HAS THE WEST JUST FOUGHT AND LOST WORLD WAR 3
WITHOUT EVEN KNOWING?
by Terence Strong
[A perception put together by bestselling thriller writer with and inspired by a paper produced by Buster Brown (C/Sgt.RM.Rtd), in turn suggested by others in the worldwide military, intelligence and political arenas]
For the best part of 20 years, the Communist People’s Republic of China has enjoyed incredible and unprecedented national growth and prosperity. At that time, around the period when the United Kingdom handed back the British colony of Hong Kong to Beijing, I wrote in my thriller DEADWATER DEEP of a fictional attempt by the American CIA to overthrow the ChiCom Government of the time. Mainland China and the world was still recoiling from the Tianemann Square massacre. It was written with expert advice of how it would and really could have been achieved.
If it had been attempted – as seemed likely at the time of writing – or something similar, the Chinese hierarchy would not have forgotten or forgiven. It is in their collective Oriental psyche to neither forget nor forgive.
Since that time, China has become the engine-room, the heartbeat, the factory of the entire world. With its vast population of 1, 447 million people (nearly 20% of the world’s people), it manufactures practically everything with cheap labour, immense skill and talent, and entrepreneurial culture. Yet behind all this it is still the draconian Communist State with a firm hand on the tiller.
With the new smiling face of the dragon, the world has forgotten that it remains a nation headed by an unelected government.
A government that hold millions more “political” prisoners in gulags than any other country on earth, is re-educating an entire Muslim province to its own faithless faith in prison camps, and has its hands on the levers of control of the entire monetary, manufacturing, political and business infrastructure.
It also thieves and encourages thieving on an industrial scale. Literally. Meanwhile companies in the United States, the UK and mainland Europe have rushed to China to manufacture cheap – but generally reasonable quality products – by a young, nowadays well-educated work force.
What those companies had not anticipated was being severely mugged in the process. Chinese theft of international Intellectual Property has been waged on an industrial scale with the complicity of the government. While a foreign company’s exclusive product will be made to order during the day, at night a much cheaper Chinese copy will be running off those same production lines. Only the product name or colour will be changed to protect the guilty. And all done with the tacit blessing of the Communist state.
But that theft extents way beyond clothing and toys. Beyond electric gadgets and white goods to electronic and military equipment.
It includes commercial, bacterial, biological and military espionage. Chinese students, suspected of being agents coerced into working for the Chinese secret service (the Strategic Huyou Agency), have worked at biological research laboratories in both the United States and Canada. They were discovered to have been stealing top secret data and samples from viral experimentation. The medical industry is always trying to anticipate the next flu pandemic and how to be ready for it.
But it is now thought that Huyou Agency may have had other motives as well. In their Biological and Chemical Warfare Department of the People’s Republican Army, there has been a growing awareness of the growing use “hybrid warfare”, first developed by the Russians in Ukraine. Hybrid warfare was the art of taking over another nation by sleight of hand, by smoke and mirrors; by political and financial pressures and spinning fake news, rather than tanks and aircraft and storm-troopers. Your enemy could be beaten without even knowing it had fought a war.
After all, China still has more unresolved territorial disputes with its neighbours than any other nation on earth. Even with its growing military might and ambition it could not fight the colossal war machine of the United States, which would defend to the death its democratic allies of Taiwan and other nations of Chinese descent in the region.
Beijing’s heir achy has had other problems. The People’s Communist Party is now under the ruthless leadership of Xi Jinping, who has recently manoeuvred himself into the position of virtually unassailable “President-for-life”.
Very aware of America’s continuing military superiority and a new US President who is facing up to China on trade matters such as the “dumping” cheap steel, Xi Jinping has seen the nation’s economic position in the world slipping. Some intelligence analysts in the West suspect that they genuinely fear free-fall?
As virtual “factory for the world” with every manufacturer shifting its order book, China has established an amazing 7% average annual growth rate since the turn of the century.
Around the world Chinese sponsored companies invested in the raw materials it needed and in infrastructure projects in Africa and South America. It made loans to countries that they could never hope to repay, making them in hock to Beijing for ever more. The legitimacy or honesty the governments and partner commercial companies involved were of no concern. That’s not the Chinese way.
