.

"What?" Jack asked, looking up from the PDB. The thing about Robby's sense of humor was that you never really knew when he was kidding.

"National meeting of artificial fiber manufacturers. They also make bulletproof vests, but bras get most of their fibers, or so my research staff tells me. They're trying to make a few jokes for the speech."

"Work on your delivery," the President advised the Vice President.

"You thought I was funny enough way back when," Jackson reminded his old friend.

"Rob, I thought I was funny enough way back when, but Arnie tells me I'm not sensitive enough."

"I know, no Polish jokes. Some Polacks learned to turn on their TVs last year, and there's six or seven who know how to read. That doesn't count the Polish gal who doesn't use a vibrator because it chips her teeth."

"Jesus, Robby!" Ryan almost spilled his coffee laughing. "We're not even allowed to think things like that anymore."

"Jack, I'm not a politician. I'm a fighter jock. I got the flight suit, the hackwatch, and the dick to go along with the job title, y'dig?" the Vice President asked with a grin. "And I am allowed to tell a joke once in a while."

"Fine, just remember this isn't the ready room on the Kennedy. The media lacks the sense of humor enjoyed by naval aviators."

"Yeah, unless they catch us in something. Then it's funnier 'n hell," the retired Vice Admiral observed.

"Rob, you're finally catching on. Glad to see it." Ryan's last sight of the departing subordinate was the back of a nicely tailored suit, accompanied by a muttered vulgarity.

So, Mishka, any thoughts? "Provalov asked.

Reilly took a sip of his vodka. It was awfully smooth here. "Oleg, you just have to shake the tree and see what falls out. It could be damned near anything, but 'don't know' means 'don't know'. And at the moment, we don't know." Another sip. "Does it strike you that two former Spetsnaz guys are a lot of firepower to go after a pimp?"

The Russian nodded. "Yes, of course, I've thought of that, but he was a very prosperous pimp, wasn't he, Mishka? He had a great deal of money, and very many contacts inside the criminal establishment. He had power of his own. Perhaps he'd had people killed as well. We never had his name come up in a serious way in any murder investigations, but that doesn't mean that Avseyenko was not a dangerous man in his own right, and therefore worthy of such high-level attention."

"Any luck with this Suvorov guy?"

Provalov shook his head. "No. We have a KGB file for him and a photograph, but even if that is for the right person, we haven't found him yet."

"Well, Oleg Gregoriyevich, it looks as though you have a real head-scratcher on your hands." Reilly lifted his hand to order another round.

"You are supposed to be the expert on organized crime," the Russian lieutenant reminded his FBI guest.

"That's true, Oleg, but I ain't no gypsy fortune-teller, and I ain't the Oracle of Delphi either. You don't know who the real target was yet, and until you learn that, you don't know jack shit. Problem is, to find out who the target was, you have to find somebody who knows something about the crime. The two things are wrapped up together, bro. Get one, get both. Get neither, get nothing." The drinks arrived. Reilly paid and took another hit.

"My captain is not pleased."

The FBI agent nodded. "Yeah, bosses are like that in the Bureau, too, but he's supposed to know what the problems are, right? If he does, he knows he has to give you the time and the resources to play it out. How many men you have on it now?"

"Six here, and three more in St. Petersburg."

"May want to get some more, bro." In the FBI's New York OC office, a case like this could have as many as twenty agents working it, half of them on a full-time basis. But the Moscow Militia was stretched notoriously thin. For as much crime as there was now in Moscow, the local cops were still sucking hind tit when it came to government support. But it could have been worse. Unlike much of Russian society, the militiamen were getting paid.

You tire me out, "Nomuri protested.

"There is always Minister Fang," Ming replied with a playful look.

"Ah!" was the enraged reply. "You compare me with an old man?"

"Well, both of you are men, but better a sausage than a string bean," she answered, grasping the former in her soft left hand.

"Patience, girl, allow me to recover from the first race." With that he lifted her body over his and let it down. She must really like me, Nomuri reflected. Three nights in a row. I suppose Fang isn't the man he thinks he is. Well, can't win 'em all, Charlie. Plus the advantage of being forty years younger. There was probably something to that, the CIA officer admitted to himself.

"But you run so fast!" Ming protested, rubbing her body on his.

"There is something I want you to do."

A very playful smile. "What might that be?" she asked while her hand wandered a little.

"Not that!"

"Oh ..." The disappointment in her voice was noteworthy.

"Something for work," Nomuri explained on. Just as well she couldn't feel the shaking inside his body, which, remarkably enough, didn't show.

"For work? I can't bring you into the office for this!" she said with a laugh, followed by a warm, affectionate kiss.

"Yes, something to upload onto your computer." Nomuri reached into the night-table drawer and pulled out a CD-ROM. "Here, you just load this into your machine, click INSTALL, and then dispose of it when you're done."

"And what will it do?" she asked.

"Do you care?"

"Well ..." Hesitation. She didn't understand. "I must care."

"It will allow me to look at your computer from time to time."

"But why?"

"Because of Nippon Electric--we make your computer, don't you see?" He allowed his body to relax. "It is useful for my company to know how economic decisions are made in the People's Republic," Nomuri explained, with a well-rehearsed lie. "This will allow us to understand that process a little better, so that we can do business more effectively. And the better I do for them, the more they will pay me--and the more I can spend on my darling Ming."

"I see," she thought, wrongly.

He bent down to kiss a particularly nice spot. Her body shuddered in just the right way. Good, she wasn't resisting the idea, or at least wasn't letting it get in the way of this activity, which was good for Nomuri in more than one way. The intelligence officer wondered if someday his conscience would attack him for using this girl in such a way. But business, he told himself, was business.

"No one will know?"

"No, that is not possible."

"And it will not get me into trouble?"

With that question he rolled over, finding himself on top. He held her face in both hands. "Would I ever do something to get Ming-chan in trouble? Never!" he announced, with a deep and passionate kiss.

Afterward there was no talk about the CD-ROM, which she tucked into her purse before leaving. It was a nice-looking purse, a knockoff of something Italian that you could buy on the street here, rather like the genuine ones in New York that "fell off the back of the truck," as the euphemism went.

Every time they parted, it was a little hard. She didn't want to leave, and truly he didn't want her to depart, but it was necessary. For them to share an apartment would be commented upon. Even in her dreams, Ming couldn't think of that, actually sleeping at the apartment of a foreigner, because she did have a security clearance, and she had been given her security brief by a bored MSS officer, along with all the other senior secretaries, and she hadn't reported this contact to her superiors or the office security chief as she ought to have done--why? Partly because she'd forgotten the rules, because she'd never broken them or known someone who had done so, and partly because like many people she drew a line between her private life and her professional one. That the two were not allowed to be separate in her case was something that the MSS briefing had covered, but in so clumsy a way as to have been disregarded even upon its delivery. And so here she was, not even knowing where and what here was. With luck, she'd never have to find out, Nomuri thought, watching her turn the corner and disappear from view. Luck would help. What the MSS interrogators did to young women in the Beijing version of the Lubyanka didn't really bear much contemplation, certainly not when one had just made love to her twice in two hours.

"Good luck, honey," Nomuri whispered, as he closed the door and headed to the bathroom for a shower.

Chapter 14

(dot)com

It was a sleepless night for Nomuri. Would she do it? Would she do what she was told? Would she tell a security officer about it, and then about him? Might she be caught with the CD-ROM going into work and questioned about it? If so, a casual inspection would show it to be a music CD, Bill Conti's musical score for Rocky--a poorly marked knockoff of an American intellectual property that was quite common in the PRC. But a more careful examination would have revealed that the first--outermost--data line on the metallic surface told the computer CD-ROM reader to skip to a certain place where the content was not music, but binary code, and very efficient binary code at that.

The CD-ROM didn't contain a virus per se, because a virus circulates mainly across computer networks, entering a computer surreptitiously the way a disease organism enters a living host (hence the term virus). But this one came in the front door, and on being read by the CD-ROM reader, a single prompt came up on the screen, and Ming, after a quick look-around in her office, moved her mouse to put the pointer on the prompt, clicked the INSTALL command, and everything immediately disappeared. The program thus implanted searched her hard drive at nearly the speed of light, categorizing every file and setting up its own index, then compressing it into a small file that hid in plain sight, as it were, identified by any disk-sorting program with a wholly innocent name that referred to a function carried out by another program entirely. Thus only a very careful and directed search by a skilled computer operator could even detect that something was even there. Exactly what the program did could only be determined by a one-by-zero reading of the program itself, something difficult to accomplish at best. It would be like trying to find what was wrong with a single leaf on a single tree in a vast forest where all the trees and all the leaves looked pretty much alike, except that this one leaf was smaller and humbler than most. CIA and NSA could no longer attract the best programmers in America. There was just too much money in the consumer electronics industry for government to compete effectively in that marketplace. But you could still hire them, and the work that came out was just as good. And if you paid them enough--strangely, you could pay lots more to a contractor than to an employee--they wouldn't talk to anyone about it. And besides, they never really knew what it was all about anyway, did they?

In this case, there was an additional level of complexity that went back over sixty years. When the Germans had overrun the Netherlands in 1940, they'd created a strange situation. In Holland the Germans had found both the most cooperative of their conquered nations and the most fiercely resistant. More Dutchmen per capita had joined the Germans than any other nationality--enough to form their own SS division, SS Nordland. At the same time, the Dutch resistance became the most effective in Europe, and one of their number was a brilliant mathematician/engineer working for the national telephone company. In the second decade of the twentieth century, the telephone had reached a developmental roadblock. When you lifted a phone, you were immediately connected with an operator to whom you gave the destination you were trying to call, and she then physically moved a plug into the proper hole. This system had been workable when only a few telephones were in use, but the appliance had rapidly proved too useful for limited applications. The solution to the problem, remarkably enough, had come from a mortician in the American South. Vexed by the fact that the local operator in his town referred the bereaved to a competing undertaker, he had invented the stepping switch, which enabled people to reach their own phone destinations merely by turning a rotary dial. That system served the world well, but also required the development of a whole body of new mathematical knowledge called "complexity theory," which was systematized by the American company AT&T in the 1930s.

Ten years later, merely by adding additional digits to be dialed, the Dutch engineer in the resistance had applied complexity theory to covert operations by creating theoretical pathways through the switching gear, thus enabling resistance fighters to call others without knowing whom they called, or even the actual telephone numbers they were calling.

This bit of electronic skullduggery had first been noticed by an officer for the British Special Operations Executive, the SOE, and, finding it very clever indeed, he'd discussed it over a beer with an American colleague in a London pub. The American OSS officer, like most of the men Wild Bill Donovan had chosen, was an attorney by profession, and in his case, a very thorough one, who wrote everything down and forwarded it up the line. The report on the Dutch engineer had made its way to the office of Colonel William Friedman, then America's foremost code-breaker. Though not himself a hardware expert, Friedman had known something useful when he saw it, and he knew there would be an after-the-war, during which his agency--later reborn as the National Security Agency--would still be busy cracking other countries' codes and ciphers and producing codes and ciphers itself. The ability to develop covert communications links through a relatively simple mathematical trick had seemed a gift from God's own hand.

In the 1940s and '50s, NSA had been able to hire American's finest mathematicians, and one of the tasks assigned them had been to work with AT&T to create a universal telephone operating system that could be used covertly by American intelligence officers. Back then, AT&T was the only real rival NSA had had in the hiring of skilled mathematicians, and beyond that, AT&T had always been a prime contractor for just about every executive agency of the government. By 1955, it was done, and for a surprisingly modest fee AT&T provided the entire world with a model for telephone systems that most of the world adopted--the modest cost was explained by the desire of AT&T to make its systems compatible with every other country's to ease international communications. With the 1970s had come push-button phones, which directed calls electronically by frequency-controlled codes even easier for electronic systems to use, and infinitely easier to maintain than the former electro-mechanical stepping switches that had made the mortician hugely rich. They also proved even easier for AT&T to rig for NSA. The operating systems first given the world's telephone companies by AT&T's Parsippany, New Jersey, research laboratory had been upgraded yearly at least, giving further improvements to the efficiency of the world's phone systems--so much so that scarcely any telephone system in the world didn't use it. And tucked into that operating system were six lines of binary code whose operational concept traced back to the Nazi occupation of Holland.

Ming finished the installation and ejected the disk, discarding it into her waste can. The easy way to dispose of secret material was to have your adversary do it, through the front door, not the back one.

Nothing really happened for some hours, while Ming did her usual office tasks and Nomuri visited three commercial businesses to sell his high-powered desktop computers. All that changed at 7:45 P.M.

By this time, Ming was at her own home. Nomuri would get a night off; Ming had to do some things with her room-mate to avoid too much suspicion--watching local television, chatting with her friend, and thinking about her lover, while the whole reason for the wispy smiles on her face played out entirely outside her consciousness. Strangely, it never occurred to her that her roomie had it all figured out in an instant, and was merely polite enough not to broach the subject.

Her NEC desktop computer had long since gone into auto-sleep mode, leaving the monitor screen dark and blank, and the indicator light in the lower right position of the plastic frame amber instead of the green that went with real activity. The software she'd installed earlier in the day had been custom-designed for the NEC machines, which like all such machines had proprietary source-code unique to the brand. The source-code, however, was known to the National Security Agency.

Immediately upon installation, the Ghost program--as it had been christened at Fort Meade, Maryland--had buried itself in a special niche in the NEC's operating system, the newest version of Microsoft Windows. The niche had been created by a Microsoft employee whose favorite uncle had died over North Vietnam while flying an F-105 fighter-bomber, and who did his patriotic work entirely without the knowledge of his parent company. It also dovetailed exactly with the NEC code, with the effect of making it virtually invisible even to a line-by-line inspection of all the code within the machine by an expert software engineer.

The Ghost had gone immediately to work, creating a directory that sorted the documents on Ming's computer first by date of creation/modification, and then by file type. Some files, like the operating system, it ignored. It similarly ignored the NEC-created transcription program that converted Roman characters, actually the English phonemes of the spoken Mandarin language, into the corresponding ideographs, but the Ghost did not ignore the graphic-text files that resulted from that program. Those it copied, along with telephone indexes and every other text file on the five-gigabyte hard drive. This entire procedure took the machine, guided by the Ghost, seventeen-point-one-four seconds, leaving a large file that sat by itself.

The machine did nothing for a second and a half, then new activity started. The NEC desktop machines had built-in high-speed modems. The Ghost activated these, but also turned off their internal mini-speakers so that no evidence of the transmission would be heard by anyone. (Leaving the speakers on was a primary security measure. The flashing lights that told of their activity were hidden because the modem was inside the box for this model.) The computer then dialed (this term had somehow survived the demise of rotary dials on telephones) a twelve-digit number rather than the usual seven used by the Beijing telephone system. The additional five digits sent the seeker-signal on a round-robin adventure through the hardware of the central switching computer, and it came out in the place designated two weeks before by the engineers at Fort Meade, who, of course, never had an idea what this was all for, or where it would happen, or who might be involved. The number that rang--actually there wasn't a mechanical or electronic ringer of any sort--was the dedicated modem line that exited the wall by Chester Nomuri's desk and ended in the back of his very high-end laptop--which was not an NEC, because here, as with most computer applications, the best was still American.

Nomuri was also watching TV at the moment, though in his case it was the CNN international news, so that he could know what was going on at home. After that he'd switch to a Japanese satellite channel, because it was part of his cover. A samurai show he liked was on tonight, in theme and simplicity rather like the Westerns that had polluted American TV in the 1950s. Though an educated man and a professional intelligence officer, Nomuri liked mindless entertainment as much as anyone else. The beep made him turn his head. Though his computer had software similar to that running in Ming's office, he'd allowed the aural prompt to tell him that something was coming in, and a three-key code lit up his screen to show exactly what it was and where it was coming from.

Yes! the CIA officer exulted, his right fist slamming into his open left hand hard enough to sting. Yes. He had his agent in fucking place, and here was the take from Operation SORGE. A bar at the top of the screen showed that the data was coming it at a rate of 57,000 bits per second. That was pretty fast. Now, just hope that the local commie phone system didn't develop a bad connection somewhere between Ming's office and the switching center, and from the switching center to his flat, Chester thought. Shouldn't be much of a problem. The outbound leg from Ming's office would be first-rate, tasked as it was to the service of the Party nobility. And from the switching center to his place would be okay, because he'd gotten numerous messages that way, most of them from NEC in Tokyo to congratulate him on exceeding his sales quota already.

Yeah, well, Chet, you are pretty good at making a sale, aren't you? he asked himself on the way to the kitchen. He figured he owed himself a drink for this bit of performance. On returning, he saw that the download wasn't finished yet.

Damn. How much shit is she sending me? Then he realized that the text files he was getting were actually graphics files, because Ming's computer didn't store ideographs as letters, but rather as the pictures that they actually were. That made the files memory-intensive. Exactly how memory-intensive they were, he saw forty minutes later when the download ended.

At the far end of the electronic chain, the Ghost program appeared to shut itself down, but in fact it slept rather as a dog did, one ear always cocked up, and always aware of the time of day. On finishing the transmission, the Ghost made a notation on its inside index of the files. It had sent everything up until this day. From now on, it would only send new ones--which would make for much shorter and faster transmissions--but only in the evening, and only after ninety-five minutes of total inactivity on the computer, and only when it was outwardly in auto-sleep mode. Tradecraft and caution had been programmed in.

"Fuck," Nomuri breathed on seeing the size of the download. In pictures this could be the porno shots of damned near every hooker in Hong Kong. But his job was only half done. He lit up a program of his own and selected the "Preferences" folder that controlled it. Already checked was the box for autoencryption. Virtually everything on his computer was encrypted anyway, which was easily explainable as trade and business secrets--Japanese companies are renowned for the secrecy of their operations--but with some files more encrypted than others. The ones that arrived from the Ghost got the most robust scrambling, from a mathematically derived transcription system, fully 512 bits in the key, plus an additional random element which Nomuri could not duplicate. That was in addition to his numeric password, 51240, the street number of his first "score" in East LA. Then it was time to transmit his take.

This program was a close cousin to the Ghost he'd given Ming. But this one dialed the local Internet Service Provider, or ISP, and sent off a lengthy e-mail to a destination called [email protected] The "brownienet" was putatively a network established for bakeries and bakers, professional and amateur, who liked to swap recipes, often posting photos of their creations for people to download, which explained the occasional large file transferred. Photographs are notoriously rapacious in their demands for bytes and disk space.

In fact, Mary Patricia Foley had posted her own highly satisfactory recipe for French apple pie, along with a photo her elder son had taken with his Apple electronic camera. Doing so hadn't been so much a case of establishing a good cover as womanly pride in her own abilities as a cook, after spending an hour one night looking over the recipes others had put on this bulletin board. She'd tried one from a woman in Michigan a few weeks previously and found it okay, but not great. In coming weeks she wanted to try some of the bread recipes, which did look promising.

It was morning when Nomuri uploaded his e-mail to Pat's Bakery, an entirely real and legitimate business three blocks from the statehouse in Madison, Wisconsin, as a matter of fact, owned by a former CIA officer in the Science and Technology Directorate, now retired and a grandmother who was, however, too young for knitting. She'd created this Internet domain, paying the nominal fee and then forgetting about it, just as she'd forgotten nearly everything she'd ever done at Langley.

"You've got mail," the computer said when MP switched on her Internet mail service, which used the new Pony Express e-mail program. She keyed the download command and saw the originator was cgoodjadecastle.com. The username was from Gunsmoke. Marshal Dillon's crippled sidekick had been named Chester Good.

DOWNLOADING, the prompt-box on the screen said. It also gave an estimate for how long the download would take. 47 MINUTES ... !

"Son of a bitch," the DDO breathed, and lifted her phone. She pressed a button, waiting a second for the right voice to answer. "Ed, better come see this ..."

"Okay, honey, give me a minute."

The Director of Central Intelligence came in, holding his morning mug of coffee, to see his wife of twenty-three years leaning back, away from her computer screen. Rarely in that time had Mary Pat ever backed away from anything. It just wasn't her nature.

"From our Japanese friend?" Ed asked his wife.

"So it would seem," MP replied.

"How much stuff is this?"

"Looks like a lot. I suppose Chester is pretty good in the sack."

"Who trained him?"

"Whoever it was, we need to get his ass down to The Farm and pass all that knowledge along. For that matter," she added, with a changed voice and an upward look to catch her husband's eye, "maybe you could audit the course, honey-bunny."

"Is that a complaint?"

"There's always room for improvement--and, okay, yes, I need to drop fifteen pounds, too," she added, to cut the DCI off before he could reply in kind. He hated when she did that. But not now. Now his hand touched her face quite tenderly, as the prompt screen said another thirty-four minutes to complete the download.

"Who's the guy at Fort Meade who put the Ghost programs together?"

"They contracted a game place--a guy at a game company, I guess," Mrs. Foley corrected herself. "They paid him four hundred fifty big ones for the job." Which was more than the Director of Central Intelligence and the Deputy Director (Operations) made together, what with the federal pay caps, which didn't allow any federal employee to make more than a member of Congress--and they feared raising their own salaries, lest they offend the voters.

"Call me when you have it downloaded, baby."

"Who's the best guy we have for China?"

"Joshua Sears, Ph.D., from U-Cal Berkley, runs the China desk in the DI. But the guy at NSA is better for linguistic nuances, they say. His name's Victor Wang," the DCI said.

"Can we trust him?" MP asked. Distrust of ethnic Chinese in the American national-security apparatus had reached a considerable level.

"Shit, I don't know. You know, we have to trust somebody, and Wang's been on the box twice a year for the last eight years. The ChiComms can't compromise every Chinese-American we have, you know. This Wang guy's third-generation American, was an officer in the Air Force--ELINT guy, evidently worked out of Wright-Patterson--and just made super-grade at NSA. Tom Porter says he's very good."

"Okay, well, let me see what all this is, then we'll have Sears check it out, and then, maybe, if we have to, we'll talk to this Wang guy. Remember, Eddie, at the end of this is an officer named Nomuri and a foreign national who has two eyes--"

Her husband cut her off with a wave. "And two ears. Yeah, baby, I know. We've been there. We've done that. And we both have the T-shirts to prove it." And he was about as likely to forget that as his wife was. Keeping your agents alive was as important to an intelligence agency as capital preservation was to an investor.

Mary Pat ignored her computer for twenty minutes, and instead went over routine message traffic hand-carried up from MERCURY down in the basement of the Old Headquarters Building. That was not especially easy, but necessary nonetheless, because CIA's Clandestine Service was running agents and operations all over the world--or trying to, Mary Pat corrected herself. It was her job to rebuild the Directorate of Operations, to restore the human-intelligence--HUMINT--capability largely destroyed in the late 1970s, and only slowly being rebuilt. That was no small task, even for an expert in the field. But Chester Nomuri was one of her pets. She'd spotted him at The Farm some years before and seen in him the talent, the gift, and the motivation. For him espionage was as much a vocation as the priesthood, something important to his country, and fun, as much fun as dropping a fifty-footer at Augusta was for Jack Nicklaus. Toss in his brains and street sense, and, Mary Pat had thought at the time, she had a winner there. Now Nomuri was evidently living up to her expectations. Big time. For the first time, CIA had an agent-in-place inside the ChiComm Politburo, and that was about as good as it got. Perhaps even the Russians didn't have one of those, though you could never be sure, and you could lose a lot of money betting against the Russian intelligence services.

"File's done," the computer's electronic voice finally said. That occasioned a turn in her swivel chair. The DDO first of all backed up her newly downloaded file to a second hard drive, and then to a "toaster" disk, so called because the disk went in and out of the drive box like a slice of bread. With that done, she typed in her decryption code, 51240. She had no idea why Nomuri had specified that number, but knowing was not necessary, just so long as nobody else knew either. After typing in the five digits and hitting RETURN, the file icons changed. They were already aligned in list form, and MP selected the oldest. A page full of Chinese ideographs came up. With that bit of information, MP lifted her office phone and punched the button for her secretary. "Dr. Joshua Sears, DI, Chinese Section. Please ask him to come see me right away."

That took six endless minutes. It took rather a lot to make Mary Patricia Kaminsky Foley shiver, but this was one such occasion. The image on her screen looked like something one might get from inking the feet of several drunken roosters, then making them loiter on a piece of white paper, but within the imagery were words and thoughts. Secret words and hidden thoughts. On her screen was the ability to read the minds of adversaries. It was the sort of thing that could win the World Series of Poker in Las Vegas, but infinitely more important. It was the sort of thing that had won wars and altered history from the expected path determined by the most important of players, and in that was the value of espionage, the whole point of having an intelligence community, because the fates of nations really did ride on such things--

--and therefore, the fates of nations rode on Chet Nomuri's schwantz and how well he used it, Mrs. Foley reflected. What a crazy fucking world it was. How the hell could an historian ever get that right? How did you communicate the importance of seducing some nameless secretary, an underling, a modern-day peasant who merely transcribed the thoughts of the important, but in being compromised made those thoughts available to others, and in doing so, altered the course of history as surely as turning the rudder changed the course of a mighty ship. For Mary Pat, Deputy Director (Operations) of the Central Intelligence Agency, it was a moment of fulfillment to place alongside the birth of her children. Her entire raison d'etre lay in black-and-white ideographs on her computer monitor--and she couldn't read the fucking things. She had the language skills to teach Russian literature at Moscow State University, but all she knew of Chinese was chop suey and moo goo gai pan.

"Mrs. Foley?" A head appeared at her door. "I'm Josh Sears." He was fifty, tall, losing his hair, most of it gray. Brown eyes. He hit the cafeteria line downstairs a little too hard, the DDO thought.

"Please come in, Dr. Sears. I need you to translate some things for me."

"Sure," he replied, picking a seat and relaxing into it. He watched the DDO take some pages off her laser printer and hand them across.

"Okay, it says the date is last March twenty-first, and the place is Beijing--hmph, the Council of Ministers Building, eh? Minister Fang is talking to Minister Zhang." Sears ran his eyes down the page. "Mrs. Foley, this is hot stuff. They're talking about the possibilities of Iran--no, the old UIR--taking over the entire Persian Gulf oil fields, and what effect it would have on China. Zhang appears to be optimistic, but guarded. Fang is skeptical ... oh, this is an aide-memoir, isn't it? It's Fang's notes from a private conversation with Zhang."

"The names mean anything to you?"

"Both are Ministers Without Portfolio. They're both full Politburo members without direct ministerial duties. That means they're both trusted by the chairman, the PRC premier, Xu Kun Piao. They go back thirty years plus, well into the time of Mao and Chou. As you know, the Chinese are really into lengthy relationships. They develop--well, not friendships as we understand them, but associations. It's a comfort-level thing, really. Like at a card table. You know what the other guy's mannerisms and capabilities are, and that makes for a long, comfortable game. Maybe you won't win big, but you won't lose your shirt either."

"No, they don't gamble, do they?"

"This document demonstrates that. As we suspected, the PRC backed the Ayatollah Daryaei in his play, but they never allowed their support to be public. From skimming this, it appears that this Zhang guy is the one who ramrodded this--and the play the Japanese made. We've been trying to build a book on this Zhang guy--and Fang as well--without a whole lot of success. What do I need to know about this?" he asked, holding the page up.

"It's code word," MP replied. By federal statute, "top secret" was as high as it went, but in reality there were more secret things than that, called "special-access programs," which were designated by their controlling code words. "This one's called SORGE." She didn't have to say that he could not discuss this information with anyone, and that even dreaming in bed about it was forbidden. Nor did she have to say that in SORGE was Sears's path to a raise and much greater personal importance within the CIA's pantheon of bureaucrats.

"Okay." Sears nodded. "What can you tell me?"

"What we have here is a digest of conversations between Fang and Zhang, and probably other ministers as well. We've found a way to crash into their documents storage. We believe the documents are genuine," MP concluded. Sears would know that he was being misled on sources and methods, but that was to be expected. As a senior member of the DI--the Directorate of Intelligence--it was his job to evaluate information provided to him by various sources, in this case the DO. If he got bad information, his evaluation would be bad as well, but what Mrs. Foley had just told him was that he would not be held at fault for bad information. But he'd also question the authenticity of the documents in an internal memo or two, just to cover his own ass, of course.

"Okay, ma'am. In that case, what we have here is pure nitroglycerine. We've suspected this, but here's confirmation. It means that President Ryan did the right thing when he granted diplomatic recognition to Taiwan. The PRC had it coming. They conspired to wage aggressive war, and since we got involved, you can say that they conspired against us. Twice, I bet. We'll see if another of these documents refers to the Japanese adventure. You'll recall that the Japanese industrialists implicated this Zhang guy by name. That's not a hundred percent, but if it's confirmed by this, then it's almost something you could take before a judge. Mrs. Foley, this is some source we have here."

"Evaluation?"

"It feels right," the analyst said, reading over the page again. "It sounds like conversation. I mean, it's unguarded, not official diplomatic-speak or even inside-minister-speak. So, it sounds like what it purports to be, the notes of a private, informal policy discussion between two senior colleagues."

"Any way to cross-check it?" MP asked next.

An immediate shake of the head. "No. We don't know much about either one of these guys. Zhang, well, we have the evaluation from Secretary Adier--you know, from the shuttle diplomacy after the Airbus shoot-down, which pretty well confirms what that Yamata guy told the Japanese police and our FBI guys about how the Chinese nudged them into the conflict with us, and what for. The PRC looks on eastern Siberia with covetous eyes," Sears reminded her, showing his knowledge of the PRC policies and objectives. "For Fang Gan, we have photos of him sipping mao-tai at receptions in his Mao jacket and smiling benignly, like they all do. We know he's tight with Xu, there are stories that he likes to play with the office help--but a lot of them do that--and that's about it."

It was good of Sears not to remind her that playing with the office help wasn't a character defect limited to China.

"So, what do we think about them?"

"Fang and Zhang? Well, both are Ministers Without Portfolio. So, they're utility infielders, maybe even assistant coaches. Premier Xu trusts their judgment. They get to sit in at the Politburo as full voting members. They get to hear everything and cast votes on everything. They influence policy not so much by making it as shaping it. Every minister knows them. These two know all the others. They've both been around a long time. Both are well into their sixties or seventies, but people over there don't mellow with age like they do in America. Both will be ideologically sound, meaning they're both probably solid communists. That implies a certain ruthlessness, and you can add to that their age. At seventy-five, death starts being a very real thing. You don't know how much time you have left, and these guys don't believe in an afterlife. So, whatever goals they have, they have to address pretty quick at that age, don't they?"

"Marxism doesn't mix well with humanity, does it?"

Sears shook his head. "Not hardly, and toss in a culture that places a much lower value on human life than ours does."

"Okay. Good brief. Here," she said, handing over ten printed pages. "I want a written evaluation after lunch. Whatever you might be working on now, SORGE is more important."

That meant a "seventh-floor tasking" to Dr. Sears. He'd be working directly for the Directors. Well, he had a private office already, and a computer that wasn't hooked into any telephone lines, even a local area network, as many of the CIA's 'puters were. Sears tucked the papers into a coat pocket and departed, leaving Mary Pat to look out her floor-to-ceiling windows and contemplate her next move. Really it was Ed's call, but things like this were decided collegially, especially when the DCI was your husband. This time she'd wander over to see him.

The DCI's office is long and relatively narrow, with the director's office near the door, well away from the sitting area. Mary Pat took the easy chair across from the desk.

"How good is it?" Ed asked, knowing the reason for her visit.

"Calling this SORGE was unusually prescient for us. It's at least that good."

Since Richard Sorge dispatches from Tokyo to Moscow might have saved the Soviet Union in 1941, that got Ed Foley's eyes to widen some. "Who looked at it?"

"Sears. He seems pretty smart, by the way. I've never really talked to him before."

"Harry likes him," Ed noted, referring to Harry Hall, the current Deputy Director (Intelligence), who was in Europe at the moment. "Okay, so he says it looks pretty good, eh?"

A serious nod. "Oh, yeah, Eddie."

"Take it to see Jack?" They could not not take this to the President, could they?

"Tomorrow, maybe?"

"Works for me." Just about any government employee can find space in his or her day for a drive to the White House. "Eddie, how far can this one spread?"

"Good question. Jack, of course. Maybe the Vice President. I like the guy," the DCI said, "but usually the veep doesn't get into stuff like this. SecState, SecDef, both are maybes. Ben Goodley, again a maybe. Mary, you know the problem with this."

It was the oldest and most frequent problem with really valuable high-level intelligence information. If you spread it too far, you ran the risk of compromising the information--which also meant getting the source killed--and that killed the goose laying the golden eggs. On the other hand, if you didn't make some use of the information, then you might as well not have the eggs anyway. Drawing the line was the most delicate operation in the field of intelligence, and you never knew where the right place was to draw it. You also had to worry about methods of spreading it around. If you sent it encrypted from one place to another, what if the bad guys had cracked your encryption system? NSA swore that its systems, especially TAPDANCE, could not be broken, but the Germans had thought ENIGMA crack-proof, too.

Almost as dangerous was giving the information, even by hand, to a senior government official. The bastards talked too much. They lived by talking. They lived by leaking. They lived by showing people how important they were, and importance in D.C. meant knowing what other people didn't know. Information was the coin of the realm in this part of America. The good news here was that President Ryan understood about that. He'd been CIA, as high as Deputy Director, and so he knew about the value of security. The same was probably true of Vice President Jackson, former naval aviator. He'd probably seen lives lost because of bad intelligence. Scott Adler was a diplomat, and he probably knew as well. Tony Bretano, the well-regarded SecDef, worked closely with CIA, as all Secretaries of Defense had to do, and he could probably be trusted as well. Ben Goodley was the President's National Security Advisor, and thus couldn't easily be excluded. So, what did that total up to? Two in Beijing. At Langley, the DCI, DDCI, DDI, and DDO, plus Sears from inside the DI. That made seven. Then the President, Vice President, SecState, SecDef, and Ben Goodley. That made twelve. And twelve was plenty for the moment, especially in a town where the saying went, If two people know it, it's not a secret. But the entire reason for having CIA was this sort of information.

"Pick a name for the source," Foley instructed his wife.

"SONGBIRD will do for now." It was a sentimental thing for MP, naming agents for birds. It dated back to CARDINAL.

"Fair enough. Let me see the translations you get, okay?"

"You bet, honey-bunny." Mary Pat leaned over her husband's desk to deliver a kiss, before heading back to her own office.

On arriving there, MP checked her computer for the SORGE file. She'd have to change that, MP realized. Even the name of this special-access compartment would be classified top secret or higher. Then she did a page count, making a note on a paper pad next to the screen.

ALL 1,349 PAGES OF RECIPES RECEIVED, she wrote as a reply to [email protected] WILL LOOK THE RECIPES OVER. THANKS A BUNCH. MARY. She hit the RETURN key, and off the letter went, through the electronic maze called the Internet. One thousand, three hundred and forty-nine pages, the DDO thought. It would keep the analysts busy for quite a while. Inside the Old Headquarters Building, analysts would see bits and pieces of SORGE material, covered under other transitory code names randomly chosen by a computer in the basement, but only Sears would know the whole story--and, in fact, he didn't even know that, did he? What he knew might--probably would--be enough to get this Ming woman killed, once the MSS realized who'd had access to the information. They could do some things in Washington to protect her, but not much.

Nomuri rose early in his Beijing apartment, and the second thing he did was to log on to check his e-mail. There it was, number seven in the list, one from [email protected] He selected the decryption system and typed in the key ... so, the pages had all been received. That was good. Nomuri dragged the message he'd dispatched to the "wipe-info" bin, where Norton Utilities not only deleted the file, but also five times electronically scrubbed the disk segments where they'd briefly resided, so that the files could never be recovered by any attempt, no matter how skilled. Next he eliminated the record of having sent any e-mail to brownienet. Now there was no record whatever of his having done anything, unless his telephone line was tapped, which he didn't really suspect. And even then the data was scrambled, fully encrypted, and thus not recoverable. No, the only dangers in the operation now attached to Ming. His part of it, being the spymaster, was protected by the method in which her desktop computer called him, and from now on those messages would be sent out to brownienet automatically, and erased the same way, in a matter of seconds. It would take a very clever counterintelligence operation to hurt Nomuri now.

Chapter 15

Exploitation

What's this mean, Ben?" Ryan asked, seeing a change in his morning schedule.

"Ed and Mary Pat want to talk something over with you. They didn't say what it was," Goodley replied. "The Vice President can be here, too, and me, but that's it, they requested."

"Some new kind of toilet paper in the Kremlin, I suppose," POTUS said. It was a long-standing CIA joke from Ryan's time in the Bad Old Days of the Cold War. He stirred his coffee and leaned back in his comfortable chair. "Okay, what else is happening in the world, Ben?"

So, this is mao-tai?" Cardinal DiMilo asked. He didn't add that he'd been given to understand that Baptists didn't drink alcoholic beverages. Odd, considering that Jesus' first public miracle had been to change water into wine at the marriage feast at Cana. But Christianity had many faces. In any case, the mao-tai was vile, worse than the cheapest grappa. With advancing years, the Cardinal preferred gentler drinks. It was much easier on the stomach.

"I should not drink this," Yu admitted, "but it is part of my heritage."

"I know of no passage in Holy Scripture that prohibits this particular human weakness," the Catholic said. And besides, wine was part of the Catholic liturgy. He saw that his Chinese host barely sipped at his tiny cup. Probably better for his stomach, too, the Italian reasoned.

He'd have to get used to the food, too. A gourmet like many Italians, Renato Cardinal DiMilo found that the food in Beijing was not as good as he'd experienced in Rome's numerous Chinese restaurants. The problem, he thought, was the quality of the ingredients rather than the cook. In this case, the Reverand Yu's wife was away in Taiwan to see her sick mother, he'd said, apologizing on the Catholic's arrival. Monsignor Schepke had taken over the serving, rather like a young lieutenant-aide serving the needs of his general, Yu had thought, watching the drama play out with some amusement. The Catholics certainly had their bureaucratic ways. But this Renato fellow was a decent sort, clearly an educated man, and a trained diplomat from whom Yu realized he might learn much.

"So, you cook for yourself. How did you learn?"

"Most Chinese men know how. We learn from our parents as children."

DiMilo smiled. "I, as well, but I have not cooked for myself in years. The older I get the less they allow me to do for myself, eh, Franz?"

"I have my duties also, Eminence," the German answered. He was drinking the mao-tai with a little more gusto. Must be nice to have a young stomach lining, both the older men thought.

"So, how do you find Beijing?" Yu asked.

"Truly fascinating. We Romans think that our city is ancient and redolent with history, but Chinese culture was old before the Romans set one stone upon another. And the art we saw yesterday..."

"The jade mountain," Schepke explained. "I spoke with the guide, but she didn't know about the artists involved, or the time required to carve it."

"The names of artisans and the time they needed--these were not matters of importance to the emperors of old. There was much beauty then, yes, but much cruelty as well."

"And today?" Renato asked.

"Today as well, as you know, Eminence," Yu confirmed with a long sigh. They spoke in English, and Yu's Oklahoma accent fascinated his visitors. "The government lacks the respect for human life, which you and I would prefer."

"Changing that will not be simple," Monsignor Schepke added. The problem wasn't limited to the communist PRC government. Cruelty had long been part of Chinese culture, to the point that someone had once said that China was too vast to be governed with kindness, an aphorism picked up with indecent haste by the left wings of the world, ignoring the explicit racism in such a statement. Perhaps the problem was that China had always been crowded, and in crowds came anger, and in anger came a callous disregard for others. Nor had religion helped. Confucius, the closest thing China had developed to a great religious leader, preached conformity as a person's best action. While the Judeo-Christian tradition talked of transcendent values of right and wrong, and the human rights that devolved from them, China saw authority as Society, not God. For that reason, Cardinal DiMilo thought, communism had taken root here. Both societal models were alike in their absence of an absolute rule of right and wrong. And that was dangerous. In relativism lay man's downfall, because, ultimately, if there were no absolute values, what difference was there between a man and a dog? And if there were no such difference, where was man's fundamental dignity? Even a thinking atheist could mark religion's greatest gift to human society: human dignity, the value placed on a single human life, the simple idea that man was more than an animal. That was the foundation of all human progress, because without it, human life was doomed to Thomas Hobbes's model, "nasty, brutish, and short."

Christianity--and Judaism, and Islam, which were also religions of The Book--required merely that man believe in that which was self-evident: There was order in the universe, and that order came from a source, and that source was called God. Christianity didn't even require that a man believe in that idea--not anymore, anyway--just that he accept the sense of it, and the result of it, which was human dignity and human progress. Was that so hard?

It was for some. Marxism, in condemning religion as "the opiate of the people," merely prescribed another, less effective drug--"the radiant future," the Russians had called it, but it was a future they'd never been able to deliver. In China, the Marxists had shown the good sense to adopt some of the forms of capitalism to save their country's economy, but not to adopt the principle of human freedom that usually came along with it. That had worked to this point, DiMilo thought, only because Chinese culture had a preexisting model of conformity and acceptance of authority from above. But how long would that last? And how long could China prosper without some idea of the difference between what was right and what was wrong? Without that information, China and the Chinese were doomed to perdition. Someone had to bring the Good News of Jesus to the Chinese, because with that came not only eternal salvation, but temporal happiness as well. Such a fine bargain, and yet there were those too stupid and too blind to accept it. Mao had been one. He'd rejected all forms of religion, even Confucius and the Lord Buddha. But when he'd lain dying in his bed, what had Chairman Mao thought? To what Radiant Future had he looked forward then? What did a communist think on his deathbed? The answer to that question was something none of the three clergymen wanted to know, or to face.

"I was disappointed to see the small number of Catholics here--not counting foreigners and diplomats, of course. How bad is the persecution?"

Yu shrugged. "It depends on where you are, and the political climate, and the personality of the local party leadership. Sometimes they leave us alone--especially when foreigners are here, with their TV cameras. Sometimes they can become very strict, and sometimes they can harass us directly. I have been questioned many times, and been subjected to political counseling." He looked up and smiled. "It's like having a dog bark at you, Eminence. You need not answer back. Of course, you will be spared any of that," the Baptist pointed out, noting DiMilo's diplomatic status, and his resulting personal inviolability.

The cardinal caught that reference, somewhat to his discomfort. He didn't see his life as any more valuable than anyone else's. Nor did he wish his faith to appear less sincere than this Chinese Protestant's, who'd been educated at some pretentious pseudo-university in the American prairie, whereas he had acquired his knowledge in some of the most ancient and honored institutions of higher learning on the planet, whose antecedents went back to the Roman empire, and beyond that, to the chambers of Aristotle himself. If there was one vanity Renato Cardinal DiMilo possessed, it was in his education. He'd been superbly educated, and he knew it. He could discuss Plato's Republic in Attic Greek, or the law cases of Marcus Tullius Cicero in Imperial Latin. He could debate a committed Marxist on the attributes of that political philosophy in the same language the German Marx himself had spoken--and win, because Marx had left a lot of unfilled holes in the walls of his political theories. He'd forgotten more about human nature than some psychologists knew. He was in the Vatican's diplomatic service because he could read minds--better than that, he could read the minds of politicians and diplomats highly skilled in concealing their thoughts. He could have been a gambler of talent and riches with these skills, but instead he applied them for the Greater Glory of God.

His only failing was that, like all men, he could not predict the future, and thus could not see the world war that this meeting would ultimately bring about.

"So, does the government harass you?" the Cardinal asked his host.

A shrug. "Occasionally. I propose to hold a prayer service in public to test their willingness to interfere with my human rights. There is some danger involved, of course."

It was a challenge skillfully delivered, and the elderly Catholic cleric rose to it: "Keep Franz and me informed, if you would."

SONGBIRD? " Ryan asked. "What can you tell me about him? "

"Do you really want to know, Jack?" Ed Foley asked, somewhat pointedly.

"You telling me I ought not to know?" Ryan responded. Then he realized that Robby Jackson and Ben Goodley were here as well, and he could know things that they could not. Even at this level, there were rules of classification. The President nodded. "Okay, we'll let that one go for now."

"The overall operation is called SORGE. That'll change periodically," Mary Pat told the assembled audience. Unusually, the Secret Service had been hustled out of the Oval Office for this briefing--which told the USSS a lot more than CIA would have liked--and also a special jamming system had been switched on. It would interfere with any electronic device in the room. You could see that from the TV set to the left of the President's desk, tuned to CNN. The screen was now full of snow, but with the sound turned all the way down, there was no annoying noise to disturb the meeting. The possibility of a bug in this most secure of rooms was slight, but so great was the value of SORGE that this card was being played as well. The briefing folders had already been passed out. Robby looked up from his.

"Notes from the Chinese Politburo? Lordy," Vice President Jackson breathed. "Okay, no sources and methods. That's cool with me, guys. Now, how reliable is it?"

"For the moment, reliability is graded 'B+' " Mary Pat answered. "We expect to upgrade that later on. The problem is that we don't grade 'A' or higher without outside confirmation, and this stuff is so deep inside that we have no other asset to verify what we have here."

"Oops," Jackson observed. "So it could all be a false flag. Pretty one, I admit, but false even so."

"Perhaps, but unlikely. There's stuff here that is awfully sensitive to let out voluntarily, even for a major sting operation."

"So I see," Ryan partially agreed. "But I remember what Jim Greer used to say: Ain't nothing too crazy to be true. Our fundamental problem with these guys is that their culture is so different in so many ways that they might as well be Klingons."

"Well, they don't display much love for us in this," Ben Goodley observed, flipping halfway through the briefing folder. "Jesus, this is interesting material. We going to show it to Scott Adler?"

"That's our recommendation," the DCI agreed. "Adler is pretty good at figuring people out, and his take on some of this--especially page five--will be very interesting. Tony Bretano, too."

"Okay, that's EAGLE and THUNDER. Who else?" Ryan asked.

"That's all for now," Ed Foley said, with a nod from his wife. "Mr. Pres--"

Ryan's eyes flared a little. "My name is ..."

The DCI held up his hand. "Okay. Jack, let's keep this one real close for a while. We'll figure a way to launder the information so that some others can know what we've learned. But not how. Not ever that. SONGBIRD'S too precious an asset to lose."

"This is potentially right up there with CARDINAL, isn't it?"

"Maybe even better, Jack," Mary Pat said. "This is like having a bug in the boardroom, and we've streamlined our methods on this one. We're being very, very careful with this source."

"Okay, what about analysts?" Ben Goodley asked. "Our best guy with the PRC is Professor Weaver up at Brown University. You know him, Ed."

Foley nodded. "Yeah, I know him, but let's hold off for a while. We have a pretty good guy in-house. Let me see what he can develop for us before we start farming things out. By the way, we're looking at something like a total of fifteen hundred printed pages from this source, plus daily information from now on."

Ryan looked up at that one. Daily information. How the hell had they arranged that? Back to business, he told himself. "Okay, for one thing, I want an evaluation of the Zhang Han San character," Ryan said. "I've seen this bastard's name before. He started two wars we got pulled into. What the hell is he all about?"

"We have a psychiatrist on staff to work on that," Mary Foley replied. After, she didn't say, we scrub this information clean of source-related material. "He does our profiling."

"Okay, yeah, I remember him." Ryan nodded agreement on this point. "Anything else?"

"Just the usual," Ed Foley said as he stood. "Don't leave these documents on your desk, okay?"

They all nodded agreement. They all had personal safes for that purpose, and every one was wired into the Secret Service command center, and was on round-the-clock TV surveillance. The White House was a good place to store documents, and besides, the secretaries were cleared higher than God. Mary Pat left the office with a special spring in her step. Ryan waved for his Vice President to stay as the rest walked toward the West Entrance.

"What do you think?" SWORDSMAN asked TOMCAT.

"This looks pretty damned hot, Jack. Jesus, boy, how the hell do they get stuff like this?"

"If they ever get around to telling me, I can't tell you, Rob, and I'm not sure I want to know. It isn't always pretty."

The retired fighter pilot agreed. "I believe it. Not quite the same as catapulting off the boat and shooting the bastard in the lips, is it?"

"But just as important."

"Hey, Jack, I know. Battle of Midway, like. Joe Rochefort and his band of merry men at FRUPAC back in '42 saved our country a lot of hassles with our little yellow friends in WestPac when they told Nimitz what was coming."

"Yeah, Robby, well, looks like we have more of the same sort of friends. If there's operational stuff in here, I want your opinion of it."

"I can do that already. Their army and what passes for a navy are talking in the open about how they take us on, how to counter carriers and stuff like that. It's mostly pipe dreams and self-delusion, but my question is, why the hell are they putting this in the open? Maybe to impress the unwashed of the world--reporters and the other idiots who don't know shit about war at sea--and maybe to impress their own people with how smart and how tough they are. Maybe to put more heat on the ROC government on Taiwan, but if they want to invade, they have something to do first, like building a real navy with real amphibious capability. But that would take ten years, and we'd probably notice all the big gray canoes in the water. They've got some submarines, and the Russians, of all people, are selling them hardware--just forked over a Sovremenny-class DDG, complete with Sunburn missiles, supposedly. Exactly what they want to do with them, I have no idea. It's not the way I'd build up a navy, but they didn't ask me for advice. What freaks me is, the Russians sold them the hardware, and they're selling some other stuff, too. Crazy," the Vice President concluded.

"Tell me why," POTUS commanded.

"Because once upon a time a guy named Genghis Khan rode all the way to the Baltic Sea--like, all the way across Russia. The Russkies have a good sense of history, Jack. They ain't forgot that. If I'm a Russian, what enemies do I have to worry about? NATO? The Poles? Romania? I don't think so. But off to my southeast is a great big country with a shitload of people, a nice large collection of weapons, and a long history of killing Russians. But I was just an operations guy, and sometimes I get a little paranoid about what my counterparts in other countries might be thinking." Robby didn't have to add that the Russians had invented paranoia once upon a time.

This is madness!" Bondarenko swore. "There are many ways to prove Lenin was right, but this is not the one I would choose!" Vladimir Il'ych Ulyanov had once said that the time would come when the capitalist countries would bid among themselves to sell to the Soviet Union the rope with which the Soviet Union would later hang them. He hadn't anticipated the death of the country he'd founded, and certainly not that the next Russia might be the one doing what he had predicted.

Golovko could not disagree with his guest. He'd made a similar argument, though with fewer decibels, in the office of President Grushavoy. "Our country needs the hard currency, Gennady Iosifovich."

"Indeed. And perhaps someday we will also need the oil fields and the gold mines of Siberia. What will we do when the Chinks take those away from us?" Bondarenko demanded.

"The Foreign Ministry discounts that possibility," Sergey Nikolay'ch replied.

"Fine. Will those foreign-service pansies take up arms if they are proven wrong, or will they wring their hands and say it isn't their fault? I am spread too thin for this. I cannot stop a Chinese attack, and so now we sell them the T-99 tank design ..."

"It will take them five years to bring about series production, and by that time we will have the T-10 in production at Chelyabinsk, will we not?"

That the People's Liberation Army had four thousand of the Russian-designed T-80/90 tanks was not discussed. That had happened years earlier. But the Chinese had not used the Russian-designed 115-mm gun, opting instead for the 105-mm rifled gun sold to them by Israel Defense Industries, known to America as the M-68. They came complete with three million rounds of ammunition made to American specifications, down to the depleted uranium projectiles, probably made with uranium depleted by the same reactors that made plutonium for their nuclear devices. What was it about politicians? Bondarenko wondered. You could talk and talk and talk to them, but they never listened! It had to be a Russian phenomenon, the general thought, rather than a political one. Stalin had executed the intelligence officer who'd predicted--correctly, as it turned out--the German attack of June 1941 on the Soviet Union. And that one had come within sight of Moscow. Executed him, why? Because his prediction was less pleasing than that of Levrenti Beriya, who'd had the good sense to say what Stalin had wanted to hear. And Beriya had survived being completely wrong. So much for the rewards of patriotism.

"If we have the money for it, and if Chelyabinsk hasn't been retooled to make fucking washing machines!" Russia had cannibalized its defense infrastructure even more quickly than America had. Now there was talk of converting the MiG airplane plants to automobile production. Would this never stop? Bondarenko thought. He had a potentially hostile nation next door, and he was years away from rebuilding the Russian Army into the shape he wished. But to do that meant asking President Grushavoy for something that he knew he couldn't have. To build a proper army, he had to pay the soldiers a living wage, enough to attract the patriotic and adventurous boys who wanted to wear their country's uniform for a few years, and most particularly those who found that they enjoyed uniformed life enough to make a career of it, to become sergeants, the middle-level professional soldiers without whom an army simply could not function, the sinews that held the muscles to the bone. To make that happen, a good platoon sergeant had to make almost as much money as a skilled factory worker, which was only fair, since the demands of such a man were on the same intellectual level. The rewards of a uniformed career could not be duplicated in a television plant. The comradeship, and the sheer joy of soldiering, was something to which a special sort of man responded. The Americans had such men, as did the British and the Germans, but these priceless professionals had been denied the Russian Army since the time of Lenin, the first of many Soviet leaders who'd sacrificed military efficiency in favor of the political purity the Soviet Union had insisted upon. Or something like that, Bondarenko thought. It all seemed so distant now, even to one who'd grown up within the misbegotten system.

"General, please remember that I am your friend in the government," Golovko reminded him. Which was just as well. The Defense Minister was--well, he spoke the right words, but he wasn't really able to think the right thoughts. He could repeat what others told him, and that was about it. In that sense, he was the perfect politician.

"Thank you, Sergey Nikolay'ch." The general inclined his head with the proper respect. "Does that mean that I can count upon some of these riches that Fate has dropped into our lap?"

"At the proper time I will make the proper recommendation to the president."

By that time, I will be retired, writing my memoirs, or whatever the hell a Russian general is supposed to do, Bondarenko told himself. But at least I can try to get the necessary programs drafted for my successors, and perhaps help choose the right man to follow me into the operations directorate. He didn't expect to go any further than he already had. He was chief of operations (which included training) for his army, and that was as fine a goal as any man could ask for his career.

"Thank you, Comrade Minister. I know your job is also difficult. So, is there anything I need to know about the Chinese?"

Minister Golovko wished he could tell this general that SVR didn't have a decent pipeline into the PRC anymore. Their man, a second-deputy minister, long in the employ of the KGB, had retired on grounds of ill health.

But he could not make the admission that the last Russian source inside the Forbidden City was no longer operational, and with him had gone all the insights they needed to evaluate the PRC's long-term plans and intentions. Well, there was still the Russian ambassador in Beijing, and he was no one's fool, but a diplomat saw mainly what the host government wanted him to see. The same was true of the military, naval, and air attaches, trained intelligence officers all, but also limited to what the Chinese military wished them to see, and even that had to be reciprocated every step of the way in Moscow, as though in some elegant international waltz. No, there was no substitute for a trained intelligence officer running agents who looked inside the other government, so that he, Golovko, could know exactly what was going on and report on it to his president. It wasn't often that Golovko had to report that he did not know enough, but it had happened in this case, and he would not confess his shortcomings to this soldier, senior one or not.

"No, Gennady Iosifovich, I have nothing to indicate that the Chinese seek to threaten us."

"Comrade Minister, the discoveries in Siberia are too vast for them not to consider the advantage to be had from seizing them. In their place, I would draw up the necessary plans. They import oil, and these new fields would obviate that necessity, and make them rich in the foreign exchange they seek. And the gold, Comrade, speaks for itself, does it not?"

"Perhaps." Golovko nodded. "But their economy seems healthy at the moment, and wars are not begun by those already rich."

"Hitler was prosperous enough in 1941. That did not prevent him from driving his army to within sight of this building," the chief of operations for the Russian army pointed out. "If your neighbor has an apple tree, sometimes you will pick an apple even if your belly is full. Just for the taste, perhaps," Bondarenko suggested.

Golovko couldn't deny the logic of that. "Gennady Iosifovich, we are of a kind. We both look out for dangers even when they are not obvious. You would have made a fine intelligence officer."

"Thank you, Comrade Minister." The three-star toasted his host with his almost empty vodka glass. "Before I leave my office, it is my hope to lay before my successor a plan, the accomplishment of which will make our country invulnerable to attack from any country. I know I will not be able myself to make that happen, but I will be grateful for the ability to set a firm plan in place, if our political leadership can see the merit of our ideas." And that was the real problem, wasn't it? The Russian army might be able to deal with external enemies. It was the internal ones which formed the really intractable problem. You usually knew where your enemy stood, because you faced them. Where your friends stood was more difficult, because they were usually behind you.

"I will make sure you present the case yourself to the cabinet. But"--Golovko held up his hand--"you must wait for the right moment."

"I understand, and let us hope the Chinese allow us the time for that moment." Golovko tossed off the last of his drink and rose. "Thanks for letting me come in to bare my heart to you, Comrade Chairman."

So, where is he?" Provalov demanded.

"I do not know," Abramov replied tiredly. "We've identified one person who claims to know him, but our informant has no idea where he lives."

"Very well. What do you know?" Moscow asked St. Petersburg.

"Our informant says that Suvorov is former KGB, RIF'd in 1996 or so, that he lives, probably, in St. Petersburg--but if that is true, he does so under an assumed name and false documents, or 'Suvorov' is itself a false name. I have a description. Male, fifty or so, average height and build. Thinning blond hair. Regular features. Blue eyes. Physically fit. Unmarried. Thought to frequent prostitutes. I have some people asking around those women for more information. Nothing yet," the St. Petersburg investigator replied.

This is amazing, Lieutenant Provalov thought. All the resources we have, and we can't develop a single reliable piece of information. Was he chasing ghosts? Well, he had five of those already. Avseyenko, Maria Ivanovna Sablin, a driver whose name he couldn't remember at the moment, and the two putative Spetsnaz killers, Pyotr Alekseyevich Amalrik and Pavel Borissovich Zimyanin. Three blown up spectacularly during a morning rush hour, and two murdered in St. Petersburg after having done the job--but killed for succeeding or failing?

"Well, let me know when you develop anything."

"I will do that, Oleg Gregoriyevich," Abramov promised.

The militia lieutenant hung up his phone and cleared his desk, putting all his "hot" files into the locked drawer, then he walked downstairs to his official car and drove to his favorite bar. Reilly was inside, and waved when he came through the door. Provalov hung up his coat on a hook and walked over to shake hands. He saw that a drink was waiting for him.

"You are a true comrade, Mishka," the Russian said to his American friend as he took his first slug.

"Hey, I know the problem, pal," the FBI agent said sympathetically.

"It is this way for you as well."

"Hell, when I was a brand-new brick agent, I started working the Gotti case. We busted our asses bagging that lowlife. Took three juries to put him in Marion. He's never coming back. Marion is a particularly nasty prison." Though "nasty" in American terms was different from the Russian. Russian prisons didn't really bear thinking about, though Reilly didn't worry much about that. People who broke the law in any society knew about the possible consequences going in, and what happened when they got caught was their problem, not his. "So, what's the story?"

"This Suvorov. We can't find him. Mishka, it is as if he doesn't exist."

"Really?" It both was and was not a surprise to Reilly. The former, because Russia, like many European societies, kept track of people in ways that would have started a Second American Revolution. The cops here were supposed to know where everybody lived, a carryover from the Bad Old Days when KGB had kept a third of the population as informers on the other two-thirds. It was an uncommon situation for the local cops not to be able to find someone.

The situation was not surprising, however, because if this Suvorov mutt really was a former KGB officer, then he'd been expertly trained to disappear, and that sort of adversary didn't just die of the dumbs, like most American and Russian hoods did. Nor would he die from talking too much. Your average criminals acted--well, like criminals. They bragged too much, and to the wrong people, other criminals for the most part, who had the loyalty of rattlesnakes and would sell out a "friend" as readily as taking a piss. No, this Suvorov guy, if he was who and what the informants said he was, was a pro, and they made interesting game for interesting hunts, and usually long hunts at that. But you always got them in the end, because the cops never stopped looking, and sooner or later, he'd make a mistake, maybe not a big one, but big enough. He wouldn't be hanging with his former buds in KGB, people who would help keep him hidden, and would only talk among themselves and then not much. No, he was in a different milieu now, not a friendly one, not a safe one, and that was just too damned bad. Reilly had occasionally felt a certain sympathy for a criminal, but never for a killer. There were some lines you just couldn't cross.

"He has dived into a hole and then covered it up from inside," the Russian said, with some frustration.

"Okay, what do we know about him?"

Provalov related what he'd just learned. "They say they will be asking whores if they might know him."

"Good call." Reilly nodded. "I bet he likes the high-end ones. Like our Miss Tanya, maybe. You know, Oleg, maybe he knew Avseyenko. Maybe he knows some of his girls."

"That is possible. I can have my men check them out as well."

"Can't hurt," the FBI agent agreed, waving to the bartender for a couple of refills. "You know, buddy, you've got yourself a real investigation happening here. I kinda wish I was on your force to help out."

"You enjoy this?"

"Bet your ass, Oleg. The harder the case, the more thrilling the chase. And it feels real good at the end when you bag the bastards. When we convicted Gotti, damn if we didn't have one big party in Manhattan. The Teflon Don," Reilly said, hoisting his glass, and telling the air, "Hope you like it in Marion, boy."

"This Gotti, he killed people, yes?" Provalov asked.

"Oh, yeah, some himself, and others he gave the orders. His number one boy, Salvatore Gravano--Sammy the Bull, they called him--turned government witness and helped make the case for us. So then we put Sammy in the witness-protection program, and the mutt starts dealing drugs again down in Arizona. So, Sammy's back inside. The dummy."

"They all are, as you say, criminals," Provalov pointed out.

"Yeah, Oleg, they are. They're too stupid to go straight. They think they can outsmart us. And y'know, for a while they do. But sooner or later..." Reilly took a sip and shook his head.

"Even this Suvorov, you think?"

Reilly smiled for his new friend. "Oleg, do you ever make a mistake?"

The Russian grunted. "At least once a day."

"So, why do you think they're any smarter than you are?" the FBI agent asked. "Everybody makes mistakes. I don't care if he's driving a garbage truck or President of the fucking United States. We all fuck up every so often. It's just part of being human. Thing is, if you recognize that fact, you can make it a lot further. Maybe this guy's been well trained, but we all have weaknesses, and we're not all smart enough to acknowledge them, and the smarter we are, the less likely we are to acknowledge them."

"You are a philosopher," Provalov said with a grin. He liked this American. They were of a kind, as though the gypsies had switched babies at birth or something.

"Maybe, but you know the difference between a wise man and a fool?"

"I am sure you will tell me." Provalov knew how to spot pontification half a block away, and the one approaching had flashing red lights on the roof.

"The difference between a wise man and a fool is the magnitude of his mistakes. You don't trust a fool with anything important." The vodka was making him wax rhapsodic, Reilly thought. "But a wise man you do, and so the fool doesn't have the chance to make a big screwup, while a wise man does. Oleg, a private can't lose a battle, but a general can. Generals are smart, right? You have to be real smart to be a doc, but docs kill people by accident all the time. It is the nature of man to make mistakes, and brains and training don't matter a rat-fuck. I make 'em. You make 'em." Reilly hoisted his glass again. "And so does Comrade Suvorov." It'll be his dick, Reilly thought. If he likes to play with hookers, it'll be his dick that does him in. Tough luck, bro. But he wouldn't be the first to follow his dick into trouble, Reilly knew. He probably wouldn't be the last, either.

So, did it all work?" Ming asked.

"Hmph?" Nomuri responded. This was strange. She was supposed to be in the afterglow period, his arm still around her, while they both smoked the usual after-sex cigarette.

"I did what you wished with my computer. Did it work?"

"I'm not sure," Nomuri tried as a reply. "I haven't checked."

"I do not believe that!" Ming responded, laughing. "I have thought about this. You have made me a spy!" she said, followed by a giggle.

"I did what?"

"You want me to make my computer accessible to you, so you can read all my notes, yes?"

"Do you care?" He'd asked her that once before, and gotten the right answer. Would it be true now? She'd sure as hell seen through his cover story. Well, that was no particular surprise, was it? If she weren't smart, she'd be useless as a penetration agent. But knowing what she was ... how patriotic was she? Had he read her character right? He didn't let his body tense next to hers, remarkably enough. Nomuri congratulated himself for mastering another lesson in the duplicity business.

A moment's contemplation, then: "No."

Nomuri tried not to let his breath out in too obvious an expression of relief.

"Well, then you need not concern yourself. From now on, you will do nothing at all."

"Except this?" she asked with yet another giggle.

"As long as I continue to please you, I suppose!"

"Master Sausage!"

"Huh?"

"Your sausage pleases me greatly," Ming explained, resting her head on his chest.

And that, Chester Nomuri thought, was sufficient to the moment.

Chapter 16

The Smelting of Gold

Pavel Petrovich Gogol could believe his eyes, but only because he'd seen the whole Red Army armored corps on the move in the Western Ukraine and Poland, when he was a younger man. The tracked vehicles he saw now were even bigger and knocked down most of the trees, those that weren't blown down by engineers with explosives. The short season didn't allow the niceties of tree-felling and road-laying they used in the effete West. The survey team had found the source of the gold dust with surprising ease, and now a team of civil and military engineers was pushing a road to the site, slashing a path across the tundra and through the trees, dropping tons of gravel on the path which might someday be properly paved, though such roads were a problem in these weather conditions. Over the roads would come heavy mining equipment, and building materials for the workers who would soon make their homes in what had been "his" woods. They told him that the mine would be named in his honor. That hadn't been worth much more than a spit. And they'd taken most of his golden wolf pelts--after paying for them and probably paying most generously, he allowed. The one thing they'd given him that he liked was a new rifle, an Austrian Steyr with a Zeiss scope in the American .338 Winchester Magnum caliber, more than ample for local game. The rifle was brand-new--he'd fired only fifteen rounds through it to make sure it was properly sighted in. The blued steel was immaculate, and the walnut stock was positively sensuous in its honeyed purity. How many Germans might he have killed with this! Gogol thought. And how many wolves and bear might he take now.

They wanted him to leave his river and his woods. They promised him weeks on the beaches at Sochi, comfortable apartments anywhere in the country. Gogol snorted. Was he some city pansy? No, he was a man of the woods, a man of the mountains, a man feared by the wolves and the bear, and even the tigers to the south had probably heard of him. This land was his land. And truth be told, he knew no other way to live, and was too old to learn one in any case. What other men called comforts he would call annoyances, and when his time came to die, he would be content to die in the woods and let a wolf or a bear pick over his corpse. It was only fair. He'd killed and skinned enough of them, after all, and good sport was good sport.

Well, the food they'd brought in--flown in, they'd told him--was pretty good, especially the beef, which was richer than his usual reindeer, and he had fresh tobacco for his pipe. The television reporters loved the pipe, and encouraged him to tell his story of life in the Siberian forests, and his best bear and wolf stories. But he'd never see the TV story they were doing on him; he was too far away from what they occasionally called "civilization" to have his own TV set. Still, he was careful to tell his stories carefully and clearly, so that the children and grandchildren he'd never had would see what a great man he'd been. Like all men, Gogol had a proper sense of self-worth, and he would have made a fine storyteller for any children's school, which hadn't occurred to any of the bureaucrats and functionaries who'd come to disturb his existence. Rather, they saw him as a TV personality, and an example of the rugged individualist whom the Russians had always worshipped on the one hand and brutally suppressed on the other.

But the real subject of the forty-minute story that was being put together by Russian national television wasn't really here. It was seventeen kilometers away, where a geologist tossed a gold nugget the size of his fist up and down like a baseball, though it weighed far more than the equivalent volume of iron. That was merely the biggest nugget they'd found. This deposit, the geology team explained to the cameras, was worthy of a tale from mythology, the garden, perhaps, of Midas himself. Exactly how rich it was they'd learn only from tunneling into the ground, but the chief of the geology team was willing to wager his professional reputation that it would beggar the South African mine, by far the richest found to date on the planet. Every day the tapes the cameras made were uploaded to the Russian communications satellite that spent most of its time hanging over the North Pole--much of the country is too far north to make proper use of the geosynchronous birds used by the rest of the world.

This was not a problem for the National Security Agency. NSA has stations worldwide, and the one located at Chicksands in England took the feed of the Russian satellite and instantly cross-loaded it to an American military-communications satellite, which dispatched the signal to Fort Meade, Maryland. Agreeably, the signal was not encrypted and so could be immediately forwarded to Russian linguists for translation, and then off it went to CIA and other national assets for evaluation. As it played out, the President of the United States would see the footage a week before the average Russian citizen.

"Damn, who is that guy, Jim Bridger?" Jack asked.

"His name is Pavel Petrovich Gogol. He's the guy credited with discovering the gold deposit. See," Ben Goodley said. The camera took in the row of gilded wolf pelts.

"Damn, those could be hung in the Smithsonian ... like something out of a George Lucas movie ..." SWORDSMAN observed.

"Or you could buy one for your wife," Goodley suggested.

POTUS shook his head. "Nah ... but ... maybe if it was a gilded sable coat ... you think the voters could handle it?"

"I think I defer on such questions to Mr. van Damm," the National Security Adviser said after a moment's consideration.

"Yeah, might be fun to see him have a cow right here in the Oval Office. This tape isn't classified, is it?"

"Yes, it is, but only 'confidential.' "

"Okay, I want to show this one to Cathy tonight." That level of classification wouldn't faze anybody, not even a major city newspaper.

"You want one with subtitles or a voice-over translation?"

"We both hate subtitles," Jack informed his aide, with a look.

"I'll have Langley get it done for you, then," Goodley promised.

"She'll flip out when she sees that pelt." With the money from his investment portfolio, Ryan had become a connoisseur of fine jewelry and furs. For the former, he had an arrangement with Blickman's, a very special firm in Rockefeller Center. Two weeks before the previous Christmas, one of their salespeople had come by train to Washington, accompanied by two armed guards, who hadn't been allowed into the White House proper--the outside guards had gone slightly nuts on learning that armed men were on campus, but Andrea Price-O'Day had smoothed that over--and shown the President about five million dollars' worth of estate jewelry, and some pieces newly made just across the street from their office, some of which Ryan had purchased. His reward had been to see Cathy's eyes pop nearly out of her head under the Christmas tree, and lament the fact that all she'd gotten him was a nice set of Taylor golf clubs. But that was fine with SWORDSMAN. To see his wife smile on Christmas morning was as fine a prize as he expected in life. Besides, it was proof that he had taste in jewelry, one of the better things for a man to have--at least in his woman's eyes. But damn, if he could have gotten her one of those wolf-fur coats ... could he cut a deal with Sergey Golovko? Jack wondered briefly. But where the hell could you wear such a thing? He had to be practical.

"Would look nice in the closet," Goodley agreed, seeing the distant look in his boss's eyes.

Color would go so nice with her butter-blond hair. Ryan mused on for a few more seconds, then shook his head to dismiss the thought.

"What else today?"

"SORGE has developed new information. It's being couriered down even as we speak."

"Important?"

"Mrs. Foley didn't say so, but you know how it works."

"Oh, yeah, even the minor stuff fits together into a real pretty picture when you need it." The major download still sat in his private safe. The sad truth was that while he did, technically, have the time to read it, that would have entailed taking time away from his family, and it would have had to have been really important for the President to do that.

So, what will the Americans do?" Fang asked Zhang.

"On the trade issue? They will, finally, bow to the inevitable, and grant us most-favored-nation status and remove their objection to our full entry into the World Trade Organization," the minister replied.

"None too soon," Fang Gan observed.

"That is true," Zhang Han San agreed. The financial conditions in the PRC had been well concealed to this point, which was one advantage of the communist form of government, both ministers would have agreed, if they had ever considered another form of government. The cold truth of the matter was that the PRC was nearly out of foreign exchange, having spent it mainly on armaments and arms-related technology all over the world. Only incidental goods had come from America--mainly computer chips, which could be used in nearly any sort of mechanical contrivance. The overtly military material they'd purchased came most often from Western Europe, and sometimes from Israel. America sold what arms it released to this part of the world to the renegades on Taiwan, who paid cash, of course. That was like a mosquito bite to the mainland regime, not large, not life-threatening, but an annoyance that they continuously scratched at, in the process making it worse instead of better. There were over a billion--a thousand million--people in mainland China, and less than thirty million on the island across the strait. The misnamed Republic of China used its people well, producing more than a quarter of the goods and services the PRC turned out in a given year with forty times as many workers and peasants. However, while the mainland coveted the goods and services and the riches that resulted, they did not covet the political and economic system that made it possible. Their system was far superior, of course, because theirs was the better ideology. Mao himself had said so.

Neither of these two Politburo members, nor any of the others, reflected much on the objective realities at hand. They were as certain in their beliefs as any Western clergyman was in his. They even ignored the self-evident fact that what prosperity the People's Republic possessed came from capitalist enterprise allowed by previous rulers, often over the screams and howls of other ministerial-rank politicians. The latter contented themselves by denying political influence to the people who were enriching their country, confident that this situation would go on forever, and that those businessmen and industrialists would be satisfied to make their money and live in relative luxury while they, the political theorists, continued to manage the nation's affairs. After all, the weapons and the soldiers belonged to them, didn't they? And power still grew out of the barrel of a gun.

"You are certain of this?" Fang Gan asked.

"Yes, Comrade, I am quite certain. We have been 'good' for the Yankees, haven't we? We have not rattled our saber at the Taiwanese bandits lately, have we?"

"What of American trade complaints?"

"Do they not understand business?" Zhang asked grandly. "We sell goods to them because of their quality and price. We shop the same way. Yes, I admit, their Boeing airplane company makes fine airplanes, but so does Airbus in Europe, and the Europeans have been more ... accommodating to us politically. America rants on about opening our markets to their goods, and we do this--slowly, of course. We need to keep the surplus they so kindly give us, and spend it on items of importance to us. Next, we will expand our automobile production and enter their auto market, as the Japanese once did. In five years, Fang, we will be taking another ten billion dollars from America annually--and that, my friend, is a very conservative estimate."

"You think so?"

An emphatic nod. "Yes! We will not make the mistake the Japanese made early on, selling ugly little cars. We are already looking for American styling engineers who will help us design automobiles which are aesthetically pleasing to the white devils."

"If you say so."

"When we have the money we need to build up our military, we will be the world's leading power in every respect. Industrially, we will lead the world. Militarily, we are at the center of the world."


"I fear these plans are too ambitious," Fang said cautiously. "They will take more years than we have to implement in any case, but what legacy will we leave to our country if we point her on a erroneous path?"

"What error is this, Fang?" Zhang asked. "Do you doubt our ideas?"

Always that question, Fang thought with an inward sigh. "I remember when Deng said, 'It doesn't matter if the cat is black or white, so long as it catches mice.' To which Mao responded with a livid snarl: 'What emperor said that?' "

"But it does matter, my old friend, and well you know it."

"That is true," Fang agreed with a submissive nod, not wanting a confrontation this late in the day, not when he had a headache. Age had made Zhang even more ideologically pure than he'd been in his youth, and it hadn't tempered his imperial ambition. Fang sighed once more. He was of a mind to set the issue aside. It wasn't worth the trouble. Though he'd mention it just once more, to cover his political backside.

"What if they don't?" Fang asked finally.

"What?"

"What if they don't go along? What if the Americans are troublesome on the trade issue?"

"They will not be," Zhang assured his old friend.

"But if they are, Comrade, what then will we do? What are our options?"

"Oh, I suppose we could punish with one hand and encourage with the other, cancel some purchases from America and then inquire about making some other ones. It's worked before many times," Zhang assured his guest. "This President Ryan is predictable. We need merely control the news. We will give him nothing to use against us."

Fang and Zhang continued their discussion into other issues, until the latter returned to his office, where, again, he dictated his notes of the discussion to Ming, who then typed them into her computer. The minister considered inviting her to his apartment, but decided against it. Though she'd become somewhat more attractive in the preceding weeks, catching his eye with her gentle smiles in the outer office, it had been a long day for him, and he was too tired for it, enjoyable though it often was with Ming. Minister Fang had no idea that his dictation would be in Washington, D.C., in less than three hours.

What do you think, George?"

"Jack," TRADER began, "what the hell is this, and how the hell did we get it?"

"George, this is an internal memorandum--well, of sorts--from the government of the People's Republic of China. How we got it, you do not, repeat, not need to know."

The document had been laundered--scrubbed--better than Mafia income. All the surnames had been changed, as had the syntax and adjectives, to disguise patterns of speech. It was thought--hoped would be a better term--that even those whose discourse was being reported would not have recognized their own words. But the content had been protected--even improved, in fact, since the nuances of Mandarin had been fully translated into American English idiom. That had been the hardest part. Languages do not really translate into one another easily or well. The denotations of words were one thing. The connotations were another, and these never really paralleled from one tongue to another. The linguists employed by the intelligence services were among the best in the country, people who regularly read poetry, and sometimes published journal pieces, under their own names, so that they could communicate their expertise in--and indeed, love of--their chosen foreign language with others of a similar mind. What resulted were pretty good translations, Ryan thought, but he was always a little wary of them.

"These cocksuckers! They're talking about how they plan to fuck us over." For all his money, George Winston retained the patois of his working-class origins.

"George, it's business, not personal," the President tried as a tension-release gambit.

The Secretary of the Treasury looked up from the briefing document. "Jack, when I ran Columbus Group, I had to regard all of my investors as my family, okay? Their money had to be as important to me as my money. That was my professional obligation as an investment counselor."

Jack nodded. "Okay, George. That's why I asked you into the cabinet. You're honest."

"Okay, but now, I'm Sec-fucking-Treas, okay? That means that every citizen in our country is part of my family, and these Chink bastards are planning to fuck with my country--all those people out there"--Secretary Winston waved toward the thick windows of the Oval Office--"the ones who trust us to keep the economy leveled out. So, they want MFN, do they? They want into the WTO, do they? Well, fuck them!"

President Ryan allowed himself an early-morning laugh, wondering if the Secret Service detail had heard George's voice, and might now be looking through the spy holes in the door to see what the commotion was. "Coffee and croissants, George. The grape jelly is Smuckers, even."

TRADER stood and walked around the couch, tossing his head forcefully like a stallion circling a mare in heat. "Okay, Jack, I'll cool down, but you're used to this shit, and I'm not." He paused and sat back down. "Oh, okay, up on The Street we trade jokes and stories, and we even plot a little bit, but deliberately fucking people over--no! I've never done that! And you know what's worst?"

"What's that, George?"

"They're stupid, Jack. They think they can mess with the marketplace according to their little political theories, and it'll fall into line like a bunch of soldiers right out of boot camp. These little bastards couldn't run a Kmart and show a profit, but they let them dick around with a whole national economy--and then they want to dick with ours, too."

"Got it all out of your system?"

"Think this is funny?" Winston asked crossly.

"George, I've never seen you get this worked up. I'm surprised by your passion."

"Who do you think I am, Jay Gould?"

"No," Ryan said judiciously. "I was thinking more of J. P. Morgan." The remark had the desired effect. SecTreas laughed.

"Okay, you got me there. Morgan was the first actual Chairman of the Fed, and he did it as a private citizen, and did it pretty well, but that's probably an institutional function, 'cuz there ain't that many J. P. Morgans waiting around on deck. Okay, Mr. President, sir, I am calmed down. Yes, this is business, not personal. And our reply to this miserable business attitude will be business, too. The PRC will not get MFN. They will not get into the WTO--as a practical matter, they don't deserve it yet anyway, based on the size of their economy. And, I think we rattle the Trade Reform Act at them nice and hard. Oh, there's one other thing, and I'm surprised it's not in here," Winston said, pointing down at the briefing sheet.

"What's that?"

"We can get 'em by the short hairs pretty easy, I think. CIA doesn't agree, but Mark Gant thinks their foreign-exchange account's a little thin."

"Oh?" the President asked, stirring his coffee.

Winston nodded emphatically. "Mark's my tech-weenie, remember. He's very good at modeling stuff on the computers. I've set him up with his own little section to keep an eye on various things. Pulled the professor of economics out of Boston University to work there, Morton Silber, another good man with the microchips. Anyway, Mark's been looking at the PRC, and he thinks they're driving off the edge of the Grand Canyon because they've been pissing away their money, mainly on military hardware and heavy-manufacturing equipment, like to make tanks and things. It's a repeat of the old communist stuff, they have a fixation on heavy industry. They are really missing the boat on electronics. They have little companies manufacturing computer games and stuff, but they're not applying it at home, except for that new computer factory they set up that's ripping off Dell."

"So you think we ought to shove that up their ass at the trade negotiations?"

"I'm going to recommend it to Scott Adler at lunch this afternoon, as a matter of fact," SecTreas agreed. "They've been warned, but this time we're going to press it hard."

"Back to their foreign exchange account. How bad is it?"

"Mark thinks they're down to negative reserves."

"In the hole? For how much?" POTUS asked.

"He says at least fifteen billion, floated with paper out of German banks for the most part, but the Germans have kept it quiet--and we're not sure why. It could be a normal transaction, but either the Germans or the PRC wants to keep it under wraps."

"Wouldn't be the Germans, would it?" Ryan asked next.

"Probably not. It makes their banks look good. And, yeah, that leaves the Chinese covering it up."

"Any way to confirm that?"

"I have some friends in Germany. I can ask around, or have a friend do it for me. Better that way, I guess. Everybody knows I'm a government employee now, and that makes me sinister," Winston observed with a sly grin. "Anyway, I am having lunch with Scott today. What do I tell him about the trade negotiations?'

Ryan thought about that for several seconds. This was one of those moments--the frightening ones, as he thought of them--when his words would shape the policy of his own country, and, possibly, others as well. It was easy to be glib or flip, to say the first thing that popped into his mind, but, no, he couldn't do that. Moments like this were too important, too vast in their potential consequences, and he couldn't allow himself to make government policy on a whim, could he? He had to think the matter through, quickly perhaps, but through.

"We need China to know that we want the same access to their markets that we've given them to ours, and that we won't tolerate their stealing products from American companies without proper compensation. George, I want the playing field level and fair for everyone. If they don't want to play that way, we start hurting them."

"Fair enough, Mr. President. I will pass that message along to your Secretary of State. Want I should deliver this, too?" Winston asked, holding up his SORGE briefing sheet.

"No, Scott gets his own version of it. And, George, be very, very careful with that. If the information leaks, a human being will lose his life," SWORDSMAN told TRADER, deliberately disguising the source as a man, and therefore deliberately misleading his Secretary of the Treasury. But that, too, was business, and not personal.

"It goes into my confidential files." Which was a pretty secure place, they both knew. "Nice reading the other guy's mail, isn't it?"

"Just about the best intelligence there is," Ryan agreed.

"The guys at Fort Meade, eh? Tapping into somebody's cell phone via satellite?"

"Sources and methods--you really don't want to know that, George. There's always the chance that you'll spill it to the wrong person by mistake, and then you have some guy's life on your conscience. Something to be avoided, trust me."

"I hear you, Jack. Well, I have a day to start. Thanks for the coffee and the pastry, Boss."

"Any time, George. Later." Ryan turned to his appointment calendar as the Secretary walked out the corridor door, from which he'd go downstairs, cross outside because the West Wing wasn't directly connected to the White House proper, dart back inside, and head off into the tunnel leading to Treasury.

Outside Ryan's office, the Secret Service detail went over the appointment list also, but their copy also included the results of a National Crime Information Computer check, to make sure that no convicted murderer was being admitted into the Sanctum Sanctorum of the United States of America.

Chapter 17

The Coinage of Gold

Scott Adler was regarded as too young and inexperienced for the job, but that judgment came from would-be political appointees who'd schemed their way to near-the-top, whereas Adler had been a career foreign-service officer since his graduation from Tufts University's Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy twenty-six years earlier. Those who'd seen him work regarded him as a very astute diplomatic technician. Those who played cards with him--Adler liked to play poker before a major meeting or negotiation--thought he was one very lucky son of a bitch.

His seventh-floor office at the State Department building was capacious and comfortable. Behind his desk was a credenza covered with the usual framed photographs of spouse, children, and parents. He didn't like wearing his suit jacket at his desk, as he found it too confining for comfort. In this he'd outraged some of the senior State Department bureaucrats, who thought this an entirely inappropriate informality. He did, of course, don the jacket for important meetings with foreign dignitaries, but he didn't think internal meetings were important enough to be uncomfortable for.

That suited George Winston, who tossed his coat over a chair when he came in. Like himself, Scott Adler was a working guy, and those were the people with whom Winston was most comfortable. He might be a career government puke, but the son of a bitch had a work ethic, which was more than he could say for too many of the people in his own department. He was doing his best to weed the drones out, but it was no easy task, and civil-service rules made firing unproductive people a non-trivial exercise.

"Have you read the Chinese stuff?" Adler asked, as soon as the lunch tray was on the table.

"Yeah, Scott. I mean, holy shit, fella," TRADER observed to EAGLE.

"Welcome to the club. The intelligence stuff we get can be very interesting." The State Department had its own spook service, called Intelligence and Research, or I&R, which, while it didn't exactly compete with CIA and the other services, occasionally turned up its own rough little diamonds from the thick diplomatic mud. "So, what do you think of our little yellow brothers?"

Winston managed not to growl. "Buddy, I might not even eat their goddamned food anymore."

"They make our worst robber barons look like Mother Teresa. They're conscienceless motherfuckers, George, and that's a fact." Winston immediately started liking Adler more. A guy who talked like this had real possibilities. Now it was his turn to be coldly professional to counterpoint Adler's working-class patois.

"They're ideologically driven, then?"

"Totally--well, maybe with a little corruption thrown in, but remember, they figure that their political astuteness entitles them to live high on the hog, and so to them it's not corruption at all. They just collect tribute from the peasants, and 'peasant' is a word they still use over there."

"In other words, we're dealing with dukes and earls?"

The Secretary of State nodded. "Essentially, yes. They have an enormous sense of personal entitlement. They are not used to hearing the word 'no' in any form, and as a result they don't always know what to do when they do hear it from people like me. That's why they're often at a disadvantage in negotiations--at least, when we play hardball with them. We haven't done much of that, but last year, after the Airbus shoot-down I came on a little strong, and then we followed up with official diplomatic recognition of the ROC government on Taiwan. That really put the PRC noses seriously out of joint, even though the ROC government hasn't officially declared its independence."

"What?" Somehow SecTreas had missed that.

"Yeah, the people on Taiwan play a pretty steady and reasonable game. They've never really gone out of their way to offend the mainland. Even though they have embassies all over the world, they've never actually proclaimed the fact that they're an independent nation. That would flip the Beijing Chinese out. Maybe the guys in Taipei think it would be bad manners or something. At the same time, we have an understanding that Beijing knows about. If somebody messes with Taiwan, Seventh Fleet comes over to keep an eye on things, and we will not permit a direct military threat to the Republic of China government. The PRC doesn't have enough of a navy to worry our guys that much, and so all that flies back and forth, really, is words." Adler looked up from his sandwich. "Sticks and stones, y'know?"

"Well, I had breakfast with Jack this morning, and we talked about the trade talks."

"And Jack wants to play a little rougher?" SecState asked. It wasn't much of a surprise. Ryan had always preferred fair play, and that was often a rare commodity in the intercourse among nation-states.

"You got it," Winston confirmed around a bite of his sandwich. One thing about working-class people like Adler, the SecTreas thought, they knew what a proper lunch was. He was so tired of fairyfied French food for lunch. Lunch was supposed to be a piece of meat with bread wrapped around it. French cuisine was just fine, but for dinner, not for lunch.

"How rough?"

"We get what we want. We need them to get accustomed to the idea that they need us a hell of a lot more than we need them."

"That's a tall order, George. If they don't want to listen?"

"Knock louder on the door, or on their heads. Scott, you read the same document this morning I did, right?"

"Yeah," SecState confirmed.

"The people they're cheating out of their jobs are American citizens."

"I know that. But what you have to remember is that we can't dictate to a sovereign country. The world doesn't work that way."

"Okay, fine, but we can tell them that they can't dictate trade practices to us, either."

"George, for a long time America has taken a very soft line on these issues."

"Maybe, but the Trade Reform Act is now law--"

"Yeah, I remember. I also remember how it got us into a shooting war," Adler reminded his guest.

"We won. I remember that, too. Maybe other people will as well. Scott, we're running a huge trade deficit with the Chinese. The President says that has to stop. I happen to agree. If we can buy from them, then they damned well have to buy from us, or we buy our chopsticks and teddy bears elsewhere."

"There are jobs involved," Adler warned. "They know how to play that card. They cancel contracts and stop buying our finished goods, and then some of our people lose their jobs, too."

"Or, if we succeed, then we sell more finished goods to them, and our factories have to hire people to make them. Play to win, Scott," Winston advised.

"I always do, but this isn't a baseball game with rules and fences. It's like racing a sailboat in the fog. You can't always see your adversary, and you can damned near never see the finish line."

"I can buy you some radar, then. How about I give you one of my people to help out?"

"Who?"

"Mark Gant. He's my computer whiz. He really knows the issues from a technical, monetary point of view."

Adler thought about that. State Department had always been weak in that area. Not too many business-savvy people ended up in the Foreign Service, and learning it from books wasn't the same as living it out in the real world, a fact that too many State Department "professionals" didn't always appreciate as fully as they should.

"Okay, send him over. Now, just how rough are we supposed to play this?"

"Well, I guess you'll need to talk that one over with Jack, but from what he told me this morning, we want the playing field leveled out."

An easy thing to say, Adler thought, but less easy to accomplish. He liked and admired President Ryan, but he wasn't blind to the fact that SWORDSMAN was not the most patient guy in the world, and in diplomacy, patience was everything--hell, patience was just about the only thing. "Okay," he said, after a moment's reflection. "I'll talk it over with him before I tell my people what to say. This could get nasty. The Chinese play rough."

"Life's a bitch, Scott," Winston advised.

SecState smiled. "Okay, duly noted. Let me see what Jack says. So, how's the market doing?"

"Still pretty healthy. Price/earnings ratios are still a little outrageous, but profits are generally up, inflation is under control, and the investment community is nice and comfy. The Fed Chairman is keeping a nice, even strain on monetary policy. We're going to get the changes we want in the tax code. So, things look pretty good. It's always easier to steer the ship in calm seas, y'know?"

Adler grimaced. "Yeah, I'll have to try that sometime." But he had marching orders to lay on a typhoon. This would get interesting.

So, how's readiness?" General Diggs asked his assembled officers.

"Could be better," the colonel commanding 1st Brigade admitted. "We've been short lately on funds for training. We have the hardware, and we have the soldiers, and we spend a lot of time in the simulators, but that's not the same as going out in the dirt with our tracks." There was general nodding on that point.

"It's a problem for me, sir," said Lieutenant Colonel Angelo Giusti, who commanded 1st Squadron, 4th Armored Cavalry Regiment. Known within the Army as the Quarter Horse for the 1st/4th unit designator, it was the division reconnaissance screen, and its commander reported directly to the commanding general of First Tanks instead of through a brigade commander. "I can't get my people out, and it's hard to train for reconnaissance in the kazerne. The local farmers get kinda irate when we crunch through their fields, and so we have to pretend we can do recon from hard-surface roads. Well, sir, we can't, and that bothers me some."

There was no denying the fact that driving armored vehicles across a cornfield was tough on the corn, and while the U.S. Army trailed every tactical formation with a Hummer whose passengers came with a big checkbook to pay for the damage, the Germans were a tidy people, and Yankee dollars didn't always compensate for the suddenly untidy fields. It had been easier when the Red Army had been right on the other side of the fence, threatening death and destruction on West Germany, but Germany was now one sovereign country, and the Russians were now on the far side of Poland, and a lot less threatening than they'd once been. There were a few places where large formations could exercise, but those were as fully booked as the prettiest debutante's dance card at the cotillion, and so the Quarter Horse spent too much time in simulators, too.

"Okay," Diggs said. "The good news is that we're going to profit from the new federal budget. We have lots more funds to train with, and we can start using them in twelve days. Colonel Masterman, do you have some ways for us to spend it?"

"Well, General, I think I might come up with something. Can we pretend that it's nineteen-eighty-three again?" At the height of the Cold War, Seventh Army had trained to as fine an edge as any army in history, a fact ultimately demonstrated in Iraq rather than in Germany, but with spectacular effect. Nineteen eighty-three had been the year the increased funding had first taken real effect, a fact noted fully by the KGB and GRU intelligence officers, who'd thought until that time that the Red Army might have had a chance to defeat NATO. By 1984, even the most optimistic Russian officers fell off that bandwagon for all time. If they could reestablish that training regimen, the assembled officers all knew they'd have a bunch of happy soldiers, because, though training is hard work, it is what the troops had signed up for. A soldier in the field is most often a happy soldier.

"Colonel Masterman, the answer to your question is, Yes. Back to my original question. How's readiness?"

"We're at about eighty-five percent," 2nd Brigade estimated. "Probably ninety or so for the artillery--"

"Thank you, Colonel, and I agree," the colonel commanding divisional artillery interjected.

"But we all know how easy life is for the cannon-cockers," 2nd Brigade added as a barb.

"Aviation?" Diggs asked next.

"Sir, my people are within three weeks of being at a hundred percent. Fortunately, we don't squash anybody's corn when we're up practicing. My only complaint is that it's too easy for my people to track tanks on the ground if they're road-bound, and a little more realistic practice wouldn't hurt, but, sir, I'll put my aviators up against anyone in this man's army, especially my Apache drivers." The "snake" drivers enjoyed a diet of raw meat and human babies. The problems they'd had in Yugoslavia a few years earlier had alarmed a lot of people, and the aviation community had cleaned up its act with alacrity.

"Okay, so you're all in pretty good shape, but you won't mind sharpening the edge up a little, eh?" Diggs asked, and got the nods he expected. He'd read up on all his senior officers on the flight across the pond. There was little in the way of dead wood here. The Army had less trouble than the other services in holding on to good people. The airlines didn't try to hire tank commanders away from 1st Armored, though they were always trying to steal fighter and other pilots from the Air Force, and while police forces loved to hire experienced infantrymen, his division had only about fifteen hundred of them, which was the one structural weakness in an armored division: not enough people with rifles and bayonets. An American tank division was superbly organized to take ground--to immolate everyone who happened to be on real estate they wanted--but not so well equipped to hold the ground they overran. The United States Army had never been an army of conquest. Indeed, its ethos has always been liberation, and part and parcel of that was the expectation that the people who lived there would be of assistance, or at least show gratitude for their deliverance, rather than hostility. It was so much a part of the American military's history that its senior members rarely, if ever, thought about other possibilities. Vietnam was too far in the past now. Even Diggs had been too young for that conflict, and though he'd been told how lucky he was to have missed it, it was something he almost never thought about. Vietnam had not been his war, and he didn't really want to know about light infantry in the jungle. He was a cavalryman, and his idea of combat was tanks and Bradleys on open ground.

"Okay, gentlemen. I'll want to meet with all of you individually in the next few days. Then I need to come out and see your outfits. You will find that I'm a fairly easy guy to work for"--by which he meant that he wasn't a screamer, as some general officers were; he demanded excellence as much as anyone else, but he didn't think ripping a man's head off in public was a good way to achieve it--"and I know you're all pretty good. In six months or less, I want this division ready to deal with anything that might come down the road. I mean anything at all."

Who might that be, Colonel Masterman mused to himself, the Germans? It might be a little harder to motivate the troops, given the total absence of a credible threat, but the sheer joy of soldiering was not all that much different from the kick associated with football. For the right guy, it was just plain fun to play in the mud with the big toys, and after a while, they started wondering what the real thing might be like. There was a leavening of troops in First Tanks from the 10th and 11th Cavalry Regiments who'd fought the previous year in Saudi Arabia, and like all soldiers, they told their stories. But few of the stories were unhappy ones. Mainly they expounded on how much like training it had been, and referred to their then-enemies as "poor, dumb raghead sunsabitches" who'd been, in the final analysis, unworthy of their steel. But that just made them swagger a little more. A winning war leaves only good memories for the most part, especially a short winning war. Drinks would be hoisted, and the names of the lost would be invoked with sadness and respect, but the overall experience had not been a bad one for the soldiers involved.

It wasn't so much that soldiers lusted for combat, just that they often felt like football players who practiced hard but never actually got to play for points. Intellectually, they knew that combat was the game of death, not football, but that was too theoretical for most of them. The tankers fired their practice rounds, and if the pop-up targets were steel, there was the satisfaction of seeing sparks from the impact, but it wasn't quite the same as seeing the turret pop off the target atop a column of flame and smoke ... and knowing that the lives of three or four people had been extinguished like a birthday-cake candle in front of a five-year-old. The veterans of the Second Persian Gulf War did occasionally talk about what it was like to see the results of their handiwork, usually with a "Jesus, it was really something awful to see, bro," but that was as far as it went. For soldiers, killing wasn't really murder once you stepped back from it; they'd been the enemy, and both had played the game of death on the same playing field, and one side had won, and the other side had lost, and if you weren't willing to run that risk, well, don't put the uniform on, y'know? Or, "Train better, asshole, cuz we be serious out here." And that was the other reason soldiers liked to train. It wasn't just interesting and fairly enjoyable hard work. It was life insurance if the game ever started for real, and soldiers, like gamblers, like to hold good cards.

Diggs adjourned the meeting, waving for Colonel Masterman to stay behind.

"Well, Duke?"

"I've been nosing around. What I've seen is pretty good, sir. Giusti is especially good, and he's always bitching about training time. I like that."

"So do I," Diggs agreed at once. "What else?"

"Like the man said, artillery is in very good shape, and your maneuver brigades are doing okay, considering the lack of field time. They might not like using the sims all that much, but they are making good use of them. They're about twenty percent off where we were in the Tenth Cav down in the Negev playing with the Israelis, and that isn't bad at all. Sir, you give me three or four months in the field, and they'll be ready to take on the world."

"Well, Duke, I'll write you the check next week. Got your plans ready?"

"Day after tomorrow. I'm taking some helicopter rides to scout out the ground we can use and what we can't. There's a German brigade says they're eager to play aggressor for us."

"They any good?"

"They claim to be. I guess we'll just have to see. I recommend we send Second Brigade out first. They're a little sharper than the other two. Colonel Lisle is our kind of colonel."

"His package looks pretty good. He'll get his star next go-round."

"About right," Masterman agreed. And what about my star? he couldn't ask. He figured himself a pretty good bet, but you never really knew. Oh, well, at least he was working for a fellow cavalryman.

"Okay, show me your plans for Second Brigade's next adventure in the farmland ... tomorrow?"

"The broad strokes, yes, sir." Masterman bobbed his head and walked off toward his office.

How rough?" Cliff Rutledge asked.

"Well," Adler replied, "I just got off the phone with the President, and he says he wants what he wants and it's our job to get it for him."

"That's a mistake, Scott," the Assistant Secretary of State warned.

"Mistake or not, we work for the President."

"I suppose so, but Beijing's been pretty good about not tearing us a new asshole over Taiwan. This might not be the right time for us to press on them so hard."

"Even as we speak, American jobs are being lost because of their trade policy," Adler pointed out. "When does enough become too much?"

"I guess Ryan decides that, eh?"

"That's what the Constitution says."

"And you want me to meet with them, then?"

SecState nodded. "Correct. Four days from now. Put your position paper together and run it past me before we deliver it, but I want them to know we're not kidding. The trade deficit has to come down, and it has to come down soon. They can't make that much money off us and spend it somewhere else."

"But they can't buy military hardware from us," Rutledge observed.

"What do they need all that hardware for?" Scott Adler asked rhetorically. "What external enemies do they have?"

"They'll say that their national security is their affair."

"And we reply that our economic security is our affair, and they're not helping." That meant observing to the PRC that it looked as though they were preparing to fight a war--but against whom, and was that a good thing for the world? Rutledge would ask with studied sangfroid.

Rutledge stood. "Okay, I can present our case. I'm not fully comfortable with it, but, well, I suppose I don't have to be, do I?"

"Also correct." Adler didn't really like Rutledge all that much. His background and advancement had been more political than properly earned. He'd been very tight with former Vice President Kealty, for example, but after that incident had settled out, Cliff had dusted off his coattails with admirable speed. He would probably not get another promotion. He'd gone as far as one could go without really serious political ties--say a teaching position at the Kennedy School at Harvard, where one taught and became a talking head on the PBS evening news hour and waited to be noticed by the right political hopeful. But that was pure luck. Rutledge had come further than actual merit could justify, but with it came a comfortable salary and a lot of prestige on the Washington cocktail-party circuit, where he was on most of the A lists. And that meant that when he left government service, he'd increase his income by an order of magnitude or so with some consulting firm or other. Adler knew he could do the same, but probably wouldn't. He'd probably take over the Fletcher School at Tufts and try to pass along what he'd learned to a new generation of would-be diplomats. He was too young for real retirement, though there was little in the way of a government afterlife from being Secretary of State, and academia wouldn't be too bad. Besides, he'd get to do the odd consulting job, and do op-ed pieces for the newspapers, where he would assume the role of elder-statesman sage.

"Okay, let me get to work." Rutledge walked out and turned left to head to his seventh-floor office.

Well, this was a plum, the Assistant Secretary thought, even if it was the wrong plum. The Ryan guy was not what he thought a president should be. He thought international discourse was about pointing guns at people's heads and making demands, instead of reasoning with them. Rutledge's way took longer, but was a lot safer. You had to give something to get something. Well, sure, there wasn't much left to give the PRC, except maybe renouncing America's diplomatic recognition of Taiwan. It wasn't hard to understand the reason they'd done it, but it had still been a mistake. It made the PRC unhappy, and you couldn't let some damned-fool "principle" get in the way of international reality. Diplomacy, like politics--another area in which Ryan was sadly lacking--was a practical business. There were a billion people in the People's Republic, and you had to respect that. Sure, Taiwan had a democratically elected government and all that, but it was still a breakaway province of China, and that made it an internal matter. Their civil war was a fifty-plus-year affair, but Asia was a place where people took the long-term view.

Hmm, he thought, sitting down at his desk. We want what we want, and we're going to get what we want ... Rutledge took out a legal pad and leaned back in his chair to make some notes. It might be the wrong policy. It might be dumb policy. It might be policy he disagreed with. But it was policy, and if he ever wanted to be kicked upstairs--actually to a different office on the same floor--to Undersecretary of State, he had to present the policy as though it were his own personal passion. It was like being a lawyer, Rutledge thought. They had to argue dumb cases all the time, didn't they? That didn't make them mercenaries. It made them professionals, and he was a professional.

And besides, he'd never been caught. One thing about Ed Kealty, he'd never told anybody how Rutledge had tried to help him be President. Duplicitous he might have been toward the President, but he'd been loyal to his own people about it, as a politician was supposed to be. And that Ryan guy, smart as he might have been, he'd never caught on. So there, Mr. President, Rutledge thought. You may be smart, you think, but you need me to formulate your policy for you. Ha!

This is a pleasant change, Comrade Minister," Bondarenko observed on coming in. Golovko waved him to a chair, and poured him a small glass of vodka, the fuel of a Russian business meeting. The visiting general-lieutenant took the obligatory sip and expressed his thanks for the formal hospitality. He most often came here after normal working hours, but this time he'd been summoned officially, and right after lunch. It would have made him uneasy--once upon a time, such an invitation to KGB headquarters would involve a quick trip to the men's room--except for his cordial relationship with Russia's chief spy.

"Well, Gennady Iosifovich, I've talked you and your ideas over with President Grushavoy, and you've had three stars for a long time. It is time, the president and I agreed, for you to have another, and a new assignment."

"Indeed?" Bondarenko wasn't taken aback, but he became instantly wary. It wasn't always pleasant to have one's career in others' hands, even others one liked.

"Yes. As of Monday next, you will be General-Colonel Bondarenko, and soon after that you will travel to become commander-in-chief of the Far East Military District."

That got his eyebrows jolting upward. This was the award of a dream he'd held in his own mind for some time. "Oh. May I ask, why there?"

"I happen to agree with your concerns regarding our yellow neighbors. I've seen some reports from the GRU about the Chinese army's continuing field exercises, and to be truthful, our intelligence information from Beijing is not all we would wish. Therefore, Eduard Petrovich and I feel that our eastern defenses might need some firming up. That becomes your job, Gennady. Do it well, and some additional good things might happen for you."

And that could only mean one thing, Bondarenko thought, behind an admirable poker face. Beyond the four stars of a general-colonel lay only the single large star of a marshal, and that was as high as any Russian soldier could go. After that, one could be commander-in-chief of the entire army, or defense minister, or one could retire to write memoirs.

"There are some people I'd like to take out to Chabarsovil with me, some colonels from my operations office," the general said contemplatively.

"That is your prerogative, of course. Tell me, what will you wish to do out there?"

"Do you really want to know?" the newly frocked four-star asked.

Golovko smiled broadly at that. "I see. Gennady, you wish to remake the Russian army in your image?"

"Not my image, Comrade Minister. A winning image, such as we had in 1945. There are images one wishes to deface, and there are images one dares not touch. Which, do you think, ought we to have?"

"What will the costs be?"

"Sergey Nikolay'ch, I am not an economist, nor am I an accountant, but I can tell you that the cost of doing this will be far less than the cost of not doing it." And now, Bondarenko thought, he'd get wider access to whatever intelligence his country possessed. It'd have been better if Russia had spent the same resources on what the Americans delicately called National Technical Means--strategic reconnaissance satellites--that the Soviet Union had once done. But he'd get such as there was, and maybe he could talk the air force into making a few special flights ...

"I will tell that to President Grushavoy." Not that it would do all that much good. The cupboard was still bare of funding, though that could change in a few years.

"Will these new mineral discoveries in Siberia give us a little more money to spend?"

Golovko nodded. "Yes, but not for some years. Patience, Gennady."

The general took a final shot of the vodka. "I can be patient, but will the Chinese?"

Golovko had to grant his visitor's concern. "Yes, they are exercising their military forces more than they used to." What had once been a cause for concern had become, with its continuance, a matter of routine, and Golovko, like many, tended to lose such information in the seemingly random noise of daily life. "But there are no diplomatic reasons for concern. Relations between our countries are cordial."

"Comrade Minister, I am not a diplomat, nor am 1 an intelligence officer, but I do study history. I recall that the Soviet Union's relations with Hitler's Germany were cordial right up until June 23, 1941. The leading German elements passed Soviet trains running westbound with oil and grain to the fascisti. I conclude from this that diplomatic discourse is not always an indicator of a nation's intentions."

"That is true, and that is why we have an intelligence service."

"And then you will also recall that the People's Republic has in the past looked with envy on the mineral riches of Siberia. That envy has probably grown with the discoveries we have made. We have not publicized them, but we may assume that the Chinese have intelligence sources right here in Moscow, yes?"

"It is a possibility not to be discounted," Golovko admitted. He didn't add that those sources would most probably be true-believing communists from Russia's past, people who lamented the fall of their nation's previous political system, and saw in China the means, perhaps, to restore Russia to the true faith of Marxism-Leninism, albeit with a little Mao tossed in. Both men had been Communist Party members in their day: Bondarenko because advancement in the Soviet Army had absolutely demanded it, and Golovko because he would never have been entrusted with a post in KGB without it. Both had mouthed the words, and kept their eyes mostly open during party meetings, in both cases while checking out the women in the meetings or just day-dreaming about things of more immediate interest. But there were those who had listened and thought about it, who had actually believed all that political rubbish. Both Bondarenko and Golovko were pragmatists, interested mainly in a reality they could touch and feel rather than some model of words that might or might not come to pass someday. Fortunately for both, they'd found their way into professions more concerned with reality than theory, where their intellectual explorations were more easily tolerated, because men of vision were always needed, even in a nation where vision was supposed to be controlled. "But you will have ample assets to act upon your concerns."

Not really, the general thought. He'd have--what? Six motor-rifle divisions, a tank division, and a divisional formation of artillery, all regular-army formations at about seventy percent nominal strength and dubious training--that would be his first task, and not a minor one, to crack those uniformed boys into Red Army soldiers of the sort who had crushed the Germans at Kursk, and moved on to capture Berlin. That would be a major feat to accomplish, but who was better suited to this task? Bondarenko asked himself. There were some promising young generals he knew of, and maybe he'd steal one, but for his own age group Gennady Iosifovich Bondarenko felt himself to be the best brain in his nation's armed forces. Well, then, he'd have an active command and a chance to prove it. The chance of failure was always there, but men such as he are the kind who see opportunities where others see dangers.

"I presume I will have a free hand?" he asked, after some final contemplation.

"Within reason." Golovko nodded. "We'd prefer that you did not start a war out there."

"I have no desire to drive to Beijing. I have never enjoyed their cooking," Bondarenko replied lightly. And Russians should be better soldiers. The fighting ability of the Russian male had never been an issue for doubt. He just needed good training, good equipment, and proper leadership. Bondarenko thought he could supply two of those needs, and that would have to do. Already, his mind was racing east, thinking about his headquarters, what sort of staff officer he would find, whom he'd have to replace, and where the replacements would come from. There'd be drones out there, careerist officers just serving their time and filling out their forms, as if that were what it meant to be a field-grade officer. Those men would see their careers aborted--well, he'd give everyone thirty days to straighten up, and if he knew himself, he'd inspire some to rediscover their vocations. His best hope was in the individual soldiers, the young boys wearing their country's uniform indifferently because no one had told them exactly what they were and how important that thing was. But he'd fix that. They were soldiers, those boys. Guardians of their country, and they deserved to be proud guardians. With proper training, in nine months they'd wear the uniforms better, stand straighter, and swagger a bit on leave, as soldiers were supposed to do. He'd show them how to do it, and he'd become their surrogate father, pushing and cajoling his new crop of sons toward manhood. It was as worthy a goal as any man could wish, and as Commander-in-Chief Far East, he just might set a standard for his country's armed forces to emulate.

"So, Gennady Iosifovich, what do I tell Eduard Petrovich?" Golovko asked, as he leaned across the desk to give his guest a little more of the fine Starka vodka.

Bondarenko lifted the glass to salute his host. "Comrade Minister, you will please tell our president that he has a new CINC-Far East."

Chapter 18

Evolutions

The interesting part for Mancuso in his new job was that he now commanded aircraft, which he could fairly well understand, but also ground troops, which he hardly understood at all. This latter contingent included the 3rd Marine Division based on Okinawa, and the Army's 25th Light Infantry Division at Schofield Barracks on Oahu. Mancuso had never directly commanded more than one hundred fifty or so men, all of whom had been aboard his first and last real--as he thought of it--command, USS Dallas. That was a good number, large enough that it felt larger than even an extended family, and small enough that you knew every face and name. Pacific Command wasn't anything like that. The square of Dallas's crew didn't begin to comprise the manpower which he could direct from his desk.

He'd been through the Capstone course. That was a program designed to introduce new flag officers to the other branches of the service. He'd walked in the woods with Army soldiers, crawled in the mud with Marines, even watched an aerial refueling from the jump seat of a C-5B transport (the most unnatural act he ever expected to see, two airplanes mating in midair at three hundred knots), and played with the Army's heavy troops at Fort Irwin, California, where he'd tried his hand at driving and shooting tanks and Bradleys. But seeing it all and playing with the kids, and getting mud on his clothing, wasn't really the same as knowing it. He had some very rough ideas of what it looked and sounded and smelled like. He'd seen the confident look on the faces of men who wore uniforms of different color, and told himself about a hundred times that they were, really, all the same. The sergeant commanding an Abrams tank was little different in spirit from a leading torpedoman on a fast-attack boat, just not recently showered, and a Green Beret was little different from a fighter pilot in his godlike self-confidence. But to command such people effectively, he ought to know more, CINCPAC told himself. He ought to have had more "joint" training. But then he told himself that he could take the best fighter jock in the Air Force or the Navy, and even then it would take months for them to understand what he'd done on Dallas. Hell, just getting them to understand the importance of reactor safety would take a year--about what it had taken him to learn all those things once upon a time, and Mancuso wasn't a "nuc" by training. He'd always been a front-end guy. The services were all different in their feel for the mission, and that was because the missions were all as different in nature as a sheepdog was from a pit bull.

But he had to command them all, and do so effectively, lest he make a mistake that resulted in a telegram coming to Mrs. Smith's home to announce the untimely death of her son or husband because some senior officer had fucked up. Well, Admiral Bart Mancuso told himself, that was why he had such a wide collection of staff officers, including a surface guy to explain what that sort of target did (to Mancuso any sort of surface ship was a target), an Airedale to explain what naval aircraft did, a Marine and some soldiers to explain life in the mud, and some Air Force wing-wipers to tell him what their birds were capable of. All of them offered advice, which, as soon as he took it, became his idea alone, because he was in command, and command meant being responsible for everything that happened in or near the Pacific Ocean, including when some newly promoted E- 4 petty officer commented lustily on the tits of another E-4 who happened to have them--a recent development in the Navy, and one which Mancuso would just as soon have put off for another decade. They were even letting women on submarines now, and the admiral didn't regret having missed that one little bit. What the hell would Mush Morton and his crop of WWII submarines have made of that?

He figured he knew how to set up a naval exercise, one of those grand training evolutions in which half of 7th Fleet would administratively attack and destroy the other half, followed by the simulated forced-entry landing of a Marine battalion. Navy fighters would tangle with Air Force ones, and after it was all over, computer records would show who'd won and who'd lost, and bets of various sorts would be paid off in various bars--and there'd be some hard feelings, because fitness reports (and with them, careers) could ride on outcomes of simulated engagements.

Of all his services, Mancuso figured his submarine force was in the best shape, which made sense, since his previous job had been COMSUBPAC, and he'd ruthlessly whipped his boats into shape. And, besides, the little shooting war they'd engaged in two years before had given everyone the proper sense of mission, to the point that the crews of the boomers who'd laid on a submarine ambush worthy of Charlie Lockwood's best day still swaggered around when on the beach. The boomers remained in service as auxiliary fast-attacks because Mancuso had made his case to the CNO, who was his friend, Dave Seaton, and Seaton had made his case to Congress to get some additional funding, and Congress was nice and tame, what with two recent conflicts to show them that people in uniform did have more purposes than opening and closing doors for the people's elected representatives. Besides, the Ohio-class boats were just too expensive to throw away, and they were mainly off doing valuable oceanographic missions in the North Pacific, which appealed to the tree- (actually fish- and dolphin- in this case) huggers, who had far too much political power in the eyes of this white-suited warrior.