From 2003 to 2010 China maintained a staggering 10% growth or more. Even after the world financial crash of 2008, it managed to continue with a healthy 8%.
But no longer. Since 2015 China’s growth has slumped to 6%. The envy of the rest of the world still, but not enough Xi Jinping.
After all, with unrest fermenting in the former British colony of Hong Kong, President Jinping has a population of 1,437 million (almost one fifth of the world’s population) to keep content. This is a population who had enjoyed a meteoric rise in living standards and salaries. Their bicycles had been replaced by cars, their slum shacks with skyscrapers.
Moreover, China’s 30 year “One Child Per Couple” policy was beginning to backfire. A shortage in the flow of low-cost young labour was beginning to match the increase in unwanted old folk who needed expensive social and medical support.
What to do?
Enter Linda Wang (not her real name). A petite and feisty student in Hong Kong, she was studying epidemiology at University, but devoted most of her energies to the embryonic democratic movement against control from mainland China. She was picked up by an English cultural diplomat, a suave 30-something Etonian (we’ll call him Charles Entwhistle) with a smooth line of chat and knowledge of the Classics that appealed to Linda. It is understood they became enamoured with each other, during which time Entwhistle conjured her a job, through one of his mainland Chinese contacts, as an intern at the Wuhan Institute of Virology in China’s central province.
Linda Wang loved her new job. And the new job loved her. From making lapsong green tea for the Head of Institute Major-General Ma Feng (not his real name) and taking dictation from the female Director Tong Mei (not her real name) Linda’s sparky Hong Kong spirit, good humour and exceptional intelligence was soon recognised and appreciated.
Despite doubts with having to fend off his frequent bottom slapping and waist-squeezing, Linda accepted rapid promotion as personal assistant to Ma Feng.
It was in that capacity that, in December 2016, she travelled with him and Mrs Tong to Beijing for a hush-hush meeting. Linda had never visited the capital before and it was a great thrill for her to see the vast open square that was Tiananmen, the serrated walls of the Forbidden City and the glittery glass fingers of the new skyscrapers in the wintry sunlight. But there was not much time for sight-seeing.
To Linda’s surprise they did not stay at one of the smart Western-style hotels, but at the boutique one-storey Cours et Pavillons, a tradition courtyard building with red- lacquered beams in one on the few remaining alleyway neighbourhoods yet to be bulldozed for skyscrapers.
Only later it became clear to Linda that choice was made to help keep the presence of Major-General Ma and Mrs Tong in the capital out of the public eye. And also to make it difficult for foreign espionage agents to observe them. Even the official car that collected them had difficulty squeezing its way through the tight lanes of Dongcheng district in order to take them to the meeting at the Defence Ministry.
It was early the next year, in the January of 2017, that Linda Wang was able to report what happened next to her handler Charlie Entwhistle of Britain’s MI6. When she returned home to Hong Kong to celebrate the Chinese New Year with her family, she found that her student boyfriend had left her for another. He just hadn’t told her.
Tearfully she used the “burn phone” Entwhistle had given her earlier to leave a one-off code-word for a pre-determined “meet”.
All Linda had to do was book in at a cheap hotel. That was the Cosco near Belcher Bay Park, offering rooms over a small restaurant. Basic and cheerful. She arrived wearing grey jogging pants and a matching hoodie top. The male receptionist barely noticed her as he confirmed her booking and signed her in.
Twenty minutes later there was a knock at the door. Entwhistle was met with the tearburst of a broken heart and a sobbing Linda, who poured out her sorrows. All the strains of her new job in Wuhan and the sudden loss of her long-term sweetheart had all proven too much emotionally.
Entwhistle was quick to empathise, was genuinely concerned, but also suspicious that there was more to this outburst than was immediately obvious.
‘So you’re happy in the job?’ he asked cautiously.
She perched on the edge of the bed and he sat opposite her in a tired-looking armchair.
‘I love it. Really.’
‘You work for two bosses? So soon.’
Linda straightened her back. ‘They secretly love us Hong Kongers, but don’t like to admit it.’
Entwhistle understood. ‘You have the get up and go that most mainlanders don’t. An energy and enthusiasm that is not typically Chinese.’
She shrugged. ‘I did not realise that.’
‘I did not expect you to call me so soon,’ he admitted. ‘Is anything wrong?’