With every new day came his official morning briefing, usually run by Brigadier General Mike Lahr, his J-2 Intelligence Officer. This was particularly good news. On the morning of 7 December, 1941, the United States had learned the advantage of providing senior area commanders with the intelligence they might need, and so this CINCPAC, unlike Admiral Husband E. Kimmel, got to hear a lot.

"Morning, Mike," Mancuso said in greeting, while a chief steward's mate set up morning coffee.

"Good morning, sir," the one-star replied.

"What's new in the Pacific?"

"Well, top of the news this morning, the Russians have appointed a new guy to head their Far Eastern Military District. His name is Gennady Bondarenko. His last job was J-3 operations officer for the Russian army. His background's pretty interesting. He started off in signals, not a combat arm, but he distinguished himself in Afghanistan toward the end of that adventure on their part. He's got the Order of the Red Banner and he's a Hero of the Soviet Union--got both of those as a colonel. He moved rapidly up from there. Good political connections. He's worked closely with a guy named Golovko--he's a former KGB officer who's still in the spook business and is personally known to the President--ours, that is. Golovko is essentially the operational XO for the Russian President Grushavoy--like a chief minister or something. Grushavoy listens to him on a lot of issues, and he's a pipeline into the White House on matters 'of mutual interest.' "

"Great. So the Russians have Jack Ryan's ear via this guy. What sort of mensch is he?" CINCPAC asked.

"Very smart and very capable, our friends at Langley say. Anyway, back to Bondarenko. The book on the guy says he's also very smart and also very capable, a contender for further advancement. Brains and personal bravery can be career-enhancing in their military, just like ours."

"What sort of shape is his new command in?"

"Not very good at all, sir. We see eight division-sized formations, six motor-rifle divisions, one tank, and one artillery division. All appear to be under strength on our overheads, and they don't spend much time in the field. Bondarenko will change that, if he goes according to the form card."

"Think so?"

"As their J-3, he agitated for higher training standards--and he's a bit of an intellectual. He published a lengthy essay last year on the Roman legions. It was called 'Soldiers of the Caesars.' It had that great quote from Josephus, 'Their drills are bloodless battles and their battles are bloody drills.' Anyway, it was a straight historical piece, sources like Josephus and Vegetius, but the implication was clear. He was crying out for better training in the Russian army, and also for career NCOs. He spent a lot of time with Vegetius's discussion of how you build centurions. The Soviet army didn't really have sergeants as we understand the term, and Bondarenko is one of the new crop of senior officers who's saying that the new Russian army should reintroduce that institution. Which makes good sense," Lahr thought.

"So, you think he's going to whip his people into shape. What about the Russian navy?"

"They don't belong to him. He's got Frontal Aviation tactical aircraft and ground troops, but that's all."

"Well, their navy's so far down the shitter they can't see where the paper roll is," Mancuso observed. "What else?"

"A bunch of political stuff you can read up on at your leisure. The Chinese are still active in the field. They're running a four-division exercise now south of the Amur River."

"That big?"

"Admiral, they've been on an increased training regimen for almost three years now. Nothing frantic or anything, but they've been spending money to get the PLA up to speed. This one's heavy with tanks and APCs. Lots of artillery live-fire exercises. That's a good training area for them, not much in the way of civilians, kinda like Nevada but not as flat. At first when they started this we kept a close eye on it, but it's fairly routine now."

"Oh, yeah? What do the Russians think about it?"

Lahr stretched in his chair. "Sir, that's probably why Bondarenko drew this assignment. This is backward from how the Russians trained to fight. The Chinese have them heavily outnumbered in theater, but nobody sees hostilities happening. The politics are pretty smooth at the moment."

"Uh-huh," CINCPAC grunted behind his desk. "And Taiwan?"

"Some increased training near the strait, but those are mainly infantry formations, and nothing even vaguely like amphibious exercises. We keep a close eye on that, with help from our ROC friends."

Mancuso nodded. He had a filing cabinet full of plans to send 7th Fleet west, and there was almost always one of his surface ships making a "courtesy call" to that island. For his sailors, the Republic of China was one hell of a good liberty port, with lots of women whose services were subject to commercial negotiations. And having a gray U.S. Navy warship tied alongside pretty well put that city off-limits for a missile attack. Even scratching an American warship was classified delicately as a casus belli, a reason for war. And nobody thought the ChiComms were ready for that sort of thing yet. To keep things that way, Mancuso had his carriers doing constant workups, exercising their interceptor and strike-fighter forces in the manner of the 1980s. He always had at least one fast-attack or boomer slow-attack submarine in the Formosa Strait, too, something that was advertised only by casual references allowed to leak to the media from time to time. Only very rarely would a submarine make a local port call, however. They were more effective when not seen. But in another filing cabinet he had lots of periscope photos of Chinese warships, and some "hull shots," photos made from directly underneath, which was mainly good for testing the nerve of his submarine drivers.

He also occasionally had his people track ChiComm submarines, much as he'd done in Dallas against the former Soviet navy. But this was much easier. The Chinese nuclear-power plants were so noisy that fish avoided them to prevent damage to their ears, or so his sonarmen joked. As much as the PRC had rattled its saber at Taiwan, an actual attack, if opposed by his 7th Fleet, would rapidly turn into a bloody shambles, and he hoped Beijing knew that. If they didn't, finding out would be a messy and expensive exercise. But the ChiComms didn't have much in the way of amphibious capability yet, and showed no signs of building it.

"So, looks like a routine day in theater?" Mancuso asked, as the briefing wound down.

"Pretty much," General Lahr confirmed.

"What sort of assets do we have tasked to keep an eye on our Chinese friends?"

"Mainly overheads," the J-2 replied. "We've never had much in the way of human intelligence in the PRC--at least not that I ever heard about."

"Why is that?"

"Well, in simplest terms it would be kind of hard for you or me to disappear into their society, and most of our Asian citizens work for computer-software companies, last time I checked."

"Not many of them in the Navy. How about the Army?"

"Not many, sir. They're pretty underrepresented."

"I wonder why."

"Sir, I'm an intelligence officer, not a demographer," Lahr pointed out.

"I guess that job is hard enough, Mike. Okay, if anything interesting happens, let me know."

"You bet, sir." Lahr headed out the door, to be replaced by Mancuso's J-3 operations officer, who would tell him what all his theater assets were up to this fine day, plus which ships and airplanes were broken and needed fixing.

She hadn't gotten any less attractive, though getting her here had proven difficult. Tanya Bogdanova hadn't avoided anything, but she'd been unreachable for several days.

"You've been busy?" Provalov asked.

"Da, a special client," she said with a nod. "We spent time together in St. Petersburg. I didn't bring my beeper. He dislikes interruptions," she explained, without showing much in the way of remorse.

Provalov could have asked the cost of several days in this woman's company, and she would probably have told him, but he decided that he didn't need to know all that badly. She remained a vision, lacking only the white feathery wings to be an angel. Except for the eyes and the heart, of course. The former cold, and the latter nonexistent.

"I have a question," the police lieutenant told her.

"Yes?"

"A name. Do you know it? Klementi Ivan'ch Suvorov."

Her eyes showed some amusement. "Oh, yes. I know him well." She didn't have to elaborate on what "well" meant.

"What can you tell me about him?"

"What do you wish to know?"

"His address, for starters."

"He lives outside Moscow."

"Under what name?"

"He does not know that I know, but I saw his papers once. Ivan Yurievich Koniev."

"How do you know this?" Provalov asked.

"He was asleep, of course, and I went through his clothes," she replied, as matter-of-factly as if she'd told the militia lieutenant where she shopped for bread.

So, he fucked you, and you, in turn, fucked him, Provalov didn't say. "Do you remember his address?"

She shook her head. "No, but it's one of the new communities off the outer ring road."

"When did you last see him?"

"It was a week before Gregoriy Filipovich died," she answered at once.

It was then that Provalov had a flash: "Tanya, the night before Gregoriy died, whom did you see?"

"He was a former soldier or something, let me think ... Pyotr Alekseyevich ... something ..."

"Amalrik?" Provalov asked, almost coming off his seat.

"Yes, something like that. He had a tattoo on his arm, the Spetsnaz tattoo a lot of them got in Afghanistan. He thought very highly of himself, but he wasn't a very good lover," Tanya added dismissively.

And he never will be, Provalov could have said then, but didn't. "Who set up that, ah, appointment?"

"Oh, that was Klementi Ivan'ch. He had an arrangement with Gregoriy. They knew each other, evidently for a long time. Gregoriy often made special appointments for Klementi's friends."

Suvorov had one or both of his killers fuck the whores belonging to the man they would kill the next day ... ? Whoever Suvorov was, he had an active sense of humor ... or the real target actually had been Sergey Nikolay'ch. Provalov had just turned up an important piece of information, but it didn't seem to illuminate his criminal case at all. Another fact which only made his job harder, not easier. He was back to the same two possibilities: This Suvorov had contracted the two Spetsnaz soldiers to kill Rasputin, and then had them killed as "insurance" to avoid repercussions. Or he'd contracted them to eliminate Golovko, and then killed them for making a serious error. Which? He'd have to find this Suvorov to find out. But now he had a name and a probable location. And that was something he could work on.

Chapter 19

Manhunting

Things had quieted down at Rainbow headquarters in Hereford, England, to the point that both John Clark and Ding Chavez were starting to show the symptoms of restlessness. The training regimen was as demanding as ever, but nobody had ever drowned in sweat, and the targets, paper and electronic were--well, if not as satisfying as a real human miscreant wasn't the best way to put it, then maybe not as exciting was the right phrase. But the Rainbow team members didn't say that, even among themselves, for fear of appearing bloodthirsty and unprofessional. To them the studied mental posture was that it was all the same. Practice was bloodless battle, and battle was bloody drill. And certainly by taking their training so seriously, they were still holding a very fine edge. Fine enough to shave the fuzz off a baby's face.

The team had never gone public, at least not per se. But the word had leaked out somehow. Not in Washington, and not in London, but somewhere on the continent, the word had gotten out that NATO now had a very special and very capable counterterrorist team that had raped and pillaged its way through several high-profile missions, and only once taken any lumps, at the hands of Irish terrorists who had, however, paid a bitter price for their misjudgment. The European papers called them the "Men of Black" for their assault uniforms, and in their relative ignorance the European newsies had somehow made Rainbow even more fierce than reality justified. Enough so that the team had deployed to the Netherlands for a mission seven months before, a few weeks after the first news coverage had broken, and when the bad guys at the grammar school had found there were new folks in the neighborhood, they'd stumbled through a negotiating session with Dr. Paul Bellow and cut a deal before hostilities had to be initiated, which was pleasing for everyone. The idea of a shoot-out in a school full of kids hadn't even appealed to the Men of Black.

Over the last several months, some members had been hurt or rotated back to their parent services, and new members had replaced them. One of these was Ettore Falcone, a former member of the Carabinieri sent to Hereford as much for his own protection as to assist the NATO team. Falcone had been walking the streets of Palermo in Sicily with his wife and infant son one pleasant spring evening when a shoot-out had erupted right before his eyes. Three criminals were hosing a pedestrian, his wife, and their police bodyguard with submachine guns, and in an instant Falcone had pulled out his Beretta and dropped all three with head shots from ten meters away. His action had been too late to save the victims, but not too late to incur the wrath of a capo mafioso, two of whose sons had been involved in the hit. Falcone had publicly spat upon the threat, but cooler heads had prevailed in Rome--the Italian government did not want a blood feud to erupt between the Mafia and its own federal police agency--and Falcone had been dispatched to Hereford to be the first Italian member of Rainbow. He had quickly proven himself to be the best pistol shot anyone had ever seen.

"Damn," John Clark breathed, after finishing his fifth string of ten shots. This guy had beaten him again! They called him Big Bird. Ettore--Hector--was about six-three and lean like a basketball player, the wrong size and shape for a counterterror trooper, but, Jesus, could this son of a bitch shoot!

"Grazie, General," the Italian said, collecting the five-pound note that had accompanied this blood feud.

And John couldn't even bitch that he'd done it for real, whereas Big Bird had only done it with paper. This spaghetti-eater had dropped three guys armed with SMGs, and done it with his wife and kid next to him. Not just a talented shooter, this guy had two big brass ones dangling between his legs. And his wife, Anna-Maria, was reputed to be a dazzling cook. In any case, Falcone had bested him by one point in a fifty-round shootoff. And John had practiced for a week before this grudge match.

"Ettore, where the hell did you learn to shoot?" RAINBOW Six demanded.

"At the police academy, General Clark. I never fired a gun before that, but I had a good instructor, and I learned well," the sergeant said, with a friendly smile. He wasn't the least bit arrogant about his talent, and somehow that just made it worse.

"Yeah, I suppose." Clark zippered his pistol into the carrying case and walked away from the firing line.

"You, too, sir?" Dave Woods, the rangemaster, said, as Clark made for the door.

"So I'm not the only one?" RAINBOW Six asked.

Woods looked up from his sandwich. "Bloody hell, that lad's got a fookin' letter of credit at the Green Dragon from besting me!" he announced. And Sergeant-Major Woods really had taught Wyatt Earp everything he knew. And at the SAS/Rainbow pub he'd probably taught the new boy how to drink English bitter. Beating Falcone would not be easy. There just wasn't much room to take a guy who often as not shot a "possible," or perfect score.

"Well, Sergeant-Major, then I guess I'm in good company." Clark punched him on the shoulder as he headed out the door, shaking his head. Behind him, Falcone was firing another string. He evidently liked being Number One, and practiced hard to stay there. It had been a long time since anyone had bested him on a shooting range. John didn't like it, but fair was fair, and Falcone had won within the rules.

Was it just one more sign that he was slowing down? He wasn't running as fast as the younger troops at Rainbow, of course, and that bothered him, too. John Clark wasn't ready to be old yet. He wasn't ready to be a grandfather either, but he had little choice in that. His daughter and Ding had presented him with a grandson, and he couldn't exactly ask that they take him back. He was keeping his weight down, though that often required, as it had today, skipping lunch in favor of losing five paper-pounds at the pistol range.

"Well, how did it go, John?" Alistair Stanley asked, as Clark entered the office building.

"The kid's real good, Al," John replied, as he put his pistol in the desk drawer.

"Indeed. He won five pounds off me last week."

A grunt. "I guess that makes it unanimous." John settled in his swivel chair, like the "suit" he'd become. "Okay, anything come in while I was off losing money?"

"Just this from Moscow. Ought not to have come here anyway," Stanley told his boss, as he handed over the fax.

They want what?" Ed Foley asked in his seventh-floor office.

"They want us to help train some of their people," Mary Pat repeated for her husband. The original message had been crazy enough to require repetition.

"Jesus, girl, how ecumenical are we supposed to get?" the DCI demanded.

"Sergey Nikolay'ch thinks we owe him one. And you know ..."

He had to nod at that. "Yeah, well, maybe we do, I guess. This has to go up the line, though."

"It ought to give Jack a chuckle," the Deputy Director (Operations) thought.

Shit," Ryan said in the Oval Office, when Ellen Sumter handed him the fax from Langley. Then he looked up. "Oh, excuse me, Ellen."

She smiled like a mother to a precocious son. "Yes, Mr. President."

"Got one I can ... ?"

Mrs. Sumter had taken to wearing dresses with large slash pockets. From the left one, she fished out a flip-top box of Virginia Slims and offered it to her President, who took one out and lit it from the butane lighter also tucked in the box.

"Well, ain't this something?"

"You know this man, don't you?" Mrs. Sumter asked.

"Golovko? Yeah." Ryan smiled crookedly, again remembering the pistol in his face as the VC-137 thundered down the runway at Moscow's Sheremetyevo airport all those years before. He could smile now. At the time, it hadn't seemed all that funny. "Oh, yeah, Sergey and I are old friends."

As a Presidential secretary, Ellen Sumter was cleared for just about everything, even the fact that President Ryan bummed the occasional smoke, but there were some things she didn't and would never know. She was smart enough to have curiosity, but also smart enough not to ask.

"If you say so, Mr. President."

"Thanks, Ellen." Ryan sat back down in his chair and took a long puff on the slender cigarette. Why was it that stress of any sort made him gravitate back to these damned things that made him cough? The good news was that they also made him dizzy. So, that meant he wasn't a smoker, not really, POTUS told himself. He read over the fax again. It had two pages. One was the original fax from Sergey Nikolay'ch to Langley--unsurprisingly, he had Mary Pat's direct fax line, and wanted to show off that fact--and the second was the recommendation from Edward Foley, his CIA director.

For all the official baggage, it was pretty simple stuff. Golovko didn't even have to explain why America had to accede to his request. The Foleys and Jack Ryan would know that KGB had assisted the CIA and the American government in two very sensitive and important missions, and the fact that both of them had also served Russian interests was beside the point. Thus Ryan had no alternative. He lifted the phone and punched a speed-dial button.

"Foley," the male voice at the other end said.

"Ryan," Jack said in turn. He then heard the guy at the other end sit up straighter in his chair. "Got the fax."

"And?" the DCI asked.

"And what the hell else can we do?"

"I agree." Foley could have said that he personally liked Sergey Golovko. Ryan did, too, as he knew. But this wasn't about like or don't-like. They were making government policy here, and that was bigger than personal factors. Russia had helped the United States of America, and now Russia was asking the United States of America for help in return. In the regular intercourse among nations, such requests, if they had precedents, had to be granted. The principle was the same as lending your neighbor a rake after he had lent you a hose the previous day, just that at this level, people occasionally got killed from such favors. "You handle it or do I?"

"The request came to Langley. You do the reply. Find out what the parameters are. We don't want to compromise Rainbow, do we?"

"No, Jack, but there's not much chance of that. Europe's quieted down quite a bit. The Rainbow troopers are mainly exercising and punching holes in paper. That news story that ran--well, we might actually want to thank the putz who broke it." The DCI rarely said anything favorable about the press. And in this case some government puke had talked far too much about something he knew, but the net effect of the story had had the desired effect, even though the press account had been replete with errors, which was hardly surprising. But some of the errors had made Rainbow appear quite superhuman, which appealed to their egos and gave their potential enemies pause. And so, terrorism in Europe had slowed down to a crawl after its brief (and somewhat artificial, they knew now) rebirth. The Men of Black were just too scary to mess with. Muggers, after all, went after the little old ladies who'd just cashed their Social Security checks, not the armed cop on the corner. In this, criminals were just being rational. A little old lady can't resist a mugger very effectively, but a cop carries a gun.

"I expect our Russian friends will keep a lid on it."

"I think we can depend on that, Jack," Ed Foley agreed.

"Any reason not to do it?"

Ryan could hear the DCI shift in his seat. "I never have been keen on giving 'methods' away to anybody, but this isn't an intelligence operation per se, and most of it they could get from reading the right books. So, I guess we can allow it."

"Approved," the President said.

Ryan imagined he could see the nod at the other end. "Okay, the reply will go out today."

With a copy to Hereford, of course. It arrived on John's desk before closing time. He summoned Al Stanley and handed it to him.

"I suppose we're becoming famous, John."

"Makes you feel good, doesn't it?" Clark asked distastefully. Both were former clandestine operators, and if there had been a way to keep their own supervisors from knowing their names and activities, they would have found it long before.

"I presume you will go yourself. Whom will you take to Moscow with you?"

"Ding and Team-2. Ding and I have been there before. We've both met Sergey Nikolay'ch. At least this way he doesn't see all that many new faces."

"Yes, and your Russian, as I recall, is first-rate."

"The language school at Monterey is pretty good," John said, with a nod.

"How long do you expect to be gone?"

Clark looked back down at the fax and thought it over for a few seconds. "Oh, not more than ... three weeks," he said aloud. "Their Spetsnaz people aren't bad. We'll set up a training group for them, and after a while, we can probably invite them here, can't we?"

Stanley didn't have to point out that the SAS in particular, and the British Ministry of Defense in general, would have a conniption fit over that one, but in the end they'd have to go along with it. It was called diplomacy, and its principles set policy for most of the governments in the world, whether they liked it or not.

"I suppose we'll have to, John," Stanley said, already hearing the screams, shouts, and moans from the rest of the camp, and Whitehall.

Clark lifted his phone and hit the button for his secretary, Helen Montgomery. "Helen, could you please call Ding and ask him to come over? Thank you."

"His Russian is also good, as I recall."

"We had some good teachers. But his accent is a little southern."

"And yours?"

"Leningrad--well, St. Petersburg now, I guess. Al, do you believe all the changes?"

Stanley took a seat. "John, it is all rather mad, even today, and it's been well over ten years since they took down the red flag over the Spaskiy gate."

Clark nodded. "I remember when I saw it on TV, man. Flipped me out."

"Hey, John," a familiar voice called from the door. "Hi, Al."

"Come in and take a seat, my boy."

Chavez, simulated major in the SAS, hesitated at the "my boy" part. Whenever John talked that way, something unusual was about to happen. But it could have been worse. "Kid" was usually the precursor to danger, and now that he was a husband and a father, Domingo no longer went too far out of his way to look for trouble. He walked to Clark's desk and took the offered sheets of paper.

"Moscow?" he asked.

"Looks like our Commander-in-Chief has approved it."

"Super," Chavez observed. "Well, it's been a while since we met Mr. Golovko. I suppose the vodka's still good."

"It's one of the things they do well," John agreed.

"And they want us to teach them to do some other things?"

"Looks that way."

"Take the wives with us?"

"No." Clark shook his head. "This one's all business."

"When?"

"Have to work that out. Probably a week or so."

"Fair enough."

"How's the little guy?"

A grin. "Still crawling. Last night he started pulling himself up, standing, like. Imagine he'll start walking in a few days."

"Domingo, you spend the first year getting them to walk and talk. The next twenty years you spend getting them to sit down and shut up," Clark warned.

"Hey, Pop, the little guy sleeps all the way through the night, and he wakes up with a smile. Damned sight better than I can say for myself, y'know?" Which made sense. When Domingo woke up, all he had to look forward to was the usual exercises and a five-mile run, which was both strenuous and, after a while, boring.

Clark had to nod at that. It was one of the great mysteries of life, how infants always woke up in a good mood. He wondered where, in the course of years, one lost that.

"The whole team?" Chavez asked.

"Yeah, probably. Including BIG BIRD," RAINBOW SIX added.

"Did he clean your clock today, too?" Ding asked.

"Next time I shoot against that son of a bitch, I want it right after the morning run, when he's a little shaky," Clark said crossly. He just didn't like to lose at much of anything, and certainly not something so much a part of his identity as shooting a handgun.

"Mr. C, Ettore just isn't human. With the MP, he's good, but not spectacular, but with that Beretta, he's like Tiger Woods with a pitching wedge. He just lays 'em dead."

"I didn't believe it until today. I think maybe I ought to have eaten lunch over at the Green Dragon."

"I hear you, John," Chavez agreed, deciding not to comment on his father-in-law's waist. "Hey, I'm pretty good with a pistol, too, remember. Ettore blew my ass away by three whole points."

"The bastard took me by one," John told his Team-2 commander. "First man-on-man match I've lost since Third SOG." And that was thirty years in the past, against his command-master-chief, for beers. He'd lost by two points, but beat the master-chief three straight after that, Clark remembered with pride.

Is that him?" Provalov asked.

"We don't have a photograph," his sergeant reminded him. "But he fits the general description." And he was walking to the right car. Several cameras would be snapping now to provide the photos.

They were both in a van parked half a block from the apartment building they were surveilling. Both men were using binoculars, green, rubber-coated military-issue.

The guy looked about right. He'd come off the building's elevator, and had left the right floor. It had been established earlier in the evening that one Ivan Yurievich Koniev lived on the eighth floor of this upscale apartment building. There had not been time to question his neighbors, which had to be done carefully, in any case. There was more than the off-chance that this Koniev/Suvorov's neighbors were, as he was reputed to be, former KGB, and thus asking them questions could mean alerting the subject of their investigation. This was not an ordinary subject, Provalov kept reminding himself.

The car the man got into was a rental. There was a private automobile registered to one Koniev, Ian Yurievich, at this address, a Mercedes C-class, and who was to say what other cars he might own under another identity? Provalov was sure he'd have more of those, and they'd all be very carefully crafted. The Koniev ID certainly was. KGB had trained its people thoroughly.

The sergeant in the driver's seat started up the van's motor and got on the radio. Two other police cars were in the immediate vicinity, both manned by pairs of experienced investigators.

"Our friend is moving. The blue rental car," Provalov said over the radio. Both of his cars radioed acknowledgments.

The rental car was a Fiat--a real one made in Turin rather than the Russian copy made at Togliattistad, one of the few special economic projects of the Soviet Union that had actually worked, after a fashion. Had it been selected for its agility, Provalov wondered, or just because it was a cheap car to rent? There was no knowing that right now. Koniev/Suvorov pulled out, and the first tail car formed up with him, half a block behind, while the second was half a block in front, because even a KGB-trained intelligence officer rarely looked for a tail infront of himself. A little more time and they might have placed a tracking device on the Fiat, but they hadn't had it, nor the darkness required. If he returned to his apartment, they'd do it late tonight, say about four in the morning. A radio beeper with a magnet to hold it onto the inside of the rear bumper; its antenna would hang down like a mouse's tail, virtually invisible. Some of the available technology Provalov was using had originally been used to track suspected foreign spies around Moscow, and that meant it was pretty good, at least by Russian standards.

Following the car was easier than he'd expected. Three trail cars helped. Spotting a single-car tail was not overly demanding. Two could also be identified, since the same two would switch off every few minutes. But three shadow cars broke up the pattern nicely, and, KGB-trained or not, Koniev/Suvorov was not superhuman. His real defense lay in concealing his identity, and cracking that had been a combination of good investigation and luck--but cops knew about luck. KGB, on the other hand, didn't. In their mania for organization, their training program had left it out, perhaps because trusting to luck was a weakness that could lead to disaster in the field. That told Provalov that Koniev/Suvorov hadn't spent that much time in field operations. In the real world of working the street, you learned such things in a hurry.

The tailing was conducted at extreme range, over a block, and the city blocks were large ones here. The van had been specially equipped for it. The license-plate holders were triangular in cross-section, and at the flip of a switch one could switch from among three separate pairs of tags. The lights on the front of the vehicle were paired as well, and so one could change the light pattern, which was what a skilled adversary would look for at night. Switch them once or twice when out of sight of his rearview mirror, and he'd have to be a genius to catch on. The most difficult job went with the car doing the front-tail, since it was hard to read Koniev/Suvorov's mind, and when he made an unexpected turn, the lead car then had to scurry about under the guidance of the trailing shadow cars to regain its leading position. All of the militiamen on this detail, however, were experienced homicide investigators who'd learned how to track the most dangerous game on the planet: human beings who'd displayed the willingness to take another life. Even the stupid murderers could have animal cunning, and they learned a lot about police operations just from watching television. That made some of his investigations more difficult than they ought to have been, but in a case like this, the additional difficulty had served to train his men more thoroughly than any academy training would have done.

"Turning right," his driver said into his radio. "Van takes the lead." The leading trail car would proceed to the next right turn, make it, and then race to resume its leading position. The trailing car would drop behind the van, falling off the table for a few minutes before resuming its position. The trail car was a Fiat-clone from Togliattistad, by far the most common private-passenger auto in Russia, and therefore fairly anonymous, with its dirty off-white paint job.

"If that's his only attempt at throwing us off, he's very confident of himself."

"True," Provalov agreed. "Let's see what else he does."

The "what else" took place four minutes later. The Fiat took another right turn, this one not onto a cross-street, but into the underpass of another apartment building, one that straddled an entire block. Fortunately, the lead trail car was already on the far side of the building, trying to catch up with the Fiat, and had the good fortune to see Koniev/Suvorov appear thirty meters in front.

"We have him," the radio crackled. "We'll back off somewhat."

"Go!" Provalov told his driver, who accelerated the van to the next corner. Along the way, he toggled the switch to flip the license plates and change the headlight pattern, converting the van into what at night would seem a new vehicle entirely.

"He is confident," Provalov observed five minutes later. The van was now in close-trail, with the lead trail car behind the van, and the other surveillance vehicle close behind that one. Wherever he was going, they were on him. He'd run his evasion maneuver, and a clever one it had been, but only one. Perhaps he thought that one such SDR--surveillance-detection run--was enough, that if he were being trailed it would only be a single vehicle, and so he'd run that underpass, eyes on the rearview mirror, and spotted nothing. Very good, the militia lieutenant thought. It was a pity he didn't have his American FBI friend along. The FBI could scarcely have done this better, even with its vast resources. It didn't hurt that his men knew the streets of Moscow and its suburbs as well as any taxi driver.

"He's getting dinner and a drink somewhere," Provalov's driver observed. "He'll pull over in the next kilometer."

"We shall see," the lieutenant said, thinking his driver right. This area had ten or eleven upscale eateries. Which would his quarry choose ... ?

It turned out to be the Prince Michael of Kiev, a Ukrainian establishment specializing in chicken and fish, known also for its fine bar. Koniev/Suvorov pulled over and allowed the restaurant's valet to park his vehicle, then walked in.

"Who's the best dressed among us?" Provalov asked over the radio.

"You are, Comrade Lieutenant." His other two teams were attired as working-class people, and that wouldn't fly here. Half of the Prince Michael of Kiev's clientele were foreigners, and you had to dress well around such people--the restaurant saw to that. Provalov jumped out half a block away and walked briskly to the canopied entrance. The doorman admitted him after a look--in the new Russia, clothing made the man more than in most European nations. He could have flashed his police ID, but that might not be a good move. Koniev/Suvorov might well have some of the restaurant staff reporting to him. That was when he had a flash of imagination. Provalov immediately entered the men's lavatory and pulled out his cellular phone.

"Hello?" a familiar voice said on picking up the receiver.

"Mishka?"

"Oleg?" Reilly asked. "What can I do for you?"

"Do you know a restaurant called the Prince Michael of Kiev?"

"Yeah, sure. Why?"

"I need your help. How quickly can you get here?" Provalov asked, knowing that Reilly lived only two kilometers away.

"Ten or fifteen minutes."

"Quickly, then. I'll be at the bar. Dress presentably," the militiaman added.

"Right," Reilly agreed, wondering how he'd explain it to his wife, and wondering why he'd had his quiet evening in front of the TV interrupted.

Provalov headed back to the bar, ordered a pepper vodka, and lit a cigarette. His quarry was seven seats away, also having a solitary drink, perhaps waiting for his table to become available. The restaurant was full. A string quartet was playing some Rimsky-Korsakov on the far side of the dining room. The restaurant was far above anything Provalov could afford as a regular part of his life. So, Koniev/Suvorov was well set financially. That was no particular surprise. A lot of ex-KGB officers were doing very well indeed in the economic system of the new Russia. They had worldly ways and knowledge that few of their fellow citizens could match. In a society known for its burgeoning corruption, they had a corner on the market, and a network of fellow-travelers to call upon, with whom they could, for various considerations, share their gains, ill-gotten or not.

Provalov had finished his first drink, and had motioned to the bartender for another when Reilly appeared.

"Oleg Gregoriyevich," the American said in greeting. He was no fool, the Russian militia lieutenant realized. The American's Russian was manifestly American and over-loud, a fine backward stealth for this environment. He was well dressed also, proclaiming his foreign origin to all who saw him.

"Mishka!" Provalov said in response, taking the American's hand warmly and waving to the bartender.

"Okay, who we looking for?" the FBI agent asked more quietly.

"The gray suit, seven seats to my left."

"Got him," Reilly said at once. "Who is he?"

"He is currently under the name Koniev, Ivan Yurievich. In fact we believe him to be Suvorov, Klementi Ivan'ch."

"Aha," Reilly observed. "What else can you tell me?"

"We trailed him here. He used a simple but effective evasion method, but we have three cars tracking him, and we picked him right back up."

"Good one, Oleg," the FBI agent said. Inadequately trained and poorly equipped or not, Provalov was a no-shit copper. In the Bureau, he'd be at least a supervisory special agent. Oleg had fine cop instincts. Tracking a KGB type around Moscow was no trivial exercise, like following a paranoid button-man in Queens. Reilly sipped his pepper vodka and turned sideways in his seat. On the far side of the subject was a dark-haired beauty wearing a slinky black dress. She looked like another of those expensive hookers to Reilly, and her shingle was out. Her dark eyes were surveying the room as thoroughly as his. The difference was that Reilly was a guy, and looking at a pretty girl--or seeming to--was not the least bit unusual. In fact, his eyes were locked not on the woman, but the man. Fifty-ish, well turned out, nondescript in overall appearance, just as a spy was supposed to be, looked to be waiting for a table, nursing his drink and looking studiously in the bar's mirror, which was a fine way to see if he were being watched. The American and his Russian friend he dismissed, of course. What interest could an American businessman have in him, after all? And besides, the American was eyeing the whore to his left. For that reason, the subject's eyes did not linger on the men to his right, either directly or in the mirror. Oleg was smart, Reilly thought, using him as camouflage for his discreet surveillance.

"Anything else turn lately?" the FBI agent asked. Provalov filled in what he'd learned about the hooker and what had happened the night before the murders. "Damn, that is swashbuckling. But you still don't know who the target was, do you?"

"No," Provalov admitted, with a sip of his second drink. He'd have to go easy on the alcohol, he knew, lest he make a mistake. His quarry was too slick and dangerous to take any sort of risk at all. He could always bring the guy in for questioning, but he knew that would be a fruitless exercise. Criminals like this one had to be handled as gently as a cabinet minister. Provalov allowed his eyes to look into the mirror, where he got a good look at the profile of a probable multiple murderer. Why was it that there was no black halo around such people? Why did they look normal?

"Anything else we know about the mutt?"

The Russian had come to like that American term. He shook his head. "No, Mishka. We haven't checked with SVR yet."

"Worried that he might have a source inside the building?" the American asked. Oleg nodded.

"That is a consideration." And an obvious one. The fraternity of former KGB officers was probably a tight one. There might well be someone inside the old headquarters building, say someone in personnel records, who'd let people know if the police showed interest in any particular file.

"Damn," the American noted, thinking, You son of a bitch, fucking the guy's hookers before you waste him. There was a disagreeable coldness to it, like something from a Mafia movie. But in real life, La Cosa Nostra members didn't have the stones for such a thing. Formidable as they might be, Mafia button-men didn't have the training of a professional intelligence officer, and were tabby cats next to panthers in this particular jungle. Further scrutiny of the subject. The girl beyond him was a distraction, but not that much.

"Oleg?"

"Yes, Mikhail?"

"He's looking at somebody over by the musicians. His eyes keep coming back to the same spot. He isn't scanning the room like he was at first." The subject did check out everyone who came into the restaurant, but his eyes kept coming back to one part of the mirror, and he'd probably determined that nobody in the place was a danger to him. Oops. Well, Reilly thought, even training has its limitations, and sooner or later your own expertise could work against you. You fell into patterns, and you made assumptions that could get you caught. In this case, Suvorov assumed that no American could be watching him. After all, he'd done nothing to any Americans in Moscow, and maybe not in his entire career, and he was on friendly, not foreign ground, and he'd dusted off his tail on the way over in the way he always did, looking for a single tail car. Well, the smart ones knew their limitations. How did it go? The difference between genius and stupidity was that genius knew that it had limits. This Suvorov guy thought himself a genius ... but whom was he looking at? Reilly turned a little more on his bar stool and scanned that part of the room.

"What do you see, Mishka?"

"A lot of people, Oleg Gregoriyevich, mainly Russians, some foreigners, all well-dressed. Some Chinese, look like two diplomats dining with two Russians--they look like official types. Looks cordial enough," Reilly thought. He'd eaten here with his wife three or four times. The food was pretty good, especially the fish. And they had a good source of caviar at the Prince Michael of Kiev, which was one of the best things you could get over here. His wife loved it, and would have to learn that getting it at home would be a lot more expensive than it was here.... Reilly'd done discreet surveillance for so many years that he had trained himself to be invisible. He could fit in just about anyplace but Harlem, and the Bureau had black agents to handle that.

Sure as hell, that Suvorov guy was looking in the same place. Casually, perhaps, and using the bar's mirror to do it. He even sat so that his eyes naturally looked at the same place as he sat on his bar stool. But people like this subject didn't do anything by accident or coincidence. They were trained to think through everything, even taking a leak ... it was remarkable, then, that he'd been turned so stupidly. By a hooker who'd gone through his things while he was sleeping off an orgasm. Well, some men, no matter how smart, thought with their dicks.... Reilly turned again.... one of the Chinese men at the distant table excused himself and stood, heading for the men's room. Reilly thought to do the same at once, but ... no. If it were prearranged, such a thing could spook it ... Patience, Mishka, he told himself, turning back to look at the principal subject. Koniev/Suvorov set down his drink and stood.

"Oleg. I want you to point me toward the men's room," the FBI agent said. "In fifteen seconds."

Provalov counted out the time, then extended his arm toward the main entrance. Reilly patted him on the shoulder and headed that way.

The Prince Michael of Kiev restaurant was nice, but it didn't have a bathroom attendant, as many European places did, perhaps because Americans were uneasy with the custom, or maybe because the management thought it an unnecessary expense. Reilly entered and saw three urinals, two of them being used. He unzipped and urinated, then rezipped and turned to wash his hands, looking down as he did so ... and just out of the corner of his eye, he saw the other two men share a sideways look. The Russian was taller. The men's room had the sort of pull-down roller towel that America had largely done away with. Reilly pulled it down and dried his hands, unable to wait too much longer. Heading toward the door, he reached in his pocket and pulled his car keys part of the way out. These he dropped just as he pulled the door open, with a muttered, "Damn," as he bent down to pick them up, shielded from their view by the steel divider. Reilly picked them off the tile floor and stood back up.

Then he saw it. It was well done. They could have been more patient, but they probably both discounted the importance of the American, and both were trained professionals. They scarcely touched each other, and what touching and bumping there was happened below the waist and out of sight to the casual observer. Reilly wasn't a casual observer, however, and even out of the corner of his eyes, it was obvious to the initiated. It was a classic brush-pass, so well done that even Reilly's experience couldn't determine who had passed what to whom. The FBI agent continued out, heading back to his seat at the bar, where he waved to the bar-keep for the drink he figured he'd just earned.

"Yes?"

"You want to identify that Chinaman. He and our friend traded something in the shitter. Brush-pass, and nicely done," Reilly said, with a smile and a gesture at the brunette down the bar. Good enough, in fact, that had Reilly been forced to sit in a witness stand and describe it to a jury, a week-old law-school graduate could make him admit that he hadn't actually seen anything at all. But that told him much. That degree of skill was either the result of a totally chance encounter between two entirely innocent people--the purest of coincidences--or it had been the effort of two trained intelligence officers applying their craft at a perfect place in a perfect way. Provalov was turned the right way to see the two individuals leave the men's room. They didn't even notice each other, or didn't appear to acknowledge the presence of the other any more than they would have greeted a stray dog--exactly as two unrelated people would act after a happenstance encounter with a total stranger in any men's room anywhere. But this time as Koniev/Suvorov resumed his seat at the bar, he tended to his drink and didn't have his eyes interrogate the mirror regularly. In fact, he turned and greeted the girl to his left, then waved for the bartender to get her another drink, which she accepted with a warm, commercial smile. Her face proclaimed the fact that she'd found her trick for the night. The girl could act, Reilly thought.

"Well, our friend's going to get laid tonight," he told his Russian colleague.

"She is pretty," Provalov agreed. "Twenty-three, you think?"

"Thereabouts, maybe a little younger. Nice hooters."

"Hooters?" the Russian asked.

"Tits, Oleg, tits," the FBI agent clarified. "That Chinaman's a spook. See any coverage on him around?"

"No one I know," the lieutenant replied. "Perhaps he is not known to be an intelligence officer."

"Yeah, sure, your counterintelligence people have all retired to Sochi, right? Hell, guy, they trail me every so often."

"That means I am one of your agents, then?" Provalov asked.

A chuckle. "Let me know if you want to defect, Oleg Gregoriyevich."

"The Chinese in the light blue suit?"

"That's the one. Short, about five-four, one fifty-five, pudgy, short hair, about forty-five or so."

Provalov translated that to about 163 centimeters and seventy kilos, and made a mental note as he turned to look at the face, about thirty meters away. He looked entirely ordinary, as most spies did. With that done, he headed back to the men's room to make a phone call to his agents outside.

And that pretty much ended the evening. Koniev/Suvorov left the restaurant about twenty minutes later with the girl on his arm, and drove straight back to his apartment. One of the men who'd stayed behind walked with the Chinese to his car, which had diplomatic plates. Notes were written down, and the cops all headed home after an overtime day, wondering what they'd turned up and how important it might be.

Chapter 20

Diplomacy

Well?" Rutledge took his notes back from Secretary Adler.

"It looks okay, Cliff, assuming that you can deliver the message in an appropriate way," SecState told his subordinate.

"Process is something I understand." Then he paused. "The President wants this message delivered in unequivocal terms, correct?"

Secretary Adler nodded. "Yep."

"You know, Scott, I've never really landed on people this hard before."

"Ever want to?"

"The Israelis a few times. South Africa," he added thoughtfully.

"But never the Chinese or Japanese?"

"Scott, I've never been a trade guy before, remember?" But he was this time, because the mission to Beijing was supposed to be high-profile, requiring a higher-level diplomat instead of someone of mere ambassadorial rank. The Chinese knew this already. In their case negotiations would be handled publicly by their Foreign Minister, though they would actually be run by a lesser-ranked diplomat who was a foreign-trade specialist, and who had experienced a good run of luck dealing with America. Secretary Adler, with President Ryan's permission, was slowly leaking to the press that the times and the rules might have changed a little bit. He worried that Cliff Rutledge wasn't exactly the right guy to deliver the message, but Cliff was the on-deck batter.

"How are you working out with this Gant guy from Treasury?"

"If he were a diplomat, we'd be at war with the whole damned world, but I suppose he does know numbers and computers, probably," Rutledge allowed, not troubling to hide his distaste for the Chicago-born Jew with his nouveau-riche ways. That Rutledge had been of modest origins himself was long forgotten. A Harvard education and a diplomatic passport help one forget such distasteful things as having grown up in a row house, eating leftovers.

"Remember that Winston likes him, and Ryan likes Winston, okay?" Adler warned his subordinate gently. He decided not to concern himself with Cliff's WASP-ish anti-Semitism. Life was too short for trivialities, and Rutledge knew that his career rested in Scott Adler's hands. He might make more money as a consultant after leaving the State Department, but being fired out of Foggy Bottom would not enhance his value on the free-agent market.

"Okay, Scott, and, yeah, I need backup on the monetary aspects of this trade stuff." The accompanying nod was almost respectful. Good. He did know how to grovel when required. Adler didn't even consider telling Rutledge about the intelligence source in his pocket, courtesy of POTUS. There was something about the career diplomat that failed to inspire trust in his superior.

"What about communications?"

"The Embassy in Beijing has TAPDANCE capability. Even the new phone kind, same as the airplane." But there were problems with it, recently fielded by Fort Meade. The instruments had trouble linking up with each other, and using a satellite lash-up didn't help at all. Like most diplomats, Rutledge rarely troubled himself with such trivialities. He often expected the intelligence to appear as if by magic, rarely wondering how it had been obtained, but always questioning the motives of the source, whoever that might be. All in all, Clifford Rutledge II was the perfect diplomat. He believed in little beyond his own career, some vague notions of international amity, and his personal ability to make it come about and to avoid war through the sheer force of his brilliance.

But on the plus side, Adler admitted to himself, Rutledge was a competent diplomatic technician who knew how the banter worked, and how to present a position in the gentlest possible but still firm terms. The State Department never had enough of those. As someone had once remarked of Theodore Roosevelt, "The nicest gentleman who ever slit a throat." But Cliff would never do that, even to advance his own career. He probably shaved with an electric razor, not for fear of cutting himself so much as fear of actually seeing blood.

"When's your plane leave?" EAGLE asked his subordinate.

Barry Wise was already packed. He was an expert at it, as well he might be, because he traveled about as much as an international airline pilot. At fifty-four, the black ex-Marine had worked for CNN since its beginnings more than twenty years before, and he'd seen it all. He'd covered the contras in Nicaragua, and the first bombing missions in Baghdad. He'd been there when mass graves were excavated in Yugoslavia, and done live commentary over Rwanda's roads of death, simultaneously wishing that he could and thanking God that he could not broadcast the ghastly smells that still haunted his dreams. A news professional, Wise regarded his mission in life to be this: to transmit the truth from where it happened to where people were interested in it--and helping them to become interested if they were not. He didn't have much of a personal ideology, though he was a great believer in justice, and one of the ways to make justice happen was to give the correct information to the jury--in his case, the television-watching public. He and people like him had changed South Africa from a racist state into a functioning democracy, and he'd also played a role in destroying world communism. The truth, he figured, was about the most powerful weapon in the world, if you had a way of getting it to the average Joe. Unlike most members of his business, Wise respected Joe Citizen, at least the ones who were smart enough to watch him. They wanted the truth, and it was his job to deliver it to them to the best of his abilities, which he often doubted, as he constantly asked himself how well he was doing.

He kissed his wife on the way out the door, promising to bring back things for the kids, as he always did, and lugging his travel bag out to his one personal indulgence, a red Mercedes two-seater, which he then drove south to the D.C. Beltway and south again toward Andrews Air Force Base. He had to arrive early, because the Air Force had gotten overly security-conscious. Maybe it was from that dumbass movie that had had terrorists getting past all the armed guards--even though they were merely Air Force, not Marines, they did carry rifles, and they did at least appear to be competent--and aboard one of the 89th Military Airlift Wing's aircraft, which, Wise figured, was about as likely as having a pickpocket walk into the Oval Office and lift the President's wallet. But the military followed its own rules, senseless though they might be--that was something he remembered well from his time in the Corps. So, he'd drive down, pass through all the checkpoints, whose guards knew him better than they knew their own CO, and wait in the plush Distinguished Visitors' lounge at the end of Andrews' Runway Zero-One Left for the official party to arrive. Then they'd board the venerable VC-137 for the endless flight to Beijing. The seats were as comfortable as they could be on an airplane, and the service was as good as any airline's first class, but flights this long were never fun.

Never been there before," Mark Gant said, answering George Winston's question. "So--what's the score on this Rutledge guy?"

The SecTreas shrugged. "Career State Department puke, worked his way pretty far up the ladder. Used to have good political connections--he was tight with Ed Kealty once upon a time."

The former stock trader looked up. "Oh? Why hasn't Ryan fired his ass?"

"Jack doesn't play that sort of game," Winston replied, wondering if in this case principle was getting in the way of common sense.

"George, he's still pretty naive, isn't he?"

"Maybe so, but he's a straight shooter, and I can live with that. He sure as hell backed us up on tax policy, and that's going to pass through Congress in another few weeks."

Gant wouldn't believe that until he saw it. "Assuming every lobbyist in town doesn't jump in front of the train."

That engendered an amused grunt. "So, the wheels get greased a little better. You know, wouldn't it be nice to close all those bastards down ... ?"

George, Gant couldn't say in this office, if you believe that, you've been hanging out with the President too long. But idealism wasn't all that bad a thing, was it?

"I'll settle for squeezing those Chinese bastards on the trade balance. Ryan's going to back us up?"

"All the way, he says. And I believe him, Mark."

"I guess we'll see. I hope this Rutledge guy can read numbers."

"He went to Harvard," Secretary Winston observed.

"I know," Gant said back. He had his own academic prejudice, having graduated from the University of Chicago twenty years earlier. What the hell was Harvard except a name and an endowment?

Winston chuckled. "They're not all dumb."

"I suppose we'll see, boss. Anyway"--he lifted his suitcase up on its rollers; his computer bag went over his shoulder--" my car's waiting downstairs."

"Good trip, Mark."

Her name was Yang Lien-Hua. She was thirty-four, nine months pregnant, and very frightened. It was her second pregnancy. Her first had been a son whom they had named Ju-Long, a particularly auspicious given name, which translated roughly as Large Dragon. But the youngster had died at the age of four, bumped by a bicycle off the sidewalk into the path of a passenger bus. His death had devastated his parents, and even saddened the local Communist Party officials who'd officiated at the inquest, which had absolved the bus driver of guilt and never identified the careless bicyclist. The loss has been sufficiently hard on Mrs. Yang that she'd sought comfort in a way that this country's government did not especially approve.

That way was Christianity, the foreign religion despised in fact if not exactly in law. In another age she might have found solace in the teachings of Buddha or Confucius, but these, too, had been largely erased from the public consciousness by the Marxist government, which still regarded all religion as a public narcotic. A co-worker had quietly suggested that she meet a "friend" of hers, a man named Yu Fa An. Mrs. Yang had sought him out, and so had begun her first adventure in treason.

Reverend Yu, she found, was a well-educated and -traveled man, which added to his stature in her eyes. He was also a fine listener, who attended to her every word, occasionally pouring her some sympathetic tea, and gently touching her hand when tears streamed down her face. Only when she had finished her tale of woe had he begun his own lessons.

Ju-Long, he told her, was with God, because God was especially solicitous to the needs of innocent children. While she could not see her son at this moment, her son could see her, looking down from Heaven, and while her sorrow was completely understandable, she should believe that the God of the Earth was a God of Mercy and Love who had sent his Only Begotten Son to earth to show mankind the right path, and to give His own life for the sins of humanity. He handed her a Bible printed in the Gouyu, the national language of the PRC (also called Mandarin), and helped her find appropriate passages.

It had not been easy for Mrs. Yang, but so deep was her grief that she kept returning for private counseling, finally bringing along her husband, Quon. Mr. Yang proved a harder sell on any religion. He'd served his time in the People's Liberation Army, where he'd been thoroughly indoctrinated in the politics of his nation, and done sufficiently well in his test answers to be sent off to sergeant school, for which political reliability was required. But Quon had been a good father to his little Large Dragon, and he, too, found the void in his belief system too large to bridge easily. This bridge the Reverend Yu provided, and soon both of the Yangs came to his discreet church services, and gradually they'd come to accept their loss with confidence in the continued life of Ju-Long, and the belief that they would someday see him again in the presence of an Almighty God, whose existence became increasingly real to both of them.

Until then, life had to go on. Both worked at their jobs, as factory workers in the same factory, with a working-class apartment in the Di'Anmen district of Beijing near Jingshan--Coal Hill--Park. They labored at their factory during the day, watched state-run television at night, and in due course, Lien-Hua became pregnant again.

And ran afoul of the government's population-control policy that was well to the left of draconian. It had long since been decreed that any married couple could have but one child. A second pregnancy required official government permission. Though this was not generally denied to those whose first child had died, pro forma permission had to be obtained, and in the case of politically unacceptable parents, this permission was generally withheld as a method of controlling the living population, as well. That meant that an unauthorized pregnancy had to be terminated. Safely, and at state expense in a state hospital--but terminated.

Christianity translated exactly into political unreliability for the communist government, and unsurprisingly the Ministry of State Security had inserted intelligence officers into Reverend Yu's congregation. This individual--actually there were three, lest one be corrupted by religion and become unreliable himself--had entered the names of the Yangs on a master list of political unreliables. For that reason, when Mrs. Yang Lien-Hua had duly registered her pregnancy, an official letter had appeared in her box, instructing her to go to the Longfu Hospital located on Meishuguan Street for a therapeutic abortion.

This Lien-Hua was unwilling to do. Her given name translated as "Lotus Flower," but inside she was made of much sterner stuff. She wrote a week later to the appropriate government agency, telling them that her pregnancy had miscarried. Given the nature of bureaucracies, her lie was never checked out.

That lie had merely won Lotus Flower six months of ever-increasing stress. She never saw a physician, not even one of the "barefoot medics" that the PRC had invented a generation earlier, much to the admiration of political leftists all over the world. Lien-Hua was healthy and strong, and the human body had been designed by Nature to produce healthy offspring long before the advent of obstetricians. Her swelling belly she was able to hide, mostly, in her ill-fitting clothing. What she could not hide--at least from herself--was her inward fear. She carried a new baby in her belly. She wanted it. She wanted to have another chance at motherhood. She wanted to feel her child suckling at her breast. She wanted to love it and pamper it, watch it learn to crawl and stand and walk and talk, to see it grow beyond four years, enter school, learn and grow into a good adult of whom she could be proud.

The problem was politics. The state enforced its will with ruthlessness. She knew what could happen, the syringe filled with formaldehyde stabbed into the baby's head at the very moment of birth. In China, it was state policy. For the Yangs, it was premeditated, cold-blooded murder, and they were determined not to lose a second child, who, the Reverend Yu had told them, was a gift from God Himself.

And there was a way. If you delivered the baby at home without medical assistance, and if the baby took its first breath, then the state would not kill it. There were some things even the government of the People's Republic quailed at, and the killing of a living, breathing human infant was one of them. But until it took that breath, it was of no more consequence than a piece of meat in a market. There were even rumors that the Chinese government was selling organs from the aborted newborns on the world's tissue market, to be used for medical purposes, and that was something the Yangs were able to believe.

So, their plan was for Lien-Hua to deliver the child at home, after which they would present their state with a fait accompli--and eventually have it baptized by Reverend Yu. To this end, Mrs. Yang had kept herself in good physical shape, walking two kilometers every day, eating sensibly, and generally doing all the things the government-published booklets told expectant mothers to do. And if anything went badly wrong, they'd go to Reverend Yu for counsel and advice. The plan enabled Lien-Hua to deal with the stress--in fact it was a heart-rending terror--of her unauthorized condition.

Well?" Ryan asked.

"Rutledge has all the right talents, and we've given him the instructions he needs. He ought to carry them out properly. Question is, will the Chinese play ball."

"If they don't, things become harder for them," the President said, if not coldly, then with some degree of determination. "If they think they can bully us, Scott, it's time they found out who the big kid in the playground is."

"They'll fight back. They've taken out options on fourteen Boeing 777s--just did that four days ago, remember? That's the first thing they'll chop if they don't like us. That's a lot of money and a lot of jobs for Boeing in Seattle," SecState warned.

"I never have been real big on blackmail, Scott. Besides, that's a classic case of penny-wise, pound-foolish. If we cave because of that, then we lose ten times the money and ten times the jobs elsewhere--okay, they won't be all in one place, and so the TV news guys won't be able to point their cameras, and so they won't do the real story, just the one that can fit on half-inch tape. But I'm not in here to keep the goddamned media happy. I'm here to serve the people to the best of my ability, Scott. And that's by-God going to happen," POTUS promised his guest.

"I don't doubt it, Jack," Adler responded. "Just remember that it won't play out quite the way you want it to."

"It never does, but if they play rough, it's going to cost them seventy billion dollars a year. We can afford to do without their products. Can they afford to do without our money?" Ryan asked.

Secretary Adler was not totally comfortable with the way the question was posed. "I suppose we'll have to wait and see."

Chapter 21

Simmering

So, what did you develop last night?" Reilly asked. He'd be late to his embassy office, but his gut told him that things were breaking loose in the RPG Case--that was how he thought of it--and Director Murray had a personal interest in the case, because the President did, and that made it more important than the routine bullshit on Reilly's desk.

"Our Chinese friend--the one in the men's room, that is--is the Third Secretary at their mission. Our friends across town at SVR have suspected that he is a member of their Ministry for State Security. He's not regarded as a particularly bright diplomat by the Foreign Ministry--ours, that is."

"That's how you cover a spook," Reilly agreed. "A dumb cookie-pusher. Okay, so he's a player."

"I agree, Mishka," Provalov said. "Now, it would be nice to know who passed what to whom."

"Oleg Gregoriyevich"--Reilly liked the semiformal Russian form of address--"if I'd been standing right there and staring, I might not have been able to tell." That was the problem dealing with real professionals. They were as good at that maneuver as a Vegas dealer was with a deck of Bicycles. You needed a good lens and a slow-motion camera to be sure, and that was a little bulky for work in the field. But they'd just proved, to their satisfaction at least, that both men were active in the spook business, and that was a break in the case any way you sliced it. "ID the girl?"

"Yelena Ivanova Dimitrova." Provalov handed the folder across. "Just a whore, but, of course, a very expensive one."

Reilly flipped it open and scanned the notes. Known prostitute specializing in foreigners. The photo of her was unusually flattering.

"You came in early this morning?" Reilly asked. He must have, to have all this work done already.

"Before six," Oleg confirmed. The case was becoming more exciting for him as well. "In any case, Klementi Ivan'ch kept her all night. She left his apartment and caught a taxi home at seven-forty this morning. She looked happy and satisfied, according to my people."

That was good for a chuckle. She didn't leave her trick until after Oleg hit the office? That must have affected his attitude somewhat, Reilly thought, with an inward grin. It sure as hell would have affected his. "Well, good for our subject. I expect he won't be getting too much of that in a few months," the FBI agent thought aloud, hoping it would make his Russian colleague a little happier about life.

"One can hope," Provalov agreed coldly. "I have four men watching his apartment. If he leaves and appears to be heading away for a while, I will try to get a team into his apartment to plant some electronic surveillance."

"They know how to be careful?" Reilly asked. If this Suvorov mutt was as trained as they thought, he'd leave telltales in his apartment that could make breaking in dicey.

"They are KGB-trained also. One of them helped catch a French intelligence officer back in the old times. Now, I have a question for you," the Russian cop said.

"Shoot."

"What do you know of a special counterterrorist group based in England?"

"The 'Men of Black,' you mean?"

Provalov nodded. "Yes. Do you know anything about them?"

Reilly knew he had to watch his words, even though he knew damned little. "Really, I don't know anything more than what I've seen in the papers. It's some sort of multinational NATO group, part military and part police, I think. They had a good run of luck last year. Why do you ask?"

"A request from on high, because I know you. I've been told that they are coming to Moscow to assist in training our people--Spetsnaz groups with similar tasks," Oleg explained.

"Really? Well, I've never been in the muscle end of the Bureau, just in a local SWAT team once. Gus Werner probably knows a lot about them. Gus runs the new Counter-Terrorism Division at Headquarters. Before that, Gus ran HRT and had a field command--a field division, that is, a big-city field office. I've met him once, just to say hello. Gus has a very good service rep."

"Rep?"

"Reputation, Oleg. He's well regarded by the field agents. But like I said, that's the muscle end of the Bureau. I've always been with the chess players."

"Investigations, you mean."

Reilly nodded. "That's right. It's what the FBI is supposed to be all about, but the outfit's mutated a bit over the years." The American paused. "So, you're covering this Suvorov/Koniev guy real tight?" Reilly asked, to recenter the discussion.

"My men have orders to be discreet, but yes, we will keep a close eye on him, as you say."

"You know, if he really is working with the Chinese spooks ... do you think they might want to kill that Golovko guy?"

"I do not know, but we must regard that as a real possibility."

Reilly nodded, thinking this would make an interesting report to send to Washington, and maybe discuss with the CIA station chief as well.

I want the files for everyone who ever worked with him,"" Sergey Nikolay'ch ordered. "And I want you to get me his personal file."

"Yes, Comrade Chairman," Major Shelepin replied, with a bob of the head.

The morning briefing, delivered by a colonel of the militia, had pleased neither the SVR Chairman nor his principal bodyguard. In this case, for a change, the legendarily slow Russian bureaucracy had been circumvented, and the information fast-tracked to those interested in it. That included the man whose life might have been spared accidentally after all.

"And we will set up a special-action group to work with this Provalov child."

"Of course, Comrade Chairman."

It was strange, Sergey Nikolay'ch thought, how rapidly the world could change. He vividly remembered the morning of the murder--it was not the sort of thing a man could forget. But after the first few days of shock and attendant fear, he'd allowed himself to relax, to believe that this Avseyenko had been the real target of an underworld rub out--an archaic American term he liked--and that his own life had never been directly threatened. With the acceptance of that belief, the entire thing had become like driving past an ordinary traffic accident. Even if some unfortunate motorist had been killed there at the side of the road, you just dismissed it as an irrelevance, because that sort of thing couldn't happen to you in your own expensive official car, not with Anatoliy driving. But now he'd begun to wonder if perhaps his life had been spared by accident. Such things were not supposed to occur--there shouldn't have been any need for them.

Now he was more frightened than he'd been that bright Moscow morning, looking down from his window at the smoking wreck on the pavement. It meant that he might be in danger still, and he dreaded that prospect as much as the next man.

Worse still, his hunter might well be one of his own, a former KGB officer with connections to Spetsnaz, and if he were in contact with the Chinese ...

... But why would the Chinese wish to end his life? For that matter, why would the Chinese wish to perform any such crime in a foreign land? It was beyond imprudent.

None of this made any sense, but as a career intelligence officer, Golovko had long since shed the illusion that the world was supposed to make sense. What he did know was that he needed more information, and at least he was in a very good place to seek it out. If he wasn't as powerful as he might once have been, he was still powerful enough for his own purposes, Golovko told himself.

Probably.

He didn't try to come to the ministry very often. It was just a routine security measure, but a sensible one. Once you recruited an agent, you didn't want to hang out with him or her for fear of compromise. That was one of the things they taught you at The Farm. If you compromised one of your agents, you might have trouble sleeping at night, because CIA was usually active in countries where the Miranda warning was delivered by a gun or knife or fist, or something just as bad--as unpleasant as a police state could make it, and that, the instructors had told his class, could be pretty fuckin' unpleasant. Especially in a case like this, he was intimate with this agent, and breaking away from her could cause her to stop her cooperation, which, Langley had told him, was pretty damned good, and they wanted more of it. Erasing the program he'd had her input on her machine would be difficult for a CalTech-trained genius, but you could accomplish the same thing by clobbering the whole hard drive and reinstalling new files over the old ones, because the valuable little gopher file was hidden in the system software, and a write-over would destroy it as surely as the San Francisco Earthquake.

So, he didn't want to be here, exactly, but he was a businessman, in addition to being a spook, and the client had called him in. The girl two desks away from Ming had a computer problem, and he was the NEC rep for the ministry offices.

It turned out to be a minor problem--you just couldn't turn some women loose on computers. It was like loosing a four-year-old in a gun shop, he thought, but didn't dare say such things aloud in these liberated times, even here. Happily, Ming hadn't been in sight when he'd come in. He'd walked over to the desk with the problem and fixed it in about three minutes, explaining the error to the secretary in simple terms she was sure to understand, and which would now make her the office expert for an easily replicated problem. With a smile and a polite Japanese bow, he'd made his way to the door, when the door to the inner office opened, and Ming came out with her Minister Fang behind her, looking down at some papers.

"Oh, hello, Nomuri-san," Ming said in surprise, as Fang called the name "Chai," and waved to another of the girls to follow him in. If Fang saw Nomuri there, he didn't acknowledge it, simply disappeared back into his private office.

"Hello, Comrade Ming," the American said, speaking in English. "Your computer operates properly?" he asked formally.

"Yes, it does, thank you."

"Good. Well, if you experience a problem, you have my card."

"Oh, yes. You are well settled in to Beijing now?" she asked politely.

"Yes, thank you, I am."

"You should try Chinese food instead of sticking to the food of your homeland, though, I admit, I have developed a taste lately for Japanese sausage," she told him, and everyone else in the room, with a face that would have done Amarillo Slim proud.

For his part, Chester Nomuri felt his heart not so much skip a beat as stop entirely for about ten seconds, or so it seemed. "Ah, yes," he had to say in reply, as soon as he got breath back in his lungs. "It can be very tasty."

Ming just nodded and went to her desk and back to work. Nomuri nodded and bowed politely to the office and made his departure as well, then headed down the corridor immediately for a men's room, the need to urinate urgent. Sweet Jesus. But that was one of the problems with agents. They sometimes got off on their work the way a drug addict got off on the immediate rush when the chemical hit his system, and they'd tickle the dragon with their new and playful enthusiasm just to experience a little more of the rush, forgetting that the dragon's tail was a lot closer to its mouth than it appeared. It was foolish to enjoy danger. Zipping himself back up, he told himself that he hadn't broken training, hadn't stumbled on his reply to her playful observation. But he had to warn her about dancing in a minefield. You never really knew where to put your feet, and discovering the wrong places was usually painful.

That's when he realized why it had happened, and the thought stopped him dead in his tracks. Ming loved him. She was playful because ... well, why else would she have said that? As a game? Did she regard the whole thing as a game? No, she wasn't the right personality type to be a hooker. The sex had been good, maybe too good--if such a thing were possible, Nomuri thought as he resumed walking toward the elevator. She'd surely be over tonight after saying that. He'd have to stop by the liquor store on the way home and get some more of that awful Japanese scotch for thirty bucks a liter. A working man couldn't afford to get drunk here unless he drank the local stuff, and that was too vile to contemplate.

But Ming had just consecrated their relationship by risking her life in front of her minister and her co-workers, and that was far more frightening to Nomuri than her ill-considered remark about his dick and her fondness for it. Jesus, he thought, this is getting too serious. But what could he do now? He'd seduced her and made a spy of her, and she'd fallen for him for no better reason, probably, than that he was younger than the old fucker she worked for, and was far nicer to her. Okay, so he was pretty good in the sack, and that was excellent for his male ego, and he was a stranger in a strange land and he had to get his rocks off, too, and doing it with her was probably safer to his cover than picking up some hooker in a bar--and he didn't even want to consider getting seriously involved with a real girl in his real life--

--but how was this so different from that? he asked himself. Aside from the fact that while she was loving him, her computer was sending her transcribed notes off into the etherworld....

It was doing it again soon after the close of regular business hours, and the eleven-hour differential pretty much guaranteed that it arrived on the desks of American officials soon after their breakfasts. In the case of Mary Patricia Foley, mornings were far less hectic than they'd once been. Her youngest was not yet in college, but preferred to fix her own oatmeal from the Quaker envelopes, and now drove herself to school, which allowed her mother an extra twenty-five minutes or so of additional sleep every morning. Twenty years of being a field spook and mother should have been enough to drive her to distracted insanity, but it was, actually, a life she'd enjoyed, especially her years in Moscow, doing her business right there in the belly of the beast, and giving the bastard quite an ulcer at the time, she remembered with a smile.

Her husband could say much the same. The first husband-wife team to rise so high at Langley, they drove together to work every morning--in their own car rather than the "company" one to which they were entitled, but with lead and chase cars full of people with guns, because any terrorist with half a brain would regard them as targets more valuable than rubies. This way they could talk on the way in--and the car was swept for bugs on a weekly basis.

They took their usual reserved and oversized place in the basement of the Old Headquarters Building, then rode up in the executive elevator, which somehow was always waiting for them, to their seventh-floor offices.

Mrs. Foley's desk was always arrayed just so. The overnight crew had all her important papers arranged just so, also. But today, as she had for the last week, instead of looking over the striped-border folders full of TOP SECRET CODEWORDED material, she first of all flipped on her desktop computer and checked her special e-mail. This morning was no disappointment. She copied the file electronically to her hard drive, printed up a hard copy, and when that was off her printer, deleted the e-mail from her system, effectively erasing it from electronic existence. Then she reread the paper copy and lifted the phone for her husband's office.

"Yeah, baby?"

"Some egg-drop soup," she told the Director of Central Intelligence. It was a Chinese dish he found especially vile, and she enjoyed teasing her husband.

"Okay, honey. Come on in." It had to be pretty good if she was trying to turn his stomach over this early in the friggin' morning, the DCI knew.

More SORGE?" the President asked, seventy-five minutes later.

"Yes, sir," Ben Goodley replied, handing the sheet over. It wasn't long, but it was interesting.

Ryan skimmed through it. "Analysis?"

"Mrs. Foley wants to go over it with you this afternoon. You have a slot at two-fifteen."

"Okay. Who else?"

"The Vice President, since he's around." Goodley knew that Ryan liked to have Robby Jackson in for strategically interesting material. "He's fairly free this afternoon as well."

"Good. Set it up," POTUS ordered.

Six blocks away, Dan Murray was just arriving at his capacious office (considerably larger than the President's, as a matter of fact) with his own security detail, because he, as the country's principal counterintelligence and counterterrorist officer, had ail manner of information that others were interested in. This morning only brought in some more.

"Morning, Director," one of the staff said--she was a sworn agent carrying a side arm, not just a secretary.

"Hey, Toni," Murray responded. This agent had very nice wheels, but the FBI Director realized that he'd just proven to himself that his wife, Liz, was right: He was turning into a dirty old man.

The piles on the desk were arranged by the overnight staff, and there was a routine for this. The rightward-most pile was for intelligence-related material, the leftward-most for counterintelligence operations, and the big one in the middle was for ongoing criminal investigations requiring his personal attention or notification. That tradition went back to "Mr. Hoover," as he was remembered at the FBI, who seemingly went over every field case bigger than the theft of used cars off the government parking lot.

But Murray had long worked the "black" side of the Bureau, and that meant he attacked the rightward pile first. There wasn't much there. The FBI was running some of its own pure intelligence operations at the moment, somewhat to the discomfort of CIA--but those two government agencies had never gotten along terribly well, even though Murray rather liked the Foleys. What the hell, he thought, a little competition was good for everybody, so long as CIA didn't mess with a criminal investigation, which would be a very different kettle of fish. The top report was from Mike Reilly in Moscow....

"Damn ..." Murray breathed. Then an inward smile. Murray had personally selected Reilly for the Moscow slot, over the objections of some of his senior people, who had all wanted Paul Landau out of the Intelligence Division. But no, Murray had decided, Moscow needed help with cop work, not spy-chasing, at which they had lots of good experience, and so he'd sent Mike, a second-generation agent who, like his father, Pat Reilly, had given the Mafia in New York City a serious case of indigestion. Landau was now in Berlin, playing with the German Bundeskriminalamt, the BKA, doing regular crime liaison stuff, and doing it pretty well. But Reilly was a potential star. His dad had retired an ASAC. Mike would do better than that.

And the way he'd bonded with this Russian detective, Provalov, wouldn't hurt his career one bit. So. They'd uncovered a link between a former KGB officer and the Chinese MSS, eh? And this was part of the investigation into the big ka-boom in Moscow ... ? Jesus, could the Chinese have had a part in that? If so, what the hell did that mean? Now, this was something the Foleys had to see. To that end, Director Murray lifted his phone. Ten minutes later, the Moscow document slid into his secure fax machine to Langley--and just to make sure that CIA didn't take credit for an FBI job, a hard copy was hand-carried to the White House, where it was handed to Dr. Benjamin Goodley, who'd surely show it to the President before lunch.

It had gotten to the point that he recognized her knock at the door. Nomuri set his drink down and jumped to answer, pulling it open less than five seconds after the first sexy tap tap.

"Ming," Chet said.

"Nomuri-san," she greeted in turn.

He pulled her in the door, closed, and locked it. Then he lifted her off the floor with a passionate hug that was less than three percent feigned.

"So, you have a taste for Japanese sausage, eh?" he demanded, with a smile and a kiss.

"You didn't even smile when I said it. Wasn't it funny?" she asked, as he undid a few of her buttons.

"Ming--" Then he hesitated and tried something he'd learned earlier in the day. "Bau-bei," he said instead. It translated to "beloved one."

Ming smiled at the words and made her own reply: "Shing-gan," which literally meant "heart and liver," but in context meant "heart and soul."

"Beloved one," Nomuri said, after a kiss, "do you advertise our relationship at your office?"

"No, Minister Fang might not approve, but the other girls in the office probably would not object if they found out," she explained, with a coquettish smile. "But you never know."

"Then why risk exposing yourself by making such a joke, unless you wish me to betray you?"

"You have no sense of humor," Ming observed. But then she ran her hands under his shirt and up his chest. "But that is all right. You have the other things I need."

Afterward, it was time to do business.

"Bau-bei?"

"Yes?"

"Your computer still works properly?"

"Oh, yes," she assured him in a sleepy voice.

His left hand stroked her body gently. "Do any of the other girls in the office use their computers to surf the 'Net?"

"Only Chai. Fang uses her as he uses me. In fact, he likes her better. He thinks she has a better mouth."

"Oh?" Nomuri asked, softening the question with a smile.

"I told you, Minister Fang is an old man. Sometimes he needs special encouragement, and Chai doesn't mind so much. Fang reminds her of her grandfather, she says," Ming told him.

Which was good in the American's mind for a Yuck! and little else. "So, all the girls in the office trade notes on your minister?"

Ming laughed. It was pretty funny. "Of course. We all do."

Damn, Nomuri thought. He'd always thought that women would be more ... discreet, that it was just the men who bragged in the locker room over their sweat socks.

"The first time he did me," she went on, "I didn't know what to do, so I talked with Chai for advice. She's been there the longest, you see. She just said to enjoy it, and try to make him happy, and I might get a nice office chair out of it, like she did. Chai must be very good to him. She got a new bicycle last November. Me, well, I think he only likes me because I'm a little different to look at. Chai has bigger breasts than I do, and I think I'm prettier, but she has a sweet disposition, and she likes the old man. More than I do, anyway." She paused. "I don't want a new bicycle enough for that."

What does this mean?" Robby Jackson asked.

"Well, we're not sure," the DCI admitted. "This Fang guy had a long talk with our old friend Zhang Han San. They're talking about the meeting with our trade team that starts tomorrow. Hell"--Ed Foley looked at his watch--"call that fourteen hours from now. And it looks as though they want concessions from us instead of offering any to us. They're even angrier over our recognition of Taiwan than we'd anticipated."

"Tough shit," Ryan observed.

"Jack, I agree with your sentiment, but let's try not to be over-cavalier about their opinions, shall we?" Foley suggested.

"You're starting to sound like Scott," the President said.

"So? You want a yes-man handling Langley, you got the wrong guy," the DCI countered.

"Fair enough, Ed," Jack conceded. "Go on."

"Jack, we need to warn Rutledge that the PRC isn't going to like what he has to say. They may not be in a mood to make many trade concessions."

"Well, neither is the United States of America," Ryan told his Director of Central Intelligence. "And we come back to the fact that they need our money more than we need their trade goods."

"What's the chance that this is a setup, this information I mean?" Vice President Jackson asked.

"You mean that they're using this source as a conduit to get back-channel information to us?" Mary Patricia Foley asked. "I evaluate that chance as practically zero. As close to zero as something in the real world can be."

"MP, how can you be that confident?" President Ryan asked.

"Not here, Jack, but I am that confident," Mary Pat said, somewhat to the discomfort of her husband, Ryan saw. It was rare in the intelligence community for anyone to feel that confident about anything, but Ed had always been the careful one, and Mary Pat had always been the cowgirl. She was as loyal to her people as a mother was to her infant, and Ryan admired that, even though he also had to remind himself that it wasn't always realistic.

"Ed?" Ryan asked, just to see.

"I back Mary up on this one. This source appears to be gold-plated and copper-bottomed."


"So, this document represents the view of their government?" TOMCAT asked.

Foley surprised the Vice President by shaking his head. "No, it represents the view of this Zhang Han San guy. He's a powerful and influential minister, but he doesn't speak for their government per se. Note that the text here doesn't say what their official position is. Zhang probably does represent a view, and a powerful view, inside their Politburo. There are also moderates whose position this document does not address."

"Okay, great," Robby said, shifting in his seat, "so why are you taking up our time with this stuff, then?"

"This Zhang guy is tight with their Defense Minister--in fact he has a major voice in their entire national-security establishment. If he's expanding his influence into trade policy, we have a problem, and our trade negotiations team needs to know that up front," the DCI informed them.

So?" Ming asked tiredly. She hated getting dressed and leaving, and it meant a night of not-enough sleep.

"So, you should get in early and upload this on Chai's computer. It's just a new system file, the new one, six-point-eight-point-one, like the one I uploaded on your computer." In fact, the newest real system file was 6.3.2, and so there was at least a year until a write-over would actually be necessary.

"Why do you have me do this?"

"Does it matter, Bau-bei?" he asked.

She actually hesitated, thinking it over a bit, and the second or so of uncertainty chilled the American spy. "No, I suppose not."

"I need to get you some new things," Nomuri whispered, taking her in his arms.

"Like what?" she asked. All his previous gifts had been noteworthy.

"It will be a surprise, and a good one," he promised.

Her dark eyes sparkled with anticipation. Nomuri helped her on with her dreadful jacket. Dressing her back up was not nearly as fun as undressing her, but that was to be expected. A moment later, he gave her the final goodbye kiss at the door, and watched her depart, then went back to his computer to tell [email protected] that he'd arranged for a second recipe that he hoped she might find tasty.

Chapter 22

The Table and the Recipe

Minister, this is a pleasure," Cliff Rutledge said in his friendliest diplomatic voice, shaking hands. Rutledge was glad the PRC had adopted the Western custom--he'd never learned the exact protocol of bowing.

Carl Hitch, the U.S. Ambassador to the People's Republic, was there for the opening ceremony. He was a career foreign service officer who'd always preferred working abroad to working at Foggy Bottom. Running day-to-day diplomatic relations wasn't especially exciting, but in a place like this, it did require a steady hand. Hitch had that, and he was apparently well liked by the rest of the diplomatic community, which didn't hurt.

It was all new for Mark Gant, however. The room was impressive, like the boardroom of a major corporation--designed to keep the board members happy, like noblemen from medieval Italy. It had high ceilings and fabric-covered walls--Chinese silk, in this case, red, of course, so that the effect was rather like crawling inside the heart of a whale, complete with chandeliers, cut crystal, and polished brass. Everyone had a tiny glass of mao-tai, which really was like drinking flavored lighter fluid, as he'd been warned.

"It is your first time in Beijing?" some minor official asked him.

Gant turned to look down at the little guy. "Yes, it is."

"Too soon for first impressions, then?"

"Yes, but this room is quite stunning ... but then silk is something with which your people have a long and fruitful history," he went on, wondering if he sounded diplomatic or merely awkward.

"This is so, yes," the official agreed with a toothy grin and a nod, neither of which told the visiting American much of anything, except that he didn't waste much money on toothbrushes.

"I have heard much of the imperial art collection."

"You will see it," the official promised. "It is part of the official program."

"Excellent. In addition to my duties, I would like to play tourist."

"I hope you will find us acceptable hosts," the little guy said. For his part, Gant was wondering if this smiling, bowing dwarf would hit his knees and offer a blow job, but diplomacy was an entirely new area for him. These were not investment bankers, who were generally polite sharks, giving you good food and drink before sitting you down and trying to bite your dick off. But they never concealed the fact that they were sharks. These people--he just wasn't sure. This degree of politeness and solicitude was a new experience for Gant, but given his pre-mission brief, he wondered if the hospitality only presaged an unusually hostile meeting when they got to business. If the two things had to balance out, then the downside of this seesaw was going to be a son of a bitch, he was sure.

"So, you are not from the American State Department?" the Chinese man asked.

"No. I'm in the Department of the Treasury. I work directly for Secretary Winston."

"Ah, then you are from the trading business?"

So, the little bastard's been briefed... But that was to be expected. At this level of government you didn't freelance things. Everyone would be thoroughly briefed. Everyone would have read the book on the Americans. The State Department members of the American crew had done the same. Gant, however, had not, since he wasn't really a player per se, and had only been told what he needed to know. That gave him an advantage over the Chinese assigned to look after him. He was not State Department, hence should not have been regarded as important--but he was the personal representative of a very senior American official, known to be part of that man's inner circle, and that made him very important indeed. Perhaps he was even a principal adviser to the Rutledge man--and in a Chinese context, that might even mean that he, Gant, was the man actually running the negotiations rather than the titular chief diplomat, because the Chinese often ran things that way. It occurred to Gant that maybe he could fuck with their minds a little bit ... but how to go about it?

"Oh, yes, I've been a capitalist all my life," Gant said, deciding to play it cool and just talk to the guy as though he were a human being and not a fucking communist diplomat. "So has Secretary Winston, and so has our President, you know."

"But he was mainly an intelligence officer, or so I have been told."

Time to stick the needle: "I suppose that's partly true, but his heart is in business, I think. After he leaves government service, he and George will probably go into business together and really take the world over." Which was almost true, Gant thought, remembering that the best lies usually were.

"And you have worked some years with Secretary Winston." A statement rather than a question, Gant noted. How to answer it? How much did they really know about him ... or was he a man of mystery to the ChiComms? If so, could he make that work for him ... ?

A gentle, knowing smile. "Well, yeah, George and I made a little money together. When Jack brought him into the cabinet, George decided that he wanted me to come down with him and help make a little government policy. Especially tax policy. That's been a real mess, and George turned me loose on it. And you know? We just might get all of that changed. It looks as though Congress is going to do what we told them to do, and that's not bad, making those idiots do what we want them to do," Gant observed, looking rather deliberately at the carved ivory fixture on the wooden display cabinet. Some craftsman with a sharp knife had spent a lot of time to get that thing just right ... So, Mr. Chinaman, do I look important now? One thing about this guy. He would have been a pretty good poker player. His eyes told you nothing at all. Not a fucking thing. Gant looked down at the guy again. "Excuse me. I talk too much."

The official smiled. "There is much of that at times like this. Why do you suppose everyone gets something to drink?" Amusement in his voice, letting Gant know, perhaps, who was really running this affair ... ?

"I suppose," Gant observed diffidently and wandered off with the junior--or was he?--official in tow.

For his part, Rutledge was trying to decide if the opposition knew what his instructions were. There had been a few leaked hints in the media, but Adler had arranged the leaks with skill, so that even a careful observer--and the PRC ambassador in Washington was one of those--might have trouble deciding who was leaking what, and to what purpose. The Ryan administration had utilized the press with a fair degree of skill, probably, Rutledge thought, because the cabinet officers mainly took their lead from Ryan's chief of staff, Arnie van Damm, who was a very skillful political operator. The new cabinet didn't have the usual collection of in-and-out political figures who needed to stroke the press to further their own agendas. Ryan had chiefly selected people with no real agenda at all, which was no small feat--especially since most of them seemed to be competent technicians who, like Ryan, only seemed to want to escape Washington with their virtue intact and return to their real lives as soon as they finished serving their country for a short period of time. The career diplomat had not thought it possible that his country's government could be so transformed. He assigned credit for all this to that madman Japanese pilot who'd killed so much of official Washington in that one lunatic gesture.

It was then that Xu Kun Piao showed up, sweeping in to the greeting room with his official entourage. Xu was General Secretary of the Communist Party of the People's Republic of China, and Chairman of the Chinese Politburo, though referred to in the media as the country's "Premier," which was something of a misnomer, but one adopted even in the diplomatic community. He was a man of seventy-one years, one of the second generation of Chinese leaders. The Long March survivors had long since died out--there were some senior officials who claimed to have been there, but a check of the numbers showed that if they had, they'd been sucking their mothers' nipples at the time, and those men were not taken seriously. No, the current crop of Chinese political leaders were mainly the sons or nephews of the original set, raised in privilege and relative comfort, but always mindful of the fact that their place in life was a precarious one. On one side were the other political children who craved advancement beyond their parents' places, and to achieve that they'd been more Catholic than the local communist pope. They'd carried their Little Red Books high as adults during the Cultural Revolution, and before that they'd kept their mouths shut and ears open during the abortive and predatory "Hundred Flowers" campaign of the late '50s, which had trapped a lot of intellectuals who'd thought to keep hidden for the first decade of Maoist rule. They'd been enticed into the open by Mao's own solicitation for their ideas, which they'd foolishly given out, and in the process only extended their necks over the broad block for the axe that fell a few years later in the brutal, cannibalistic Cultural Revolution.

The current Politburo members had survived in two ways. First, they'd been secured by their fathers and the rank that attached to such lofty parentage. Second, they'd been carefully warned about what they could say and what they could not say, and so all along they'd observed cautiously, always saying out loud that Chairman Mao's ideas were those which China really needed, and that the others, while interesting, perhaps, in a narrow intellectual sense, were dangerous insofar as they distracted the workers and peasants from The True Way of Mao. And so when the axe had fallen, borne as it had been by the Little Red Book, they'd been among the first to carry and show that book to others, and so escaped the destruction for the most part--a few of their number had been sacrificed, of course, but none of the really smart ones who now shared the seats on the Politburo. It had been a brutal Darwinian process that they had all gotten through by being a little smarter than those around them, and now, at the peak of the power won for them by brains and caution, it was time for them to enjoy that which they'd earned.

The new crop of leaders accepted communism as truly as other men believed in God, because they'd learned nothing else, and had not exercised their intellectual agility to seek another faith, or even to seek solutions to the questions that Marxism could not answer. Theirs was a faith of resignation rather than enthusiasm. Raised within a circumscribed intellectual box, they never ventured out of it, for they feared what they might find out there. In the past twenty years, they'd been forced to allow capitalism to blossom within the borders of their country, because that country needed money to grow into something more powerful than the failed experiment in the Democratic Republic of Korea. China had experienced its own killer famine around 1960, and slowly learned from it and the Chinese also used it as a launching point for the Cultural Revolution, thus gaining political capital from a self-imposed disaster.

They wanted their nation to be great. In fact, they already regarded it as such, but recognized the fact that other nations lacked this appreciation, and so they had to seek out the means to correct the misimpression foolishly held by the rest of the world. That had meant money, and money had meant industry, and industry required capitalists. It was something they had figured out before the foolish Soviets to their north and west. And so the Soviet Union had fallen, but the People's Republic of China remained.

Or so they all believed. They looked out, when they bothered themselves to do so, at a world that they pretended to understand and to which they felt superior for no better reason than their skin and their language--ideology came second in their self-reckoning; amour propre starts from within. They expected people to defer to them, and the previous years of interactive diplomacy with the surrounding world had not altered their outlook very much.

But in this, they suffered from their own illusions. Henry Kissinger had come to China in 1971 at the behest of President Richard Nixon not so much from his perceived need to establish normal relations with the world's most populous nation as to use the PRC as a stick with which to beat the Soviet Union into submission. In fact Nixon had begun a process so lengthy as to be considered beyond Western capabilities--it was more the sort of thing that Westerners thought the Chinese themselves capable of conceiving. With such ideas, people merely show ethnic prejudices of one sort or another. The typical chief of a totalitarian government is far too self-centered to think much beyond his own lifetime, and men all over the world live roughly the same number of years. For that simple reason, they all think in terms of programs that can be completed in their own living sight, and little beyond, because they were all men who'd torn down the statues of others, and such men had few illusions over the fate of their own monuments. It was only as they faced death that they considered what they had done, and Mao had conceded bleakly to Henry Kissinger that all he'd accomplished had been to change the lives of peasants within a few miles of Beijing.

But the men in this ceremonial room were not yet close enough to death to think in such terms. They were the magisters of their land. They made the rules that others followed. Their words were law. Their whims were granted with alacrity. People looked upon them as they once looked upon the emperors and princes of old. All a man could wish to have, they had. Most of all, they had the power. It was their wishes that ruled their vast and ancient land. Their communist ideology was merely the magic that defined the form their wishes took, the rules of the game they had all agreed to play all those years before. The power was the thing. They could grant life or take it with the stroke of a pen--or more realistically, a dictated word, taken down by a personal secretary, for transmission to the underling who squeezed the trigger.

Xu was a man of average everything--height, weight, eyes, and face ... and intellect, some said. Rutledge had read all this in his briefing documents. The real power was elsewhere. Xu was a figurehead of sorts, chosen for his looks, partially; his ability to give a speech, certainly; and his ability to front the occasional idea of others on the Politburo, to simulate conviction. Like a Hollywood actor, he didn't so much have to be smart as to play smart.

"Comrade Premier," Rutledge said in greeting, holding out his hand, which the Chinese man took.

"Mr. Rutledge," Xu replied in passable English. There was an interpreter there, too, for the more complex thoughts. "Welcome to Beijing."

"It is my pleasure, and my honor, to visit your ancient country again," the American diplomat said, showing proper respect and subservience, the Chinese leader thought.

"It is always a pleasure to welcome a friend," Xu went on, as he'd been briefed to do. Rutledge had been to China before in his official capacity, but never before as a delegation leader. He was known to the Chinese Foreign Ministry as a diplomat who'd climbed his way up the ladder of his bureaucracy, much as they did in their own--a mere technician, but a high-ranking one. The Politburo chief raised his glass. "I drink to successful and cordial negotiations."

Rutledge smiled and hoisted his glass as well. "As do I, sir."

The cameras got it. The news media people were circulating around, too. The cameramen were doing mainly what they called "locator" shots, like any amateur would do with his less expensive mini-cam. They showed the room at an artificial distance, so that the viewers could see the colors, with a few close-ups of the furniture on which no one was supposed to sit, with somewhat closer shots of the major participants drinking their drinks and looking pleasant to one another--this was called "B-roll," intended to show viewers what it was like to be at a large, formal, and not overly pleasant cocktail party. The real news coverage for the event would be by people like Barry Wise and the other talking heads, who would tell the viewer what the visuals could not.

Then the coverage would shift back to CNN's Washington studio, down the hill from Union Station, where other talking heads would discuss what had been leaked or not leaked to them, then discuss what they in their personal sagacious wisdom thought the proper course for the United States of America ought to be. President Ryan would see all this over breakfast, as he read the papers and the government-produced Early Bird clipping service. Over breakfast, Jack Ryan would make his own terse comments to be noted by his wife, who might discuss it over lunch with her colleagues at Johns Hopkins, who might discuss it with their spouses, from whom it would go no further. In this way, the President's thoughts often remained a mystery.

The party broke up at the predetermined hour, and the Americans headed back to the embassy in their official cars.

"So, what can you tell us off the record?" Barry asked Rutledge, in the sanctity of the stretch Lincoln's backseat.

"Not much, really," the Assistant Secretary of State for Policy replied. "We'll listen to what they have to say, and they'll listen to what we have to say, and it'll go from there."

"They want MFN. Will they get it?"

"That's not for me to decide, Barry, and you know that." Rutledge was too tired and jet-lagged for intelligent conversation at the moment. He didn't trust himself to speak under these circumstances, and figured Wise knew that. The reporter was leaning on him for just that reason.

"So, what are you going to talk about?"

"Obviously, we'd like the Chinese to open their markets more, and also to take a closer look at some issues we have, like patent and copyright violations that American business has complained about."

"The Dell Computer issue?"

Rutledge nodded. "Yes, that's one." Then he yawned. "Excuse me. The long flight ... you know how it is."

"I was on the same airplane," Barry Wise pointed out.

"Well, maybe you're just better at this than I am," Rutledge offered. "Can we postpone this discussion a day or so?"

"If you say so," the CNN reporter agreed. He didn't much like this preppy asshole, but he was a source of information, and Wise was in the information business. The ride was a brief one in any case. The official delegation hopped out at the embassy, and the embassy cars took the newsies back to their hotels.

The embassy had sleeping accommodations for the entire official party, mainly to ensure that anything they said wouldn't be recorded by the MSS bugs in every hotel room in the city. This was not to say that the accommodations were palatial, though Rutledge had a comfortable room. Here protocol failed Mark Gant, but he did have a comfortable single bed in his small private room and a shared bathroom with a shower. He opted instead for a hot bath and one of the sleeping pills the physician who accompanied the official party had issued him. It was supposed to give him a solid eight hours or so, which would just about synchronize him with local time by the morning. There would then be a big working breakfast, much like the astronauts got before a shuttle launch, and as much of an American tradition as the Stars and Stripes over Fort McHenry.

Nomuri caught the arrival of the trade delegation on Chinese TV, which he watched mainly to hone his language skills. These were improving, though the tonal nature of Mandarin drove him slightly nuts. He'd once thought Japanese was hard, but it was a walk in the park compared to Guoyu. He looked at the faces, wondering who they were. The Chinese narrator helped, stumbling badly over "Rutledge," however. Well, Americans murdered Chinese names, too, except for simple ones like Ming and Wang, and listening to an American businessman try to make himself understood to a local was enough to make Nomuri gag. The commentator went on to talk about the Chinese position on the trade talks, how America owed the PRC all manner of concessions--after all, was not China generous in allowing Americans to spend their worthless dollars for the valuable products of the People's Republic? In this, China sounded a lot like Japan had once done, but the new Japanese government had opened up their markets. While there was still a trade deficit in Japan's favor, fair competition on the playing field had muted American criticism, though Japanese cars were still less welcome in America than they had been. But that would pass, Nomuri was sure. If America had a weakness it was in forgiving and forgetting too rapidly. In this, he greatly admired the Jews. They still hadn't forgotten Germany and Hitler. As well they shouldn't, he thought. His last thought before retiring was to wonder how the new software was working on Chai's computer, and if Ming had actually installed it or not. Then he decided to check.

Rising from bed, he switched his laptop on and ... yes! Chai's system lacked Ming's transcription software, but it was transmitting what it had. Okay, fine, they had linguists at Langley to fiddle with that. He didn't have the desire to do so, and just uploaded it and headed back to bed.

Damn!" Mary Pat observed. Nearly all of it was unreadable, but this was a second SORGE source. That was evident from the pathway it had taken through the 'Net. She wondered if Nomuri was showing off, or had somehow managed to get in the pants of a second high-ranking Chinese government secretary. It wouldn't exactly be a first for a field officer to have that active a sex life, but it wasn't all that common, either. She printed it up, saved it to disk, and called for a linguist to come up and translate. Then she downloaded SONGBIRD'S current take. It was becoming as regular as The Washington Post, and a lot more interesting. She settled back in her chair and started reading the translation of Ming's latest notes from Minister Fang Gan. He'd be talking about the trade negotiations, she hoped, then to see that, sure enough, he was ... This would be important, the DDO thought. She'd soon be surprised to find out how wrong that impression was.

Chapter 23

Down to Business

Bacon and eggs, toast and hash-brown potatoes, plus some Colombian-bean coffee. Gant was Jewish but not observant, and he loved his bacon. Everyone was up and looking pretty good, he thought. The government-issued black capsule (they all called it that, evidently some sort of tradition that he didn't know about) had worked for all of them, and the cookie-pushers were all bright-eyed and bushy-tailed. Most of the talk, he noted, was about the NBA. The Lakers were looking tough again. Rutledge, Gant saw, was at the head of the table chatting amiably with Ambassador Hitch, who seemed a solid citizen. Then a more ruffled employee of the embassy came in with a manila folder whose borders were lined with striped red-and-white tape. This he handed to Ambassador Hitch, who opened it at once.

Gant realized at once that it was classified material. There wasn't much of that to be seen at Treasury, but there was some, and he'd been screened for a Top Secret/Special Access clearance as part of his employment on Secretary Winston's personal staff. So, there was intel coming in from Washington for the negotiations. Exactly what it was about, he couldn't see, and didn't know if he would see it. He wondered if he could flex his institutional muscles on this one, but Rutledge would be the one who decided if he got to see it or not, and he didn't want to give the State Department puke the excuse to show who was the he-bull in this herd. Patience was a virtue he'd long had, and this was just one more chance to exercise it. He returned to his breakfast, then decided to stand and get more off the buffet. Lunch in Beijing probably wouldn't be very appealing, even at their Foreign Ministry Building, where they would feel constrained to show off their most exotic national dishes, and Fried Panda Penis with candied bamboo roots wasn't exactly to his taste. At least the tea they served was acceptable, but even at its best, tea wasn't coffee.

"Mark?" Rutledge looked up from his seat and waved the Treasury guy over. Gant walked over with his refilled plate of eggs and bacon.

"Yeah, Cliff?"

Ambassador Hitch made room for Gant to sit down, and a steward arrived with fresh silverware. The government could make one comfortable when it wanted. He asked the guy for more hash browns and toast. Fresh coffee arrived seemingly of its own volition.

"Mark, this just came in from Washington. This is codeword material--"

"Yeah, I know. I can't even see it now, and I am not allowed to have any memory of it. So, can I see it now?"

Rutledge nodded and slipped the papers across. "What do you make of these foreign-exchange figures?"

Gant took a bite of bacon and stopped chewing almost at once. "Damn, they're that low? What have they been pissing their money away on?"

"What does this mean?"

"Cliff, once upon a time, Dr. Samuel Johnson put it this way: 'Whatever you have, spend less.' Well, the Chinese didn't listen to that advice." Gant flipped the pages. "It doesn't say what they've been spending it on."

"Mainly military stuff, so I am told," Ambassador Hitch replied. "Or things that can be applied to military applications, especially electronics. Both finished goods and the machinery with which to make electronic stuff. I gather it's expensive to invest in such things."

"It can be," Gant agreed. He turned the pages back to start from the beginning. He saw it was transmitted with the TAPDANCE encryption system. That made it hot. TAPDANCE was only used for the most sensitive material because of some technical inconveniences in its use ... so this was some really hot intelligence, TELESCOPE thought. Then he saw why. Somebody must have bugged the offices of some very senior Chinese officials to get this stuff ... "Jesus."

"What does this mean, Mark?"

"It means they've been spending money faster than it's coming in, and investing it in noncommercial areas for the most part. Hell, it means they're acting like some of the idiots we have in our government. They think money is just something that appears when you snap your fingers, and then you can spend it as fast as you want and just snap your fingers to get some more ... These people don't live in the real world, Cliff. They have no idea how and why the money appears." He paused. He'd gone too far. A Wall Street person would understand his language, but this Rutledge guy probably didn't. "Let me rephrase. They know that the money comes from their trade imbalance with the United States, and it appears that they believe the imbalance to be a natural phenomenon, something they can essentially dictate because of who they are. They think the rest of the world owes it to them. In other words, if they believe that, negotiating with them is going to be hard."

"Why?" Rutledge asked. Ambassador Hitch, he saw, was already nodding. He must have understood these Chinese barbarians better.

"People who think this way do not understand that negotiations mean give and take. Whoever's talking here thinks that he just gets whatever the hell he wants because everybody owes it to him. It's like what Hitler must have thought at Munich. I want, you give, and then I am happy. We're not going to cave for these bastards, are we?"

"Those are not my instructions," Rutledge replied.

"Well, guess what? Those are the instructions your Chinese counterpart has. Moreover, their economic position is evidently a lot more precarious than what we've been given to expect. Tell CIA they need better people in their financial-intelligence department," Gant observed. Then Hitch shifted his glance across the table to the guy who must have run the local CIA office.

"Do they appreciate how serious their position is?" Rutledge asked.

"Yes and no. Yes, they know they need the hard currency to do the business they want to do. No, they think they can continue this way indefinitely, that an imbalance is natural in their case because--because why? Because they think they're the fucking master race?" Gant asked.

Again it was Ambassador Hitch who nodded. "It's called the Middle Kingdom Complex. Yes, Mr. Gant, they really do think of themselves in those terms, and they expect people to come to them and give, not for themselves to go to other people as supplicants. Someday that will be their downfall. There's an institutional ... maybe a racial arrogance here that's hard to describe and harder to quantify." Then Hitch looked over to Rutledge. "Cliff, you're going to have an interesting day."

Gant realized at once that this was not a blessing for the Assistant Secretary of State for Policy.

They should be eating breakfast right about now," Secretary Adler said over his Hennessey in the East Room.

The reception had gone well--actually Jack and Cathy Ryan found these things about as boring as reruns of Gilligan's Island, but they were as much a part of the Presidency as the State of the Union speech. At least the dinner had been good--one thing you could depend on at the White House was the quality of the food--but the people had been Washington people. Even that, Ryan did not appreciate, had been greatly improved from previous years. Once Congress had largely been populated with people whose life's ambition was "public service," a phrase whose noble intent had been usurped by those who viewed $130,000 per year as a princely salary (it was far less than a college dropout could earn doing software for a computer-game company, and a hell of a lot less than one could make working on Wall Street), and whose real ambition was to apply their will to the laws of their nation. Many of them now, mainly because of speeches the President had made all over the country, were people who actually had served the public by doing useful work until, fed up with the machinations of government, they had decided to take a few years off to repair the train wreck Washington had become, before escaping back to the real world of productive work. The First Lady had spent much of the evening talking with the junior senator from Indiana, who in real life was a pediatric surgeon of good reputation and whose current efforts were centered on straightening out government health-care programs before they killed too many of the citizens they supposedly wanted to assist. His greatest task was to persuade the media that a physician might know as much about making sick people well as Washington lobbyists did, something he'd been bending SURGEON'S ear about most of the night.

"That stuff we got from Mary Pat ought to help Rutledge."

"I'm glad that Gant guy is there to translate it for him. Cliff is going to have a lively day while we sleep off the food and the booze, Jack."

"Is he good enough for the job? I know he was tight with Ed Kealty. That does not speak well for the guy's character."

"Cliff's a fine technician," Adler said, after another sip of brandy. "And he has clear instructions to carry out, and some awfully good intelligence to help him along. This is like the stuff Jonathan Yardley gave our guys during the Washington Naval Treaty negotiations. We're not exactly reading their cards, but we are seeing how they think, and that's damned near as good. So, yes, I think he's good enough for this job, or I wouldn't have sent him out."

"How's the ambassador we have there?" POTUS asked.

"Carl Hitch? Super guy. Career pro, Jack, ready to retire soon, but he's like a good cabinetmaker. Maybe he can't design the house for you, but the kitchen will be just fine when he's done--and you know, I'll settle for that in a diplomat. Besides, designing the house is your job, Mr. President."

"Yeah," Ryan observed. He waved to an usher, who brought over some ice water. He'd pushed the booze enough for one night, and Cathy was starting to razz him about it again. Damn, being married to a doctor, Jack thought. "Yeah, Scott, but who the hell do I go to for advice when I don't know what the hell I'm doing?"

"Hell, I don't know," EAGLE replied. Maybe some humor, he thought: "Try doing a seance and call up Tom Jefferson and George Washington." He turned with a chuckle and finished his Hennessey. "Jack, just take it easy on yourself and do the fuckin' job. You're doing just fine. Trust me."

"I hate this job," SWORDSMAN observed with a friendly smile at his Secretary of State.

"I know. That's probably why you're doing it pretty well. God protect us all from somebody who wants to hold high public office. Hell, look at me. Think I ever wanted to be SecState? It was a lot more fun to eat lunch in the cafeteria with my pals and bitch about the dumb son of a bitch who was. But now--shit, they're down there saying that about me! It ain't fair, Jack. I'm a working guy."

"Tell me about it."

"Well, look at it this way: When you do your memoirs, you'll get a great advance from your publisher. The Accidental President?" Adler speculated for the title.

"Scott, you get funny when you're drunk. I'll settle for working on my golf game."

"Who spoke the magic word?" Vice President Jackson asked as he joined the conversation.

"This guy whips my ass so bad out there," Ryan complained to Secretary Adler, "that sometimes I wish I had a sword to fall on. What's your handicap now?"

"Not playing much, Jack, it's slipped to six, maybe seven."

"He's going to turn pro--Senior Tour," Jack advised.

"Anyway, Jack, this is my father. His plane was late and he missed the receiving line," Robby explained.

"Reverend Jackson, we finally meet." Jack took the hand of the elderly black minister. For the inauguration he'd been in the hospital with kidney stones, which probably had been even less fun than the inauguration.

"Robby's told me a lot of good things about you."

"Your son is a fighter pilot, sir, and they exaggerate a lot."

The minister had a good laugh at that. "Oh, that I know, Mr. President. That I know."

"How was the food?" Ryan asked. Hosiah Jackson was a man on the far side of seventy, short like his son, and rotund with increasing years, but he was a man possessed of the immense dignity that somehow attached to black men of the cloth.

"Much too rich for an old man, Mr. President, but I ate it anyway."

"Don't worry, Jack. Pap doesn't drink," TOMCAT advised. On the lapel of his tuxedo jacket was a miniature of his Navy Wings of Gold. Robby would never stop being a fighter pilot.

"And you shouldn't either, boy! That Navy taught you lots of bad habits, like braggin' on yourself too much."

Jack had to jump to his friend's defense. "Sir, a fighter pilot who doesn't brag isn't allowed to fly. And besides, Dizzy Dean said it best--if you can do it, it isn't bragging. Robby can do it ... or so he claims."

"They started talking over in Beijing yet?" Robby asked, checking his watch.

"Another half hour or so," Adler replied. "It's going to be interesting," he added, referring to the SORGE material.

"I believe it," Vice President Jackson agreed, catching the message. "You know, it's hard to love those people."

"Robby, you are not allowed to say such things," his father retorted. "I have a friend in Beijing."

"Oh?" His son didn't know about that. The answer came rather as a papal pronouncement.

"Yes, Reverend Yu Fa An, a fine Baptist preacher, educated at Oral Roberts University. My friend Gerry Patterson went to school with him."

"Tough place to be a priest--or minister, I guess," Ryan observed.

It was as though Jack had turned the key in the minister's dignity switch. "Mr. President, I envy him. To preach the Gospel of the Lord anywhere is a privilege, but to preach it in the land of the heathen is a rare blessing."

"Coffee?" a passing usher asked. Hosiah took a cup and added cream and sugar.

"This is fine," he observed at once.

"One of the fringe bennies here, Pap," Jackson told his dad with considerable affection. "This is even better than Navy coffee--well, we have navy stewards serving it. Jamaica Blue Mountain, costs like forty bucks a pound," he explained.

"Jesus, Robby, don't say that too loud. The media hasn't figured that one out yet!" POTUS warned. "Besides, I asked. We get it wholesale, thirty-two bucks a pound if you buy it by the barrel."

"Gee, that's a real bargoon," the VP agreed with a chuckle.

With the welcoming ceremony done, the plenary session began without much in the way of fanfare. Assistant Secretary Rutledge took his seat, greeted the Chinese diplomats across the table, and began. His statement started off with the usual pleasantries that were about as predictable as the lead credits for a feature film.

"The United States," he went on, getting to the meat of the issue, "has concerns about several disturbing aspects of our mutual trading relationship. The first is the seeming inability of the People's Republic to abide by previous agreements to recognize international treaties and conventions on trademarks, copyrights, and patents. All of these items have been discussed and negotiated at length in previous meetings like this one, and we had thought that the areas of disagreement were successfully resolved. Unfortunately, this seems not to be the case." He went on to cite several specific items, which he described as being illustrative but in no way a comprehensive listing of his areas of "concern."

"Similarly," Rutledge continued, "commitments to open the Chinese market to American goods have not been honored. This has resulted in an imbalance in the mercantile exchange which ill serves our overall relationship. The current imbalance is approaching seventy billion U.S. dollars, and that is something the United States of America is not prepared to accept.

"To summarize, the People's Republic's commitment to honor international treaty obligations and private agreements with the United States has not been carried out. It is a fact of American law that our country has the right to adopt the trade practices of other nations in its own law. This is the well-known Trade Reform Act, enacted by the American government several years ago. It is my unpleasant obligation, therefore, to inform the government of the People's Republic that America will enforce this law with respect to trade with the People's Republic forthwith, unless these previously agreed-upon commitments are met immediately," Rutledge concluded. Immediately is a word not often used in international discourse. "That concludes my opening statement."

For his part, Mark Gant halfway wondered if the other side might leap across the polished oak table with swords and daggers at the end of Rutledge's opening speech. The gauntlet had been cast down in forceful terms not calculated to make the Chinese happy. But the diplomat handling the other side of the table--it was Foreign Minister Shen Tang--reacted no more than he might on getting the check in a restaurant and finding that he'd been overcharged about five bucks' worth. Not even a look up. Instead the Chinese minister continued to look down at his own notes, before finally lifting his eyes as he felt the end of Rutledge's opening imminent, with no more feeling or emotion than that of a man in an art gallery looking over some painting or other that his wife wanted him to purchase to cover a crack in the dining room wall.

"Secretary Rutledge, thank you for your statement," he began in his turn.

"The People's Republic first of all welcomes you to our country and wishes to state for the record its desire for a continued friendly relationship with America and the American people.

"We cannot, however, reconcile America's stated desire for friendly relations with her action to recognize the breakaway province on the island of Taiwan as the independent nation it is not. Such action was calculated to inflame our relationship--to fan the flames instead of helping to extinguish them. The people of our country will not accept this unconscionable interference with Chinese internal affairs and--" The diplomat looked up in surprise to see Rutledge's hand raised in interruption. He was sufficiently shocked by this early breach of protocol that he actually stopped talking.

"Minister," Rutledge intoned, "the purpose of this meeting is to discuss trade. The issue of America's diplomatic recognition of the Republic of China is one best left to another venue. The American delegation has no desire to detour into that area today." Which was diplo-speak for "Take that issue and shove it."

"Mr. Rutledge, you cannot dictate to the People's Republic what our concerns and issues are," Minister Shen observed, in a voice as even as one discussing the price of lettuce in the street market. The rules of a meeting like this were simple: The first side to show anger lost.

"Do go on, then, if you must," Rutledge responded tiredly. You're wasting my time, but I get paid whether I work or not, his demeanor proclaimed.

Gant saw that the dynamic for the opening was that both countries had their agendas, and each was trying to ignore that of the other in order to take control of the session. This was so unlike a proper business meeting as to be unrecognizable as a form of verbal intercourse--and in terms of other intercourse, it was like two naked people in bed, purportedly for the purpose of sex, starting off their foreplay by fighting over the TV remote. Gant had seen all manner of negotiations before, or so he thought. This was something entirely new and, to him, utterly bizarre.

"The renegade bandits on Taiwan are part of China in their history and heritage, and the People's Republic cannot ignore this deliberate insult to our nationhood by the Ryan Regime."

"Minister Shen, the government of the United States of America has a long history of supporting democratically elected governments throughout the world. That has been part of our nation's ethos for over two hundred years. I would remind the People's Republic that the United States of America has the longest-lived government in the world. We have lived under our constitutional form of government for well over two hundred years. That is a small number in terms of Chinese history, but I would remind you further that when America elected her first President and first Congress, China was ruled by a hereditary monarch. The government of your country has changed many times since then, but the government of the United States of America has not. Thus it is well within our power both as an independent nation under recognized international law, and also as a moral right as a long-lived and therefore legitimate form of government, both to act as we choose and to foster governments like our own. The government of the Republic of China is democratically elected, and therefore it commands the respect of similarly chosen governments of the people, like our own. In any case, Minister, the purpose of this meeting is to discuss trade. Shall we do that, or shall we fritter away our time discussing irrelevancies?"

"Nothing could be more relevant to this discussion than the fundamental lack of respect shown by your government--by the Ryan Regime, shall I say?--for the government of our country. The Taiwan issue is one of fundamental importance to ..." He droned on for another four minutes.

"Minister Shen, the United States of America is not a 'regime' of any sort. It is an independent nation with a freely elected government chosen by its people. That experiment in government which we undertook when your country was ruled by the Manchu Dynasty is one which you might consider imitating at some future date, for the benefit of your own people. Now, shall we return to the issue at hand, or do you wish to continue wasting your own time and mine by discussing a topic for which I have neither instructions nor much in the way of interest?"

"We will not be brushed aside so cavalierly as that," Shen responded, earning Rutledge's brief and irrelevant respect for his unexpected command of the English language.

The American chief diplomat settled back in his chair and looked politely across the table while he thought over his wife's plans for redecorating the kitchen of their Georgetown town house. Was green and blue the right color scheme? He preferred earth tones, but he was far more likely to win this argument in Beijing than that one in Georgetown. A lifetime spent in diplomacy didn't enable him to win arguments with Mrs. Rutledge over items like decorating ...

So it went for the first ninety minutes, when there came time for the first break. Tea and finger food was served and people wandered out the French doors--a strange place to find those, Gant thought--into the garden. It was Gant's first adventure in diplomacy, and he was about to learn how these things really worked. People paired off, American and Chinese. You could tell who was who from a distance. Every single one of the Chinese smoked, a vice shared by only two of the American delegation, both of whom looked grateful for the chance to enjoy their habit indoors in this country. They might be trade nazis, the Treasury Department official reflected, but they weren't health nazis.

"What do you think?" a voice asked. Gant turned to see the same little guy who'd bugged him at the reception. His name was Xue Ma, Gant remembered, all of five-foot-nothing, with poker-player's eyes and some acting ability. Smarter than he appeared to be, the American reminded himself. So, how was he supposed to handle this? When in doubt, Gant decided, fall back on the truth.

"It's my first time observing diplomatic negotiations. It's intensely boring," Gant replied, sipping his (dreadful) coffee.

"Well, this is normal," Xue answered.

"Really? It's not that way in business. How do you get anything done?"

"Every endeavor has its process," the Chinese man told him.

"I suppose. Can you tell me something?" TELESCOPE asked.

"I can try."

"What's the big deal about Taiwan?"

"What was the big deal when your Civil War began?" Xue replied, with a clever question of his own.

"Well, okay, but after fifty years, why not call it even and start over?"

"We do not think in such short terms," Xue answered with a superior smile.

"Okay, but in America we call that living in the past." Take that, you little Chink!

"They are our countrymen," Xue persisted.

"But they have chosen not to be. If you want them back, then make it advantageous for them. You know, by achieving the same prosperity here that they've achieved there." You backward commie.

"If one of your children ran away from home, would you not work for his return?"

"Probably, but I would entice him, not threaten him, especially if I didn't have the ability to threaten him effectively." And your military is for shit, too. So the briefings had told them before flying over.

"But when others encourage our child to abscond and defy their father, are we not to object?"

"Look, pal," Gant responded, not quite showing the inward heat he felt--or so he thought. "If you want to do business, then do business. If you want to chat, we can chat. But my time is valuable, and so is the time of our country, and we can save the chat for another time." And then Gant realized that, no, he wasn't a diplomat, and this was not a game he could play and win. "As you see, I am not gifted at this sort of exchange. We have people who are, but I am not one of them. I am the kind of American who does real work and earns real money. If you enjoy this game, that's fine, but it's not my game. Patience is a good thing, I suppose, but not when it impedes the objective, and I think your minister is missing something."

"What is that, Mr. Gant?"