Linda’s smile was awkward. ‘I am not sure. I do not want to waste your time. In December I am taken to Beijing. Assisting the Major-General and Mrs Tong.’
Entwhistle nodded. ‘Yes, you signalled. But did not know where at the time.’
Linda took a deep breath. ‘It is the compound of the Ministry of National Defence. At a room in the large central building with the pagoda-style roof. A special room with thick doors, apparently sound-proofed.’
Suddenly Entewhistle was alert. ‘Who was the meeting with?’
‘My people, my representatives. They included the Academy of Military Medical Sciences…’
‘And Department 17. Hybrid Warfare.’
‘There are only 15 departments that we have listed. Are you sure?’
Linda nodded. ‘Very. It was their man who was chairing the meetings. Marshal Jian Wu.’
Entwhiste’s jaw dropped. ‘No.’
His agent blinked at his response. ‘Yes. I make no mistake.’
She was puzzled. ‘I am sorry?’
‘Marshal Wu. It’s the China Desk’s code-name for him. Fu Manchu.’
Linda was confused.
‘Fu Manchu was a very famous fictional Chinese character at the turn of the century,’ Entwhistle explained patiently. ‘Created by an English writer. Fu Manchu was an evil genius and mad scientist. Used fungi, poisons and bacteria to kill his enemies in the West. Rather fitted with Marshal Jian Wu.’
Linda considered for a moment. ‘Sounds about right from what I hear. At meeting he talks about fighting and winning a war that your enemy does not even know he is in.’
Entwhistle allowed himself a slow smile. ‘I am not really sure, in this day and age, that possible.’
For one startling moment, Linda felt she was so much wiser than the dapper, smartly-dressed intelligence officer sitting opposite her. ‘Oh, I think it is. More than ever before.’ She added, ‘China is still more Confucius than Karl Marx, remember.’
Her words stung him. Those exact words, or very similar, were the first he’d been given when he’d joined the Desk fifteen years earlier. ‘A five-year plan is short-term for the average Chinese politician, Charlie. Remember that and you won’t go far wrong. Nowadays I’d say Ten to Twenty is what to think about. Although I do think the old Hundred Year Plans are a bit out of fashion.’
Suddenly Entwhistle was beginning to sense a feeling of alarm, and he couldn’t exactly explain why. ‘So what was this war China is thinking to fight. Marshal Wu is at this – er – Department of Hybrid Warfare. Internet virus, false flag, disease?’
Linda swallowed hard. ‘A Frankenstein virus.’
‘A combination of two novel viruses. Maybe Nipah and Hendra.’
Entwhistle was no virologist. ‘Novel meaning?’
‘Animal. So outside the human genome.’ Linda smiled sweetly in understanding at his lack of comprehension. ‘Therefore human immunity is unable to respond adequately. H1N1 made the jump from pigs to humans. Spanish flu came from birds. In this case, these viruses are commonly found in the Intermediate Horseshoe Bat.’
The MI6 man winced. ‘This is more Dracula and vampires than Fu Manchu.’
‘This one is called Corona. It developed in America.’
‘But you have it in Wuhan?’
She allowed herself a giggle. ‘We scientists very friendly. Keen to save world from pandemics.’
Entwhistle thought aloud. ‘I think maybe some scientists might be more friendly than others.’
‘Because these two virus novel and mutate quickly every two weeks even, we scientists call them “slippery”.’ He smiled at her pronunciation, but not at what she meant. ‘Because they so easily mutate, it is difficult to create a vaccine against them.’
The MI6 man pounced. ‘Has China got a vaccine?’
Linda’s eyes widened. ‘That is exactly what Marshal Wu asks.’
She shook her head. ‘Mrs Tong, says no, but nearly. Another month, maybe two we will perfect one.’
‘Marshal Wu looks very pleased.’ Linda thought back to the conversation. ‘Mrs Tong asks why? In reply, Wu asks if they are aware of an intelligence report on Exercise Cygnus, in from the Chinese Embassy in London?’
‘Was she?’ Entwhistle asked.
‘Not at all.’ Linda shook her head. ‘That amuses Marshal Wu, that all she thinks about is viruses and their cures. He clearly has other thoughts and cannot help himself. In his enthusiasm he wants to share with us.’