"It is we who will have what we wish to have out of these meetings," Gant told the little Chinese man, and realized instantly that he'd stuck his own foot into his mouth about to the knee. He finished his coffee and excused himself, then headed unnecessarily for the bathroom, where he washed his hands before heading back outside. He found Rutledge standing alone, examining some spring flowers.

"Cliff, I think I fucked something up," Gant confessed quietly.

"What's that?" the Assistant Secretary asked, then listened to the confession. "Don't sweat it. You didn't tell them anything I haven't already told them. You just don't understand the language."

"But they'll think we're impatient, and that makes us vulnerable, doesn't it?"

"Not with me doing the talking inside," Rutledge answered, with a gentle smile. "Here I am Jimmy Connors at the U.S. Open, Mark. This is what I do."

"The other side thinks so, too."

"True, but we have the advantage. They need us more than we need them."

"I thought you didn't like taking this sort of line with people," Gant observed, puzzled by Rutledge's attitude.

"I don't have to like it. I just have to do it, and winning is always fun." He didn't add that he'd never met Minister Shen before, and therefore had no personal baggage to trip over, as often happened with diplomats who had been known to put personal friendship before the interest of their countries. They usually justified it by telling themselves that the bastard would owe them one next time, which would serve their country's interest. Diplomacy had always been a personal business, a fact often lost on observers, who thought of these verbose technicians as robots.

Gant found all of this puzzling, but he would play along with Rutledge because he had to, and because the guy at least acted as though he knew what the hell he was doing. Whether he did or not ... Gant wondered how he'd be able to tell. Then it was time to go back indoors.

The ashtrays had been cleaned and the water bottles replenished by the domestic help, who were probably all politically reliable functionaries of one sort or another, or more likely professional intelligence officers, who were here because their government took no chances with anything, or at least tried not to. It was, in fact, a waste of trained personnel, but communists had never been overly concerned with utilizing manpower in an efficient way.

Minister Shen lit a smoke and motioned for Rutledge to lead off. For his part, the American remembered that Bismarck had counseled the use of a cigar in negotiations, because some found the thick tobacco smoke irritating and that gave the smoker the advantage.

"Minister, the trade policies of the People's Republic are set in place by a small number of people, and those policies are set in place for political reasons. We in America understand that. What you fail to understand is that ours truly is a government of the people, and our people demand that we address the trade imbalance. The People's Republic's inability to open markets to American goods costs the jobs of American citizens. Now, in our country it is the business of the government to serve the people, not to rule them, and for that reason, we must address the trade imbalance in an effective way."

"I fully agree that it is the business of government to serve the interests of the people, and for that reason, we must consider also the agony that the Taiwan issue imposes on the citizens of my country. Those who should be our countrymen have been separated from us, and the United States has assisted in the estrangement of our kinsmen ..." The remarkable thing, Rutledge thought, was that this droning old fart hadn't died from smoking those damned things. They looked and smelled like the Lucky Strikes his grandfather had died of, at age eighty. It had not been a death to please a physician, however. Grandpa Owens had been driving his great-grandson to South Station in Boston when, lighting one, he'd dropped it into his lap and, in retrieving it, strayed onto the wrong side of the road. Grandpa hadn't believed in seat belts, either ... the bastard actually chain-smoked, lighting a new one with the butt of the previous one, like Bogie in a '30s movie. Well, maybe it was a way for the Chinese to pursue their population-control policy ... but in rather an ugly way ...

"Mr. Foreign Minister," Rutledge started off, when it was next his turn, "the government of the Republic of China is one elected in free and fair elections by the people who live in that country. In America's eyes, that makes the government of the Republic of China legitimate"--he didn't say that the government of the People's Republic was, therefore, illegitimate, but the thought hung in the room like a dark cloud--"and that makes the government in question worthy of international recognition, as you may have noticed has been the case in the last year.

"It is the policy of our government to recognize such governments. We will not change policies based upon firm principles to suit the wishes of other countries which do not share those principles. We can talk until you run out of cigarettes, but my government's position in this case is set in stone. So, you can recognize this fact and allow the meeting to move on to productive areas, or you can beat this dead horse until nothing is left of it. The choice is yours, of course, but is it not better to be productive than not?"

"America cannot dictate to the People's Republic that which concerns us. You claim to have your principles, and surely we have our own, and one of ours is the importance of our country's territorial integrity."

For Mark Gant, the hard part was keeping an impassive face. He had to pretend that this all made sense and was important, when he'd much prefer to set up his computer to review stock prices, or for that matter read a paperback book under the rim of the table. But he couldn't do that. He had to pretend that this was all interesting, which, if successfully done, could get him nominated for the next Academy Award ceremonies for Best Actor in a Supporting Role: "For keeping awake during the most boring contest since the Iowa grass-growing championships, the winner is ..." He concentrated on not shifting in his seat, but that just made his ass tired, and these seats hadn't been designed to fit his ass. Maybe one of those skinny Chinese ones, but not that of a Chicago-raised professional who liked having a beer and a corned-beef sandwich for lunch at least once a week and didn't work out enough. His ass required a broader and softer seat for comfort, but he didn't have one. He tried to find something interesting. He decided that Foreign Minister Shen had terrible skin, as though his face had once been on fire and a friend had tried to extinguish the flames with an ice pick. Gant tried to conjure up the image of that supposed event without smiling. Then came the fact that Shen was smoking so much, lighting his smokes from cheap paper matches instead of a proper lighter. Perhaps he was one of those people who set things down and forgot where they were, which would also explain why he used cheap throwaway pens instead of something in keeping with his rank and status. So, this important son of a bitch had suffered from terminal acne as a kid and was a butterfingers... ? It was something worthy of an inward smile as the minister droned on in passable English. That engendered a new thought. He had access to an earphone for simultaneous translation ... could he get one tuned to a local station? They had to have a radio station in Beijing that played music of some sort or other, didn't they?

When Rutledge's turn came, it was almost as bad. The stated American position was as repetitive as the Chinese one, perhaps more reasonable but no less boring. Gant imagined that lawyers talking over a divorce settlement probably went through bullshit like this. Like diplomats, they were paid by the hour and not by the product. Diplomats and lawyers. What a pair, Gant thought. He was unable even to look at his watch. The American delegation had to present a united front of solid stone, Gant thought, to show the Heathen Chinese that the Forces of Truth and Beauty were firm in their resolve. Or something like that. He wondered if it would feel different negotiating with the British, for example, everyone speaking much the same language, but those negotiations were probably handled with phone calls or e-mails rather than this formalistic crap....

Lunch came at the expected hour, about ten minutes late because the Shen guy ran over, which was hardly unexpected. The American team all headed to the men's room, where no talking was done for fear of bugs. Then they went back outside, and Gant went to Rutledge.

"This is how you earn your living?" the stock trader asked with no small degree of incredulity.

"I try to. These talks are going pretty well," the Assistant Secretary of State observed.

"What?" Gant inquired with total amazement.

"Yeah, well, their Foreign Minister is doing the negotiating, so we're playing with their varsity," Rutledge explained. "That means that we'll be able to reach a real agreement instead of a lot of back-and-forth between lower-level people and the Politburo--the additional layer of people can really mess things up. There'll be some of that, of course. Shen will have to talk over his positions with them every evening, maybe even right now--he's nowhere to be seen. I wonder who he reports to, exactly. We don't think he really has plenipotentiary powers, that the rest of the big boys second-guess him a lot. Like the Russians used to be. That's the problem with their system. Nobody really trusts anybody else."

"You serious?" TELESCOPE asked.

"Oh, yeah, it's how their system works."

"That's a clusterfuck," Gant observed.

"Why do you think the Soviet Union went belly-up?" Rutledge asked with amusement. "They never had their act together on any level because they fundamentally didn't know how properly to exercise the power they had. It was rather sad, really. But they're doing a lot better now."

"But how are the talks going, well?"

"If all they have to throw at us is Taiwan, their counter-arguments on trade won't be all that impressive. Taiwan's a settled issue, and they know it. We may have a mutual-defense treaty with them in ten or eleven months, and they probably know that. They have good intelligence sources in Taipei."

"How do we know that?" Gant demanded.

"Because our friends in Taipei make sure they do. You want your adversaries to know a lot of things. It makes for better understandings, cuts down on mistakes and stuff." Rutledge paused. "I wonder what's for lunch ... ?"

Jesus, Gant thought. Then he thanked God that he was just here to offer economic backup for this diplomat. They were playing a game so different from anything he'd ever encountered before that he felt like a truck driver doing some day-trading on his laptop at a highway phone booth.

The newsies showed up for lunch so that they could get more B-roll tape of diplomats chatting amiably about such things as the weather and the food--the viewers would think they were handling matters of state, of course, when in fact at least half of the talks between diplomats at such affairs were limited to the problems of raising children or killing the crabgrass in your lawn. It was all, in fact, a kind of gamesmanship with few parallels in other forms of endeavor, Gant was only beginning to understand. He saw Barry Wise approach Rutledge without a microphone or camera in attendance.

"So, how's it going, Mr. Secretary?" the reporter asked.

"Pretty well. In fact, we had a fine opening session," Rutledge replied in Gant's earshot. It was a shame, TELESCOPE decided, that the people couldn't see what really happened. It would be the funniest thing this side of Chris Rock. It made Laverne & Shirley look like King Lear in its lunacy, and the world chess championship look like a heavyweight-championship fight in its torpor. But every field of human endeavor had its rules, and these were just different ones.

There's our friend," the cop observed, as the car pulled out. It was Suvorov/Koniev in his Mercedes C-class. The license tag number checked, as did the face in the binoculars.

Provalov had gotten the local varsity to handle this case, with even some help now from the Federal Security Service, formerly the Second Chief Directorate of the former KGB, the professional spy-chasers who'd made life in Moscow difficult for foreign intelligence operations. They remained superbly equipped, and though not so well funded as in the past, there was little to criticize in their training.

The problem, of course, was that they knew all that themselves, and took on a degree of institutional arrogance that had gotten the noses of his homicide investigators severely out of joint. Despite all that, they were useful allies. There were a total of seven vehicles to handle the surveillance. In America, the FBI would have arranged a helicopter as well, but Michael Reilly wasn't here to make that condescending observation, somewhat to Provalov's relief. The man had become a friend, and a gifted mentor in the business of investigation, but enough was sometimes enough. There were trucks containing TV cameras to tape the business of the morning, and every automobile had two people in it so that driving wouldn't interfere with watching. They followed Suvorov/Koniev into central Moscow.

Back at his apartment, another team had already defeated his lock and was inside his flat. What happened there was as graceful as any performance by the Bolshoi Ballet. Once inside, the investigative team stood still at first, scanning for telltales, left-behind items as innocuous as a human hair stuck in place across a closet door to show if someone had opened it. Suvorov's KGB file was finally in Provalov's possession now, and he knew all the things the man had been trained in--it turned out that his training had been quite thorough, and Suvorov's grades had been, well, "C" class most of the time: not outstanding enough to earn him the chance to operate in the field as an "illegal" officer on the home ground of the "Main Enemy," meaning the United States, but good enough that he'd become a diplomatic-intelligence specialist, mainly going over information brought in by others, but spending some time in the field, trying to recruit and "run" agents. Along the way, he'd established contact with various foreign diplomats, including three from China--those three he'd used to gather low-level diplomatic information, mainly chitchat-level stuff, but it was all regarded as useful. Suvorov's last field assignment had been from 1989 to '91 in the Soviet Embassy in Beijing, where he'd again tried to gather diplomatic intelligence, and, they saw, with some success this time. The accomplishments had not been questioned at the time, Provalov saw, probably because he'd had some minor victories against the same country's diplomatic service while in Moscow. His file said that he could both speak and write Chinese, skills learned at the KGB Academy that had militated in favor of making him a China specialist.

One of the problems with intelligence operations was that what looked suspicious was often innocuous, and what looked innocuous could well be suspicious. An intelligence officer was supposed to establish contact with foreign nationals, often foreign intelligence officers, and then the foreign spy could execute a maneuver that the Americans called a "flip," turning an enemy into an asset. The KGB had done the same thing many times, and part of the price of doing such business was that it could happen to your own people, not so much while you were not looking as when you were. Nineteen eighty-nine to '91 had been the time of glasnost, the "openness" that had destroyed the Soviet Union as surely as smallpox had annihilated primitive tribesmen. At that time, KGB was having problems of its own, Provalov reminded himself, and what if the Chinese had recruited Suvorov? The Chinese economy had just been starting to grow back then, and so they'd had the money to toss around, not as much as the Americans always seemed to have, but enough to entice a Soviet civil servant looking at the prospect of losing his job soon.

But what had Suvorov been doing since then? He was now driving a Mercedes-Benz automobile, and those didn't appear in your mailbox. The truth was that they didn't know, and finding out would not be very easy. They knew that neither Klementi Ivan'ch Suvorov nor Ivan Yurievich Koniev had paid his income taxes, but that merely put him at the same level as most Russian citizens, who didn't want to be bothered with such irrelevancies. And, again, they hadn't wanted to question his neighbors. Those names were now being checked to see if any were former KGB, and perhaps, therefore, allies of their suspect. No, they didn't want to alert him in any way.

The apartment looked "clean" in the police sense. With that, they began looking around. The bed was mussed up. Suvorov/Koniev was a man and therefore not terribly neat. The contents of the apartment were, however, expensive, much of them of foreign manufacture. West German appliances, a common affectation of the Russian well-to-do. The searchers wore latex surgical gloves as they opened the refrigerator door (refrigerator-freezers are well-regarded hiding places) for a visual examination. Nothing obvious. Then dresser drawers. The problem was that their time was limited and any residence just had too many places to hide things, whether rolled up in a pair of socks or inside the toilet-paper tube. They didn't really expect to find much, but making the effort was de rigueur--it was too hard to explain to one's superiors why one didn't do it than it was to send the search team in to waste their expensively trained time. Elsewhere, people were tapping the apartment's phone. They'd thought about installing some pinhole-lens cameras. These were so easy to hide that only a paranoid genius was likely to find them, but putting them in took time--the hard part was running the wires to the central monitoring station--and time was an asset they didn't have. As it was, their leader had a cell phone in his shirt pocket, waiting for it to vibrate with the word that their quarry was driving back home, in which case they'd tidy up and leave in a hurry.

He was twelve kilometers away. Behind him, the trail cars were switching in and out of visual coverage as deftly as the Russian national football team advancing the soccer ball into tied-game opposition. Provalov was in the command vehicle, watching and listening as the KGB/FSS team leader used a radio and a map to guide his people in and out. The vehicles were all dirty, middle-aged, nondescript types that could be owned by the Moscow city government or gypsy-cab operators, expected to dart around, concealing themselves among the numerous twins they all had. In most cases, the second vehicle occupant was in the back seat, not the front, to simulate a taxi's passenger, and they even had cell phones to complete the disguise, which allowed them to communicate with their base station without looking suspicious. That, the FSS leader remarked to the cop, was one advantage of new technology.

Then came the call that the subject had pulled over, stopped, and parked his car. The two surveillance vehicles in visual contact continued past, allowing new ones to close in and stop.

"He's getting out," a Federal Security Service major reported. "I'm getting out to follow on foot." The major was young for his rank, usually a sign of a precocious and promising young officer on the way up, and so it was in this case. He was also handsome with his twenty-eight years, and dressed in expensive clothing like one of the new crop of Moscovite business entrepreneurs. He was talking into his phone in a highly animated fashion, the very opposite of what someone conducting a surveillance would do. That enabled him to get within thirty meters of the subject, and to watch his every move with hawk's eyes. Those eyes were needed to catch the most elegant of maneuvers. Suvorov/Koniev sat on a bench, his right hand already in his overcoat pocket while his left fiddled with the morning paper he'd brought out from the car--and that is what tipped the FSS major that he was up to no good. A newspaper was the main disguise used by a spy, something to cover the actions of the working hand, just as a stage magician kept one hand ostentatiously busy while the other performed the actual illusion. And so it was here, so beautifully done that had he been an untrained man, he would never have caught it. The major took a seat on another bench and dialed up another false number on his cell phone and started talking to a fictitious business associate, then watched his surveillance subject stand and walk with studied casualness back to his parked Mercedes.

Major Yefremov called a real number when his subject was a hundred meters away. "This is Pavel Georgiyevich. I am staying here to see what he left behind," he told his base station. He crossed his legs and lit a cigarette, watching the figure get back into his car and drive off. When he was well out of sight, Yefremov walked over to the other bench and reached under. Oh, yes. A magnetic holder. Suvorov had been using this one for some time. He'd glued a metal plate to the bottom of the green-painted wood, and to this he could affix a magnetic holder ... about a centimeter in thickness, his hand told him. Their subject was a "player" after all. He'd just executed a dead-drop.

On hearing it, Provalov experienced the thrill of seeing a crime committed before his very eyes. Now they had their man committing a crime against the state. Now he was theirs. Now they could arrest him at any time. But they wouldn't, of course. The operation's commander next to him ordered Yefremov to retrieve the container for examination. That would be done very speedily, because the container would have to be returned. They only had half of the spy team. The other half would come to pick it up.

It was the computer. It had to be. On turning it on, they found a maze of folders, but one of them, they quickly saw, had encrypted contents. The encryption program was one they hadn't come across before. It was American, and its name was written down. They could do no more now. They lacked the proper disks to copy the covert file. That they could fix, and they could also copy the encryption program. Next, they'd have to plant a bugging device on the keyboard. In that way, they could use Sovorov's own password code to crack the encrypted file. With that decision made, the burglary team left the premises.

The next part was virtually preordained. They followed the Mercedes using the same multi-car drill, but the break came when a dump truck--still the dominant form of life on the Moscow streets--was closest. The subject parked the German sedan and jumped out, took just enough time to affix a strip of paper tape to a lamppost, and hopped back into his car. He didn't even bother to look around, as though he'd only done something routine.

But he hadn't. He'd just posted a flag, a notice to someone unknown that the dead-drop had something in it. That someone would walk or drive past and see the tape and know where to go. So, they had to examine the capsule quickly and replace it, lest they warn the enemy spy that their little operation had been compromised. No, you didn't do that until you had to, because things like this were like an unraveling sweater on a pretty woman. You didn't stop pulling the yarn until the tits were exposed, the FSS commander told Provalov.

Chapter 24

Infanticide

What's this?" the President asked at his morning intelligence briefing.

"A new SORGE source, this one's called WARBLER. I'm afraid it's not as good from an intelligence point of view, though it does tell us things about their ministers," Dr. Goodley added with some feigned delicacy.

Whoever WARBLER was, Ryan saw, she--it was definitely a she--kept a very intimate diary. She, too, worked with this Minister Fang Gan, and, it appeared, he was enamored of her, and she, if not exactly enamored of him, certainly kept records of his activities. All of them, Ryan saw. It was enough to make his eyes go a little wide this early in the morning.

"Tell Mary Pat that she can sell this stuff to Hustler if she wants, but I really don't need it at eight in the goddamned morning."

"She included it to give you a feel for the source," Ben explained. "The material isn't as narrowly political as we're getting from SONGBIRD, but MP thinks it tells us a lot about the guy's character, which is useful, and also there's some political content to go along with the information on Fang's sex life. It would appear he's a man of, uh ... well, commendable vigor, I guess, though the girl in question would clearly prefer a younger lover. It appears that she had one, but this Fang guy scared him off."

"Possessive bastard," Ryan saw, skimming that section. "Well, I guess at that age you hold on to what you need. Does this tell us anything?"

"Sir, it tells us something about the kind of people who make decisions over there. Here we call them sexual predators."

"Of which we have a few in government service ourselves," Ryan observed. The papers had just broken a story on a member of the Senate.

"At least not in this office," Goodley told his President. He didn't add anymore.

"Well, this President is married to a surgeon. She knows how to use sharp instruments," Ryan said, with a wry grin. "So, the Taiwan stuff yesterday was just a ploy because they haven't figured out how to address the trade issues yet?"

"So it would appear, and yes, that does seem a little odd. Also, MP thinks that they might have a low-level source in State. They know a little more than they could have gotten from the press, she thinks."

"Oh, great," Jack noted. "So what happened? The Japanese corporations sold their old sources to the Chinese?"

Goodley shrugged. "No telling at this time."

"Have Mary Pat call Dan Murray about this. Counterespionage is the FBI's department. Is this something we want to move on at once, or will this compromise SONGBIRD?"

"That's for somebody else to judge, sir," Goodley said, reminding the President that he was good, but not quite that good at this business.

"Yeah, somebody other than me, too. What else?"

"The Senate Select Intelligence Committee wants to look into the Russian situation."

"That's nice. What's the beef?"

"They seem to have their doubts about how trustworthy our friends in Moscow are. They're worried that they're going to use the oil and gold money to become the USSR again, and maybe threaten NATO."

"NATO's moved a few hundred miles east, last time I looked. The buffer zone will not hurt our interests."

"Except that we are obligated to defend Poland now," Goodley reminded his boss.

"I remember. So, tell the Senate to authorize funds to move a tank brigade east of Warsaw. We can take over one of the old Soviet laagers, can't we?"

"If the Poles want us to. They don't seem overly concerned, sir."

"Probably more worried by the Germans, right?"

"Correct, and there is a precedent for that concern."

"When will Europe get the word that peace has finally broken out for good and all?" Ryan asked the ceiling.

"There's a lot of history, some of it pretty recent, for them to remember, Mr. President. And much of it militates in the other direction."

"I've got a trip to Poland scheduled, don't I?"

"Yes, not too far off, and they're working out the itinerary right now."

"Okay, I'll tell the Polish president personally that he can depend on us to keep the Germans under control. If they step out of line--well, we'll take Chrysler back." Jack sipped his coffee and checked his watch. "Anything else?"

"That should do it for today."

The President looked up slyly. "Tell Mary Pat if she sends me more of this WARBLER stuff, I want the pictures to go with it."

"Will do, sir." Goodley had himself a good hoot at that.

Ryan picked up the briefing papers again and read through them more slowly this time, between sips of coffee and snorts, with a few grumbles thrown in. Life had been much easier when he was the guy who prepared these briefing papers than it was now that he was the guy who had to read them. Why was that? Shouldn't it have been the other way around? Before, he'd been the one to find the answers and anticipate the questions, but now that other people had done all that stuff for him ... it was harder. That didn't make any sense at all, damn it. Maybe, he decided, it was because, after him, the information stopped. He had to make the decisions, and so whatever other decisions and analyses had been made at lower levels, the process came to one place and stopped cold. It was like driving a car: Someone else could tell him to turn right at the corner, but he was the guy at the wheel who had to execute the turn, and if somebody clobbered the car, he was the guy who'd get the blame. For a moment, Jack wondered if he was better suited to being a step or two down in the process, able to do the analysis work and make his recommendations with confidence ... but always knowing that someone else would always get the credit for making the right move, or the blame for making the wrong one. In that insulation from consequence, there was safety and security. But that was cowardice talking, Ryan reminded himself. If there were anyone in Washington better suited for making decisions, he hadn't met the guy yet, and if that was arrogance talking, then so be it.

But there ought to be someone better, Jack thought, as the clock wound to his first appointment of the day, and it wasn't his fault that there wasn't. He checked his appointment sheet. The whole day was political bullshit ... except it wasn't bullshit. Everything he did in this office affected the lives of American citizens in one way or another, and that made it important, to them and to him. But who had decided to make him the national daddy? What the hell made him so damned smart? The people behind his back, as he thought of it, outside the overly thick windows of the Oval Office, all expected him to know how to do the right thing, and over the dinner table or a low-stakes card game, they'd bitch and moan and complain about the decisions he'd made that they didn't like, as though they knew better--which was easy to say out there. In here it was different. And so, Ryan had to apply himself to every little decision, even menus for school lunches--that one was a real son of a bitch. If you gave kids what they liked to eat, nutritionists would complain that they really ought to eat healthy twigs and berries, but for the most part, parents would probably opt for burgers and fries, because that's what the kids would eat, and even healthy food, uneaten, did them little good. He'd talked that one over with Cathy once or twice, but he really didn't need to. She let their own kids eat pizza whenever they wished, claiming that pizza was high in protein, and that a kid's metabolism could eat almost anything without ill effect, but when cornered, she'd admit that put her at odds with some of her fellow professors at Johns Hopkins. And so what was Jack Ryan, President of the United States, Doctor of Philosophy in History, Bachelor of Arts in Economics, and a Certified Public Accountant (Ryan couldn't even remember why he had bothered taking that exam), supposed to think, when experts--including the one he was married to--disagreed? That was worth another snort, when his desk buzzer went off and Mrs. Sumter announced that his first appointment of the day was here. Already Jack was wishing for a bummed cigarette, but he couldn't do that until he had a break in his schedule, because only Mrs. Sumter and a few of his Secret Service detail were allowed to know that the President of the United States suffered, intermittently, from that vice.

Jesus, he thought, as he did so often when the workday began, how did I ever get stuck in here? Then he stood and faced the door, conjuring up his welcoming Presidential smile as he tried to remember who the hell was coming in first to discuss farm subsidies in South Dakota.

The flight, as usual, was out of Heathrow, this one in a Boeing 737, because it wasn't all that long a hop to Moscow. The Rainbow troopers filled the entire first-class section, which would please the cabin staff, though they didn't know it yet, because the passengers would be unusually polite and undemanding. Chavez sat with his father-in-law, politely watching the safety-briefing video, though both knew that if the airplane hit the ground at four hundred knots, it really wouldn't help all that much to know where the nearest emergency exit was. But such things were rare enough to be ignored. Ding grabbed the magazine from the pocket in front and flipped through it in the hope of finding something interesting. He'd already bought all the useful items from the "flying mall" magazine, some to his wife's pitying amusement.

"So, the little guy's walking better?" Clark asked.

"You know, the enthusiasm he has for it is kinda funny, the big grin every time he makes it from the TV to the coffee table, like he's won the marathon, got a big gold medal, and a kiss from Miss America on his way to Disney World."

"The big things are made up of a lot of little things, Domingo," Clark observed, as the aircraft started its takeoff run. "And the horizon's a lot closer when you're that short."

"I suppose, Mr. C. Does seem kinda amusing, though ... and kinda cute," he allowed.

"Not bad duty being the father of a little guy, is it?"

"I got no complaints," Chavez agreed, leaning his seat back now that the gear was up.

"How's Ettore working out?" Back to business, Clark decided. This grandpa stuff had its limitations.

"He's in better shape now. Needed about a month to get caught up. He took some razzing, but he handled it just fine. You know, he's smart. Good tactical instincts, considering he's a cop and not a soldier."

"Being a cop in Sicily isn't like walking a beat on Oxford Street in London, you know?"

"Yeah, guess so," Chavez agreed. "But on the simulator he hasn't made a single shoot/no-shoot mistake yet, and that's not bad. The only other guy who hasn't blown one is Eddie Price." The computerized training simulator back at Hereford was particularly ruthless in its presentation of possible tactical scenarios, to the point that in one a twelve-year-old picked up an AK-74 and hosed you if you didn't pay close enough attention. The other nasty one was the woman holding the baby who'd just happened to pick up a pistol from a dead terrorist and turn innocently to face the incoming Men of Black. Ding had taken her down once, to find a Cabbage Patch doll on his desk the next morning with a packet of McDonald's ketchup spread across the face. The RAINBOW troopers had a lively, if somewhat perverse, institutional sense of humor.

"So, what exactly are we supposed to be doing?"

"The old Eighth Chief Directorate of the KGB, their executive protective service," John explained. "They've got worries about domestic terrorists--from the Chechens, I guess, and other internal nationalities who want out of the country. They want us to help train up their boys to deal with them."

"How good are they?" Ding asked.

RAINBOW SIX shrugged. "Good question. The personnel are former KGB types, but with Spetsnaz training, so, probably career people as opposed to two-year in-and-outs in the Red Army. All probably titular commissioned officers, but with sergeants' duties. I expect they'll be smart, properly motivated, probably in decent physical shape, and they'll understand the mission. Will they be as good as they need to be? Probably not," John thought. "But in a few weeks we ought to be able to point them in the right direction."

"So mainly we're going to be training up their instructors?"

Clark nodded. "That's how I read it, yeah."

"Fair enough," Chavez agreed, as the lunch menu appeared. Why was it, he wondered, that airline food never seemed to have what you wanted? This was dinner food, not lunch food. What the hell was wrong with a cheeseburger and fries? Oh, well, at least he could have a decent beer. The one thing he'd come to love about life in the UK was the beer. There wouldn't be anything like it in Russia, he was sure.

Sunrise in Beijing was as drab as the polluted air could make it, Mark Gant thought. For some reason he'd slipped out of synch with the local time, despite the black capsule and planned sleep. He'd found himself awake just at first light, which fought through air that was as bad as Los Angeles on its worst-ever day. Certainly there was no EPA in the PRC, and this place didn't even have much in the way of automobiles yet. If that ever happened, China might solve its local population problem with mass gassing. He hadn't been around enough to recognize this as a problem of Marxist nations--but there weren't many of them left to be examples, were there? Gant had never smoked--it was a vice largely removed from the stock-trading community, where the normal working stress was enough of a killer that they needed few others--and this degree of air pollution made his eyes water.

He had nothing to do and lots of time in which to do it--once awake he was never able to escape back into sleep--so he decided to flip on his reading light and go over some documents, most of which he'd been given without any particular expectation that he would read them. The purpose of diplomacy, Commander Spock had once said on Star Trek, was to prolong a crisis. Certainly the discourse meandered enough to make the Mississippi River look like a laser beam, but like the Father of Waters, it eventually had to get downstream, or downhill, or wherever the hell it was that rivers went. But this morning--what had awakened him? He looked out the window, seeing the orange-pink smudge beginning to form at the horizon, backlighting the buildings. Gant found them ugly, but he knew he just wasn't used to them. The tenements of Chicago weren't exactly the Taj Mahal, and the wood-frame house of his youth wasn't Buckingham Palace. Still, the sense of different-ness here was overpowering. Everywhere you looked, things seemed alien, and he wasn't cosmopolitan enough to overcome that feeling. It was like a background buzz in the Muzak, never quite there, but never gone away either. It was almost a sense of foreboding, but he shook it off. There was no reason to feel anything like that. He didn't know that he would be proven wrong very soon.

Barry Wise was already up in his hotel room, with breakfast coming--the hotel was one of an American chain, and the breakfast menu approximately American as well. The local bacon would be different, but even Chinese chickens laid real eggs, he was sure. His previous day's experiment with waffles hadn't worked out very well, and Wise was a man who needed a proper breakfast to function throughout the day.

Unlike most American TV correspondent/reporters, Wise looked for his own stories. His producer was a partner, not a boss-handler. He credited that fact for his collection of Emmy awards, though his wife just grumbled about dusting the damned things behind the basement bar.

He needed a fresh new story for today. His American audience would be bored with another talking-head-plus-B-roll piece on the trade negotiations. He needed some local color, he thought, something to make the American people feel as one with the Chinese people. It wasn't easy, and there'd been enough stories on Chinese restaurants, which was the only Chinese thing with which most Americans were familiar. What, then? What did Americans have in common with the citizens of the People's Republic of China? Not a hell of a lot, Wise told himself, but there had to be something he could use. He stood when breakfast arrived, looking out the picture windows as the waiter wheeled the cart close to the bed. It turned out that they'd goofed on his order, ham instead of bacon, but the ham looked okay and he went with it, tipping the waiter and sitting back down.

Something, he thought, pouring his coffee, but what? He'd been through this process often enough. The writers of fiction often chided reporters for their own sort of "creativity," but the process was real. Finding stuff of interest was doubly hard for reporters, because, unlike novelists, they couldn't make things up. They had to use reality, and reality could be a son of a bitch, Barry Wise thought. He reached for his reading glasses in the drawer of the night table and was surprised to see ...

Well, it wasn't all that surprising. It was a matter of routine in any American hotel, a Bible left there by the Gideon Society. It was only here, probably, because the hotel was American-owned and -operated, and they had a deal with the Gideon people ... but what a strange place to find a Bible. The People's Republic wasn't exactly overrun with churches. Were there Christians here? Hmph. Why not find out? Maybe there was a story in that.... Better than nothing, anyway. With that semi-decided, he went back to breakfast. His crew would be waking up about now. He'd have his producer look around for a Christian minister, maybe even a Catholic priest. A rabbi was too much to hope for. That would mean the Israeli embassy, and that was cheating, wasn't it?

How was your day, Jack?" Cathy asked.

The night was an accident. They had nothing to do, no political dinner, no speech, no reception, no play or concert at the Kennedy Center, not even an intimate party of twenty or thirty on the bedroom level of the residence portion of the White House, which Jack hated and Cathy enjoyed, because they could invite people they actually knew and liked to those, or at least people whom they wanted to meet. Jack didn't mind the parties as such, but he felt that the bedroom level of The House (as the Secret Service called it, as opposed to the other House, sixteen blocks down the street) was the only private space he had left--even the place they owned at Peregrine Cliff on Chesapeake Bay had been redone by the Service. Now it had fire-protection sprinklers, about seventy phone lines, an alarm system like they used to protect nuclear-weapon storage sites, and a new building to house the protective detail who deployed there on the weekends when the Ryans decided to see if they still had a house to retreat to when this official museum got to be too much.

But tonight there was none of that. Tonight they were almost real people again. The difference was that if Jack wanted a beer or drink, he couldn't just walk to the kitchen and get it. That wasn't allowed. No, he had to order it through one of the White House ushers, who'd either take the elevator down to the basement-level kitchen, or to the upstairs bar. He could, of course, have insisted and walked off to make his own, but that would have meant insulting one of the ushers, and while these men, mainly black (some said they traced their lineage back to Andrew Jackson's personal slaves), didn't mind, it seemed unnecessarily insulting to them. Ryan had never been one to have others do his work, however. Oh, sure, it was nice to have his shoes shined every night by some guy who didn't have anything else to do, and who drew a comfortable government salary to do it, but it just seemed unmanly to be fussed over as if he were some sort of nobleman, when in fact his father had been a hardworking homicide detective on the Baltimore city police force, and he'd needed a government scholarship (courtesy of the United States Marine Corps) to get through Boston College without having his mom take a job. Was it his working-class roots and upbringing? Probably, Ryan thought. Those roots also explained what he was doing now, sitting in an easy chair with a drink in his hand, watching TV, as though he were a normal person for a change.

Cathy's life was actually the least changed in the family, except that every morning she flew to work on a Marine Corps VH-60 Blackhawk helicopter, to which the taxpayers and the media didn't object--not after SANDBOX, also known as Katie Ryan, had been attacked in her daycare center by some terrorists. The kids were off watching televisions of their own, and Kyle Daniel, known to the Secret Service as SPRITE, was asleep in his crib. And so, that Dr. Ryan--code name SURGEON--was sitting in her own chair in front of the TV, going over her patient notes and checking a medical journal as part of her never-ending professional education.

"How are things at work, honey?" SWORDSMAN asked SURGEON.

"Pretty good, Jack. Bernie Katz has a new granddaughter. He's all bubbly about it."

"Which kid?"

"His son Mark--got married two years ago. We went, remember?"

"That's the lawyer?" Jack asked, remembering the ceremony, in the good old days, before he'd been cursed into the Presidency.

"Yeah, his other son, David, is the doctor--up at Yale, on the faculty, thoracic surgeon."

"Have I met that one?" Jack couldn't remember.

"No. He went to school out west, UCLA." She turned the page in the current New England Journal of Medicine, then decided to dog-ear it. It was an interesting piece on a new discovery in anesthesia, something worth remembering. She'd talk about it at lunch with one of the professors. It was her custom to lunch with her colleagues in different fields, to keep current on what was going on in medicine. The next big breakthrough, she thought, would be in neurology. One of her Hopkins colleagues had discovered a drug that seemed to make damaged nerve cells regrow. If it panned out, that was a Nobel Prize. It would be the ninth hanging on the trophy wall of the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. Her work with surgical lasers had won her a Lasker Public Service Award--the highest such award in American medicine--but it hadn't been fundamental enough for a trip to Stockholm. That was fine with her. Ophthalmology wasn't that sort of field, but fixing people's sight was pretty damned rewarding. Maybe the one good thing about Jack's elevation and her attendant status as First Lady was that she'd have a real shot at the Directorship of the Wilmer Institute if and when Bernie Katz ever decided to hang it up. She'd still be able to practice medicine--that was something she never wanted to give up--and also be able to oversee research in her field, decide who got the grants, where the really important exploratory work was, and that, she thought, was something she might be good at. So, maybe this President stuff wasn't a total loss.

Her only real beef was that people expected her to dress like a supermodel, and while she had always dressed well, being a clotheshorse had never appealed to her. It was enough, she figured, to wear nice formal gowns at all the damned formal affairs she had to attend (and not get charged for it, since the gowns were all donated by the makers). As it was, Women's Wear Daily didn't like her normal choice of clothing, as though her white lab coat was a fashion statement--no, it was her uniform, like the Marines who stood at the doors to the White House, and one she wore with considerable pride. Not many women, or men, could claim to be at the very pinnacle of their profession. But she could. As it was, this had turned into a nice evening. She didn't even mind Jack's addiction to The History Channel, even when he grumbled at some minor mistake in one of their shows. Assuming, she chuckled to herself, that he was right, and the show was wrong.... Her wineglass was empty, and since she didn't have any procedures scheduled for the next day, she waved to the usher for a refill. Life could have been worse. Besides, they'd had their big scare with those damned terrorists, and with good luck and that wonderful FBI agent Andrea Price had married, they'd survived, and she didn't expect anything like that to happen again. Her own Secret Service detail was her defense against that. Her own Principal Agent, Roy Altman, inspired the same sort of confidence at his job that she did at hers, Cathy judged.

"Here you go, Dr. Ryan," the usher said, delivering the refilled glass.

"Thank you, George. How are the kids?"

"My oldest just got accepted to Notre Dame," he answered proudly.

"That's wonderful. What's she going to major in?"

"Premed."

Cathy looked up from her journal. "Great. If there's any way I can help her, you let me know, okay?"

"Yes, ma'am, I sure will." And the nice thing, George thought, was that she wasn't kidding. The Ryans were very popular with the staff, despite their awkwardness with all the fussing. There was one other family the Ryans looked after, the widow and kids of some Air Force sergeant whose connection with the Ryans nobody seemed to understand. And Cathy had personally taken care of two kids of staff members who'd had eye problems.

"What's tomorrow look like, Jack?"

"Speech to the VFW convention in Atlantic City. I chopper there and back after lunch. Not a bad speech Callie wrote for me."

"She's a little weird."

"She's different," the President agreed, "but she's good at what she does."

Thank God, Cathy didn't say aloud, that I don't have to do much of that! For her, a speech was telling a patient how she was going to fix his or her eyes.

There's a new Papal Nuncio in Beijing," the producer said. "That's an ambassador, like, isn't it?"

The producer nodded. "Pretty much. Italian guy, Cardinal Renato DiMilo. Old guy, don't know anything about him."

"Well, maybe we can drive over and meet the guy," Barry thought as he knotted his tie. "Got an address and phone number?"

"No, but our contact at the American Embassy can get 'em quick enough."

"Give the guy a call," Wise ordered gently. He and the producer had been together for eleven years, and together they'd dodged bullets and won those Emmys, which wasn't bad for a couple of ex-Marine sergeants.

"Right."

Wise checked his watch. The timing worked just fine. He could get a report at his leisure, upload it on the satellite, and Atlanta could edit it and show it to people for breakfast in America. That would pretty much take care of his day in this heathen country. Damn, why couldn't they do trade conferences in Italy? He remembered Italian food fondly from his time in the Mediterranean Fleet Marine Force. And the Italian women. They'd like the United States Marine uniform. Well, lots of women did.

One thing neither Cardinal DiMilo nor Monsignor Schepke had learned to like was Chinese breakfast food, which was totally alien from anything Europeans had ever served for the early-morning meal. And so Schepke fixed breakfast every morning before their Chinese staff came in--they'd do the dishes, which was enough for both churchmen. Both had already said their morning mass, which necessitated their rising before six every morning, rather like soldiers did, the elderly Italian had often remarked to himself.

The morning paper was the International Herald Tribune, which was too American-oriented, but the world was an imperfect place. At least the paper showed the football scores, and European football was a sport of interest to both of them, and one which Schepke could still go out and play when the opportunity arose. DiMilo, who'd been a pretty good midfielder in his day, had to content himself with watching and kibitzing now.

The CNN crew had their own van, an American make that had been shipped into the PRC ages ago. It had its own miniature satellite transceiver rig, a small technical miracle of sorts that enabled instant contact with any place in the world via orbiting communications satellites. It could do anything but operate when the vehicle was moving, and someone was working on that feature, which would be the next major breakthrough, because then the mobile crews could work with little threat of interference from the gomers in whatever country they happened to be operating.

They also had a satellite-navigation system, which was a genuine miracle that allowed them to navigate anywhere, in any city for which they had a CD-ROM map. With it, they could find any address faster than a local taxi driver. And with a cell phone, they could get the address itself, in this case from the U.S. embassy, which had the street addresses for all foreign legations, of which the Papal Nuncio's house was just one more. The cell phone also allowed them to call ahead. The call was answered by a Chinese voice at first, then one that sounded German, of all things, but which said, sure, come on over.

Barry Wise was dressed in his usual coat and tie--his neatness was another leftover from the Marines--and he knocked on the door, finding the expected local--he was tempted to call them "natives," but that was too English, and distantly racist--at the door to conduct them in. The first Westerner they met was clearly not a Cardinal. Too young, too tall, and far too German.

"Hello, I am Monsignor Schepke," the man greeted him.

"Good day, I am Barry Wise of CNN."

"Yes," Schepke acknowledged with a smile. "I have seen you many times on the television. What brings you here?"

"We're here to cover the trade meeting between America and China, but we decided to look for other items of interest. We were surprised to see that the Vatican has a diplomatic mission here."

Schepke ushered Wise into his office and motioned him to a comfortable chair. "I've been here for several months, but the Cardinal just arrived recently."

"Can I meet him?"

"Certainly, but His Eminence is on the phone to Rome at the moment. Do you mind waiting a few minutes?"

"No problem," Wise assured him. He looked the monsignor over. He looked athletic, tall, and very German. Wise had visited that country many times, and always felt somewhat uneasy there, as if the racism that had occasioned the Holocaust was still there somewhere, hiding close by but out of sight. In other clothing, he would have taken Schepke for a soldier, even a Marine. He looked physically fit and very smart, clearly a keen observer.

"What order are you in, if I may ask?" Wise said.

"The Society of Jesus," Schepke replied.

A Jesuit, Wise thought at once. That explained it. "From Germany?"

"Correct, but I'm based in Rome now at Robert Bellarmine University, and I was asked to accompany His Eminence here because of my language skills." His English was about halfway between English and American, but not Canadian, grammatically perfect and remarkably precise in his pronunciations.

And because you're smart, Wise added to himself. He knew that the Vatican had a respected intelligence-gathering service, probably the oldest in the world. So, this Monsignor was a combination diplomat and spook, Wise decided.

"I won't ask how many languages you speak. I'm sure you have me beat," Wise observed. He'd never met or even heard of a dumb Jesuit.

Schepke offered a friendly smile. "It is my function." Then he looked at his desk phone. The light had gone out. Schepke excused himself and headed to the inner office, then returned. "His Eminence will see you now."

Wise rose and followed the German priest in. The man he saw was corpulent and clearly Italian, dressed not in priestly robes, but rather a coat and trousers, with a red shirt (or was it a vest?) underneath his Roman collar. The CNN correspondent didn't remember if the protocol was for him to kiss the man's ring, but hand-kissing wasn't his thing anyway, and so he just shook hands in the American custom.

"Welcome to our legation," Cardinal DiMilo said. "You are our first American reporter. Please--" The Cardinal gestured him to a chair.

"Thank you, Your Eminence." Wise did remember that part of the protocol.

"How may we serve you this day?"

"Well, we're in town to cover the trade talks--America and China--and we're just looking for a story about life in Beijing. We just learned last night that the Vatican has an embassy here, and we thought we might come over to talk to you, sir."

"Marvelous," DiMilo observed with a gracious priestly smile. "There are a few Christians in Beijing, though this is not exactly Rome."

Wise felt a lightbulb go off. "What about Chinese Christians?"

"We've only met a few. We're going over to see one this afternoon, as a matter of fact, a Baptist minister named Yu."

"Really?" That was a surprise. A local Baptist?

"Yes," Schepke confirmed. "Good chap, he was even educated in America, at Oral Roberts University."

"A Chinese citizen from Oral Roberts?" Wise asked somewhat incredulously, as the STORY! light flashed in his head.

"Yes, it is somewhat unusual, isn't it?" DiMilo observed.

It was unusual enough that a Baptist and a Cardinal of the Roman Catholic Church were on speaking terms, Wise thought, but to have it happen here seemed about as likely as a live dinosaur strolling up the Mall in Washington. Atlanta would sure as hell like this one.

"Could we go over with you?" the CNN correspondent asked.

The terror began soon after she arrived at her workplace. For all the waiting and all the anticipation, it still came as a surprise, and an unwelcome one, the first twinge in her lower abdomen. The last time, now nearly six years before, it had presaged the birth of Ju-Long, and been a surprise as well, but that pregnancy had been authorized, and this one was not. She'd hoped that it would begin in the morning, but on a weekend, in their apartment, where she and Quon could handle things without external complications, but babies came at their own time in China, as they did elsewhere in the world, and this one would be no exception. The question was whether or not the State would allow it to take his first breath, and so the first muscle twinge, the first harbinger of the contractions of frank labor, brought with it the fear that murder would be committed, that her own body would be the scene of the crime, that she would be there to see it, to feel the baby stop moving, to feel death. The fear was the culmination of all the sleepless nights and the nightmares which had caused her to sweat in her bed for weeks. Her co-workers saw her face and wondered. A few of the women on the shop floor had guessed her secret, though they'd never discussed it with her. The miracle was that no one had informed on her, and that had been Lien-Hua's greatest fear of all--but that just wasn't the sort of thing one woman could do to another. Some of them, too, had given birth to daughters who had "accidentally" died a year or two later to satisfy their husbands' desire for a male heir. That was one more aspect of life in the People's Republic that was rarely the subject of conversation, even among women in private.

And so Yang Lien-Hua looked around the factory floor, feeling her muscles announce what was to come, and all she could hope was that it would stop, or delay itself. Another five hours, and she could pedal her bicycle home and deliver the baby there, and maybe that wasn't as good as on a weekend, but it was better than having an emergency here. "Lotus Flower" told herself that she had to be strong and resolute. She closed her eyes, and bit her lip, and tried to concentrate on her job, but the twinges soon grew into discomfort. Then would come mild pain, followed by the real contractions that would deny her the ability to stand, and then ... what? It was her inability to see just a few hours beyond where she stood that contorted her face worse than pain ever could. She feared death, and while that fear is known to all humans, hers was for a life still part of herself, but not really her own. She feared seeing it die, feeling it die, feeling an unborn soul depart, and while it would surely go back to God, that was not God's intention. She needed her spiritual counselor now. She needed her husband, Quon. She needed Reverend Yu even more. But how would she make that happen?

The camera setup went quickly. Both of the churchmen watched with interest, since neither had seen this happen before. Ten minutes later, both were disappointed with the questions. Both had seen Wise on television, and both had expected better of him. They didn't realize that the story he really wanted was a few miles and an hour or so away.

"Good," Wise said, when the vanilla questions were asked and answered. "Can we follow you over to your friend's place?"

"Certainly," His Eminence replied, standing. He excused himself, because even Cardinals have to visit the bathroom before motoring off--at least they did at DiMilo's age. But he reappeared and joined Franz for the walk to the car, which the Monsignor would drive, to the continuing disappointment of their own servant/driver who was, as they suspected, a stringer for the Ministry of State Security. The CNN van followed, twisting through the streets until they arrived at the modest house of the Reverend Yu Fa An. Parking was easy enough. The two Catholic churchmen walked to Yu's door, carrying a large package, Wise noted.

"Ah!" Yu observed with a surprised smile, on opening the door. "What brings you over?"

"My friend, we have a gift for you," His Eminence replied, holding up the package. It was clearly a large Bible, but no less pleasing for the obvious nature of the gift. Yu waved them in, then saw the Americans.

"They asked if they could join us," Monsignor Schepke explained.

"Certainly," Yu said at once, wondering if maybe Gerry Patterson might see the story, and even his distant friend Hosiah Jackson. But they didn't get the cameras set up before he unwrapped the package.

Yu did this at his desk, and on seeing it, he looked up in considerable surprise. He'd expected a Bible, but this one must have cost hundreds of American dollars ... It was an edition of the King James version in beautifully literate Mandarin ... and magnificently illustrated. Yu stood and walked around the desk to embrace his Italian colleague.

"May the Lord Jesus bless you for this, Renato," Yu said, with no small emotion.

"We both serve Him as best we can. I thought of it, and it seemed something you might wish to have," DiMilo replied, as he might to a good parish priest in Rome, for that was what Yu was, wasn't it? Close enough, certainly.

For his part, Barry Wise cursed that he hadn't quite gotten his camera running for that moment. "We don't often see Catholics and Baptists this friendly," the reporter observed.

Yu handled the answer, and this time the camera was rolling. "We are allowed to be friends. We work for the same boss, as you say in America." He took DiMilo's hand again and shook it warmly. He rarely received so sincere a gift, and it was so strange to get it here in Beijing from what some of his American colleagues called papists, and an Italian one at that. Life really did have purpose after all. Reverend Yu had sufficient faith that he rarely doubted that, but to have it confirmed from time to time was a blessing.

The contractions came too fast, and too hard. Lien-Hua withstood it as long as she could, but after an hour, it felt as though someone had fired a rifle into her belly. Her knees buckled. She did her best to control it, to remain standing, but it was just too much. Her face turned pasty-white, and she collapsed to the cement floor. A co-worker was there at once. A mother herself, she knew what she beheld.

"It is your time?" she asked.

"Yes." Delivered with a gasp and a painful nod.

"Let me run and get Quon." And she was off at once. That bit of help was when things went bad for Lotus Flower.

Her supervisor noted one running employee, and then turned his head to see another prostrate one. He walked over, as one might to see what had happened after an automobile accident, more with curiosity than any particular desire to intervene. He'd rarely taken note of Yang Lien-Hua. She performed her function reliably, with little need for chiding or shouting, and was popular with her co-workers, and that was all he knew about her, really, and all that he figured he needed to know. There was no blood about. She hadn't fallen from some sort of accident or mechanical malfunction. How strange. He stood over her for a few seconds, seeing that she was in some discomfort and wondering what the problem was, but he wasn't a doctor or a medic, and didn't want to interfere. Oh, if she'd been bleeding he might have tried to slap a bandage over the wound or something, but this wasn't such a situation and so he just stood there, as he figured a manager should, showing that he was there, but not making things worse. There was a medical orderly in the first-aid room two hundred meters away. The other girl had probably run that way to fetch her, he thought.

Lien-Hua's face contorted after a few minutes' relative peace, as another contraction began. He saw her eyes screw closed and her face go pale, and her breathing change to a rapid pant. Oh, he realized, that's it. How odd. He was supposed to know about such things, so that he could schedule substitutions on the line. Then he realized something else. This was not an authorized pregnancy. Lien-Hua had broken the rules, and that wasn't supposed to happen, and it could reflect badly on his department, and on him as a supervisor ... and he wanted to own an automobile someday.

"What is happening here?" he asked her.

But Yang Lien-Hua was in no shape to reply at the moment. The contractions were accelerating much faster than they'd done with Ju-Long. Why couldn't this have waited until Saturday? she demanded of Destiny. Why does God wish my child to die aborning? She did her best to pray through the pain, doing her utmost to concentrate, to entreat God for mercy and help in this time of pain and trial and terror, but all she saw around her was more cause for fear. There was no help in the face of her shop supervisor. Then she heard running feet again and looked to see Quon approaching, but before he got to her, the supervisor intercepted him.

"What goes on here?" the man demanded, with all the harshness of petty authority. "Your woman makes a baby here? An unauthorized baby?" the most minor of officials asked and accused in the same breath. "Ju hai," he added: Bitch!

For his part, Quon wanted this baby as well. He hadn't told his wife of the fears that he'd shared with her, because he felt that it would have been unmanly, but that last statement from the shop supervisor was a little much for a man under two kinds of simultaneous stress. Recalling his army training, Quon struck out with his fist, following his hand with an imprecation of his own:

"Pok gai," literally, fall down in the street, but in context, Get the fuck out of my way! The shop supervisor gashed his head when he went down, giving Quon the satisfaction of seeing an injury to avenge the insult to his wife. But he had other things to do.

With the words said, and the blow struck, he lifted Lien-Hua to her feet and supported her as best he could on the way to where their bicycles were parked. But, now what to do? Like his wife, Quon had wanted this all to happen at home, where at the worst she could call in sick. But he had no more power to stop this process than he did to stop the world from turning on its axis. He didn't even have time or energy to curse fate. He had to deal with reality as it came, one shaky second at a time, and help his beloved wife as best he could.

You were educated in America?" Wise asked, in front of the rolling camera.

"Yes," Yu replied over tea. "At Oral Roberts University in Oklahoma. My first degree was in electrical engineering, then my divinity degree and my ordination came later."

"I see you are married," the reporter observed, pointing to a picture on the wall.

"My wife is away in Taiwan, looking after her mother, who is sick at the moment," he explained.

"So, how did you two meet?" Wise asked, meaning Yu and the Cardinal.

"That was Fa An's doing," the Cardinal explained. "It was he who came to us to extend a greeting to a newcomer in the same--same line of work, one could say." DiMilo was tempted to say that they enjoyed drinks together, but refrained for fear of demeaning the man before his fellow Baptists, some of whom objected to alcohol in any form. "As you might imagine, there are not so many Christians in this city, and what few there are need to stick together."

"Do you find it odd, a Catholic and a Baptist to be so friendly?"

"Not at all," Yu replied at once. "Why should it be odd? Are we not united by faith?" DiMilo nodded agreement at this perfect, if unanticipated, statement of belief.

"And what of your congregation?" Wise asked the Chinese minister next.

The bicycle lot outside was a confused mass of metal and rubber, for few of the Chinese workers owned automobiles, but as Quon helped Lien-Hua to the far corner, the two of them were spotted by someone who did have access to one. He was a factory security guard who drove about the perimeter of the plant very importantly in his three-wheel motorized cart, an accessory more important to his sense of status than his uniform and badge. Like Quon, a former sergeant in the People's Liberation Army, he'd never lost his feeling of personal authority, and this communicated itself in the way he spoke to people.

"Stop!" he called from the driver's seat in his cart. "What goes on here?"

Quon turned. Lien-Hua had just been hit with another contraction, with buckled knees and gasping breath, and he was almost dragging her to their bikes. Suddenly, he knew that this wasn't going to work. There was just no way that she could pedal her own bike. It was eleven blocks to their apartment. He could probably drag her up the three flights of steps, but how the hell was he going to get her to the front door?

"My wife is ... she's hurt," Quon said, unwilling--afraid--to explain what the problem really was. He knew this guard--his name was Zhou Jingjin--and he seemed a decent enough chap. "I'm trying to get her home."

"Where do you live, Comrade?" Zhou asked.

"Great Long March Apartments, number seventy-four," Quon replied. "Can you help us?"

Zhou looked them over. The woman seemed to be in some distress. His was not a country which placed great value on personal initiative, but she was a comrade in difficulty, and there was supposed to be solidarity among the people, and their apartment was only ten or eleven blocks, hardly fifteen minutes even in this slow and awkward cart. He made his decision, based on socialist worker solidarity.

"Load her on the back, Comrade."

"Thank you, Comrade." And Quon got his wife there, lifted her bottom up, and set her on the rusted steel deck behind the driver's compartment. With a wave, he signaled Zhou to head west. This contraction proved a difficult one. Lien-Hua gasped and then cried out, to the distress of her husband, and worse, the distress of the driver, who turned and saw what ought to have been a healthy woman grasping her abdomen in great pain. It was not a pretty thing to see by any stretch of the imagination, and Zhou, having taken one leap of initiative, decided that maybe he ought to take another. The path to Great Long March Apartments led down Meishuguan Street, past the Longfu Hospital, and like most Beijing teaching hospitals, this one had a proper emergency-receiving room. This woman was in distress, and she was a comrade, like himself a member of the working class, and she deserved his help. He looked back. Quon was doing his best to comfort his woman as a man should, far too busy to do much of anything as the security cart bumped along the uneven streets at twenty kilometers per hour.

Yes, Zhou decided, he had to do it. He turned the steering tiller gently, pulled up to the loading dock designed more for delivery trucks than ambulances, and stopped.

It took Quon a few seconds to realize that they'd stopped. He looked around, ready to help his wife off the cart, until he saw that they weren't at the apartment complex. Disoriented by the previous thirty minutes of unexpected emergency and chaos, he didn't understand, didn't grasp where they were, until he saw someone in a uniform emerge from the door. She wore a white bandanna-hat on her head--a nurse? Were they at the hospital? No, he couldn't allow that.

Yang Quon stood off the cart and turned to Zhou. He started to object that they'd come to the wrong place, that he didn't want to be here, but the hospital workers had an unaccustomed sense of industry at the moment--the emergency room was perversely idle at the moment--and a wheeled gurney emerged from the door with two men in attendance. Yang Quon tried to object, but he was merely pushed aside by the burly attendants as Lien-Hua was loaded on the gurney and wheeled inside before he could do much more than flap his mouth open and closed. He took a breath and rushed in, only to be intercepted by a pair of clerks asking for the information they needed to fill out their admitting forms, stopping him dead in his tracks as surely as a man with a loaded rifle, but far more ignominiously.

In the emergency room itself, a physician and a nurse watched as the orderlies loaded Lien-Hua onto an examining table. It didn't take more than a few seconds for their trained eyes to make the first guess, which they shared with a look. Only a few seconds more and her work clothes had been removed, and the pregnant belly was as obvious as a sunrise. It was similarly obvious that Yang Lien-Hua was in frank labor, and that this was no emergency. She could be wheeled to the elevator and taken to the second floor, where there was a sizable obstetrics staff. The physician, a woman, beckoned to the orderlies and told them where to move the patient. Then she walked to the phone to call upstairs and tell them that a delivery was on the way up. With that "work" done, the doctor went back to the physicians' lounge for a smoke and a magazine.

ComradeYang?" another clerk, a more senior one, said. "Yes?" the worried husband replied, still stuck in the waiting room, held prisoner by clerks.

"Your wife is being taken upstairs to obstetrics. But," the clerk added, "there's one problem."

"What is that?" Quon asked, knowing the answer, but hoping for a miracle, and utterly trapped by the bureaucratic necessities of the moment.

"We have no record of your wife's pregnancy in our files. You are in our health district--we show you at Number Seventy-two Great Long March Flats. Is that correct?"

"Yes, that's where we live," Quon sputtered out, trying to find a way out of this trap, but not seeing one anywhere.

"Ah." The clerk nodded. "I see. Thank you. I must now make a telephone call."

It was the way the last statement was delivered that frightened Quon: Ah, yes, I have to see that the trash is removed properly. Ah, yes, the glass is broken, and I'll try to find a repairman. Ah, yes, an unauthorized pregnancy, I'll call upstairs so that they'll know to kill the baby when it crowns.

Upstairs, Lien-Hua could see the difference in their eyes. When Ju-Long had been on his way, there'd been joy and anticipation in the eyes of the nurses who oversaw her labor. You could see their eyes crinkle with smiles at the corners of their masks ... but not this time. Someone had come over to where she was in labor room #3 and said something to the nurse, and her head had turned rapidly to where Lien-Hua lay, and her eyes had turned from compassionate to ... something else, and while Mrs. Yang didn't know what other thing it was, she knew the import. It might not be something the nurse particularly liked, but it was something she would assist in doing, because she had to. China was a place where people did the things they had to do, whether they approved it or liked it or not. Lien-Hua felt the next contraction. The baby in her uterus was trying to be born, not knowing that it was racing to its own destruction at the hands of the State. But the hospital staffers knew. Before, with Ju-Long, they'd been close by, not quite hovering, but close enough to watch and see that things were going well. Not now. Now they withdrew, desiring not to hear the sounds of a mother struggling to bring forth death in a small package.

On the first floor, it was equally plain to Yang Quon. What came back to him now was his firstborn son, Ju-Long, the feel of his small body in his arms, the little noises he made, the first smile, sitting up, crawling, the first step in their small apartment, the first words he'd spoken ... but their little Large Dragon was dead now, never to be seen again, crushed by the wheel of a passenger bus. An uncaring fate had ripped that child from his arms and cast him aside like a piece of blowing trash on the street--and now the State was going to slay his second child. And it would all happen upstairs, less than ten meters away, and he couldn't do a thing about it.... It was a feeling not unknown to citizens of the People's Republic, where rule from above was the rule, but opposed to it now was the most fundamental of human drives. The two forces battled within the mind of factory worker Yang Quon. His hands shook at his sides as his mind struggled with the dilemma. His eyes strained, staring at nothing closer than the room's wall, but straining even so ... something, there had to be something ...

There was a pay telephone, and he did have the proper coins, and he did remember the number, and so Yang Quon lifted the receiver and dialed the number, unable to find the ability within himself to change fate, but hoping to find that ability in another.

I'll get it," Reverend Yu said in English, rising and walking to where it was ringing.

"A remarkable guy, isn't he?" Wise asked the two Catholics.

"A fine man," Cardinal DiMilo agreed. "A good shepherd for his flock, and that is all a man can hope to be."

Monsignor's Schepke's head turned when he caught the tone of Yu's voice. Something was wrong here, and by the sound, something serious. When the minister returned to the sitting room, his face told the tale.

"What is amiss?" Schepke asked in his perfect Mandarin. Perhaps this was not something for the American reporters.

"One of my congregation," Yu replied, as he reached for his jacket. "She is pregnant, in labor even now--but her pregnancy is unauthorized, and her husband fears the hospital will try to kill it. I must go to help."

"Franz, was gibt's hier?" DiMilo asked in German. The Jesuit then replied in Attic Greek to make damned sure the Americans wouldn't get it.

"You've been told about this, Eminence," Monsignor Schepke explained in the language of Aristotle. "The abortionists here commit what is virtually murder in any civilized country in the world, and the decision to do so, in this case, is purely political and ideological. Yu wishes to go and help the parents prevent this vile act."

DiMilo needed less than a second. He stood, and turned his head. "Fa An?"

"Yes, Renato?"

"May we come with you and assist? Perhaps our diplomatic status will have practical value," His Eminence said, in badly accented but comprehensible Mandarin.

It didn't take long for Reverend Yu either: "Yes, a fine idea! Renato, I cannot allow this child to die!"

If the desire to procreate is the most fundamental known to mankind, then there are few more powerful calls to action for an adult than child-in-danger. For this, men race into burning buildings and jump into rivers. For this now, three clergymen would go to a community hospital to challenge the power of the world's most populous nation.

"What's happening?" Wise asked, surprised by the sudden shifts in language and the way the three churchmen had leapt to their feet.

"A pastoral emergency. A member of Yu's congregation is in the hospital. She needs him, and we will go with our friend to assist in his pastoral duties," DiMilo said. The cameras were still running, but this was the sort of thing that got edited out. But what the hell, Wise thought.

"Is it far? Can we help? Want us to run you over?"

Yu thought it over and quickly decided that he couldn't make his bike go as fast as the American news van. "That is very kind. Yes."

"Well, let's go, then." Wise stood and motioned to the door. His crew broke down their gear in a matter of seconds and beat them all out the door.

Longfu Hospital turned out to be less than two miles away, facing a north-south street. It was, Wise thought, a place designed by a blind architect, so lacking in aesthetic as to be a definite government-owned building even in this country. The communists had probably killed off anyone with a sense of style back in 1950 or so, and no one had attempted to take his place. Like most reporters, the CNN team came in the front door in the manner of a police SWAT team. The cameraman's tool was up on his shoulder, with the soundman beside him, Barry Wise and the producer trailing while they looked for good establishing shots. To call the lobby dreary was generous. A Mississippi state prison had a better atmosphere than this, to which was added the disinfectant smell that makes dogs cringe in the vet's office and made kids hug your neck harder for fear of the coming needle.

For his part, Barry Wise was unnaturally alert. He called it his Marine training, though he'd never seen combat operations. But one January night in Baghdad, he'd started looking out the windows forty minutes before the first bombs had fallen from the Stealth fighters, and kept looking until what U.S. Air Force planners had called the AT&T Building took the first spectacular hit. He took the producer's arm and told him to keep his head up. The other ex-Marine nodded agreement. For him it was the suddenly grim looks on the faces of the three clergymen, who'd been so genial until the phone had rung. For that old Italian guy to look this way--it had to be something, they both were sure, and whatever it was, it wouldn't be pleasant, and that often made for a good news story, and they were only seconds from their satellite uplink. Like hunters hearing the first rustle of leaves in the forest, the four CNN men looked alertly for the game and the shot.

"Reverend Yu!" Yang Quon called, walking--almost running--to where they were.

"Eminence, this is my parishioner, Mr. Yang."

"Buon giorno," DiMilo said in polite greeting. He looked over to see the newsies taking their pictures and keeping out of the way, more politely than he'd expected them to do. While Yu spoke with Yang, he walked over to Barry Wise to explain the situation.

"You are right to observe that relations between the Catholics and the Baptists are not always as friendly as they ought to be, but on this issue we stand as one. Upstairs, the officials of this government wish to kill a human baby. Yu wants to save that child. Franz and I will try to help."

"This could get messy, sir," Wise warned. "The security personnel in this country can play rough. I've seen it before."

DiMilo was not an imposing man in physical terms. He was short and a good thirty pounds overweight, the American figured. His hair was thinning. His skin was sagging with age. He probably went out of breath going up two flights of stairs. But for all that, the Cardinal summoned what manhood he had and transformed himself before the American's eyes. The genial smile and gentle disposition evaporated like steam in cold air. Now he looked more like a general on a battlefield.

"The life of an innocent child is at risk, Signore Wise," was all DiMilo said, and it was all he had to say. The Cardinal walked back to his Chinese colleague.

"Get that?" Wise asked his cameraman, Pete Nichols.

"Fuckin' A, Barry!" the guy said behind his eyepiece.

Yang pointed. Yu headed that way. DiMilo and Schepke followed. At the reception desk, the head clerk lifted a phone and made a call. The CNN crew followed the others into the stairwell and headed up to the second floor.

If anything, the obstetrics and gynecology floor was even more drab than the first. They heard the shouts, cries, and moans of women in labor, because in China, the public-health system did not waste drugs on women giving birth. Wise caught up to see that Yang guy, the father of the baby, standing still in the corridor, trying to identify the cries of his own wife from all the others. Evidently, he failed. Then he walked to the nurse's desk.

Wise didn't need to understand Chinese to get what the exchange was all about. Yang was supported by Reverend Yu and demanded to know where his wife was. The head nurse asked what the hell they were doing here, and told them all that they had to leave at once! Yang, his back straight with dignity and fear, refused and repeated his question. Again the head nurse told him to get lost. Then Yang seriously broke the rules by reaching across the high countertop and grabbing the nurse. You could see it in her eyes. It shocked her at a very fundamental level that anyone could defy her state-issued authority so blatantly. She tried to back away, but his grip was too strong, and for the first time she saw that his eyes were no longer a display of fear. Now they showed pure killing rage, because for Yang human instincts had cast aside all the societal conditioning he'd absorbed in his thirty-six years. His wife and child were in danger, and for them, right here and right now, he'd face a fire-breathing dragon barehanded and be damned to the consequences! The nurse took the easy way out and pointed to the left. Yang headed that way, Yu and the other two clergy with him, and the CNN crew trailing. The nurse felt her neck and coughed to get her breath back, still too surprised to be fearful, trying to understand how and why her orders had been disregarded.

Yang Lien-Hua was in Labor Room #3. The walls were of yellow glazed brick, the floor tile of some color that had been overcome by years of use, and was now a brown-gray.

For "Lotus Flower," it had been a nightmare without end. Alone, all alone in this institution of life and death, she'd felt the contractions strengthen and merge into one continuous strain of her abdominal muscles, forcing her unborn child down the birth canal, toward a world that didn't want it. She'd seen that in the nurses' faces, the sorrow and resignation, what they must have seen and felt elsewhere in the hospital when death came to take a patient. They'd all learned to accept it as inevitable, and they tried to step away from it, because what had to be done was so contrary to all human instincts that the only way they could be there and see it happen was to--to be somewhere else. Even that didn't work, and though they scarcely admitted it even to one another, they'd go home from work and lie in their beds and weep bitterly at what they as women had to do to newborns. Some would cradle the dead children who never were, who never got to take that first life-affirming breath, trying to show womanly gentleness to someone who would never know about it, except perhaps the spirits of the murdered babies who might have lingered close by. Others went the other way, tossing them into bins like the trash the state said they were. But even they never joked about it--in fact, never talked about it, except perhaps to note it had been done, or, maybe, "There's a woman in Number Four who needs the shot."

Lien-Hua felt the sensations, but worse, knew the thoughts, and her mind cried out to God for mercy. Was it so wrong to be a mother, even if she attended a Christian church? Was it so wrong to have a second child to replace the first that Fate had ripped from her arms? Why did the State deny to her the blessing of motherhood? Was there no way out? She hadn't killed the first child, as many Chinese families did. She hadn't murdered her little Large Dragon, with his sparkling black eyes and comical laugh and grasping little hands. Some other force had taken that away from her, and she wanted, she needed another. Just one other. She wasn't being greedy. She didn't want to raise two more children. Only one. Only one to suckle at her breasts and smile at her in the mornings. She needed that. She worked hard for the State, asked little in return, but she did ask for this! It was her right as a human being, wasn't it?

But now she knew only despair. She tried to reverse the contractions, to stop the delivery from happening, but she might as well have tried to stop the tide with a shovel. Her little one was coming out. She could feel it. She could see the knowledge of it in the face of the delivery nurse. She checked her watch and leaned out of the room, waving her arm just as Lien-Hua fought the urge to push and complete the process, and so offer up her child to Death. She fought, controlled her breathing, struggled with her muscles, panted instead of breathing deeply, fought and fought and fought, but it was all for nothing. She knew that now. Her husband was nowhere near to protect her. He'd been man enough to put her here, but not enough to protect her and his own child from what was happening now. With despair came relaxation. It was time. She recognized the feeling from before. She could not fight anymore. It was time to surrender.

The doctor saw the nurse wave. This one was a man. It was easier on the men, and so they gave most of the "shots" in this hospital. He took the 50-cc syringe from stores and then went to the medication closet, unlocking it and withdrawing the big bottle of formaldehyde. He filled the syringe, not bothering to tap out the bubbles, because the purpose of this injection was to kill, and any special care was superfluous. He walked down the corridor toward Labor #3. He'd been on duty for nine hours that day. He'd performed a difficult and successful Caesarian section a few hours before, and now he'd end his working day with this. He didn't like it. He did it because it was his job, part of the State's policy. The foolish woman, having a baby without permission. It really was her fault, wasn't it? She knew what the rules were. Everyone did. It was impossible not to know. But she'd broken the rules. And she wouldn't be punished for it. Not really her. She wouldn't go to prison or lose her job or suffer a monetary fine. She'd just get to go home with her uterus the way it had been nine months before--empty. She'd be a little older, and a little wiser, and know that if this happened again, it was a lot better to have the abortion done in the second or third month, before you got too attached to the damned thing. Damned sure it was a lot more comfortable than going through a whole labor for nothing. That was sad, but there was much sadness in life, and for this part of it they'd all volunteered. The doctor had chosen to become a doctor, and the woman in #3 had chosen to become pregnant.

He came into #3, wearing his mask, because he didn't want to give the woman any infection. That was why he used a clean syringe, in case he should slip and stick her by mistake.

So.

He sat on the usual stool that obstetricians used both for delivering babies and for aborting the late-term ones. The procedure they used in America was a little more pleasant. Just poke into the baby's skull, suck the brains out, crush the skull and deliver the package with a lot less trouble than a full-term fetus, and a lot easier on the woman. He wondered what the story was on this one, but there was no sense in knowing, was there? No sense knowing that which you can't change.

So.

He looked. She was fully dilated and effaced, and, yes, there was the head. Hairy little thing. Better give her another minute or two, so that after he did his duty she could expel the fetus in one push and be done with it. Then she could go off and cry for a while and start getting over it. He was concentrating a little too much to note the commotion in the corridor outside the labor room.

Yang pushed the door open himself. And there it all was, for all of them to see. Lien-Hua was on the delivery table. Quon had never seen one of them before, and the way it held a woman's legs up and apart, it looked for all the world like a device to make women easier to rape. His wife's head was back and down, not up and looking to see her child born, and then he saw why.

There was the ... doctor, was he? And in his hand a large needle full of--

--they were in time! Yang Quon pushed the doctor aside, off his stool. He darted right to his wife's face.

"I am here! Reverend Yu came with me, Lien." It was like a light coming on in a darkened room.

"Quon!" Lien-Hua cried out, feeling her need to push, and finally wanting to.

But then things became more complicated still. The hospital had its own security personnel, but on being alerted by the clerk in the main lobby, one of them called for the police, who, unlike the hospital's own personnel, were armed. Two of them appeared in the corridor, surprised first of all to see foreigners with TV equipment right there in front of them. Ignoring them, they pushed into the delivery room to find a pregnant woman about to deliver, a doctor on the floor, and four men, two of them foreigners as well!

"What goes on here!" the senior one bellowed, since intimidation was a major tool for controlling people in the PRC.

"These people are interfering with my duties!" the doctor answered, with a shout of his own. If he didn't act fast, the damned baby would be born and breathe, and then he couldn't ...

"What?" the cop demanded of him.

"This woman has an unauthorized pregnancy, and it is my duty to terminate the fetus now. These people are in my way. Please remove them from the room."

That was enough for the cops. They turned to the obviously unauthorized visitors. "You will leave now!" the senior one ordered, while the junior one kept his hand on his service pistol.

"No!" was the immediate reply, both from Yang Quon and Yu Fa An.

"The doctor has given his order, you must leave," the cop insisted. He was unaccustomed to having ordinary people resist his orders. "You will go now!"

The doctor figured this was the cue for him to complete his distasteful duty, so that he could go home for the day. He set the stool back up and slid it to where he needed to be.

"You will not do this!" This time it was Yu, speaking with all the moral authority his education and status could provide.

"Will you get him out of here?" the doctor growled at the cops, as he slid the stool back in place.

Quon was ill-positioned to do anything, standing as he was by his wife's head. To his horror, he saw the doctor lift the syringe and adjust his glasses. Just then his wife, who might as well have been in another city for the past two minutes, took a deep breath and pushed.

"Ah," the doctor said. The fetus was fully crowned now, and all he had to do was--

Reverend Yu had seen as much evil in his life as most clergymen, and they see as much as any seasoned police officer, but to see a human baby murdered before his eyes was just too much. He roughly shoved the junior of the two policemen aside and struck the doctor's head from behind, flinging him to the right and jumping on top of him.

"Getting this?" Barry Wise asked in the corridor.

"Yep," Nichols confirmed.

What offended the junior policeman was not the attack on the doctor, but rather the fact that this--this citizen had laid hands on a uniformed member of the Armed People's Police. Outraged, he drew his pistol from its holster, and what had been a confused situation became a deadly one.

"No!" shouted Cardinal DiMilo, moving toward the young cop. He turned to see the source of the noise and saw an elderly gwai, or foreigner in very strange clothes, moving toward him with a hostile expression. The cop's first response was a blow to the foreigner's face, delivered with his empty left hand.

Renato Cardinal DiMilo hadn't been physically struck since his childhood, and the affront to his personhood was all the more offensive for his religious and diplomatic status, and to be struck by this child! He turned back from the force of the blow and pushed the man aside, wanting to go to Yu's aid, and to help him keep this murderous doctor away from the baby about to be born. The doctor was wavering on one foot, holding the syringe up in the air. This the Cardinal seized in his hand and hurled against the wall, where it didn't break, because it was plastic, but the metal needle bent.

Had the police better understood what was happening, or had they merely been better trained, it would have stopped there. But they hadn't, and it didn't. Now the senior cop had his Type 77 pistol out. This he used to club the Italian on the back of the head, but his blow was poorly delivered, and all it managed to do was knock him off balance and split his skin.

Now it was Monsignor Schepke's turn. His Cardinal, the man whom it was his duty to serve and protect, had been attacked. He was a priest. He couldn't use deadly force. He couldn't attack. But he could defend. That he did, grasping the older officer's gun hand and twisting it up, in a safe direction, away from the others in the room. But there it went off, and though the bullet merely flattened out in the concrete ceiling, the noise inside the small room was deafening.

The younger policeman suddenly thought that his comrade was under attack. He wheeled and fired, but missed Schepke, and struck Cardinal DiMilo in the back. The .30 caliber bullet transited the body back to front, damaging the churchman's spleen. The pain surprised DiMilo, but his eyes were focused on the emerging baby.

The crash of the shot had startled Lien-Hua, and the push that followed was pure reflex. The baby emerged, and would have fallen headfirst to the hard floor but for the extended hands of Reverend Yu, who stopped the fall and probably saved the newborn's life. He was lying on his side, and then he saw that the second shot had gravely wounded his Catholic friend. Holding the baby, he struggled to his feet and looked vengefully at the youthful policeman.

"Huai dan! he shouted: Villain! Oblivious of the infant in his arms, he lurched forward toward the confused and frightened policeman.

As automatically as a robot, the younger cop merely extended his arm and shot the Baptist preacher right in the forehead.

Yu twisted and fell, bumping into Cardinal DiMilo's supine form and landing on his back, so that his chest cushioned the newborn's fall.

"Put that away!" the older cop screamed at his young partner. But the damage had been done. The Chinese Reverend Yu was dead, the back of his head leaking brain matter and venting blood at an explosive rate onto the dirty tile floor.

The doctor was the first to take any intelligent action. The baby was out now, and he couldn't kill it. He took it from Yu's dead arms, and held it up by the feet, planning to smack it on the rump, but it cried out on its own. So, the doctor thought as automatically as the second policeman's shot, this lunacy has one good result. That he'd been willing to kill it sixty seconds before was another issue entirely. Then, it had been unauthorized tissue. Now, it was a breathing citizen of the People's Republic, and his duty as a physician was to protect it. The dichotomy did not trouble him because it never even occurred to him.

There followed a few seconds in which people tried to come to terms with what had happened. Monsignor Schepke saw that Yu was dead. He couldn't be alive with that head wound. His remaining duty was to his Cardinal.

"Eminence," he said, kneeling down to lift him off the bloody floor.

Renato Cardinal DiMilo thought it strange that there was so little pain, for he knew that his death was imminent. Inside, his spleen was lacerated, and he was bleeding out internally at a lethal rate. He had not the time to reflect on his life or what lay in his immediate future, but despite that, his life of service and faith reasserted itself one more time.

"The child, Franz, the child?" he asked in a gasping voice.

"The baby lives," Monsignor Schepke told the dying man.

A gentle smile: "Bene," Renato said, before closing his eyes for the last time.

The last shot taken by the CNN crew was of the baby lying on her mother's chest. They didn't know her name, and the woman's face was one of utter confusion, but then she felt her daughter, and the face was transformed as womanly instincts took over completely.

"We better get the fuck out of here, Barry," the cameraman advised, with a hiss.

"I think you're right, Pete." Wise stepped back and started to his left to get down the corridor to the stairs. He had a potential Emmy-class story in his hands now. He'd seen a human drama with few equals, and it had to go out, and it had to go out fast.

Inside the delivery room, the senior cop was shaking his head, his ears still ringing, trying to figure out what the hell had happened here, when he realized that the light level was lower--the TV camera was gone! He had to do something. Standing erect, he darted from the room and looked right, and saw the last American disappear into the stairwell. He left his junior in the delivery room and ran that way, turned into the fire stairs and ran downstairs as fast as gravity could propel him.

Wise led his people into the main lobby and right toward the main door, where their satellite van was. They'd almost made it, when a shout made them turn. It was the cop, the older one, about forty, they thought, and his pistol was out again, to the surprise and alarm of the civilians in the lobby.

"Keep going," Wise told his crew, and they pushed through the doors into the open air. The van was in view, with the mini-satellite dish lying flat on the roof, and that was the key to getting this story out.

"Stop!" the cop called. He knew some English, so it would seem.

"Okay, guys, let's play it real cool," Wise told the other three.

"Under control," Pete the cameraman advised. The camera was off his shoulder now, and his hands were out of casual view.

The cop bolstered his pistol and came close, with his right hand up and out flat. "Give me tape," he said. "Give me tape." His accent was crummy, but his English was understandable enough.

"That tape is my property!" Wise protested. "It belongs to me and my company."

The cop's English wasn't that good. He just repeated his demand: "Give me tape!"

"Okay, Barry," Pete said. "I got it."

The cameraman--his name was Peter Nichols--lifted the camera up and hit the EJECT button, punching the Beta-format tape out of the Sony camera. This he gave to the police officer with a downcast and angry expression. The cop took it with his own expression of satisfaction and turned on his heel to go back into the hospital.

There was no way he could have known that, like any news cameraman, Pete Nichols could deal seconds as skillfully as any Las Vegas poker dealer. He winked at Barry Wise, and the four headed off to the van.

"Send it up now?" the producer asked.

"Let's not be too obvious about it," Wise thought. "Let's move a few blocks."

This they did, heading west toward Tiananmen Square, where a news van doing a satellite transmission wasn't out of the ordinary. Wise was already on his satellite phone to Atlanta.

"This is Wise Mobile in Beijing with an upload," the correspondent said into the phone.

"Hey, Barry," a familiar voice said in reply. "This is Ben Golden. What you got for us?"

"It's hot," Wise told his controller half a world away. "A double murder and a childbirth. One guy who got whacked is a Catholic cardinal, the Vatican ambassador to Beijing. The other one's a Chinese Baptist minister. They were both shot on camera. You might want to call Legal about it."

"Fuck!" Atlanta observed.

"We're uploading the rough-cut now, just so you get it. I'll stand by to do the talking. But let's get the video uploaded first."

"Roger that. We're standing by on Channel Zero Six."

"Zero Six, Pete," Wise told his cameraman, who also ran the uplink.

Nichols was kneeling by the control panels. "Standing by ... tape's in ... setting up for Six ... transmitting ... now!" And with that, the Ku-band signal went racing upward through the atmosphere to the satellite hovering 22,800 miles directly over the Admiralty Islands in the Bismarck Sea.

CNN doesn't bother encrypting its video signals. To do so is technically inconvenient, and few people bother pirating signals they could just as easily get off their cable systems for free in a few minutes, or even get live just four seconds later.

But this one was coming in at an awkward hour, which was, however, good for CNN Atlanta, because some headquarters people would want to go over it. A shooting death was not what the average American wanted with his Rice Krispies in the morning.

It was also downloaded by the American intelligence community, which holds CNN in very high regard, and doesn't distribute its news coverage very far in any case. But this one did go to the White House Office of Signals, a largely military operation located in the basement of the West Wing. There a watch officer had to decide how important it was. If it ranked as a CRITIC priority, the President had to know about it in fifteen minutes, which meant waking him up right now, which was not something to be done casually to the Commander-in-Chief. A mere FLASH could wait a little longer, like--the watch officer checked the wall clock--yeah, like until breakfast. So, instead, they called the President's National Security Adviser, Dr. Benjamin Goodley. They'd let him make the call. He was a carded National Intelligence Officer.

"Yeah?" Goodley snarled into the phone while he checked the clock radio next to his bed.

"Dr. Goodley, this is Signals. We just copied something off CNN from Beijing that the Boss is going to be interested in."

"What is it?" CARDSHARP asked. Then he heard the reply. "How certain are you of this?"

"The Italian guy looks like he might possibly have survived, from the video--I mean if there was a good surgeon close--but the Chinese minister had his brains blowed right out. No chance for him at all, sir."

"What was it all about?"

"We're not sure of that. NSA might have the phone conversation between this Wise guy and Atlanta, but we haven't seen anything about it yet."

"Okay, tell me what you got again," Goodley ordered, now that he was approximately awake.

"Sir, we have a visual of two guys getting shot and a baby being born in Beijing. The video comes from Barry Wise of CNN. The video shows three gunshots. One is upwards into the ceiling of what appears to be a hospital delivery room. The second shot catches a guy in the back. That guy is identified as the Papal Nuncio to Beijing. The third shot goes right into the head of a guy identified as a Baptist minister in Beijing. That one appears to be a Chinese national. In between, we have a baby being born. Now we--stand by a minute, Dr. Goodley, okay, I have FLASH traffic from Fort Meade. Okay, they got it, too, and they got a voice transmission via their ECHELON system, reading it now. Okay, the Catholic cardinal is dead, according to this, says Cardinal Renato DiMilo--can't check the spelling, maybe State Department for that--and the Chinese minister is a guy named Yu Fa An, again no spelling check. They were there to, oh, okay, they were there to prevent a late-term abortion, and looks like they succeeded, but these two clergy got their asses killed doing it. Third one, a monsignor named Franz Schepke--that sounds pretty German to me--was there, too, and looks like he survived--oh, okay, he must be the tall one you see on the tape. You gotta see the tape. It's a hell of a confused mess, sir, and when this Yu guy gets it, well, it's like that video from Saigon during the Tet Offensive. You know, where the South Vietnamese police colonel shot the North Vietnamese spy in the side of the head with a Smith Chief's Special, you know, like a fountain of blood coming out the head. Ain't something to watch with your Egg McMuffin, y'know?" the watch officer observed. The reference came across clearly enough. The news media had celebrated the incident as an example of the South Vietnamese government's bloodthirstiness. They had never explained--probably never even knew--that the man shot had been an officer of the North Vietnamese army captured in a battle zone wearing civilian clothing, therefore, under the Geneva Protocols was a spy liable to summary execution, which was exactly what he'd received.

"Okay, what else?"

"Do we wake the Boss up for this? I mean, we got a diplomatic team over there, and this has some serious implications."

Goodley thought about that for a second or two. "No. I'll brief him in in a few hours."

"Sir, it's sure as hell going to be on CNN's seven o'clock morning report," the watch officer warned.

"Well, let me brief him when he has more than just pictures."

"Your call, Dr. Goodley."

"Thanks. Now, I think I'll try to get one more hour before I drive over to Langley." The phone went down before Goodley heard a reaction. His job carried a lot of prestige, but it denied him sleep and much of a social or sex life, and at moments like this he wondered what the hell was so goddamned prestigious about it.

Chapter 25

Fence Rending

The speed of modem communications makes for curious disconnects. In this case, the American government knew what had happened in Beijing long before the government of the People's Republic did. What appeared in the White House Office of Signals appeared also in the State Department's Operations Center, and there the senior officer present had decided, naturally enough, to get the information immediately to the U.S. Embassy in Beijing. There Ambassador Carl Hitch took the call at his desk on the encrypted line. He forced the caller from Foggy Bottom to confirm the news twice before making his first reaction, a whistle. It wasn't often that an accredited ambassador of any sort got killed in a host country, much less by a host country. What the hell, he wondered, was Washington going to do about this?

"Damn," Hitch whispered. He hadn't even met Cardinal DiMilo yet. The official reception had been planned for two weeks from now in a future that would never come. What was he supposed to do? First, he figured, get off a message of condolence to the Vatican mission. (Foggy Bottom would so notify the Vatican through the Nuncio in Washington, probably. Maybe even Secretary Adler would drive over himself to offer official condolences. Hell, President Ryan was Catholic, and maybe he would go himself, Hitch speculated.) Okay, Hitch told himself, things to do here. He had his secretary call the Nuncio's residence, but all he got there was a Chinese national answering the phone, and that wasn't worth a damn. That would have to go on the back burner ... what about the Italian Embassy? he thought next. The Nuncio was an Italian citizen, wasn't he? Probably. Okay. He checked his card file and dialed up the Italian ambassador's private line.

"Paulo? This is Carl Hitch. Thanks, and you? I have some bad news, I'm afraid ... the Papal Nuncio, Cardinal DiMilo, he's been shot and killed in some Beijing hospital by a Chinese policeman ... it's going to be on CNN soon, not sure how soon ... we're pretty certain of it, I'm afraid ... I'm not entirely sure, but what I've been told is that he was there trying to prevent the death of a child, or one of those late-term abortions they do here ... yeah ... say, doesn't he come from a prominent family?" Then Hitch started taking notes. "Vincenzo, you said? I see ... Minister of Justice two years ago? I tried to call over there, but all I got was some local answering the phone. German? Schepke?" More notes. "I see. Thank you, Paulo. Hey, if there's anything we can help you with over here ... right. Okay. Bye." He hung up. "Damn. Now what?" he asked the desk. He could spread the bad news to the German Embassy, but, no, he'd let someone else do that. For now ... he checked his watch. It was still short of sunrise in Washington, and the people there would wake up to find a firestorm. His job, he figured, was to verify what had happened so that he could make sure Washington had good information. But how the hell to do that? His best potential source of information was this Monsignor Schepke, but the only way to get him was to stake out the Vatican Embassy and wait for him to come home. Hmm, would the Chinese be holding him somewhere? No, probably not. Once their Foreign Ministry found out about this, they'd probably fall all over themselves trying to apologize. So, they'd put extra security on the Nuncio's place, and that would keep newsies away, but they're not going to mess with accredited diplomats, not after killing one. This was just so bizarre. Carl Hitch had been a foreign-service officer since his early twenties. He'd never come across anything like this before, at least not since Spike Dobbs had been held hostage in Afghanistan by guerrillas, and the Russians had screwed up the rescue mission and gotten him killed. Some said that had been deliberate, but even the Soviets weren't that dumb, Hitch thought. Similarly, this hadn't been a deliberate act either. The Chinese were communists, and communists didn't gamble that way. It just wasn't part of their nature or their training.

So, how had this happened? And what, exactly, had happened ?

And when would he tell Cliff Rutledge about it? And what effect might this have on the trade talks? Carl Hitch figured he'd have a full evening.

The People's Republic will not be dictated to," Foreign Minister Shen Tang concluded.

"Minister," Rutledge replied, "it is not the intention of the United States to dictate to anyone. You make your national policy to suit your nation's needs. We understand and respect that. We require, however, that you understand and respect our right to make our national policy as well, to suit our country's needs. In this case, that means invoking the provisions of the Trade Reform Act."

That was a big, sharp sword to wave, and everyone in the room knew it, Mark Gant thought. The TRA enabled the Executive Branch to replicate any nation's trade laws as applied to American goods, and mirror-image them against that nation's own goods. It was international proof of the adage that the shoe could sure pinch if it was on the other foot. In this case, everything China did to exclude American manufactured goods from the Chinese marketplace would simply be invoked in order to do the same to Chinese goods, and with a trade surplus of seventy billion dollars per year, that could well mean seventy billion dollars--all of it hard currency. The money to buy the things the PRC government wanted from America or elsewhere wouldn't be there anymore. Trade would become trade, one of mine for one of yours, which was the theory that somehow never became reality.

"If America embargoes Chinese trade, China can and will do the same to America," Shen shot back.

"Which serves neither your purposes nor our own," Rutledge responded. And that dog ain't gonna hunt, he didn't have to say. The Chinese knew that well enough without being told.

"And what of most-favored-nation status for our country? What of entry into the World Trade Organization?" the Chinese foreign minister demanded.

"Mr. Minister, America cannot look favorably upon either so long as your country expects open export markets while closing your import markets. Trade, sir, means trade, the even exchange of your goods for ours," Rutledge pointed out again--about the twelfth time since lunch, he reckoned. Maybe the guy would get it this time. But that was unfair. He already got it. He just wasn't acknowledging the fact. It was just domestic Chinese politics projected into the international arena.

"And again you dictate to the People's Republic!" Shen replied, with enough anger, real or feigned, to suggest that Rutledge had usurped his parking place.

"No, Minister, we do no such thing. It is you, sir, who tried to dictate to the United States of America. You say that we must accept your trade terms. In that, sir, you are mistaken. We see no more need to buy your goods than you do to buy ours." Just that you need our hard cash a damned sight more than we need your chew toys for our fucking dogs!

"We can buy our airliners from Airbus just as easily as from Boeing."

This really was getting tiresome. Rutledge wanted to respond: But without our dollars, what will you pay for them with, Charlie? But Airbus had excellent credit terms for its customers, one more way in which a European government-subsidized enterprise played "fair" in the marketplace with a private American corporation. So, instead he said:

"Yes, Mr. Minister, you can do that, and we can buy trade goods from Taiwan, or Korea, or Thailand, or Singapore, just as easily as we can buy them here." And they'll fucking well buy their airplanes from Boeing! "But that does not serve the needs of your people, or of ours," he concluded reasonably.

"We are a sovereign nation and a sovereign people," Shen retorted, continuing on as he had before, and Rutledge figured that the rhetoric was all about taking command of the verbiage. It was a strategy that had worked many times before, but Rutledge had instructions to disregard all the diplomatic theatrics, and the Chinese just hadn't caught on yet. Maybe in a few more days, he thought.

"As are we, Minister," Rutledge said, when Shen concluded. Then he ostentatiously checked his watch, and here Shen took the cue.

"1 suggest we adjourn until tomorrow," the PRC foreign minister said.

"Good. I look forward to seeing you in the morning, Minister," Rutledge responded, rising and leaning across the table to shake hands. The rest of the party did the same, though Mark Gant didn't have a counterpart to be nice to at the moment. The American party shuffled out, downstairs toward their waiting cars.

"Well, that was lively," Gant observed, as soon as they were outside.

Rutledge actually had himself a nice grin. "Yeah, it was kind of diverting, wasn't it?" A pause. "I think they're exploring how far bluster can take them. Shen is actually rather a sedate kind of guy. He likes it nice and gentle most of the time."

"So, he has his instructions, too?" Gant wondered.

"Of course, but he reports to a committee, their Politburo, whereas we report to Scott Adler, and he reports to President Ryan. You know, I was a little mad about the instructions I had coming over here, but this is actually turning into fun. We don't get to snarl back at people very often. We're the U.S. of A., and we're supposed to be nice and calm and accommodating to everybody. That's what I'm used to doing. But this--this feels good." That didn't mean that he approved of President Ryan, of course, but switching over from canasta to poker made an interesting change. Scott Adler liked poker, didn't he? Maybe that explained why he got along so well with that yahoo in the White House.

It was a short drive back to the embassy. The Americans in the delegation rode mainly in silence, blessing the few minutes of quiet. The hours of precise diplomatic exchange had had to be attended to in the same way a lawyer read a contract, word by goddamned word, seeking meaning and nuance, like searching for a lost diamond in a cesspool. Now they sat back in their seats and closed their eyes or looked mutely at the passing drab scenery with no more than an unstifled yawn, until they pulled through the embassy gate.

About the only thing to complain about was the fact that the limousines here, like those everywhere, were hard to get in and out of, unless you were six years old. But as soon as they alighted from their official transport, they could see that something was wrong. Ambassador Hitch was right there, and he hadn't bothered with that before. Ambassadors have high diplomatic rank and importance. They do not usually act as doormen for their own countrymen.

"What's the matter, Carl?" Rutledge asked.

"A major bump in the road," Hitch answered.

"Somebody die?" the Deputy Secretary of State asked lightly.

"Yeah," was the unexpected answer. Then the ambassador waved them inside. "Come on."

The senior delegation members followed Rutledge into the ambassador's conference room. Already there, they saw, were the DCM--the Deputy Chief of Mission, the ambassador's XO, who in many embassies was the real boss--and the rest of the senior staff, including the guy Gant had figured was the CIA station chief. What the hell? TELESCOPE thought. They all took their seats, and then Hitch broke the news.

"Oh, shit," Rutledge said for them all. "Why did this happen?"

"We're not sure. We have our press attache trying to track this Wise guy down, but until we get more information, we really don't know the cause of the incident." Hitch shrugged.

"Does the PRC know?" Rutledge asked next.

"Probably they're just finding out," the putative CIA officer opined. "You have to assume the news took a while to percolate through their bureaucracy."

"How do we expect them to react?" one of Rutledge's underlings asked, sparing his boss the necessity of asking the obvious and fairly dumb question.

The answer was just as dumb: "Your guess is as good as mine," Hitch said.

"So, this could be a minor embarrassment or a major whoopsie," Rutledge observed. "Whoopsie" is a term of art in the United States Department of State, usually meaning a massive fuckup.

"I'd lean more toward the latter," Ambassador Hitch thought. He couldn't come up with a rational explanation for why this was so, but his instincts were flashing a lot of bright red lights, and Carl Hitch was a man who trusted his instincts.

"Any guidance from Washington?" Cliff asked.

"They haven't woken up yet, have they?" And as one, every member of the delegation checked his watch. The embassy people already had, of course. The sun had not yet risen on their national capital. What decisions would be made would happen in the next four hours. Nobody here would be getting much sleep for a while, because once the decisions were made, then they'd have to decide how to implement them, how to present the position of their country to the People's Republic.

"Ideas?" Rutledge asked.

"The President won't like this very much," Gant observed, figuring he knew about as much as anyone else in the room. "His initial reaction will be one of disgust. Question is, will that spill over into what we're here for? I think it might, depending on how our Chinese friends react to the news."

"How will the Chinese react?" Rutledge asked Hitch.

"Not sure, Cliff, but I doubt we'll like it. They will regard the entire incident as an intrusion--an interference with their internal affairs--and their reaction will be somewhat crass, I think. Essentially they're going to say, 'Too damned bad.' If they do, there's going to be a visceral reaction in America and in Washington. They don't understand us as well as they'd like to think they do. They misread our public opinion at every turn, and they haven't shown me much sign of learning. I'm worried," Hitch concluded.

"Well, then it's our job to walk them through this. You know," Rutledge thought aloud, "this could work in favor of our overall mission here."

Hitch bristled at that. "Cliff, it would be a serious mistake to try to play this one that way. Better to let them think it through for themselves. The death of an ambassador is a big deal," the American ambassador told the people in the room, in case they didn't know. "All the more so if the guy was killed by an agent of their government. But, Cliff, if you try to shove this down their throats, they're going to choke, and I don't think we want that to happen either. I think our best play is to ask for a break of a day or two in the talks, to let them get their act together."

"That's a sign of weakness for our side, Carl," Rutledge replied, with a shake of the head. "I think you're wrong on that. I think we press forward and let them know that the civilized world has rules, and we expect them to abide by them."

What lunacy is this?" Fang Gan asked the ceiling. "We're not sure," Zhang Han San replied. "Some troublesome churchman, it sounds like."

"And some foolish policeman with more gun than brains. He'll be punished, of course," Fang suggested.


"Punished? For what? For enforcing our population-control laws, for protecting a doctor against an attack by some gwai?" Zhang shook his head. "Do we allow foreigners to spit upon our laws in this way? No, Fang, we do not. I will not see us lose face in such a way."

"Zhang, what is the life of one insignificant police officer next to our country's place in the world?" Fang demanded. "The man he killed was an ambassador, Zhang, a foreigner accredited to our country by another--"

"Country?" Zhang spat. "A city, my friend, no, not even that--a district in Rome, smaller than Qiong Dao!" He referred to Jade Island, home of one of the many temples built by the emperors, and not much larger than the building itself. Then he remembered a quote from Iosef Stalin. "How big an army does that Pope have, anyway? Ahh!" A dismissive wave of the hand.

"He does have a country, whose ambassador we accredited, in the hope of improving our position in the diplomatic world," Fang reminded his friend. "His death is to be regretted, at the least. Perhaps he was merely one more troublesome foreign devil, Zhang, but for the purposes of diplomacy we must appear to regret his passing." And if that meant executing some nameless policeman, they had plenty of policemen, Fang didn't add.

"For what? For interfering with our laws? An ambassador may not do such a thing. That violates diplomatic protocol, does it not? Fang, you have become overly solicitous to the foreign devils," Zhang concluded, using the term from history to identify the lesser people from those lesser lands.

"If we want their goods in trade, and we want them to pay for our goods so that we might have their hard currency, then we must treat them like guests in our home."

"A guest in your home does not spit on the floor, Fang."

"And if the Americans do not react kindly to this incident?"

"Then Shen will tell them to mind their own affairs," Zhang replied, with the finality of one who had long since made up his mind.

"When does the Politburo meet?"

"To discuss this?" Zhang asked in surprise. "Why? The death of some foreign troublemaker and a Chinese ... churchman? Fang, you are too cautious. I have already discussed the incident with Shen. There will be no full meeting of the Politburo for this trivial incident. We will meet the day after tomorrow, as usual."

"As you say," Fang responded, with a nod of submission. Zhang had him ranked on the Politburo. He had much influence with the foreign and defense ministries, and the ear of Xu Kun Piao. Fang had his own political capital--mainly for internal matters--but less such capital than Zhang, and so he had to spend it carefully, when it could profit himself. This was not such a case, he thought. With that, he went back to his office and called Ming to transcribe his notes. Then, later, he thought, he'd have Chai come in. She was so useful in easing the tension of his day.

He felt better on waking this morning than was usually the case, probably because he'd gotten to sleep at a decent hour, Jack told himself, on the way to the bathroom for the usual morning routine. You never got a day off here, at least not in the sense that most people understood the term. You never really got to sleep late--8:25 was the current record dating all the way back to that terrible winter day when this had begun--and every day you had to have the same routine, including the dreaded national security briefing, which told you that some people really did believe that the world couldn't get on without you. The usual look in the mirror. He needed a haircut, Jack saw, but for that the barber came here, which wasn't a bad deal, really, except that you lost the fellowship of sitting in a male place and discussing male things. Being the most powerful man in the world insulated you from so many of the things that mattered. The food was good, and the booze was just fine, and if you didn't like the sheets they were changed at the speed of light, and people jumped to the sound of your voice. Henry VIII never had it so good ... but Jack Ryan had never thought to become a crowned monarch. That whole idea of kingship had died across the world except in a few distant places, and Ryan didn't live in one of them. But the entire routine at the White House seemed designed to make him feel like a king, and that was disturbing on a level that was like grasping a cloud of cigarette smoke. It was there, but every time you tried to hold it, the damned stuff just vanished. The staff was just so eager to serve, grimly--but pleasantly--determined to make everything easy for them. The real worry was the effect this might have on his kids. If they started thinking they were princes and princesses, sooner or later their lives would go to hell in one big hurry. But that was his problem to worry about, Jack thought as he shaved. His and Cathy's. Nobody else could raise their kids for them. That was their job. Just that all of this White House crap got in the way practically all the time.

The worst part of all, however, was that he had to be dressed all the time. Except in bed or in the bathroom, the President had to be properly dressed--or what would the staff think? So, Ryan couldn't walk out into the corridor without pants and at least some kind of shirt. At home, a normal person would have padded around barefoot in his shorts, but while a truck driver might have that freedom in his own home, the President of the United States did not have that freedom in his.

Then he had to smile wryly at the mirror. He bitched to himself about the same things every morning, and if he really wanted to change them, he could. But he was afraid to, afraid to take action that would cause people to lose their jobs. Aside from the fact that it would really look shitty in the papers--and practically everything he did made it into the news--it would feel bad to him, here, shaving every morning. And he didn't really need to walk out to the box and get the paper in the morning, did he?

And if you factored out the dress code, it wasn't all that bad. The breakfast buffet was actually quite nice, though it wasted at least five times the food it actually served. His cholesterol was still in the normal range, and so Ryan enjoyed eggs for his morning meal two or even three times a week, somewhat to his wife's distaste. The kids opted mainly for cereal or muffins. These were still warm from the downstairs kitchen and came in all sorts of healthy--and tasty--varieties.

The Early Bird was the clipping service the government provided for senior officials, but for breakfast SWORDSMAN preferred the real paper, complete with cartoons. Like many, Ryan lamented the retirement of Gary Larson and the attendant loss of the morning Far Side, but Jack understood the pressure of enforced daily output. There was also a sports page to be read, something the Early Bird left out completely. And there was CNN, which started in the White House breakfast room promptly at seven.

Ryan looked up when he heard the warning that kids should not see what they were about to show. His kids, like all other kids, stopped what they were doing to look.

"Eww, gross!" Sally Ryan observed, when some Chinese guy got shot in the head.

"Head wounds do that," her mother told her, wincing even so. Cathy did surgery, but not that sort. "Jack, what's this all about?"

"You know as much as I do, honey," the President told the First Lady.

Then the screen changed to some file tape showing a Catholic Cardinal. Then Jack caught "Papal Nuncio" off the audio, leaning to reach for the controller to turn the sound up.

"Chuck?" Ryan said, to the nearest Secret Service agent. "Get me Ben Goodley on the phone, if you could."

"Yes, Mr. President." It took about thirty seconds, then Ryan was handed the portable phone. "Ben, what the hell's this thing out of Beijing?"

In Jackson, Mississippi, Reverend Gerry Patterson was accustomed to rising early in preparation for his morning jog around the neighborhood, and he turned on the bedroom TV while his wife went to fix his hot chocolate (Patterson didn't approve of coffee any more than he did of alcohol). His head turned at the words "Reverend Yu," then his skin went cold when he heard, "a Baptist minister here in Beijing ..." He came back into the bedroom just in time to see a Chinese face go down, and shoot out blood as from a garden hose. The tape didn't allow him to recognize a face.

"My God ... Skip ... God, no ..." the minister breathed, his morning suddenly and utterly disrupted. Ministers deal with death on a daily basis, burying parishioners, consoling the bereaved, entreating God to look after the needs of both. But it was no easier for Gerry Patterson than it would have been for anyone else this day, because there had been no warning, no "long illness" to prepare the mind for the possibility, not even the fact of age to reduce the surprise factor. Skip was--what? Fifty-five? No more than that. Still a young man, Patterson thought, young and vigorous to preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ to his flock. Dead? Killed, was it? Murdered? By whom? Murdered by that communist government? A Man of God, murdered by the godless heathen?

Oh, shit," the President said over his eggs. "What else do we know, Ben? Anything from SORGE?" Then Ryan looked around the room, realizing he'd spoken a word that was itself classified. The kids weren't looking his way, but Cathy was.."Okay, we'll talk about it when you get in." Jack hit the kill button on the phone and set it down.

"What's the story?"

"It's a real mess, babe," SWORDSMAN told SURGEON. He explained what he knew for a minute or so. "The ambassador hasn't gotten to us with anything CNN didn't just show."

"You mean with all the money we spend on CIA and stuff, CNN is the best source of information we have?" Cathy Ryan asked, somewhat incredulously.

"You got it, honey," her husband admitted.

"Well, that doesn't make any sense!"

Jack tried to explain: "CIA can't be everywhere, and it would look a little funny if all our field spooks carried video-cams everywhere they went, you know?"

Cathy made a face at being shut down so cavalierly. "But--"

"But it's not that easy, Cathy, and the news people are in the same business, gathering information, and occasionally they get there first."

"But you have other ways of finding things out, don't you?"

"Cathy, you don't need to know about things like that," POTUS told FLOTUS.

That was a phrase she'd heard before, but not one she'd ever learned to love. Cathy went back to her morning paper while her husband graduated to the Early Bird. The Beijing story, Jack saw, had happened too late for the morning editions, one more thing to chuff up the TV newsies and annoy the print ones. Somehow the debate over the federal education budget didn't seem all that important this morning, but he'd learned to scan the editorials, because they tended to reflect the questions the reporters would ask at the press conferences, and that was one way for him to defend himself.

By 7:45, the kids were about ready for their drive to school, and Cathy was ready for her flight to Hopkins. Kyle Daniel went with her, with his own Secret Service detail, composed exclusively of women who would look after him at the Hopkins daycare center rather like a pack of she-wolves. Katie would head back to her daycare center, the rebuilt Giant Steps north of Annapolis. There were fewer kids there now, but a larger protective detail. The big kids went to St. Mary's. On cue, the Marine VH-60 Blackhawk helicopter eased down on the South Lawn helipad. The day was about to start for real. The entire Ryan family took the elevator downstairs. First Mom and Dad walked the kids to the west entrance of the West Wing, where, after hugs and kisses, three of the kids got into their cars to drive off. Then Jack walked Cathy to the helicopter for the kiss goodbye, and the big Sikorsky lifted off under the control of Colonel Dan Malloy for the hop to Johns Hopkins. With that done, Ryan walked back to the West Wing, and inside to the Oval Office. Ben Goodley was waiting for him.

"How bad?" Jack asked his national security adviser.

"Bad," Goodley replied at once.

"What was it all about?"

"They were trying to stop an abortion. The Chinese do them late-term if the pregnancy is not government-approved. They wait until just before the baby pops out and zap it in the top of the head with a needle before it gets to take a breath. Evidently, the woman on the tape was having an unauthorized baby, and her minister--that's the Chinese guy who gets it in the head, a Baptist preacher educated, evidently, at Oral Roberts University in Oklahoma, would you believe? Anyway, he came to the hospital to help. The Papal Nuncio, Renato Cardinal DiMilo, evidently knew the Baptist preacher pretty well and came to offer assistance. It's hard to tell exactly what went wrong, but it blew up real bad, as the tape shows."

"Any statements?"

"The Vatican deplores the incident and has requested an explanation. But it gets worse. Cardinal DiMilo is from the DiMilo family. He has a brother, Vincenzo DiMilo, who's in the Italian parliament--he was a cabinet minister a while back--and so the Italian government has issued its own protest. Ditto the German government, because the Cardinal's aide is a German monsignor named Schepke, who's a Jesuit, and he got a little roughed up, and the Germans aren't very happy either. This Monsignor Schepke was arrested briefly, but he was released after a few hours when the Chinese remembered he had diplomatic status. The thinking at State is that the PRC might PNG the guy, just to get him the hell out of the country and make the whole thing all go away."

"What time is it in Beijing?"

"Us minus eleven, so it's nine at night there," CARDSHARP answered.

"The trade delegation will need instructions of some sort about this. I need to talk to Scott Adler as soon as he gets in this morning."

"You need more than that, Jack." It was the voice of Arnold van Damm, at the door to the office.

"What else?"

"The Chinese Baptist who got killed, I just heard he has friends over here."

"Oral Roberts University," Ryan said. "Ben told me."

"The churchgoers are not going to like this one, Jack," Arnie warned.

"Hey, guy, I don't goddamn like it," the President pointed out. "Hell, I don't like abortion under the best of circumstances, remember?"

"I remember," van Damm said, recalling all the trouble Ryan had gotten into with his first Presidential statement on the issue.

"And this kind of abortion is especially barbaric, and so, two guys go to the fucking hospital and try to save the baby's life, and they get killed for it! Jesus," Ryan concluded, "and we have to do business with people like this."

Then another face showed up at the door. "You've heard, I suppose," Robby Jackson observed.

"Oh, yeah. Hell of a thing to see over breakfast."

"My pap knows the guy."

"What?" Ryan asked.

"Remember at the reception last week? He told you about it. Pap and Gerry Patterson both support his congregation out of Mississippi--some other congregations, too. It's a Baptist thing, Jack. Well-off churches look after ones that need help, and this Yu guy sure as hell needed help, looks like. I haven't talked to him yet, but Pap is going to raise pure fucking hell about this one, and you can bet on it," the Vice President informed his boss.

"Who's Patterson?" van Damm asked.

"White preacher, got a big air-conditioned church in the suburbs of Jackson. Pretty good guy, actually. He and Pap have known each other forever. Patterson went through school with this Yu guy, I think."

"This is going to get ugly," the Chief of Staff observed.

"Arnie, baby, it's already ugly," Jackson pointed out. The CNN cameraman had been a little too good, or had just been standing in a good place, and had caught both shots in all their graphic majesty.

"What's your dad going to say?" Ryan asked.

TOMCAT made them wait for it. "He's going to call down the Wrath of Almighty God on those murdering cocksuckers. He's going to call Reverend Yu a martyr to the Christian faith, right up there with the Maccabees of the Old Testament, and those courageous bastards the Romans fed to the lions. Arnie, have you ever seen a Baptist preacher calling down the Vengeance of the Lord? It beats the hell out of the Super Bowl, boy," Robby promised. "Reverend Yu is standing upright and proud before the Lord Jesus right now, and the guys who killed him have their rooms reserved in the Everlasting Fires of Hell. Wait till you hear him go at it. It's impressive, guys. I've seen him do it. And Gerry Patterson won't be far behind."

"And the hell of it is, I can't disagree with any of it. Jesus," Ryan breathed. "Those two men died to save the life of a baby. If you gotta die, that's not a bad reason for it."

They both died like men, Mr. C," Chavez was saying in Moscow. "I wish I was there with a gun." It had hit Ding especially hard. Fatherhood had changed his perspective on a lot of things, and this was just one of them. The life of a child was sacrosanct, and a threat against a child was an invitation to immediate death in his ethical universe. And in the real universe, he was known to have a gun a lot of the time, and the training to use it efficiently.

"Different people have different ways of looking at things," Clark told his subordinate. But if he'd been there, he would have disarmed both of the Chinese cops. On the videotape, they hadn't looked all that formidable. And you didn't kill people to make a fashion statement. Domingo still had the Latin temperament, John reminded himself. And that wasn't so bad a thing, was it?

"What are you saying, John?" Ding asked in surprise.

"I'm saying two good men died yesterday, and I imagine God'll look after both of them."

"Ever been to China?"

He shook his head. "Taiwan once, for R and R, long time ago. That was okay, but aside from that, no closer than North Vietnam. I don't speak the language and I can't blend in." Both factors were distantly frightening to Clark. The ability to disappear into the surroundings was the sine qua non of being a field-intelligence officer.

They were in a hotel bar in Moscow after their first day of lecturing their Russian students. The beer on tap was acceptable. Neither of them was in a mood for vodka. Life in Britain had spoiled them. This bar, which catered to Americans, had CNN on a large-screen TV next to the bar, and this was CNN's lead story around the globe. The American government, the report concluded, hadn't reacted to the incident yet.

"So, what's Jack going to do?" Chavez wondered.

"I don't know. We have that negotiations team in Beijing right now for trade talks," Clark reminded him.

"The diplomatic chatter might get a little sharp," Domingo thought.

Scott, we can't let this one slide," Jack said. A call from the White House had brought Adler's official car here instead of Foggy Bottom.

"It is not, strictly speaking, pertinent to trade talks," the Secretary of State pointed out.

"Maybe you want to do business with people like that," Vice President Jackson responded, "but the people outside the Beltway might not."

"We have to consider public opinion on this, Scott," Ryan said. "And, you know, we have to damn well consider my opinion. The murder of a diplomat is not something we can ignore. Italy is a NATO member. So is Germany. And we have diplomatic relations with the Vatican and about seventy million Catholics in the country, plus millions more Baptists."

"Okay, Jack," EAGLE said, with raised, defensive hands. "I am not defending them, okay? I'm talking about the foreign policy of the United States of America here, and we're not supposed to manage that on the basis of emotions. The people out there pay us to use our heads, not our dicks."

Ryan let out a long breath. "Okay, maybe I had that coming. Go on."

"We issue a statement deploring this sorry incident in strong language. We have Ambassador Hitch make a call on their foreign ministry and say the same thing, maybe even stronger, but in more informal language. We give them a chance to think this mess through before they become an international pariah, maybe discipline those trigger-happy cops--hell, maybe shoot them, given how the law works over there. We let common sense break out, okay?"

"And what do I say?"

Adler thought that one over for a few seconds. "Say whatever you want. We can always explain to them that we have a lot of churchgoers here and you have to assuage their sensibilities, that they have inflamed American public opinion, and in our country, public opinion counts for something. They know that on an intellectual level, but deep down in the gut they don't get it. That's okay," SecState went on. "Just so they get it in the brain, because the brain talks to the gut occasionally. They have to understand that the world doesn't like this sort of thing."

"And if they don't?" the Vice President asked.

"Well, then we have a trade delegation to show them the consequences of uncivilized behavior." Adler looked around the room. "Are we okay on that?"

Ryan looked down at the coffee table. There were times when he wished he were a truck driver, able to scream out bloody murder when certain things happened, but that was just one more freedom the President of the United States didn't have. Okay, Jack, you have to be sensible and rational about all this. He looked up. "Yes, Scott, we're sort of okay on that."

"Anything from our, uh, new source on this issue?"

Ryan shook his head. "No, MP hasn't sent anything over yet."

"If she does ..."

"You'll get a copy real fast," the President promised. "Get me some talking points. I'll have to make a statement--when, Arnie?"

"Eleven-ish ought to be okay," van Damm decided. "I'll talk to some media guys about this."

"Okay, if anybody has ideas later today, I want to hear them," Ryan said, standing, and adjourning the meeting.

CHAPTER 26

Glass Houses and Rocks

Fang Gan had worked late that day because of the incident that had Washington working early. As a result, Ming hadn't transcribed his discussion notes and her computer hadn't gotten them out on the 'Net as early as usual, but Mary Pat got her e-mail about 9:45. This she read over, copied to her husband, Ed, and then shot via secure fax line to the White House, where Ben Goodley walked it to the Oval Office. The cover letter didn't contain Mary Pat's initial comment on reading the transmission: "Oh, shit..."

"Those cocksuckers!" Ryan snarled, to the surprise of Andrea Price, who happened to be in the room just then.

"Anything I need to know about, sir?" she asked, his voice had been so furious.

"No, Andrea, just that thing on CNN this morning." Ryan paused, blushing that she'd heard his temper let go again--and in that way. "By the way, how's your husband doing?"

"Well, he bagged those three bank robbers up in Philadelphia, and they did it without firing a shot. I was a little worried about that."

Ryan allowed himself a smile. "That's one guy I wouldn't want to have a shoot-out with. Tell me, you saw CNN this morning, right?"

"Yes, sir, and we replayed it at the command post."

"Opinion?"

"If I'd've been there, my weapon would have come out. That was cold-blooded murder. Looks bad on TV when you do dumb stuff like that, sir."

"Sure as hell does," the President agreed. He nearly asked her opinion on what he ought to do about it. Ryan respected Mrs. O'Day's (she still went by Price on the job) judgment, but it wouldn't have been fair to ask her to delve into foreign affairs, and, besides, he already had his mind pretty well made up. But then he speed-dialed Adler's direct line on his phone.

"Yes, Jack?" Only one person had that direct line.

"What do you make of the SORGE stuff?"

"It's not surprising, unfortunately. You have to expect them to circle wagons."

"What do we do about it?" SWORDSMAN demanded.

"We say what we think, but we try not to make it worse than it already is," SecState replied, cautious as ever.

"Right," Ryan growled, even though it was exactly the good advice he'd expected from his SecState. Then he hung up. He reminded himself that Arnie had told him a long time ago that a president wasn't allowed to have a temper, but that was asking a hell of a lot, and at what point was he allowed to react the way a man needed to react? When was he supposed to stop acting like a goddamned robot?

"You want Callie to work up something for you in a hurry?" Arnie asked over the phone.

"No," Ryan replied, with a shake of the head. "I'll just wing it."

"That's a mistake," the Chief of Staff warned.

"Arnie, just let me be me once in a while, okay?"

"Okay, Jack," van Damm replied, and it was just as well the President didn't see his expression.

Don't make things worse than they already are, Ryan told himself at his desk. Yeah, sure, like that's possible ...

Hi, Pap," Robby Jackson was saying in his office at the northwest comer of the West Wing.

"Robert, have you seen--"

"Yes, we've all seen it," the Vice President assured his father.

"And what are y'all going to do about it?"

"Pap, we haven't figured that out yet. Remember that we have to do business with these people. The jobs of a lot of Americans depend on trade with China and--"

"Robert"--the Reverend Hosiah Jackson used Robby's proper name mainly when he was feeling rather stern--"those people murdered a man of God--no, excuse me, they murdered two men of God, doing their duty, trying to save the life of an innocent child, and one does not do business with murderers."

"I know that, and I don't like it any more than you do, and, trust me, Jack Ryan doesn't like it any more than you do, either. But when we make foreign policy for our country, we have to think things through, because if we screw it up, people can lose their lives."

"Lives have already been lost, Robert," Reverend Jackson pointed out.

"I know that. Look, Pap, I know more about this than you do, okay? I mean, we have ways of finding out stuff that doesn't make it on CNN," the Vice President told his father, with the latest SORGE report right in his hand. Part of him wished that he could show it to his father, because his father was easily smart enough to grasp the importance of the secret things that he and Ryan knew. But there was no way he could even approach discussing that sort of thing with anyone without a TS/SAR clearance, and that included his wife, just as it included Cathy Ryan. Hmm, Jackson thought--maybe that was something he should discuss with Jack. You had to be able to talk this stuff over with someone you trusted, just as a reality check on what was right and wrong. Their wives weren't security risks, were they?

"Like what?" his father asked, only halfway expecting an answer.

"Like I can't discuss some things with you, Pap, and you know that. I'm sorry. The rules apply to me just like they do to everybody else."

"So, what are we going to do about this?"

"We're going to let the Chinese know that we are pretty damned angry, and we expect them to clean their act up, and apologize, and--"

"Apologize!" Reverend Jackson shot back. "Robert, they murdered two people!"

"I know that, Pap, but we can't send the FBI over to arrest their government for this, can we? We're very powerful here, but we are not God, and as much as I'd like to hurl a thunderbolt at them, I can't."

"So, we're going to do what?"

"We haven't decided yet. I'll let you know when we figure it out," TOMCAT promised his father.

"Do that," Hosiah said, hanging up far more abruptly than usual.

"Christ, Pap," Robby breathed into the phone. Then he wondered how representative of the religious community his father was. The hardest thing to figure was public reaction. People reacted on a subintellectual level to what they saw on TV. If you showed some chief of state tossing a puppy dog out the window of his car, the ASPCA might demand a break in diplomatic relations, and enough people might agree to send a million telegrams or e-mails to the White House. Jackson remembered a case in California where the killing of a dog had caused more public outrage than the kidnap-murder of a little girl. But at least the bastard who'd killed the girl had been caught, tried, and sentenced to death, whereas the asshole who'd tossed the little dog into traffic had never been identified, despite the ton of reward money that had been raised. Well, it had all happened in the San Francisco area. Maybe that explained it. America wasn't supposed to make policy on the basis of emotion, but America was a democracy, and therefore her elected officials had to pay attention to what the people thought--and it wasn't easy, especially for rational folk, to predict the emotions of the public at large. Could the television image they'd just seen, theoretically upset international trade? Without a doubt, and that was a very big deal.

Jackson got up from his desk and walked to Arnie's office. "Got a question," he said, going in.

"Shoot," the President's Chief of Staff replied.

"How's the public going to react to this mess in Beijing?"

"Not sure yet," van Damm answered.

"How do we find out?"

"Usually you just wait and see. I'm not into this focus-group stuff. I prefer to gauge public opinion the regular way: newspaper editorials, letters to the editor, and the mail we get here. You're worried about this?"

"Yep." Robby nodded.

"Yeah, so am I. The Right-to-Lifers are going to be on this like a lion on a crippled gazelle, and so are the people who don't like the PRC. Lots of them in Congress. If the Chinese think they're going to get MFN this year, they're on drugs. It's a public relations nightmare for the PRC, but I don't think they're capable of understanding what they started. And I don't see them apologizing to anybody."

"Yeah, well, my father just tore me a new asshole over this one," Vice President Jackson said. "If the rest of the clergy picks this one up, there's going to be a firestorm. The Chinese have to apologize loud and fast if they want to cut their losses."

Van Damm nodded agreement. "Yeah, but they won't. They're too damned proud."

"Pride goeth before the fall," TOMCAT observed.

"Only after you feel the pain from the broken assbone, Admiral," van Damm corrected the Vice President.

Ryan entered the White House press room feeling tense. The usual cameras were there. CNN and Fox would probably be running this news conference live, and maybe C-SPAN as well. The other networks would just tape it, probably, for use in their news feeds to the local stations and their own flagship evening news shows. He came to the lectern and took a sip of water before staring into the faces of the assembled thirty or so reporters.

"Good morning," Jack began, grasping the lectern tightly, as he tended to do when angry. He didn't know that reporters knew about it, too, and could see it from where they sat.

"We all saw those horrible pictures on the television this morning, the deaths of Renato Cardinal DiMilo, the Papal Nuncio to the People's Republic of China, and the Reverend Yu Fa An, who, we believe, was a native of the Republic of China and educated at Oral Roberts University in Oklahoma. First of all, the United States of America extends our condolences to the families of both men. Second, we call upon the government of the People's Republic to launch an immediate and full investigation of this horrible tragedy, to determine who, if anyone, was at fault, and if someone was at fault, for such person or persons to be prosecuted to the full extent of the law.

"The death of a diplomat at the hands of an agent of a government is a gross violation of international treaty and convention. It is a quintessentially uncivilized act that must be set right as quickly and definitively as possible. Peaceful relations between nations cannot exist without diplomacy, and diplomacy cannot be carried out except through men and women whose personal safety is sacrosanct. That has been the case for literally thousands of years. Even in time of war, the lives of diplomats have always been protected by all sides for this very reason. We require that the government of the PRC explain this tragic event and take proper action to see to it that nothing of this sort will ever happen again. That concludes my statement. Questions?" Ryan looked up, trying not to brace too obviously for the storm that was about to break.

"Mr. President," the Associated Press said, "the two clergymen who died were there to prevent an abortion. Does that affect your reaction to this incident?"

Ryan allowed himself to show surprise at the stupid question: "My views on abortion are on the public record, but I think everyone, even the pro-choice community, would respond negatively to what happened here. The woman in question did not choose to have an abortion, but the Chinese government tried to impose its will on her by killing a full-term fetus about to be born. If anyone did that in the United States, that person would be guilty of a felony--probably more than one--yet that is government policy in the People's Republic. As you know, I personally object to abortion on moral grounds, but what we saw attempted on TV this morning is worse even than that. It's an act of incomprehensible barbarism. Those two courageous men tried to stop it, and they were killed for their efforts, but, thank God, the baby appears to have survived. Next question?" Ryan pointed next to a known troublemaker.

"Mr. President," the Boston Globe said, "the government's action grew out of the People's Republic's population-control policy. Is it our place to criticize a country's internal policy?"

Christ, Ryan thought, another one? "You know, once upon a time, a fellow named Hitler tried to manage the population of his country--in fact, of a lot of Europe--by killing the mentally infirm, the socially undesirable, and those whose religions he didn't like. Now, yes, Germany was a nation-state, and we even had diplomatic relations with Hitler until December 1941. But are you saying that America does not have the right to object to a policy we consider barbaric just because it is the official policy of a nation-state? Hermann Goring tried that defense at the Nurnberg Trials. Do you want the United States of America to recognize it?" Jack demanded.

The reporter wasn't as used to answering questions as to asking them. Then she saw that the cameras were pointed her way, and she was having a bad-hair day. Her response, therefore, could have been a little better: "Mr. President, is it possible that your views of abortion have affected your reaction to this event?"

"No, ma'am. I've disapproved of murder even longer than I've objected to abortion," Ryan replied coldly.

"But you've just compared the People's Republic of China to Hitler's Germany," the Globe reporter pointed out. You can't say that about them!

"Both countries shared a view of population control that is antithetical to American traditions. Or do you approve of imposing late-term abortions on women who choose not to have one?"

"Sir, I'm not the President," the Globe replied, as she sat down, avoiding the question, but not the embarrassed blush.

"Mr. President," began the San Francisco Examiner, "whether we like it or not, China has decided for itself what sort of laws it wants to have, and the two men who died this morning were interfering with those laws, weren't they?"

"The Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King interfered with the laws of Mississippi and Alabama back when I was in high school. Did the Examiner object to his actions then?"

"Well, no, but--"

"But we regard the personal human conscience as a sovereign force, don't we?" Jack shot back. "The principle goes back to St. Augustine, when he said that an unjust law is no law. Now, you guys in the media agree with that principle. Is it only when you happen to agree with the person operating on that principle? Isn't that intellectually dishonest? I do not personally approve of abortion. You all know that. I've taken a considerable amount of heat for that personal belief, some of which has been laid on me by you good people. Fine. The Constitution allows us all to feel the way we choose. But the Constitution does not allow me not to enforce the law against people who blow up abortion clinics. I can sympathize with their overall point of view, but I cannot agree or sympathize with the use of violence to pursue a political position. We call that terrorism, and it's against the law, and I have sworn an oath to enforce the law fully and fairly in all cases, regardless of how I may or may not feel on a particular issue.

"Therefore, if you do not apply it evenhandedly, ladies and gentlemen, it is not a principle at all, but ideology, and it is not very helpful to the way we govern our lives and our country.

"Now, on the broader question, you said that China has chosen its laws. Has it? Has it really? The People's Republic is not, unfortunately, a democratic country. It is a place where the laws are imposed by an elite few. Two courageous men died yesterday objecting to those laws, and in the successful attempt to save the life of an unborn child. Throughout history, men have given up their lives for worse causes than that. Those men are heroes by any definition, but I do not think anyone in this room, or for that matter anyone in our country, believes that they deserved to die, heroically or not. The penalty for civil disobedience is not supposed to be death. Even in the darkest days of the 1960s, when black Americans were working to secure their civil rights, the police in the southern states did not commit wholesale murder. And those local cops and members of the Ku Klux Klan who did step over that line were arrested and convicted by the FBI and the Justice Department.

"In short, there are fundamental differences between the People's Republic of China and America, and of the two systems, I much prefer ours."

Ryan escaped the press room ten minutes later, to find Arnie standing at the top of the ramp.

"Very good, Jack."

"Oh?" The President had learned to fear that tone of voice.

"Yeah, you just compared the People's Republic of China to Nazi Germany and the Ku Klux Klan."

"Arnie, why is it that the media feel such great solicitude for communist countries?"

"They don't, and--"

"The hell they don't! I just compared the PRC to Nazi Germany and they damned near wet their pants. Well, guess what? Mao murdered more people than Hitler did. That's public knowledge--I remember when CIA released the study that documented it--but they ignore it. Is some Chinese citizen killed by Mao less dead than some poor Polish bastard killed by Hitler?"

"Jack, they have their sensibilities," van Damm told his President.

"Yeah? Well, just once in a while, I wish they'd display something I can recognize as a principle." With that, Ryan strode back to his office, practically trailing smoke from his ears.

"Temper, Jack, temper," Arnie said to no one in particular. The President still had to learn the first principle of political life, the ability to treat a son of a bitch like your best friend, because the needs of your nation depended on it. The world would be a better place if it were as simple as Ryan wished, the Chief of Staff thought. But it wasn't, and it showed no prospect of becoming so.

A few blocks away at Foggy Bottom, Scott Adler had finished cringing and was making notes on how to mend the fences that his President had just kicked over. He'd have to sit down with Jack and go over a few things, like the principles he held so dear.

What did you think of that, Gerry?"

"Hosiah, I think we have a real President here. What does your son think of him?"

"Gerry, they've been friends for twenty years, back to when they both taught at the Naval Academy. I've met the man. He's a Catholic, but I think we can overlook that."

"We have to." Patterson almost laughed. "So was one of the guys who got shot yesterday, remember?"

"Italian, too, probably drank a lot of wine."

"Well, Skip was known to have the occasional drink," Patterson told his black colleague.

"I didn't know," Reverend Jackson replied, disturbed at the thought.

"Hosiah, it is an imperfect world we live in."

"Just so he wasn't a dancer." That was almost a joke, but not quite.

"Skip? No, I've never known him to dance," Reverend Patterson assured his friend. "By the way, I have an idea."

"What's that, Gerry?"

"How about this Sunday you preach at my church, and I preach at yours? I'm sure we're both going to speak on the life and martyrdom of a Chinese man."

"And what passage will you base your sermon on?" Hosiah asked, surprised and interested by the suggestion.

"Acts," Patterson replied at once.

Reverend Jackson considered that. It wasn't hard to guess the exact passage. Gerry was a fine biblical scholar. "I admire your choice, sir."

"Thank you, Pastor Jackson. What do you think of my other suggestion?"

Reverend Jackson hesitated only a few seconds. "Reverend Patterson, I would be honored to preach at your church, and I gladly extend to you the invitation to preach at my own."

Forty years earlier, when Gerry Patterson had been playing baseball in the church-sponsored Little League, Hosiah Jackson had been a young Baptist preacher, and the mere idea of preaching in Patterson's church could have incited a lynching. But, by the Good Lord, they were men of God, and they were mourning the death--the martyrdom--of another man of God of yet another color. Before God, all men were equal, and that was the whole point of the Faith they shared. Both men were thinking quickly of how they might have to alter their styles, because though both were Baptists, and though both preached the Gospel of Jesus Christ to Baptist congregations, their communities were a little bit different and required slightly different approaches. But it was an accommodation both men could easily make.

"Thank you, Hosiah. You know, sometimes we have to acknowledge that our faith is bigger than we are."

For his part, Reverend Jackson was impressed. He never doubted the sincerity of his white colleague, and they'd chatted often on matters of religion and scripture. Hosiah would even admit, quietly, to himself, that Patterson was his superior as a scholar of the Holy Word, due to his somewhat lengthier formal education, but of the two, Hosiah Jackson was marginally the better speaker, and so their relative talents played well off each other.

"How about we get together for lunch to work out the details?" Jackson asked.

"Today? I'm free."

"Sure. Where?"

"The country club? You're not a golfer, are you?" Patterson asked hopefully. He felt like a round, and his afternoon was free today for a change.

"Never touched a golf club in my life, Gerry." Hosiah had a good laugh at that. "Robert is, learned at Annapolis and been playing ever since. Says he kicks the President's backside every time they go out." He'd never been to the Willow Glen Country Club either, and wondered if the club had any black members. Probably not. Mississippi hadn't changed quite that much yet, though Tiger Woods had played at a PGA tournament there, and so that color line had been breached, at least.

"Well, he'd probably whip me, too. Next time he comes down, maybe we can play a round." Patterson's membership at Willow Glen was complimentary, another advantage to being pastor of a well-to-do congregation.

And the truth of the matter was that, white or not, Gerry Patterson was not the least bit bigoted, Reverend Jackson knew. He preached the Gospel with a pure heart. Hosiah was old enough to remember when that had not been so, but that, too, had changed once and for all. Praise God.

For Admiral Mancuso, the issues were the same, and a little different. An early riser, he'd caught CNN the same as everyone else. So had Brigadier General Mike Lahr.

"Okay, Mike, what the hell is this all about?" CINCPAC asked when his J-2 arrived for his morning intel brief.

"Admiral, it looks like a monumental cluster-fuck. Those clergy stuck their noses in a tight crack and paid the price for it. More to the point, NCA is seriously pissed." NCA was the code-acronym for National Command Authority, President Jack Ryan.

"What do I need to know about this?"

"Well, things are likely to heat up between America and China, for starters. The trade delegation we have in Beijing is probably going to catch some heat. If they catch too much, well . . ." His voice trailed off.

"Give me worst case," CINCPAC ordered.

"Worst case, the PRC gets its collective back up, and we recall the trade delegation and the ambassador, and things get real chilly for a while."

"Then what?"

"Then--that's more of a political question, but it wouldn't hurt for us to take it a little seriously, sir," Lahr told his boss, who took just about everything seriously.

Mancuso looked at his wall map of the Pacific. Enterprise was back at sea doing exercises between Marcus Island and the Marianas. John Stennis was alongside in Pearl Harbor. Harry Truman was en route to Pearl Harbor after taking the long way around Cape Horn--modern aircraft carriers are far too beamy for the Panama Canal. Lincoln was finishing up a bobtail refit in San Diego and about to go back to sea. Kitty Hawk and Independence, his two old, oil-fired carriers, were both in the Indian Ocean. At that, he was lucky. First and Seventh Fleets had six carriers fully operational for the first time in years. So, if he needed to project power, he had the assets to give people something to think about. He also had a lot of Air Force aircraft at his disposal. The 3rd Marine Division and the Army's 25th Light based right there in Hawaii wouldn't play in this picture. The Navy might bump heads with the ChiComms, and the Air Force, but he lacked the amphibious assets to invade China, and besides, he wasn't insane enough to think that was a rational course of action under any circumstances.

"What do we have in Taiwan right now?"

"Mobile Bay, Milius, Chandler, and Fletcher are showing the flag. Frigates Curtis and Reid are doing operations with the ROC navy. The submarines La Jolla, Helena, and Tennessee are trolling in the Formosa Strait or along the Chinese coast looking at their fleet units."

Mancuso nodded. He usually kept some high-end SAM ships close to Taiwan. Milius was a Burke-class destroyer, and Mobile Bay was a cruiser, both of them with the Aegis system aboard to make the ROC feel a little better about the putative missile threat to their island. Mancuso didn't think the Chinese were foolish enough to launch an attack against a city with some U.S. Navy ships tied alongside, and the Aegis ships had a fair chance of stopping anything that flew their way. But you never knew, and if this Beijing incident blew up any more . . . He lifted the phone for SURFPAC, the three-star who administratively owned Pacific Fleet's surface ships.

"Yeah," answered Vice Admiral Ed Goldsmith.

"Ed, Bart. What material shape are those ships we have in Taipei harbor in?"

"You're calling about the thing on CNN, right?"

"Correct," CINCPAC confirmed.

"Pretty good. No material deficiencies I know about. They're doing the usual port-visit routine, letting people aboard and all. Crews are spending a lot of time on the beach."

Mancuso didn't have to ask what they were doing on the beach. He'd been a young sailor once, though never on Taiwan.

"Might not hurt for them to keep their ears perked up some."

"Noted," SURFPAC acknowledged. Mancuso didn't have to say more. The ships would now stand alternating Condition-Three on their combat systems. The SPY radars would be turned on aboard one of the Aegis ships at all times. One nice thing about Aegis ships was that they could go from half-asleep to fully operational in about sixty seconds; it was just a matter of turning some keys. They'd have to be a little careful. The SPY radar put out enough power to fry electronic components for miles around, but it was just a matter of how you steered the electronic beams, and that was computer-controlled. "Okay, sir, I'll get the word out right now."

"Thanks, Ed. I'll get you fully briefed in later today."

"Aye, aye," SURFPAC replied. He'd put a call to his squadron commanders immediately.

"What else?" Mancuso wondered.

"We haven't heard anything directly from Washington, Admiral," BG Lahr told his boss.

"Nice thing about being a CINC, Mike. You're allowed to think on your own a little."

What a fucking mess," General-Colonel Bondarenko observed to his drink. He wasn't talking about the news of the day, but about his command, even though the officers' club in Chabarsovil was comfortable. Russian general officers have always liked their comforts, and the building dated back to the czars. It had been built during the Russo-Japanese war at the beginning of the previous century and expanded several times. You could see the border between pre-revolution and post-revolution workmanship. Evidently, German POWs hadn't been trained this far east--they'd built most of the dachas for the party elite of the old days. But the vodka was fine, and the fellowship wasn't too bad, either.

"Things could be better, Comrade General," Bondarenko's operations officer agreed. "But there is much that can be done the right way, and little bad to undo."

That was a gentle way of saying that the Far East Military District was less of a military command than it was a theoretical exercise. Of the five motor-rifle divisions nominally under his command, only one, the 265th, was at eighty-percent strength. The rest were at best regimental-size formations, or mere cadres. He also had theoretical command of a tank division--about a regiment and a half--plus thirteen reserve divisions that existed not so much on paper as in some staff officer's dreams. The one thing he did have was huge equipment stores, but a lot of that equipment dated back to the 1960s, or even earlier. The best troops in his area of command responsibility were not actually his to command. These were the Border Guards, battalion-sized formations once part of the KGB, now a semi-independent armed service under the command of the Russian president.

There was also a defense line of sorts, which dated back to the 1930s and showed it. For this line, numerous tanks--some of them actually German in origin--were buried as bunkers. In fact, more than anything else the line was reminiscent of the French Maginot Line, also a thing of the 1930s. It had been built to protect the Soviet Union against an attack by the Japanese, and then upgraded halfheartedly over the years to protect against the People's Republic of China--a defense never forgotten, but never fully remembered either. Bondarenko had toured parts of it the previous day. As far back as the czars, the engineering officers of the Russian Army had never been fools. Some of the bunkers were sited with shrewd, even brilliant appreciation for the land, but the problem with bunkers was explained by a recent American aphorism: If you can see it, you can hit it, and if you can hit it, you can kill it. The line had been conceived and built when artillery fire had been a chancy thing, and an aircraft bomb was fortunate to hit the right county. Now you could use a fifteen-centimeter gun as accurately as a sniper rifle, and an aircraft could select which window-pane to put the bomb through on a specific building.

"Andrey Petrovich, I am pleased to hear your optimism. What is your first recommendation?"

"It will be simple to improve the camouflage on the border bunkers. That's been badly neglected over the years," Colonel Aliyev told his commander-in-chief. "That will reduce their vulnerability considerably."

"Allowing them to survive a serious attack for ... sixty minutes, Andrushka?"

"Maybe even ninety, Comrade General. It's better than five minutes, is it not?" He paused for a sip of vodka. Both had been drinking for half an hour. "For the 265th, we must begin a serious training program at once. Honestly, the division commander did not impress me greatly, but I suppose we must give him a chance."

Bondarenko: "He's been out here so long, maybe he likes the idea of Chinese food."

"General, I was out here as a lieutenant," Aliyev said. "I remember the political officers telling us that the Chinese had increased the length of the bayonets on their AK-47s to get through the extra fat layer we'd grown after discarding true Marxism-Leninism and eating too much."

"Really?" Bondarenko asked.

"That is the truth, Gennady Iosifovich."

"So, what do we know of the PLA?"

"There are a lot of them, and they've been training seriously for about four years now, much harder than we've been doing."

"They can afford to," Bondarenko observed sourly. The other thing he'd learned on arriving was how thin the cupboard was for funds and training equipment. But it wasn't totally bleak. He had stores of consumable supplies that had been stocked and piled for three generations. There was a virtual mountain of shells for the 100-mm guns on his many--and long-since obsolete--T-54/55 tanks, for example, and a sea of diesel fuel hidden away in underground tanks too numerous to count. The one thing he had in the Far East Military District was infrastructure, built up by the Soviet Union over generations of institutional paranoia. But that wasn't the same as an army to command.

"What about aviation?"

"Mainly grounded," Aliyev answered glumly. "Parts problems. We used up so much in Chechnya that there isn't enough to go around, and the Western District still has first call."

"Oh? Our political leadership expects the Poles to invade us?"

"That's the direction Germany is in," the G-3 pointed out.

"I've been fighting that out with the High Command for three years," Bondarenko growled, thinking of his time as chief of operations for the entire Russian army. "People would rather listen to themselves than to others with the voice of reason." He looked up at Aliyev. "And if the Chinese come?"

The theater operations officer shrugged. "Then we have a problem."

Bondarenko remembered the maps. It wasn't all that far to the new gold strike . . . and the ever-industrious army engineers were building the damned roads to it . . .

"Tomorrow, Andrey Petrovich. Tomorrow we start drawing up a training regimen for the whole command," CINC--FAR EAST told his own G-3.

Chapter 27

Transportation

Diggs didn't entirely like what he saw, but it wasn't all that unexpected. A battalion of Colonel Lisle's 2nd Brigade was out there, maneuvering through the exercise area--clumsily, Diggs thought. He had to amend his thoughts, of course. This wasn't the National Training Center at Fort Irwin, California, and Lisle's 2nd Brigade wasn't the 11th ACR, whose troopers were out there training practically every day, and as a result knew soldiering about as well as a surgeon knew cutting. No, 1st Armored Division had turned into a garrison force since the demise of the Soviet Union, and all that wasted time in what was left of Yugoslavia, trying to be "peacekeepers," hadn't sharpened their war-fighting skills. That was a term Diggs hated. Peacekeepers be damned, the general thought, they were supposed to be soldiers, not policemen in battle dress uniform. The opposing force here was a German brigade, and by the looks of it, a pretty good one, with their Leopard-II tanks. Well, the Germans had soldiering in their genetic code somewhere, but they weren't any better trained than Americans, and training was the difference between some ignorant damned civilian and a soldier. Training meant knowing where to look and what to do when you saw something there. Training meant knowing what the tank to your left was going to do without having to look. Training meant knowing how to fix your tank or Bradley when something broke. Training eventually meant pride, because with training came confidence, the sure knowledge that you were the baddest motherfucker in the Valley of the Shadow of Death, and you didn't have to fear no evil at all.

Colonel Boyle was flying the UH-60A in which Diggs was riding. Diggs was in the jump seat immediately aft and between the pilots' seats. They were cruising about five hundred feet over the ground.

"Oops, that platoon down there just walked into something," Boyle reported, pointing. Sure enough the lead tank's blinking yellow light started flashing the I'm dead signal.

"Let's see how the platoon sergeant recovers," General Diggs said.

They watched, and sure enough, the sergeant pulled the remaining three tanks back while the crew bailed out of the platoon leader's M1A2 main battle tank. As a practical matter, both it and its crew would probably have survived whatever administrative "hit" it had taken from the Germans. Nobody had yet come up with a weapon to punch reliably through the Chobham armor, but someone might someday, and so the tank crews were not encouraged to think themselves immortal and their tanks invulnerable.

"Okay, that sergeant knows his job," Diggs observed, as the helicopter moved to another venue. The general saw that Colonel Masterman was making notes aplenty on his pad. "What do you think, Duke?"

"I think they're at about seventy-five percent efficiency, sir," the G-3 operations officer replied. "Maybe a little better. We need to put everybody on the SimNet, to shake 'em all up a little." That was one of the Army's better investments. SIMNET, the simulator network, comprised a warehouse full of M1 and Bradley simulators, linked by supercomputer and satellite with two additional such warehouses, so that highly complex and realistic battles could be fought out electronically. It had been hugely expensive, and while it could never fully simulate training in the field, it was nevertheless a training aid without parallel.

"General, all that time in Yugoslavia didn't help Lisle's boys," Boyle said from the chopper's right seat.

"I know that," Diggs agreed. "I'm not going to kill anybody's career just yet," he promised.

Boyle's head turned to grin. "Good, sir. I'll spread that word around."

"What do you think of the Germans?"

"I know their boss, General Major Siegfried Model. He's damned smart. Plays a hell of a game of cards. Be warned, General."

"Is that a fact?" Diggs had commanded the NTC until quite recently, and had occasionally tried his luck at Las Vegas, a mere two hours up I-15 from the post.

"Sir, I know what you're thinking. Think again," Boyle cautioned his boss.

"Your helicopters seem to be doing well."

"Yep, Yugoslavia was fairly decent training for us, and long as we have gas, I can train my people."

"What about live-fire?" the commanding general of First Tanks asked.

"We haven't done that in a while, sir, but again, the simulators are almost as good as the real thing," Boyle replied over the intercom. "But I think you'll want your track toads to get some in, General." And Boyle was right on that one. Nothing substituted for live-fire in an Abrams or a Bradley.

The stakeout on the park bench turned out to be lengthy and boring. First of all, of course, they'd pulled the container, opened it, and discovered that the contents were two sheets of paper, closely printed with Cyrillic characters, but encrypted. So the sheet had been photographed and sent off to the cryppies for decryption. This had not proven to be easy. In fact, it had thus far proven to be impossible, leading the officers from the Federal Security Service to conclude that the Chinese (if that was who it was) had adopted the old KGB practice of using one-time pads. These were unbreakable in theoretical terms because there was no pattern, formula, or algorithm to crack.

The rest of the time was just a matter of waiting to see who came to pick up the package.

It ended up taking days. The FSS put three cars on the case. Two of them were vans with long-lens cameras on the target. In the meanwhile, Suvorov/Koniev's apartment was as closely watched as the Moscow Stock Exchange ticker. The subject himself had a permanent shadow of up to ten trained officers, mainly KGB-trained spy-chasers instead of Provalov's homicide investigators, but with a leavening of the latter because it was technically still their case. It would remain a homicide case until some foreign national--they hoped--picked up the package under the bench.

Since it was a park bench, people sat on it regularly. Adults reading papers, children reading comic books, teenagers holding hands, people chatting amiably, even two elderly men who met every afternoon for a game of chess played on a small magnetic board. After every such visit, the stash was checked for movement or disturbance, always without result. By the fourth day, people speculated aloud that it was all some sort of trick. This was Suvorov/Koniev's way of seeing if he were being trailed or not. If so, he was a clever son of a bitch, the surveillance people all agreed. But they already knew that.

The break came in the late afternoon of day five, and it was the man they wanted it to be. His name was Kong Deshi, and he was a minor diplomat on the official list, age forty-six, a man of modest dimensions, and, the form card at the Foreign Ministry said, modest intellectual gifts--that was a polite way of saying he was considered a dunce. But as others had noted, that was the perfect cover for a spy, and one which wasted a lot of time for counterintelligence people, making them trail dumb diplomats all over the world who turned out to be nothing more than just that--dumb diplomats--of which the global supply was ample. The man was walking casually with another Chinese national, who was a businessman of some sort, or so they'd thought. Sitting, they'd continued to chat, gesturing around until the second man had turned to look at something Kong had pointed at. Then Kong's right hand had slipped rapidly and almost invisibly under the bench and retrieved the stash, possibly replacing it with another before his hand went back in his lap. Five minutes later, after a smoke, they'd both walked off, back in the direction of the nearest Metro station.

"Patience," the head FSS officer had told his people over the radio circuit, and so they'd waited over an hour, until they were certain that there were no parked cars about keeping an eye on the dead-drop. Only then had an FSS man walked to the bench, sat down with his afternoon paper, and pulled the package. The way he flicked his cigarette away told the rest of the team that there had been a substitution.

In the laboratory, it was immediately discovered that the package had a key lock, and that got everyone's attention. The package was x-rayed immediately and found to contain a battery and some wires, plus a semi-opaque rectangle that collectively represented a pyrotechnic device. Whatever was inside the package was therefore valuable. A skilled locksmith took twenty minutes picking the lock, and then the holder was opened to reveal a few sheets of flash paper. These were removed and photographed, to show a solid collection of Cyrillic letters--and they were all random. It was a one-time-pad key sheet, the best thing they could have hoped to find. The sheets were refolded exactly as they had been replaced in the holder, and then the thin metal container--it looked like a cheap cigarette case--was returned to the bench.

"So?" Provalov asked the Federal Security Service officer on the case.

"So, the next time our subject sends a message, we'll be able to read it."

"And then we'll know," Provalov went on.

"Perhaps. We'll know something more than we know now. We'll have proof that this Suvorov fellow is a spy. That I can promise you," the counterintelligence officer pronounced.

Provalov had to admit to himself that they were no closer to solving his murder case than they'd been two weeks before, but at least things were moving, even if the path merely led them deeper into the fog.

So, Mike?" Dan Murray asked, eight time zones away. "No nibbles yet, Director, but now it looks like we're chasing a spook. The subject's name is Klementi Ivan'ch Suvorov, currently living as Ivan Yurievich Koniev." Reilly read off the address. "The trail leads to him, or at least it seems to, and we spotted him making probable contact with a Chinese diplomat."

"And what the hell does all this mean?" FBI Director Murray wondered aloud into the secure phone.

"You got me there, Director, but it sure has turned into an interesting case."

"You must be pretty tight with this Provalov guy."

"He's a good cop, and yes, sir, we get along just fine."

That was more than Cliff Rutledge could say about his relationship with Shen Tang.

"Your news coverage of this incident was bad enough, but your President's remarks on our domestic policy is a violation of Chinese sovereignty!" the Chinese foreign minister said almost in a shout, for the seventh time since lunch.

"Minister," Cliff Rutledge replied. "None of this would have happened but for your policeman shooting an accredited diplomat, and that is not, strictly speaking, an entirely civilized act."

"Our internal affairs are our internal affairs," Shen retorted at once.

"That is so, Minister, but America has her own beliefs, and if you ask us to honor yours, then we may request that you show some respect for ours."

"We grow weary of America's interference with Chinese internal affairs. First you recognize our rebellious province on Taiwan. Then you encourage foreigners to interfere with our internal policies. Then you send a spy under the cover of religious beliefs to violate our laws with a diplomat from yet another country, then you photograph a Chinese policeman doing his duty, and then your President condemns us for your interference with our internal affairs. The People's Republic will not tolerate this uncivilized activity!"

And now you're going to demand most-favored-nation trade status, eh? Mark Gant thought in his chair. Damn, this was like a meeting with investment bankers--the pirate kind--on Wall Street.

"Minister, you call us uncivilized," Rutledge replied. "But there is no blood on our hands. Now, we are here, as I recall, to discuss trade issues. Can we return to that agenda?"

"Mr. Rutledge, America does not have the right to dictate to the People's Republic on one hand and to deny us our rights on the other," Shen retorted.

"Minister, America has made no such intrusion on China's internal affairs. If you kill a diplomat, you must expect a reaction. On the question of the Republic of China--"

"There is no Republic of China!" the PRC's Foreign Minister nearly screamed. "They are a renegade province, and you have violated our sovereignty by recognizing them!"

"Minister, the Republic of China is an independent nation with a freely elected government, and we are not the only country to recognize this fact. It is the policy of the United States of America to encourage the self-determination of peoples. At such time as the people in the ROC elect to become part of the mainland, that is their choice. But since they have freely chosen to be what they are, America chooses to recognize them. As we expect others to recognize America as a legitimate government because it represents the will of her people, so it is incumbent upon America to recognize the will of other peoples." Rutledge sat back in his chair, evidently bored with the course the afternoon had taken. The morning he'd expected. The PRC had to blow off some steam, but one morning was enough for that. This was getting tiresome.

"And if another of our provinces rebels, will you recognize that?"

"Is the Minister telling me of further political unrest in the People's Republic?" Rutledge inquired at once, a little too fast and too glibly, he told himself a moment later. "In any case, I have no instructions for that eventuality." It was supposed to have been a (semi) humorous response to rather a dumb question, but Minister Shen evidently didn't have his sense of humor turned on today. His hand came up, finger extended, and now he shook it at Cliff Rutledge and the United States.

"You cheat us. You interfere with us. You insult us. You blame us for the inefficiency of your economy. You deny us fair access to your markets. And you sit there as though you are the seat of the world's virtue. We will have none of this!"

"Minister, we have opened our doors to trade with your country, and you have closed your door in our face. It is your door to open or close," he conceded, "but we have our doors to close as well if you so force us. We have no wish to do this. We wish for fair and free trade between the great Chinese people and the American people, but the impediments to that trade are not to be found in America."

"You insult us, and then you expect us to invite you into our home?"

"Minister, America insults no one. A tragedy happened in the People's Republic yesterday. It was probably something you would have preferred to avoid, but even so, it happened. The President of the United States has asked for you to investigate the incident. That is not an unreasonable request. What do you condemn us for? A journalist reported the facts. Does China deny the facts we saw on television? Do you claim that a private American company fabricated this event? I think not. Do you say that those two men are not dead? Regrettably, this is not the case. Do you say that your policeman was justified in killing an accredited diplomat and a clergyman holding a newborn child?" Rutledge asked in his most reasonable voice. "Minister, all you have said for the past three and a half hours is that America is wrong for objecting to what appears to be cold-blooded murder. And our objection was merely a request for your government to investigate the incident. Minister, America has neither done nor said anything unreasonable, and we grow weary of the accusation. My delegation and I came here to discuss trade. We would like the People's Republic to open up its markets more so that trade can become trade, the free exchange of goods across international borders. You request a most-favored-nation trading relationship with the United States. That will not happen until such time as your markets are as open to America as America's are open to China, but it can happen at such time as you make the changes we require."

"The People's Republic is finished with acceding to America's insulting demands. We are finished with tolerating your insults to our sovereignty. We are finished with your interference in our internal affairs. It is time for America to consider our reasonable requests. China desires to have a fair trading relationship with the United States. We ask no more than what you give other nations: most favored nation."

"Minister, that will not happen until such time as you open your markets to our goods. Trade is not free if it is not fair. We object also to the PRC's violation of copyright and trademark treaties and agreements. We object to having industries fully owned by agencies of the government of the People's Republic to violate patent treaties, even to the point of manufacturing proprietary American products without permission or compensation and--"

"So now you call us thieves?" Shen demanded.

"Minister, I point out that such words have not escaped my lips. It is a fact, however, that we have examples of products made in China by factories owned by agencies of your government, which products appear to contain American inventions for which the inventors have not been compensated, and from whom permission to manufacture the copies has not been obtained. I can show you examples of those products if you wish." Shen's reaction was an angry wave of the hand, which Rutledge took to mean No, thank you. Or something like that.

"I have no interest in seeing physical evidence of American lies and distortions."

Gant just sat back in his chair while Rutledge made his injured reply, like a spectator at a prizefight, wondering if anyone would land the knockdown punch. Probably not, he thought. Neither had a glass chin, and both were too light on their feet. What resulted was a lot of flailing about, but no serious result. It was just a new kind of boring for him, exciting in its form, but dull in its result. He made some notes, but those were merely memory aids to help him remember how this had gone. It might make a fun chapter in his autobiography. What title, he wondered. Trader and Diplomat, maybe?

Forty-five minutes later, it broke up, with the usual handshakes, as cordial as the meeting had been contentious, which rather amazed Mark Gant.

"It's all business, not personal," Rutledge explained. "I'm surprised they're dwelling on this so much. It's not as though we've actually accused them of anything. Hell, even the President just asked for an investigation. Why are they so touchy?" he wondered aloud.

"Maybe they're worried they won't get what they want out of the talks," Gant speculated.

"But why are they that worried?" Rutledge asked.

"Maybe their foreign-exchange reserves are even lower than my computer model suggests." Gant shrugged.

"But even if they are, they're not exactly following a course that would ameliorate it." Rutledge slammed his hands together in frustration. "They're not behaving logically. Okay, sure, they're allowed to have a conniption fit over this shooting thing, and, yeah, maybe President Ryan pushed it a little too far saying some of the things he said--and Christ knows he's a real Neanderthal on the abortion issue. But all of that does not justify the time and the passion in their position."

"Fear?" Gant wondered.

"Fear of what?"

"If their cash reserves are that low, or maybe even lower, then they could be in a tight crack, Cliff. Tighter than we appreciate."

"Assume that they are, Mark. What makes it something to be fearful about?"

"A couple of things," Gant said, leaning forward in his limo seat. "It means they don't have the cash to buy things, or to meet the payments on the things they've already bought. It's an embarrassment, and like you said, these are proud people. I don't see them admitting they're wrong, or wanting to show weakness."

"That's a fact," Rutledge agreed.

"Pride can get people into a lot of trouble, Cliff," Gant thought aloud. He remembered a fund on Wall Street that had taken a hundred-million-dollar hit because its managing director wouldn't back off a position that he'd thought was correct a few days earlier, but then stayed with after it was manifestly clear that he was wrong. Why? Because he hadn't wanted to look like a pussy on The Street. And so instead of appearing to be a pussy, he'd proclaimed to the whole world that he was an ass. But how did one translate that into foreign affairs? A chief of state was smarter than that, wasn't he?

It's not going well, my friend," Zhang told Fang.

"That foolish policeman is to blame. Yes, the Americans were wrong to react so strongly, but that would not have taken place at all if not for the overzealous police officer."

"President Ryan--why does he hate us so?"

"Zhang, twice you have plotted against the Russians, and twice you've played your intrigue against America. Is it not possible that the Americans know of this? Is it not possible that they guessed it was the case? Has it not occurred to you that this is why they recognized the Taiwan regime?"

Zhang Han San shook his head. "This is not possible. Nothing was ever written down." And our security was perfect in both cases, he didn't trouble himself to add.

"When things are said around people with ears, Zhang, they remember them. There are few secrets in the world. You can no more keep the affairs of state secret than you can conceal the sunrise," Fang went on, thinking that he'd make sure that this phrase went into the record of the talk that Ming would write up for him. "They spread too far. They reach too many people, and each of them has a mouth."

"Then what would you have us do?"

"The American has requested an investigation, so, we give him one. The facts we discover will be whatever facts we wish them to be. If a policeman must die, there are many others to take his place. Our trading relationship with America is more important than this trivial matter, Zhang."

"We cannot afford to abase ourselves before the barbarian."

"We cannot not afford not to in this case. We cannot allow false pride to put the country at risk." Fang sighed. His friend Zhang had always been a proud one. A man able to see far, certainly, but too aware of himself and the place he wanted. Yet the one he'd chosen was difficult. He'd never wanted the first place for himself, but instead to be the man who influenced the man at the top, to be like the court eunuchs who had directed the various emperors for over a thousand years. Fang almost smiled, thinking that no amount of power was worth becoming a eunuch, at the royal court or not, and that Zhang probably didn't wish to go that far, either. But to be the man of power behind the curtain was probably more difficult than to be the man in the first chair ... and yet, Fang remembered, Zhang had been the prime mover behind Xu's selection to general secretary. Xu was an intellectual nonentity, a pleasant enough man with regal looks, able to speak in public well, but not himself a man of great ideas ...

... and that explained things, didn't it? Zhang had helped make Xu the chief of the Politburo precisely because he was an empty vessel, and Zhang was the one to fill the void of ideas with his own thoughts. Of course. He ought to have seen it sooner. Elsewhere, it was believed that Xu had been chosen for his middle-of-the-road stance on everything--a conciliator, a consensus-maker, they called him outside the PRC. In fact, he was a man of few convictions, able to adopt those of anyone else, if that someone--Zhang--looked about first and decided where the Politburo should go.

Xu was not a complete puppet, of course. That was the problem with people. However useful they might be on some issues, on others they held to the illusion that they thought for themselves, and the most foolish of them did have ideas, and those ideas were rarely logical and almost never helpful. Xu had embarrassed Zhang on more than one occasion, and since he was chairman of the Politburo, Xu did have real personal power, just not the wit to make proper use of it. But--what? Sixty percent of the time, maybe a little more?--he was merely Zhang's mouthpiece. And Zhang, for his part, was largely free to exert his own influence, and to make his own national policy. He did so mostly unseen and unknown outside the Politburo itself, and not entirely known inside, either, since so many of his meetings with Xu were private, and most of the time Zhang never spoke of them, even to Fang.

His old friend was a chameleon, Fang thought, hardly for the first time. But if he showed humility in not seeking prominence to match his influence, then he balanced that with the fault of pride, and, worse, he didn't seem to know what weakness he displayed. He thought either that it wasn't a fault at all, or that only he knew of it. All men had their weaknesses, and the greatest of these were invariably those unknown to their practitioners. Fang checked his watch and took his leave. With luck, he'd be home at a decent hour, after he transcribed his notes through Ming. What a novelty, getting home on time.

Chapter 28

Collision Courses

Those sonsabitches," Vice President Jackson observed with his coffee.

"Welcome to the wonderful world of statecraft, Robby," Ryan told his friend. It was 7:45 A.M. in the Oval Office. Cathy and the kids had gotten off early, and the day was starting fast. "We've had our suspicions, but here's the proof, if you want to call it that. The war with Japan and that little problem we had with Iran started in Beijing--well, not exactly, but this Zhang guy, acting for Xu, it would seem, aided and abetted both."

"Well, he may be a nasty son of a bitch, but I wouldn't give him points for brains," Robby said, after a moment's reflection. Then he thought some more. "But maybe that's not fair. From his point of view, the plans were pretty clever, using others to be his stalking horse. He risked nothing himself, then he figured to move in and profit on the risks of others. It certainly looked efficient, I suppose."

"Question is, what's his next move?"

"Between this and what Rutledge reports from Beijing, I'd say we have to take these people a little seriously," Robby reflected. Then his head perked up some more. "Jack, we have to get more people in on this."

"Mary Pat will flip out if we even suggest it," Ryan told him.

"Too damned bad. Jack, it's the old problem with intelligence information. If you spread it out too much, you risk compromising it, and then you lose it--but if you don't use it at all, you might as well not even have it. Where do you draw the line?" It was a rhetorical question. "If you err, you err on the side of safety--but the safety of the country, not the source."

"There's a real, live person on the other end of this sheet of paper, Rob," Jack pointed out.

"I'm sure there is. But there are two hundred fifty million people outside this room, Jack, and the oath we both swore was to them, not some Chinese puke in Beijing. What this tells us is that the guy making policy in China is willing to start wars, and twice now we've sent our people to fight wars he's had a part in starting. Jesus, man, war is supposed to be a thing of the past, but this Zhang guy hasn't figured that one out yet. What's he doing that we don't know about?"

"That's what SORGE's all about, Rob. The idea is that we find out beforehand and have a chance to forestall it."

Jackson nodded. "Maybe so, but once upon a time, there was a source called MAGIC that told us a lot about an enemy's intentions, but when that enemy launched the first attack, we were asleep--because MAGIC was so important we never told CINCPAC about it, and he ended up not preparing for Pearl Harbor. I know intel's important, but it has its operational limitations. All this really tells us is that we have a potential adversary with little in the way of inhibitions. We know his mind-set, but not his intentions or current operations. Moreover, SORGE'S giving us recollections of private conversations between one guy who makes policy and another guy who tries to influence policy. A lot of stuff is being left out. This looks like a cover-your-ass diary, doesn't it?"

Ryan told himself that this was a particularly smart critique. Like the people at Langley, he'd allowed himself to wax a little too euphoric about a source they'd never even approached before. SONGBIRD was good, but not without limitations. Big ones.

"Yeah, Rob, that's probably just what it is. This Fang guy probably keeps the diary just to have something to pull out of the drawer if one of his colleagues on the Chinese Politburo tries to butt-fuck him."

"So, it isn't Sir Thomas More whose words we're reading," TOMCAT observed.

"Not hardly," Ryan conceded. "But it's a good source. All the people who've looked at this for us say it feels very real."

"I'm not saying it isn't true, Jack, I'm saying it isn't all," the Vice President persisted.

"Message received, Admiral." Ryan held up his hands in surrender. "What do you recommend?"

"SecDef for starters, and the Chiefs, and J-3 and J-5, and probably CINCPAC, your boy Bart Mancuso," Jackson added, with a hint of distaste.

"Why don't you like the guy?" SWORDSMAN asked.

"He's a bubblehead," the career fighter pilot answered. "Submariners don't get around all that much . . . but I grant you he's a pretty good operator." The submarine operation he'd run on the Japs using old boomers had been pretty swift, Jackson admitted to himself.

"Specific recommendations?"

"Rutledge tells us that the ChiComms are talking like they're real torqued over the Taiwan thing. What if they act on that? Like a missile strike into the island. Christ knows they have enough missiles to toss, and we have ships in harbor there all the time."

"You really think they'd be dumb enough to launch an attack on a city with one of our ships tied alongside?" Ryan asked. Nasty or not, this Zhang guy wasn't going to risk war with America quite that foolishly, was he?

"What if they don't know the ship's there? What if they get bad intel? Jack, the shooters don't always get good data from the guys in the back room. Trust me. Been there, done that, got the fucking scars, y'know?"

"The ships can take care of themselves, can't they?"

"Not if they don't have all their systems turned on, and can a Navy SAM stop a ballistic inbound?" Robby wondered aloud. "I don't know. How about we have Tony Bretano check it out for us?"

"Okay, give him a call." Ryan paused. "Robby, I have somebody coming in in a few minutes. We need to talk some more about this. With Adler and Bretano," the President added.

"Tony's very good on hardware and management stuff, but he needs a little educating on operations."

"So, educate him," Ryan told Jackson.

"Aye, aye, sir." The Vice President headed out the door.

They got the container back to its magnetic home less than two hours after removing it, thanking God--Russians were allowed to do that now--that the lock mechanism wasn't one of the new electronic ones. Those could be very difficult to break. But the problem with all such security measures was that they all too often ran the chance of going wrong and destroying that which they were supposed to protect, which only added complexity to a job with too much complexity already. The world of espionage was one in which everything that could go wrong invariably did, and so over the years, every way of simplifying operations had been adopted by all the players. The result was that since what worked for one man worked for all, when you saw someone following the same procedures as your own intelligence officers and agents, you knew you had a player in your sights.

And so the stakeout on the bench was renewed--of course it had never been withdrawn, in case Suvorov/ Koniev should appear unexpectedly while the transfer case was gone off to the lab--with an ever-changing set of cars and trucks, plus coverage in a building with a line-of-sight to the bench. The Chinese subject was being watched, but no one saw him set a telltale for the dead-drop. But that could be as simple as calling a number for Suvorov/Koniev's beeper . . . but probably no, since they'd assume that every phone line out of the Chinese embassy was bugged, and the number would be captured and perhaps traced to its owner. Spies had to be careful, because those who chased after them were both resourceful and unrelenting. That fact made them the most conservative of people. But difficult to spot though they might be, once spotted they were usually doomed. And that, the FSS men all hoped, would be the case with Suvorov/Koniev.

In this case, it took until after nightfall. The subject left his apartment building and drove around for forty minutes, following a path identical to one driven two days before--probably checking to see if he had a shadow, and also to check for some telltale alert the FSS people hadn't spotted yet. But this time, instead of driving back to his flat, he came by the park, parked his car two blocks from the bench, and walked there by an indirect route, pausing on the way twice to light a cigarette, which gave him ample opportunity to turn and check his back. Everything was right out of the playbook. He saw nothing, though three men and a woman were following him on foot. The woman was pushing a baby carriage, which gave her the excuse to stop every so often to adjust the infant's blanket. The men just walked, not looking at the subject or, so it seemed, anything else.

"There!" one of the FSS people said. Suvorov/Koniev didn't sit on the bench this time. Instead he rested his left foot on it, tied his shoelace, and adjusted his pants cuff. The pickup of the holder was accomplished so skillfully that no one actually saw it, but it seemed rather a far-fetched coincidence that he would pick that particular spot to tie his shoes--and besides, one of the FSS men would soon be there to see if he'd replaced one holder with another. With that done, the subject walked back to his car, taking a different circuitous route and lighting two more American Marlboros on the way.

The amusing part, Lieutenant Provalov thought, was how obvious it was once you knew whom to look at. What had once been anonymous was now as plain as an advertising billboard.

"So, now what do we do?" the militia lieutenant asked his FSS counterpart.

"Not a thing," the FSS supervisor replied. "We wait until he places another message under the bench, and then we get it, decode it, and find out what exactly he's up to. Then we make a further decision."

"What about my murder case?" Provalov demanded.

"What about it? This is an espionage case now, Comrade Lieutenant, and that takes precedence."

Which was true, Oleg Gregoriyevich had to admit to himself. The murder of a pimp, a whore, and a driver was a small thing compared to state treason.

His naval career might never end, Admiral Joshua Painter, USN (Ret.), thought to himself. And that wasn't so bad a thing, was it? A farm boy from Vermont, he'd graduated the Naval Academy almost forty years earlier, made it through Pensacola, then gotten his life's ambition, flying jets off aircraft carriers. He'd done it for the next twenty years, plus a stint as a test pilot, commanded a carrier air wing, then a carrier, then a group, and finally topped out as SACLANT/CINCLANT/CINCLANTFLT, three very weighty hats that he'd worn comfortably enough for just over three years before removing the uniform forever. Retirement had meant a civilian job paying about four times what the government had, mainly consulting with admirals he'd watched on the way up and telling them how he would have done it. In fact, it was something he would have done for free in any officers' club on any Navy base in America, maybe for the cost of dinner and a few beers and a chance to smell the salt air.

But now he was in the Pentagon, back on the government payroll, this time as a civilian supergrade and special assistant to the Secretary of Defense. Tony Bretano, Josh Painter thought, was smart enough, a downright brilliant engineer and manager of engineers. He was prone to look for mathematical solutions to problems rather than human ones, and he tended to drive people a little hard. All in all, Bretano might have made a decent naval officer, Painter thought, especially a nuc.

His Pentagon office was smaller than the one he'd occupied as OP-05--Assistant Chief of Naval Operations for Air--ten years earlier, a job since de-established. He had his own secretary and a smart young commander to look after him. He was an entry-port to the SecDef's office for a lot of people, one of whom, oddly enough, was the Vice President.

"Hold for the Vice President," a White House operator told him on his private line.

"You bet," Painter replied.

"Josh, Robby."

"Good morning, sir," Painter replied. This annoyed Jackson, who'd served under Painter more than once, but Josh Painter wasn't a man able to call an elected official by his Christian name. "What can I do for you?"

"Got a question. The President and I were going over something this morning, and I didn't have the answer to his question. Can an Aegis intercept and kill a ballistic inbound?"

"I don't know, but I don't think so. We looked at that during the Gulf War and--oh, okay, yeah, I remember now. We decided they could probably stop one of those Scuds because of its relatively slow speed, but that's the top end of their ability. It's a software problem, software on the SAM itself." Which was the same story for the Patriot missiles as well, both men then remembered. "Why did that one come up?"

"The President's worried that if the Chinese toss one at Taiwan and we have a ship alongside, well, he'd prefer that the ship could look after herself, y'know?"

"I can look into that," Painter promised. "Want me to bring it up with Tony today?"

"That's affirmative," TOMCAT confirmed.

"Roger that, sir. I'll get back to you later today."

"Thanks, Josh," Jackson replied, hanging up.

Painter checked his watch. It was about time for him to head in anyway. The walk took him out into the busy E-Ring corridor, then right again into the SecDef's office, past the security people and the various private secretaries and aides. He was right on time, and the door to the inner office was open.

"Morning, Josh," Bretano greeted.

"Good morning, Mr. Secretary."

"Okay, what's new and interesting in the world today?"

"Well, sir, we have an inquiry from the White House that just came in."

"And what might that be?" THUNDER asked. Painter explained. "Good question. Why is the answer so hard to figure out?"

"It's something we've looked at on and off, but really Aegis was set up to deal with cruise-missile threats, and they top out at about Mach Three or so."

"But the Aegis radar is practically ideal for that sort of threat, isn't it?" The Secretary of Defense was fully briefed in on how the radar-computer system worked.

"It's a hell of a radar system, sir, yes," Painter agreed.

"And making it capable for this mission is just a question of software?"

"Essentially yes. Certainly it involves software in the missile's seekerhead, maybe also for the SPY and SPG radars as well. That's not exactly my field, sir."

"Software isn't all that difficult to write, and it isn't that expensive either. Hell, I had a world-class guy at TRW who's an expert on this stuff, used to work in SDIO downstairs. Alan Gregory, retired from the Army as a half-colonel, Ph.D. from Stony Brook, I think. Why not have him come in to check it out?"

It amazed Painter that Bretano, who'd run one major corporation and had almost been headhunted away to head Lockheed-Martin before President Ryan had intercepted him, had so little appreciation for procedure.

"Mr. Secretary, to do that, we have to--"

"My ass," THUNDER interrupted. "I have discretionary authority over small amounts of money, don't I?"

"Yes, Mr. Secretary," Painter confirmed.

"And I've sold all my stock in TRW, remember?"

"Yes, sir."

"So, I am not in violation of any of those fucking ethics laws, am I?"

"No, sir," Painter had to agree.

"Good, so call TRW in Sunnyvale, get Alan Gregory, I think he's a junior vice president now, and tell him we need him to fly here right away and look into this, to see how easy it would be to upgrade Aegis to providing a limited ballistic-missile-defense capability."

"Sir, it won't make some of the other contractors happy." Including, Painter did not add, TRW.

"I'm not here to make them happy, Admiral. Somebody told me I was here to defend the country efficiently."

"Yes, sir." It was hard not to like the guy, even if he did have the bureaucratic sensibilities of a pissed-off rhinoceros.

"So let's find out if Aegis has the technical capabilities to do this particular job."

"Aye, aye, sir."

"What time do I have to drive up to the Hill?" the SecDef asked next.

"About thirty minutes, sir."

Bretano grumbled. Half his working time seemed to be spent explaining things to Congress, talking to people who'd already made up their minds and who only asked questions to look good on C-SPAN. For Tony Bretano, an engineer's engineer, it seemed like a hellishly unproductive way to spend his time. But they called it public service, didn't they? In a slightly different context, it was called slavery, but Ryan was even more trapped than he was, leaving THUNDER with little room to complain. And besides, he'd volunteered, too.

They were eager enough, these Spetsnaz junior officers, and Clark remembered that what makes elite troops is often the simple act of telling them that they are elite--then waiting for them to live up to their own self-image. There was a little more to it, of course. The Spetsnaz were special in terms of their mission. Essentially they'd been copies of the British Special Air Service. As so often happened in military life, what one country invented, other countries tended to copy, and so the Soviet Army had selected troops for unusually good fitness tests and a high degree of political reliability--Clark never learned exactly how one tested for that characteristic--and then assigned them a different training regimen, turning them into commandos. The initial concept had failed for a reason predictable to anyone but the political leadership of the Soviet Union: The great majority of Soviet soldiers were drafted, served two years, then went back home. The average member of the British SAS wasn't even considered for membership until he'd served four years and had corporal's stripes, for the simple reason that it takes more than two years to learn to be a competent soldier in ordinary duties, much less the sort that required thinking under fire--yet another problem for the Soviets, who didn't encourage independent thought for any of those in uniform, much less conscripted non-officers. To compensate for this, some clever weapons had been thought up. The spring-loaded knife was one with which Chavez had played earlier in the day. At the push of a button, it shot off the blade of a serious combat knife with a fair degree of accuracy over a range of five or six meters. But the Soviet engineer who'd come up with this idea must have been a movie watcher, because only in the movies do men fall silently and instantly dead from a knife in the chest. Most people find this experience painful, and most people respond to pain by making noise. As an instructor at The Farm, Clark had always warned, "Never cut a man's throat with a knife. They flop around and make noise when you do that."

By contrast, after all the thought and good engineering that had gone into the spring-knife, their pistol silencers were garbage, cans loaded with steel wool that self-destructed after less than ten shots, when manufacturing a decent suppressor required only about fifteen minutes of work from a semi-skilled machinist. John sighed to himself. There was no understanding these people.

But the individual troopers were just fine. He'd watched them run with Ding's Team-2, and not one of the Russians fell out of the formation. Part of that had been pride, of course, but most of it had been ability. The shoot-house experience had been less impressive. They weren't as carefully trained as the boys from Hereford, and not nearly so well equipped. Their supposedly suppressed weapons were sufficiently noisy to make John and Ding both jump ... but for all that, the eagerness of these kids was impressive. Every one of the Russians was a senior lieutenant in rank, and each was airborne-qualified. They all were pretty good with light weapons--and the Russian snipers were as good as Homer Johnston and Dieter Weber, much to the surprise of the latter. The Russian sniper rifles looked a little clunky, but they shot pretty well--at least out to eight hundred meters.

"Mr. C, they have a ways to go, but they got spirit. Two weeks, and they'll be right on line," Chavez pronounced, looking skeptically at the vodka. They were in a Russian officers' club, and there was plenty of the stuff about.

"Only two?" John asked.

"In two weeks, they'll have all their skills down pat, and they'll master the new weapons." RAINBOW was transferring five complete team-sets of weapons to the Russian Spetsnaz team: MP-10 submachine guns, Beretta .45 pistols, and most important, the radio gear that allowed the team to communicate even when under fire. The Russians were keeping their own Dragunov long-rifles, which was partly pride, but the things could shoot, and that was sufficient to the mission. "The rest is just experience, John, and we can't really give 'em that. All we can really do is set up a good training system for 'em, and the rest they'll do for themselves."

"Well, nobody ever said Ivan couldn't fight." Clark downed a shot. The working day was over, and everybody else was doing it.

"Shame their country's in such a mess," Chavez observed.

"It's their mess to clean up, Domingo. They'll do it if we keep out of their way." Probably, John didn't add. The hard part for him was thinking of them as something other than the enemy. He'd been here in the Bad Old Days, operating briefly on several occasions in Moscow as an "illegal" field officer, which in retrospect seemed like parading around Fifth Avenue in New York stark naked holding up a sign saying he hated Jews, blacks, and NYPD cops. At the time, it had just seemed like part of the job, John remembered. But now he was older, a grandfather, and evidently a lot more chicken than he'd been back in the '70s and '80s. Jesus, the chances he'd taken back then! More recently, he'd been in KGB--to him it would always be KGB--headquarters at #2 Dzerzhinskiy Square as a guest of the Chairman. Sure, Wilbur, and soon he'd hop in the alien spacecraft that landed every month in his backyard and accept their invitation for a luncheon flight to Mars. It felt about that crazy, John thought.

"Ivan Sergeyevich!" a voice called. It was Lieutenant General Yuriy Kirillin, the newly selected chief of Russian special forces--a man defining his own job as he went along, which was not the usual thing in this part of the world.

"Yuriy Andreyevich," Clark responded. He'd kept his given name and patronymic from his CIA cover as a convenience that, he was sure, the Russians knew all about anyway. So, no harm was done. He lifted a vodka bottle. It was apple vodka, flavored by some apple skins at the bottom of the bottle, and not bad to the taste. In any case, vodka was the fuel for any sort of business meeting in Russia, and since he was in Rome it was time to act Italian.

Kirillin gunned down his first shot as though he'd been waiting all week for it. He refilled and toasted John's companion: "Domingo Stepanovich," which was close enough. Chavez reciprocated the gesture. "Your men are excellent, comrades. We will learn much from them."

Comrades, John thought. Son of a bitch! "Your boys are eager, Yuriy, and hard workers."

"How long?" Kirillin asked. His eyes didn't show the vodka one little bit. Perhaps they were immune, Ding thought. He had to go easy on the stuff, lest John have to guide him home.

"Two weeks," Clark answered. "That's what Domingo tells me."

"That fast?" Kirillin asked, not displeased by the estimate.

"They're good troops, General," Ding said. "Their basic skills are there. They're in superb physical condition, and they're smart. All they need is familiarization with their new weapons, and some more directed training that we'll set up for them. And after that, they'll be training the rest of your forces, right?"

"Correct, Major. We will be establishing regional special-operations and counterterror forces throughout the country. The men you train this week will be training others in a few months. The problem with the Chechens came as a surprise to us, and we need to pay serious attention to terrorism as a security threat."

Clark didn't envy Kirillin the mission. Russia was a big country containing too many leftover nationalities from the Soviet Union--and for that matter from the time of the czars--many of whom had never particularly liked the idea of being part of Russia. America had had the problem once, but never to the extent that the Russians did, and here it wouldn't be getting better anytime soon. Economic prosperity was the only sure cure--prosperous people don't squabble; it's too rough on the china and the silverware--but prosperity was a way off in the future yet.

"Well, sir," Chavez went on, "in a year you'll have a serious and credible force, assuming you have the funding support you're going to need."

Kirillin grunted. "That is the question here, and probably in your country as well, yes?"

"Yeah." Clark had himself a laugh. "It helps if Congress loves you."

"You have many nationalities on your team," the Russian general observed.

"Yeah, well, we're mainly a NATO service, but we're used to working together. Our best shooter now is Italian."

"Really? I saw him, but--"

Chavez cut him off. "General, in a previous life, Ettore was James Butler Hickok. Excuse me, Wild Bill Hickok to you. That son of a bitch can sign his name with a handgun."

Clark refilled the vodka glasses. "Yuriy, he's won money off all of us at the pistol range. Even me."

"Is that a fact?" Kirillin mused, with the same look in his eyes that Clark had had a few weeks earlier. John punched him on the arm.

"I know what you're thinking. Bring money when you have your match with him, Comrade General," John advised. "You'll need it to pay off his winnings."

"This I must see," the Russian announced.

"Hey, Eddie!" Chavez waved his number-two over.

"Yes, sir?"

"Tell the general here how good Ettore is with a pistol."

"That fucking Eyetalian!" Sergeant Major Price swore. "He's even taken twenty pounds off Dave Woods."

"Dave's the range-master at Hereford, and he's pretty good, too," Ding explained. "Ettore really ought to be in the Olympics or something--maybe Camp Perry, John?"

"I thought of that, maybe enter him in the President's Cup match next year . . ." Clark mused. Then he turned. "Go ahead, Yuriy. Take him on. Maybe you will succeed where all of us failed."

"All of you, eh?"

"Every bloody one of us," Eddie Price confirmed. "I wonder why the Italian government gave him to us. If the Mafia want to go after him, I wish the bastards luck."

"This I must see," Kirillin persisted, leading his visitors to wonder how smart he was.

"Then you will see it, Tovarisch General," Clark promised.

Kirillin, who'd been on the Red Army pistol team as a lieutenant and a captain, couldn't conceive of being beaten in a pistol match. He figured these NATO people were just having fun with him, as he might do if the situation were reversed. He waved to the bartender and ordered pepper vodka for his own next round. But all that said, he liked these NATO visitors, and their reputation spoke forcefully for itself. This Chavez, a major--he was really CIA, Kirillin knew, and evidently a good spy at that, according to his briefing from the SVR--had the look of a good soldier, with confidence won in the field, the way a soldier ought to win his confidence. Clark was much the same--and also very capable, so the book on him read--with his own ample experience both as a soldier and a spy. And his spoken Russian was superb and very literate, his accent of St. Petersburg, where he probably could--and probably once or twice had, Kirillin reflected--pass for a native. It was so strange that such men as these had once been his sworn enemies. Had battle happened, it would have been bloody, and its outcome very sad. Kirillin had spent three years in Afghanistan, and had learned firsthand just how horrid a thing combat was. He'd heard the stories from his father, a much-decorated infantry general, but hearing them wasn't the same as seeing, and besides, you never told the really awful parts because you tended to edit them out of your memory. One did not discuss seeing a friend's face turn to liquid from a rifle bullet over a few drinks in a bar, because it was just not the sort of thing you could describe to one who didn't understand, and you didn't need to describe it to one who did. You just lifted your glass to toast the memory of Grisha or Mirka, or one of the others, and in the community of arms, that was enough. Did these men do it? Probably. They'd lost men once, when Irish terrorists had attacked their own home station, to their ultimate cost, but not without inflicting their own harm on highly trained men.

And that was the essence of the profession of arms right there. You trained to skew the odds your way, but you could never quite turn them all the way in the direction you wished.

Yu Chun had experienced a thoroughly vile day. In the city of Taipei to look after her aged and seriously ill mother, she'd had a neighbor call urgently, telling her to switch on her TV, then seen her husband shot dead before her blinking eyes. And that had just been the first hammer blow of the day.

The next one involved getting to Beijing. The first two flights to Hong Kong were fully booked, and that cost her fourteen lonely and miserable hours sitting in the terminal as an anonymous face in a sea of such faces, alone with her horror and additional loneliness, until she finally boarded a flight to the PRC capital. That flight had been bumpy, and she had cowered in her last-row window seat, hoping that no one could see the anguish on her face, but hiding it as well as she might conceal an earthquake. In due course, that trial had ended, and she managed to leave the aircraft, and actually made it through immigration and customs fairly easily because she carried virtually nothing that could conceal contraband. Then it started all over again with the taxi to her home.

Her home was hidden behind a wall of policemen. She tried to pass through their line as one might wiggle through a market checkout, but the police had orders to admit no one into the house, and those orders did not include an exception for anyone who might actually live there. That took twenty minutes and three policemen of gradually increasing rank to determine. By this time, she'd been awake for twenty-six hours and traveling for twenty-two of them. Tears did not avail her in the situation, and she staggered her way to the nearby home of a member of her husband's congregation, Wen Zhong, a man who operated a small restaurant right in his home, a tall and rotund man, ordinarily jolly, liked by all who met him. Seeing Chun, he embraced her and took her into his home, at once giving her a room in which to sleep and a few drinks to help her relax. Yu Chin was asleep in minutes, and would remain that way for some hours, while Wen figured he had his own things to do. About the only thing Chun had managed to say before collapsing from exhaustion was that she wanted to bring Fa An's body home for proper burial. That Wen couldn't do all by himself, but he called a number of his fellow parishioners to let them know that their pastor's widow was in town. He understood that the burial would be on the island of Taiwan, which was where Yu had been born, but his congregation could hardly bid their beloved spiritual leader farewell without a ceremony of its own, and so he called around to arrange a memorial service at their small place of worship. He had no way of knowing that one of the parishioners he called reported directly to the Ministry of State Security.

Barry Wise was feeling pretty good about himself. While he didn't make as much money as his colleagues at the other so-called "major" networks--CNN didn't have an entertainment division to dump money into news--he figured that he was every bit as well known as their (white) talking heads, and he stood out from them by being a serious newsie who went into the field, found his own stories, and wrote his own copy. Barry Wise did the news, and that was all. He had a pass to the White House press room, and was considered in just about every capital city in the world not only as a reporter with whom you didn't trifle, but also as an honest conveyor of information. He was by turns respected and hated, depending on the government and the culture. This government, he figured, had little reason to love him. To Barry Wise, they were fucking barbarians. The police here had delusions of godhood that evidently devolved from the big shots downtown who must have thought their dicks were pretty big because they could make so many people dance to their tune. To Wise, that was the sign of a little one, instead, but you didn't tell them that out loud, because, small or not, they had cops with guns, and the guns were certainly big enough.

But these people had huge weaknesses, Wise also knew. They saw the world in a distorted way, like people with astigmatism, and assumed that was its real shape. They were like scientists in a lab who couldn't see past their own theories and kept trying to twist the experimental data into the proper result--or ended up ignoring the data which their theory couldn't explain.

But that was going to change. Information was getting in. In allowing free-market commerce, the government of the PRC had also allowed the installation of a forest of telephone lines. Many of them were connected to fax machines, and even more were connected to computers, and so lots of information was circulating around the country now. Wise wondered if the government appreciated the implications of that. Probably not. Neither Marx nor Mao had really understood how powerful a thing information was, because it was the place where one found the Truth, once you rooted through it a little, and Truth wasn't Theory. Truth was the way things really were, and that's what made it a son of a bitch. You could deny it, but only at your peril, because sooner or later the son of a bitch would bite you on the ass. Denying it just made the inevitable bite worse, because the longer you put it off, the wider its jaws got. The world had changed quite a bit since CNN had started up. As late as 1980, a country could deny anything, but CNN's signals, the voice and the pictures, came straight down from the satellite. You couldn't deny pictures worth a damn.

And that made Barry Wise the croupier in the casino of Information and Truth. He was an honest dealer--he had to be in order to survive in the casino, because the customers demanded it. In the free marketplace of ideas, Truth always won in the end, because it didn't need anything else to prop it up. Truth stood by itself, and sooner or later the wind would blow the props away from all the bullshit.

It was a noble enough profession, Wise thought. His mission in life was reporting history, and along the way, he got to make a little of it himself--or at least to help--and for that reason he was feared by those who thought that defining history was their exclusive domain. The thought often made him smile to himself. He'd helped a little the other day, Wise thought, with those two churchmen. He didn't know where it would lead. That was the work of others.

He still had more work of his own to do in China.

Chapter 29

Billy Budd

So, what else is going to go wrong over there?" Ryan asked.

"Things will quiet down if the other side has half a brain," Adler said hopefully.

"Do they?" Robby Jackson asked, just before Arnie van Damm could.

"Sir, that's not a question with an easy answer. Are they stupid? No, they are not. But do they see things in the same way that we do? No, they do not. That's the fundamental problem dealing with them--"

"Yeah, Klingons," Ryan observed tersely. "Aliens from outer space. Jesus, Scott, how do we predict what they're going to do?"

"We don't, really," SecState answered. "We have a bunch of good people, but the problem is in getting them all to agree on something when we need an important call. They never do," Adler concluded. He frowned before going on. "Look, these guys are kings from a different culture. It was already very different from ours long before Marxism arrived, and the thoughts of our old friend Karl only made things worse. They're kings because they have absolute power. There are some limitations on that power, but we don't fully understand what they are, and therefore it's hard for us to enforce or to exploit them. They are Klingons. So, what we need is a Mr. Spock. Got one handy, anyone?"

Around the coffee table, there were the usual half-humorous snorts that accompany an observation that is neither especially funny nor readily escapable.

"Nothing new from SORGE today?" van Damm asked.

Ryan shook his head. "No, the source doesn't produce something every day."

"Pity," Adler said. "I've discussed the take from SORGE with some of my I and R people--always as my own theoretical musings . . ."

"And?" Jackson asked.

"And they think it's decent speculation, but not something to bet the ranch on."

There was amusement around the coffee table at that one.

"That's the problem with good intelligence information. It doesn't agree with what your own people think--assuming they really think at all," the Vice President observed.

"Not fair, Robby," Ryan told his VP.

"I know, I know." Jackson held up surrendering hands. "I just can't forget the motto of the whole intelligence community: 'We bet your life.' It's lonely out there with a fighter plane strapped to your back, risking your life on the basis of a piece of paper with somebody's opinion typed on it, when you never know the guy it's from or the data it's based on." He paused to stir his coffee. "You know, out in the fleet we used to think--well, we used to hope--that decisions made in this room here were based on solid data. It's quite a disappointment to learn what things are really like."

"Robby, back when I was in high school, I remember the Cuban Missile Crisis. I remember wondering if the world was going to blow up. But I still had to translate half a page of Caesar's goddamned Gallic Wars, and I saw the President on TV, and I figured things were okay, because he was the President of the United Goddamned States, and he had to know what was really going on. So, I translated the battle with the Helvetii and slept that night. The President knows, because he's the President, right? Then I become President, and I don't know a damned thing more than I knew the month before, but everybody out there"--Ryan waved his arm at the window--"thinks I'm fucking omniscient.... Ellen!" he called loudly enough to get through the door.

The door opened seven seconds later. "Yes, Mr. President?"

"I think you know, Ellen," Jack told her.

"Yes, sir." She fished in her pocket and pulled out a flip-top box of Virginia Slims. Ryan took one out, along with the pink butane lighter stashed inside. He lit the smoke and took a long hit. "Thanks, Ellen."

Her smile was downright motherly. "Surely, Mr. President." And she headed back to the secretaries' room, closing the curved door behind her.

"Jack?"

"Yeah, Rob?" Ryan responded, turning.

"That's disgusting."

"Okay, I am not omniscient, and I'm not perfect," POTUS admitted crossly after the second puff. "Now, back to China."

"They can forget MFN," van Damm said. "Congress would impeach you if you asked for it, Jack. And you can figure that the Hill will offer Taiwan any weapons system they want to buy next go-round."

"I have no problems with that. And there's no way I was going to offer them MFN anyway, unless they decide to break down and start acting like civilized people."

"And that's the problem," Adler reminded them all. "They think we're the uncivilized ones."

"I see trouble," Jackson said, before anyone else could. Ryan figured it was his background as a fighter pilot to be first in things. "They're just out of touch with the rest of the world. The only way to get them back in touch will involve some pain. Not to their people, especially, but sure as hell to the guys who make the decisions."

"And they're the ones who control the guns," van Damm noted.

"Roger that, Arnie," Jackson confirmed.

"So, how can we ease them the right way?" Ryan asked, to center the conversation once more.

"We stick to it. We tell them we want reciprocal trade access, or they will face reciprocal trade barriers. We tell them that this little flare-up with the Nuncio makes any concessions on our part impossible, and that's just how things are. If they want to trade with us, they have to back off," Adler spelled out. "They don't like being told such things, but it's the real world, and they have to acknowledge objective reality. They do understand that, for the most part," SecState concluded.

Ryan looked around the room and got nods. "Okay, make sure Rutledge understands what the message is," he told EAGLE.

"Yes, sir," SecState agreed, with a nod. People stood and started filing out. Vice President Jackson allowed himself to be the last in the line of departure.

"Hey, Rob," Ryan said to his old friend.

"Funny thing, watched some TV last night for a change, caught an old movie I hadn't seen since I was a kid."

"Which one?"

"Billy Budd, Melville's story about the poor dumb sailor who gets himself hanged. I'd forgot the name of Billy's ship."

"Yeah?" So had Ryan.

"It was The Rights of Man. Kind of a noble name for a ship. I imagine Melville made that up with malice aforethought, like writers do, but that's what we fight for, isn't it? Even the Royal Navy, they just didn't fight as well as we did back then. The Rights of Man," Jackson repeated. "It is a noble sentiment."

"How does it apply to the current problem, Rob?"

"Jack, the first rule of war is the mission: First, why the hell are you out there, and then what are you proposing to do about it. The Rights of Man makes a pretty good starting point, doesn't it? By the way, CNN's going to be at Pap's church tomorrow and at Gerry Patterson's. They're switching off, preaching in each other's pulpit for the memorial ceremonies, and CNN decided to cover it as a news event in and of itself. Good call, I think," Jackson editorialized. "Wasn't like that in Mississippi back when I was a boy."

"It's going to be like you said?"

"I'm only guessing," Robby admitted, "but I don't see either one of them playing it cool. It's too good an opportunity to teach a good lesson about how the Lord doesn't care a rat's ass what color we are, and how all men of faith should stand together. They'll both probably fold in the abortion thing--Pap ain't real keen on abortion rights, and neither's Patterson--but mainly it'll be about justice and equality and how two good men went to see God after doing the right thing."

"Your dad's pretty good with a sermon, eh?"

"If they gave out Pulitzers for preaching, he'd have a wall covered in the things, Jack, and Gerry Patterson ain't too bad for a white boy either."

Ah," Yefremov observed. He was in the building perch instead of one of the vehicles. It was more comfortable, and he was senior enough to deserve and appreciate the comforts. There was Suvorov/Koniev, sitting back on the bench, an afternoon newspaper in his hands. They didn't have to watch, but watch they did, just to be sure. Of course, there were thousands of park benches in Moscow, and the probability that their subject would sit in the same one this many times was genuinely astronomical. That's what they would argue to the judge when the time came for the trial ... depending on what was in the subject's right hand. (His KGB file said that he was right-handed, and it seemed to be the case.) He was so skillful that you could hardly see what he did, but it was done, and it was seen. His right hand left the paper, reached inside his jacket, and pulled out something metallic. Then the hand paused briefly, and as he turned pages in the paper--the fluttering of the paper was a fine distraction to anyone who might be watching, since the human eye is always drawn to movement--the right hand slid down and affixed the metal transfer case to the magnetic holder, then returned for the paper, all in one smooth motion, done so quickly as to be invisible. Well, almost, Yefremov thought. He'd caught spies before--four of them, in fact, which explained his promotion to a supervisory position--and every one had a thrill attached to it, because he was chasing and catching the most elusive of game. And this one was Russian-trained, the most elusive of all. He'd never bagged one of them before, and there was the extra thrill of catching not just a spy but a traitor as well ... and perhaps a traitor guilty of murder? he wondered. That was another first. Never in his experience had espionage involved the violation of that law. No, an intelligence operation was about the transfer of information, which was dangerous enough. The inclusion of murder was an additional hazard that was not calculated to please a trained spy. It made noise, as they said, and noise was something a spy avoided as much as a cat burglar, and for much the same reason.

"Call Provalov," Yefremov told his subordinate. Two reasons for that. First, he rather owed it to the militia lieutenant, who'd presented him with both the case and the subject. Second, the civilian cop might know something useful to his part of this case. They continued to watch Suvorov/Koniev for another ten minutes. Finally, he stood and walked back to his car for the drive back to his apartment, during which he was duly followed by the ever-changing surveillance team. After the requisite fifteen minutes, one of Yefremov's people crossed the street and retrieved the case from the bench. It was the locked one again, which told them that the item inside was perhaps more important. You had to get past the anti-tamper device to keep the contents from being destroyed, but the FSS had people well skilled in that, and the key for this transfer case had already been struck. That was confirmed twenty minutes later, when the case was opened and the contents extracted, unfolded, photographed, refolded, reinserted, and, finally, relocked in the container, which was immediately driven back to the bench.

Back at FSS headquarters, the decryption team typed the message into a computer into which the one-time-pad had already been inputted. After that, it was a matter of mere seconds before the computer performed a function not unlike sliding a document over a printed template. The clear-text message was, agreeably, in Russian. The content of the message was something else.

"Yob tvoyu maht!" the technician breathed, in one of his language's more repulsive imprecations: Fuck your mother. Then he handed the page to one of the supervising inspectors, whose reaction was little different. Then he walked to the phone and dialed Yefremov's number.

"Pavel Georgeyevich, you need to see this."

Provalov was there when the chief of the decryption section walked in. The printout was in a manila folder, which the head cryppie handed over without a word.

"Well, Pasha?" the homicide investigator asked.

"Well, we have answered our first question."

The motorcar was even purchased at the same dealership in central Moscow, the sheet read. There is no fault to be found here. The men who performed the mission are both dead in St. P. Before I can make another attempt, I need an indication from you on the time line, and also on the payment to my contractors.

"Golovko was the target, then," Provalov observed. And the head of our country's intelligence service owes his life to a pimp.

"So it would appear," Yefremov agreed. "Note that he doesn't ask payment for himself. I would imagine he's somewhat embarrassed at having missed his target on the first attempt."

"But he's working for the Chinese?"

"So that would appear as well," the FSS man observed, with an inward chill. Why, he asked himself, would the Chinese wish to do such a thing? Isn't that nearly an act of war? He sat back in his chair and lit up a smoke, looking into the eyes of his police colleague. Neither man knew what to say at the moment, and both kept silent. It would all soon be out of and far beyond their hands. With that decided, both men headed home for dinner.

The morning broke more brightly than usual in Beijing. Mrs. Yu had slept deeply and well, and though she awoke with a slight headache, she was grateful for Wen's insistence on a couple of drinks before retiring. Then she remembered why she was in Beijing, and any good feelings departed from her mind. Breakfast was mainly green tea and was spent looking down, remembering the sound of her husband's voice in the bleak acceptance of the fact that she'd never hear it again. He'd always been in a good mood over breakfast, never forgetting, as she had just done, to say grace over the morning meal and thank God for another day in which to serve Him. No more. No more would he do that, she reminded herself. But she had duties of her own to perform.

"What can we do, Zhong?" she asked, when her host appeared.

"I will go with you to the police post and we will ask for Fa An's body, and then I will help you fly our friend home, and we will have a memorial prayer service at the--"

"No, you can't, Zhong. There are police there to keep everyone out. They wouldn't even let me in, even though I had my papers in order."

"Then we will have it outside, and they will watch us pray for our friend," the restaurateur told his guest with gentle resolve.

Ten minutes later, she'd cleaned up and was ready to leave. The police station was only four blocks away, a simple building, ordinary in all respects except for the sign over the door.

"Yes?" the desk officer said when his peripheral vision noted the presence of people by his desk. He looked up from the paper forms that had occupied his attention for the past few minutes to see a woman and a man of about the same age.

"I am Yu Chun," Mrs. Yu answered, seeing some recognition in the desk officer's eyes result from her words.

"You are the wife of Yu Fa An?" he asked.

"That is correct."

"Your husband was an enemy of the people," the cop said next, sure of that but not sure of much else in this awkward case.

"I believe he was not, but all I ask is for his body, so that I might fly it home for burial with his family."

"I do not know where his body is," the cop said.

"But he was shot by a policeman," Wen put in, "and the disposal of his body is therefore a police matter. So, might you be so kind, comrade, as to call the proper number so that we can remove our friend's body?" His manners did not allow anger on the part of the desk officer.

But the desk cop really didn't know what number to call, and so he called someone inside the building, in the large administration division. He found this embarrassing to do with two citizens standing by his desk, but there was no avoiding that.

"Yes?" a voice answered on his third internal call.

"This is Sergeant Jiang at the desk in the public lobby. I have Yu Chun here, seeking the body of her husband, Yu Fa An. I need to tell her where to go."

The reply took a few seconds for the man on the other end of the phone, who had to remember.... "Ah, yes, tell her she can go to the Da Yunhe River. His body was cremated and the ashes dumped in the water last evening."

And, enemy of the people or not, it would not be a pleasant thing to tell his widow, who'd probably had feelings for him. Sergeant Jiang set the phone down and decided to give her the news.

"The body of Yu Fa An was cremated and the ashes scattered in the river, comrade."

"That is cruel!" Wen said at once. Chun was too stunned to say anything at the moment.

"I cannot help you more than that," Jiang told his visitors and looked back down at his paperwork to dismiss them.

"Where is my husband?" Yu Chun managed to blurt, after thirty seconds or so of silence.

"Your husband's body was cremated and the ashes scattered," Jiang said, without looking up, because he really didn't wish to see her eyes under these circumstances. "I cannot help you further. You may leave now."

"I want my husband back!" she insisted.

"Your husband is dead and his body has been cremated. Be gone now!" Sergeant Jiang insisted in return, wishing she'd just go away and allow him to get back to his paperwork.

"I want my husband," she said louder now, causing a few eyes to turn her way in the lobby.

"He is gone, Chun," Wen Zhong told her, taking her arm and steering her to the door. "Come, we will pray for him outside."

"But why did they--I mean, why is he--and why did they--" It had just been too much for one twenty-four-hour period. Despite the night's sleep, Yu Chun was still too disoriented. Her husband of over twenty years had vanished, and now she could not even see the urn containing his ashes? It was a lot to absorb for a woman who'd never so much as bumped into a policeman on the street, who'd never done a single thing to offend the state--except, perhaps, to marry a Christian--but what did that hurt, anyway? Had either of them, had any of their congregation ever plotted treason against the state? No. Had any of them so much as violated the criminal or civil law? No. And so why had this misfortune fallen upon her? She felt as though she'd been struck by an invisible truck while crossing the street, then had it decided that her injuries were all her fault. Behind one invisible truck was just another, and all the more merciless at that.

There was nothing left for her to do, no recourse, legal or otherwise. They couldn't even go into her home, whose living room had so often served as their church, there to pray for Yu's soul and entreat God for mercy and help. Instead they'd pray ... where? she wondered. One thing at a time. She and Wen walked outside, escaping the eyes of the lobby, which had zoomed in on them with almost physical impact. The eyes and the weight they'd carried were soon left behind, but the sun outside was just one more thing that intruded on what ought to have been, and what needed to be, a day of peace and lonely prayer to a God whose mercy was not very evident at the moment. Instead, the brightness of the sun defeated her eyelids, bringing unwanted brilliance into the darkness that might have simulated, if not exactly granted, peace. She had a flight booked back to Hong Kong, and from there back to Taipei, where she could at least weep in the presence of her mother, who was awaiting her death as well, for the woman was over ninety and frail.

For Barry Wise, the day had long since begun. His colleagues in Atlanta had praised him to the heavens in an e-mail about his earlier story. Maybe another Emmy, they said. Wise liked getting the awards, but they weren't the reason for his work. It was just what he did. He wouldn't even say he enjoyed it, because the news he reported was rarely pretty or pleasant. It was just his job, the work he'd chosen to do. If there was an aspect of it that he actually liked, it was the newness of it. Just as people awoke wondering what they'd see on CNN every day, from baseball scores to executions, so he awoke every day wondering what he'd report. He often had some idea of where the story would be and roughly what it would contain, but you were never really sure, and in the newness was the adventure of his job. He'd learned to trust his instincts, though he never really understood where they came from or how they seemed to know what they did, and today his instincts reminded him that one of the people he'd seen shot the other day had said he was married, and that his wife was on Taiwan. Maybe she'd be back now? It was worth trying out. He'd tried to get Atlanta to check with the Vatican, but that story would be handled by the Rome bureau. The aircraft containing Cardinal DiMilo's body was on its way back to Italy, where somebody would be making a big deal about it for CNN to cover live and on tape to show to the entire world ten times at least.

The hotel room had a coffeemaker, and he brewed his own from beans stolen from the CNN Beijing bureau office. Sipping coffee, for him as for so many others, helped him think.

Okay, he thought, the Italian guy, the Cardinal, his body was gone, boxed and shipped out on an Alitalia 747, probably somewhere over Afghanistan right now. But what about the Chinese guy, the Baptist minister who took the round in the head? He had to have left a body behind, too, and he had a congregation and--he said he was married, didn't he? Okay, if so, he had a wife somewhere, and she'd want the body back to bury. So, at the least he could try to interview her ... it would be a good follow-up, and would allow Atlanta to play the tape of the killings again. He was sure the Beijing government had written him onto their official shitlist, but fuck 'em, Wise thought with a sip of the Starbucks, it was hardly a disgrace to be there, was it? These people were racist as hell. Even folks on the street cringed to see him pass, with his dark skin. Even Birmingham under Bull Connor hadn't treated black Americans like aliens from another goddamned planet. Here, everyone looked the same, dressed the same, talked the same. Hell, they needed some black people just to liven up the mix some. Toss in a few blond Swedes and maybe a few Italians to set up a decent restaurant....

But it wasn't his job to civilize the world, just to tell people what was going on in it. The trade talks were not where it was happening, not today, Wise thought. Today he and his satellite truck would head back to the home of Reverend Yu Fa An. Wise was playing a hunch. No more than that. But they'd rarely failed him before.

Ryan was enjoying another night off. The following night would be different. He had to give another goddamned speech on foreign policy. Why he couldn't simply announce policy in the press room and be done with it, nobody had yet told him--and he hadn't asked, for fear of looking the fool (again) before Arnie. This was just how it was done. The speech and the subject had nothing to do with the identity of the group he was addressing. Surely there had to be an easier way to tell the world what he thought. This way, too, Cathy had to come with him, and she hated these things even more than he did, because it took her away from her patient notes, which she guarded about as forcefully as a lion over the wildebeests he'd just killed for lunch. Cathy often complained that this First Lady stuff was hurting her performance as a surgeon. Jack didn't believe that. It was more likely that like most women, Cathy needed something to bitch about, and this subject was worthier than her more pedestrian complaints, like being unable to cook dinner once in a while, which she missed a lot more than the women's lib people would have cared to learn. Cathy had spent over twenty years learning to be a gourmet cook, and when time allowed (rarely) she'd sneak down to the capacious White House kitchen to trade ideas and recipes with the head chef. For the moment, however, she was curled up in a comfortable chair making notes on her patient files and sipping at her wineglass, while Jack watched TV, for a change not under the eyes of the Secret Service detail and the domestic staff.

But the President wasn't really watching TV. His eyes were pointed in that direction, but his mind was looking at something else. It was a look his wife had learned to understand in the past year, almost like open-eyed sleep while his brain churned over a problem. In fact, it was something she did herself often enough, thinking about the best way to treat a patient's problem while eating lunch at the Hopkins doctors' cafeteria, her brain creating a picture as though in a Disney cartoon, simulating the problem and then trying out theoretical fixes. It didn't happen all that much anymore. The laser applications she'd helped to develop were approaching the point that an auto mechanic could perform them--which was not something she or her colleagues advertised, of course. There had to be a mystique with medicine, or else you lost your power to tell your patients what to do in a way that ensured that they might actually do it.

For some reason, that didn't translate to the Presidency, Cathy thought. With Congress, well, most of the time they went along with him--as well they ought, since Jack's requests were usually as reasonable as they could be--but not always, and often for the dumbest reasons. "It may be good for the country, but it's not so good for my district, and ..." And they all forgot the fact that when they had arrived in Washington, they'd sworn an oath to the country, not to their stupid little districts. When she'd said that to Arnie, he'd had a good laugh and lectured her on how the real world worked--as though a physician didn't know that! she fumed. And so Jack had to balance what was real with what wasn't but ought to be--as opposed to what wasn't and never would be. Like foreign affairs. It made a lot more sense for a married man to have an affair with some floozy than it did to try to reason with some foreign countries. At least you could tell the floozy that it was all over after three or four times, but these damned foreign chiefs of state would stay around forever with their stupidity.

That was one nice thing about medicine, Professor Ryan thought. Doctors all over the world treated patients pretty much the same way because the human body was the same everywhere, and a treatment regimen that worked at Johns Hopkins in east Baltimore worked just as well in Berlin or Moscow or Tokyo, even if the people looked and talked different--and if that was true, why couldn't people all over the world think the same way? Their damned brains were the same, weren't they? Now it was her turn to grumble, as her husband did often enough.

"Jack?" she said, as she put her notebook down.

"Yeah, Cathy?"

"What are you thinking about now?"

Mainly how I wish Ellen Sumter was here with a cigarette, he couldn't say. If Cathy knew he was sneaking smokes in the Oval Office, she didn't let on, which was probably the case, since she didn't go around looking for things to fight over, and he never ever smoked in front of her or the kids anymore. Cathy allowed him to indulge his weaknesses, as long as he did so in the utmost moderation. But her question was about the cause for his yearning for some nicotine.

"China, babe. They really stepped on the old crank with the golf shoes this time, but they don't seem to know how bad it looked."

"Killing those two people--how could it not look bad?" SURGEON asked.

"Not everybody values human life in the same way that we do, Cath."

"The Chinese doctors I've met are--well, they're doctors, and we talk to each other like doctors."

"I suppose." Ryan saw a commercial start on the TV show he was pretending to watch, and stood to walk off to the upstairs kitchen for another whiskey. "Refill, babe?"

"Yes, thank you." With her Christmas-tree smile.

Jack lifted his wife's wineglass. So, she had no procedures scheduled for the next day. She'd come to love the Chateau Ste. Michelle Chardonnay they'd first sampled at Camp David. For him tonight, it was Wild Turkey bourbon over ice. He loved the pungent smell of the corn and rye grains, and tonight he'd dismissed the upstairs staff and could enjoy the relative luxury of fixing his own--he could even have made a peanut butter sandwich, had he been of such a mind. He walked the drinks back, touching his wife's neck on the way, and getting the cute little shiver she always made when he did so.

"So, what's going to happen in China?"

"We'll find out the same way as everybody else, watching CNN. They're a lot faster than our intelligence people on some things. And our spooks can't predict the future any better than the traders on Wall Street." You'd be able to identify such a man at Merrill Lynch easily if he existed, Jack didn't bother saying aloud. He'd be the guy with all the millionaires lined up outside his office.

"So, what do you think?"


"I'm worried, Cath," Ryan admitted, sitting back down.

"About what?"

"About what we'll have to do if they screw things up again. But we can't warn them. That only makes it certain that bad things are going to happen, because then they'll do something really dumb just to show us how powerful they are. That's how nation-states are. You can't talk to them like real people. The people who make the decisions over there think with their ..."

"... dicks?" Cathy offered with a half giggle.

"Yep," Jack confirmed with a nod. "A lot of them follow their dicks everywhere they go, too. We know about some foreign leaders who have habits that would get them tossed out of any decent whorehouse in the world. They just love to show everybody how tough and manly they are, and to do that, they act like animals in a goddamned barnyard."

"Secretaries?"

"A lot of that." Ryan nodded. "Hell, Chairman Mao liked doing twelve-year-old virgins, like changing shirts. I guess old as he was, it was the best he could do--"

"No Viagra back then, Jack," Cathy pointed out.

"Well, you suppose that drug will help civilize the world?" he asked, turning to grin at his physician wife. It didn't seem a likely prospect.

"Well, maybe it'll protect a lot of twelve-year-olds."

Jack checked his watch. Another half hour and he'd be turning in. Until then, maybe he could actually watch the TV for a little while.

Rutledge was just waking up. Under his door was an envelope, which he picked up and opened, to find an official communique from Foggy Bottom, his instructions for the day, which weren't terribly different from those of the previous day. Nothing in the way of concessions to offer, which were the grease of dealing with the PRC. You had to give them something if you wanted to get anything, and the Chinese never seemed to realize that such a procedure could and occasionally should work the other way as well. Rutledge headed to his private bathroom and wondered if it had been like this chatting with German diplomats in May 1939. Could anyone have prevented that war from breaking out? he wondered. Probably not, in retrospect. Some chiefs of state were just too damned stupid to grasp what their diplomats told them, or maybe the idea of war just appealed to one sort of mind. Well, even diplomacy had its limitations, didn't it?

Breakfast was served half an hour later, by which time Rutledge was showered and shaved pink. His staff were all there in the dining room, looking over the papers for the most part, learning what was going on back home. They already knew, or thought they knew, what was going to happen here. A whole lot of nothing. Rutledge agreed with that assessment. He was wrong, too.

Chapter 30

And the Rights of Men

Got the address?" Wise asked his driver. He was also the team's cameraman, and drew the driving duty because of his steady hands and genius for anticipating traffic clogs.

"Got it, Barry," the man assured him. Better yet, it had been inputted into the satellite-navigation system, and the computer would tell them how to get there. Hertz was going to conquer the world someday, Wise reflected with a chuckle. Just so they didn't bring back the O.J. commercials.

"Going to rain, looks like," Barry Wise thought aloud.

"Could be," his producer agreed.

"What do you suppose happened to the gal who had the baby?" the cameraman asked from the driver's seat.

"Probably home with her kid now. I bet they don't keep mothers in the hospital very long here," Wise speculated. "Trouble is, we don't know her address. No way to do a follow-up on her and the kid." And that was too bad, Wise could have added. They had the surname, Yang, on their original tape, but the given names of the husband and wife were both garbled.

"Yeah, I bet there's a lot of Yangs in the phone book here."

"Probably," Wise agreed. He didn't even know if there was such a thing as a Beijing phone book--or if the Yang family had a phone--and none of his crew could read the ideographic characters that constituted the Chinese written language. All of those factors combined to make a stone wall.

"Two blocks," the cameraman reported from the front seat. "Just have to turn left ... here..."

The first thing they saw was a crowd of khaki uniforms, the local police, standing there like soldiers on guard duty, which was essentially what they were, of course. They parked the van and hopped out, and were immediately scrutinized as though they were alighting from an alien spacecraft. Pete Nichols had his camera out and up on his shoulder, and that didn't make the local cops any happier, because they'd all been briefed on this CNN crew at the Longfu hospital and what they'd done to damage the People's Republic. So the looks they gave the TV crew were poisonous--Wise and his crew could not have asked for anything better for their purposes.

Wise just walked up to the cop with the most rank-stuff on his uniform.

"Good day," Barry said pleasantly.

The sergeant in command of the group just nodded. His face was entirely neutral, as though he were playing cards for modest stakes.

"Could you help us?" Wise asked.

"Help you do what?" the cop asked in his broken English, suddenly angry at himself for admitting he could speak the language. Better if he'd played dumb, he realized a few seconds too late.

"We are looking for Mrs. Yu, the wife of the Reverend Yu, who used to live here."

"No here," the police sergeant replied with a wave of the hands. "No here."

"Then we will wait," Wise told him.

Minister," Cliff Rutledge said in greeting.

Shen was late, which was a surprise to the American delegation. It could have meant that he was delivering a message to his guests, telling them that they were not terribly important in the great scheme of things; or he might have been delayed by new instructions from the Politburo; or maybe his car hadn't wanted to start this morning. Personally, Rutledge leaned toward option number two. The Politburo would want to have input into these talks. Shen Tang had probably been a moderating influence, explaining to his colleagues that the American position, however unjust, would be difficult to shake in this series of talks, and so the smart long-term move would be to accommodate the American position for now, and make up for the losses in the next go-around the following year--the American sense of fair play, he would have told them, had cost them more negotiations than any other single factor in history, after all.

That's what Rutledge would have done in his place, and he knew Shen was no fool. In fact, he was a competent diplomatic technician, and pretty good at reading the situation quickly. He had to know--no, Rutledge corrected himself, he should know or ought to know--that the American position was being driven by public opinion at home, and that that public opinion was against the interests of the PRC, because the PRC had fucked up in public. So, if he'd been able to sell his position to the rest of the Politburo, he'd start off with a small concession, one which would show the course the day would take, allowing Rutledge to beat him back a few steps by the close of the afternoon session. Rutledge hoped for that, because it would get him what his country wanted with little further fuss, and would, by the way, make him look pretty good at Foggy Bottom. So he took a final sip of the welcoming tea and settled back in his chair, motioning for Shen to begin the morning's talks.

"We find it difficult to understand America's position in this and other matters--"

Uh-oh ...

"America has chosen to affront our sovereignty in many ways. First, the Taiwan issue ..."

Rutledge listened to the earphone which gave him the simultaneous translation. So, Shen hadn't been able to persuade the Politburo to take a reasonable tack. That meant another unproductive day at these talks, and maybe--possible but not likely as yet--failed talks entirely. If America was unable to get concessions from China, and was therefore forced to impose sanctions, it would be ruinous to both sides, and not calculated to make the world a safer or better place. The tirade lasted twenty-seven minutes by his watch.

"Minister," Rutledge began when it was his turn, "I find it difficult as well to understand your intransigence--" He went on along his own well-grooved path, varying only slightly when he said, "We put you on notice that unless the PRC allows its markets to be opened to American trade goods, the government of the United States will enact the provisions of the Trade Reform Act--"

Rutledge saw Shen's face coloring up some. Why? He had to know the rules of the new game. Rutledge had said this half a hundred times in the previous few days. Okay, fine, he'd never said "put on notice," which was diplo-speak for no shit, Charlie, we're not fuckin' kidding anymore, but the import of his earlier statements had been straightforward enough, and Shen was no fool ... was he? Or had Cliff Rutledge misread this whole session?

Hello," a female voice said.

Wise's head turned sharply. "Hi. Have we met?"

"You met my husband briefly. I am Yu Chun," the woman said, as Barry Wise came to his feet. Her English was pretty good, probably from watching a lot of TV, which was teaching English (the American version, anyway) to the entire world.

"Oh." Wise blinked a few times. "Mrs. Yu, please accept our condolences for the loss of your husband. He was a very courageous man."

Her head nodded at the good wishes, but they made her choke up a little, remembering what sort of man Fa An had been. "Thank you," she managed to say, struggling not to show the emotions that welled up within her, held back, however, as though by a sturdy dam.

"Is there going to be a memorial service for your husband? If so, ma'am, we would ask your permission to make a record of it." Wise had never grown to like the oh-your-loved-one-is-dead, what's-it-feel-like? school of journalism. He'd seen far more death as a reporter than as a Marine, and it was all the same all over the world. The guy on the pale horse came to visit, always taking away something precious to somebody, most of the time more than one somebody, and the vacuum of feelings it left behind could only be filled by tears, and that language was universal. The good news was that people all over the world understood. The bad news was that getting it out did further harm to the living victims, and Wise had trouble stomaching his occasional obligation to do that, however relevant it was to the all-important story.

"I do not know. We used to worship there in our house, but the police will not let me inside," she told him.

"Can I help?" Wise offered, truly meaning it. "Sometimes the police will listen to people like us." He gestured to them, all of twenty meters away. Quietly, to Pete Nichols: "Saddle up."

How it looked to the cops was hard for the Americans to imagine, but the widow Yu walked toward them with this American black man in attendance and the white one with the camera close behind.

She started talking to the senior cop, with Wise's microphone between the two of them, speaking calmly and politely, asking permission to enter her home.

The police sergeant shook his head in the universal No, you cannot gesture that needed no translation.

"Wait a minute. Mrs. Yu, could you please translate for me?" She nodded. "Sergeant, you know who I am and you know what I do, correct?" This generated a curt and none too friendly nod. "What is the reason for not allowing this lady to enter her own home?"

" 'I have my orders,' " Chun translated the reply.

"I see," Wise responded. "Do you know that this will look bad for your country? People around the world will see this and feel it is improper." Yu Chun duly translated this for the sergeant.

" 'I have my orders,' " he said again, through her, and it was plain that further discussion with a statue would have been equally productive.

"Perhaps if you called your superior," Wise suggested, and to his surprise the Chinese cop leaped on it, lifting his portable radio and calling his station.

" 'My lieutenant come,' " Yu Chun translated. The sergeant was clearly relieved, now able to dump the situation on someone else, who answered directly to the captain at the station.

"Good, let's go back to the truck and wait for him," Wise suggested. Once there, Mrs. Yu lit up an unfiltered Chinese cigarette and tried to retain her composure. Nichols let the camera down, and everyone relaxed for a few minutes.

"How long were you married, ma'am?" Wise asked, with the camera shut off.

"Twenty-four years," she answered.

"Children?"

"One son. He is away at school in America, University of Oklahoma. He study engineering," Chun told the American crew.

"Pete," Wise said quietly, "get the dish up and operating."

"Right." The cameraman ducked his head to go inside the van. There he switched on the uplink systems. Atop the van, the mini-dish turned fifty degrees in the horizontal and sixty degrees in the vertical, and saw the communications satellite they usually used in Beijing. When he had the signal on his indicator, he selected Channel Six again and used it to inform Atlanta that he was initiating a live feed from Beijing. With that, a home-office producer started monitoring the feed, and saw nothing. He might have succumbed to immediate boredom, but he knew Barry Wise was usually good for something, and didn't go live unless there was a good reason for it. So, he leaned back in his comfortable swivel chair and sipped at his coffee, then notified the duty director in Master Control that there was a live signal inbound from Beijing, type and scope of story unknown. But the director, too, knew that Wise and his crew had sent in a possible Emmy-class story just two days earlier, and to the best of anyone's knowledge, none of the majors was doing anything at all in Beijing at the moment--CNN tracked the communications-satellite traffic as assiduously as the National Security Agency, to see what the competition was doing.

More people started showing up at the Wen house/church. Some were startled to see the CNN truck, but when they saw Yu Chun there, they relaxed somewhat, trusting her to know what was happening. Showing up in ones and twos for the most part, there were soon thirty or so people, most of them holding what had to be Bibles, Wise thought, getting Nichols up and operating again, but this time with a live signal going up and down to Atlanta.

"This is Barry Wise in Beijing. We are outside the home of the Reverend Yu Fa An, the Baptist minister who died just two days ago along with Renato Cardinal DiMilo, the Papal Nuncio, or Vatican Ambassador to the People's Republic. With me now is his widow, Yu Chun. She and the reverend were married for twenty-four years, and they have a son now studying at the University of Oklahoma at Norman. As you can imagine, this is not a pleasant time for Mrs. Yu, but it is all the more unpleasant since the local police will not allow her to enter her own home. The house also served as the church for their small congregation, and as you can see, the congregation has come together to pray for their departed spiritual leader, the Reverend Yu Fa An.

"But it does not appear that the local government is going to allow them to do so in their accustomed place of worship. I've spoken personally with the senior police official here. He has orders, he says, not to admit anyone into the house, not even Mrs. Yu, and it appears that he intends to follow those orders." Wise walked to where the widow was.

"Mrs. Yu, will you be taking your husband's body back to Taiwan for burial?" It wasn't often that Wise allowed his face to show emotion, but the answer to this question grabbed him in a tender place.

"There will be no body. My husband--they take his body and burn it, and scatter the ashes in river," Chun told the reporter, and saying it cracked both her composure and her voice.

"What?" Wise blurted. He hadn't expected that any more than she had, and it showed on his face. "They cremated his body without your permission?"

"Yes," Chun gasped.

"And they're not even giving you the ashes to take home with you?"

"No, they scatter ashes in river, they tell me."

"Well" was all Wise could manage. He wanted to say something stronger, but as a reporter he was supposed to maintain some degree of objectivity, and so he couldn't say what he might have preferred to say. Those barbarian cocksuckers. Even the differences in culture didn't explain this one away.

It was then that the police lieutenant arrived on his bicycle. He walked at once to the sergeant, spoke to him briefly, then walked to where Yu Chun was.

"What is this?" he asked in Mandarin. He recoiled when the TV camera and microphone entered the conversation. What is THIS? his face demanded of the Americans.

"I wish to enter my house, but he won't let me," Yu Chun answered, pointing at the sergeant. "Why can't I go in my house?"

"Excuse me," Wise put in. "I am Barry Wise. I work for CNN. Do you speak English, sir?" he asked the cop.

"Yes, I do."

"And you are?"

"I am Lieutenant Rong."

He could hardly have picked a better name for the moment, Wise thought, not knowing that the literal meaning of this particular surname actually was weapon.

"Lieutenant Rong, I am Barry Wise of CNN. Do you know the reason for your orders?"

"This house is a place of political activity which is ordered closed by the city government."

"Political activity? But it's a private residence--a house, is it not?"

"It is a place of political activity," Rong persisted. "Unauthorized political activity," he added.

"I see. Thank you, Lieutenant." Wise