However, Enthwhistle did know about Cygnus, all too well. ‘Yes, it was a three-day exercise or “wargame” with the Government, civil service and NHS under the Cameron government to test for a pandemic hitting the UK.’
‘I am shocked,’ Linda admitted. ‘I think England and NHS are best health service in world.’
‘Cygnus was a shocker,’Enthwhistle admitted. ‘Hit by a major flu outbreak, the NHS would be quickly overwhelmed with a shortage of beds, respirators, kit and even burial capacity. The Cygnus Report was so dreadful, its publication was banned.’
‘Worse,’ Linda said, shaking her head. ‘Not much has been done to improve the situation. Everyone worries about Brexit, nothing else. There is no money and everyone hopes for the best.’
Entwhistle smiled grimly. ‘You aren’t wrong.’
‘But Britain is not alone. Marshal Wu says many other countries – most countries are in similar or worse situation. That makes him happy for his plan.’
‘Plan?’ He felt the hairs on the back of his neck begin to crawl. ‘What plan?’
‘Plan he wants to sell to President Xi Jinping.’
‘To beat America, to defeat the West.’
Entwhistle frowned. ‘Which China cannot do with conventional warfare and risks nuclear conflict over Tiawan or North Korea.’
Linda raised an eyebrow, happy that the Englishman was taking her seriously. ‘First create a slippery virus and the antidote. Just before Chinese New Year, when many students and workers overseas come home to celebrate – secretly launch.’ She frowned at this point. ‘Even Mrs Tong is getting excited at the idea here, and she is not even military. She says use the fresh food markets in Wuhan as an “excuse” of where it starts. They actually sell bats to eat there.’
‘Did Marshal Wu like that idea?’
‘He asks can we contain this new virus in Hubei or Wuhan?’
‘Mrs. Tong says yes. If we are prepared, if we are ruthless. If borders are strictly enforced, the virus will not reach Beijing or Shanghai.’ Linda blinked and turned her palms upwards. ‘And why not? We are prepared, we are ready. We can also distribute anti-virus as a vaccine or in some other way. Meanwhile, after Chinese New Year, people from Wuhan return to the countries where they are working, taking this highly infectious virus with them. It will hit the rest of world like express train. It will be chaos, probably starting in Europe.’
Entwhistle guessed. ‘The Europeans will not know what hit them.’ He’d done his homework. ‘My guess is Italy.’
Linda was puzzled. ‘Why, Charlie?’
‘Ironic really. Mediterranean diet means lots of older people, extended large families and narrow streets. All old folk have underlying health problems, comes with the territory. It almost has as many Chinese as UK, due to your love affair with Made in Italy.’
She smiled at that. ‘China buys out many fashion houses. Has its own workers there.’
‘And northern Italy has bad industrial smogs,’ he added. ‘Any flu hits the area hard.’
‘Marshal Wu says that in China we could be prepared.’ Linda had a look of surprise on her face at her own words. ‘Have plans ready to throw up prefabricated hospitals in days. Water and sewerage network laid, materials and labour already hired. Impress the world at our reaction.’
‘All fake,’ Entwhistle muttered.
‘But China quickly look good as there is chaos in the world, starting with Europe. Marshal Wu says economies of dozens of countries will freeze overnight, production lines forced to stop, stock markets to fall.’
Entwhistle guessed the next bit. ‘Oh I get it. China recovers first and quickly. It sweeps on key companies it wants and snaps them up at bargain prices. Commodity costs collapse, including oil, so China can suck them up, too, on a large scale. China returns fast to manufacturing rapidly while the rest of the world is at a standstill. Buy what you want cheaply during the crisis and sell back at a profit when other counties have paralyzed their own industries in the chaos…God, it’s a win-win situation.’
Linda swallowed hard. ‘It’s a win-win war. That’s what Marshal Wu say.’
The Englishman was aware of his heart thudding harder in his chest. ‘He used those words?’
‘And more.’ She took a deep breath. ‘Marshal Wu says when we announce we have found the magical anti-Corona virus once the pandemic has subsided, we will have won World War Three without a shot having been fired. The West, America, the EU and the UK in particular will be in economic ruins – yet not even have known they have been fighting it. China will have everything it wanted. Industrial superiority restored and economic masterdom.’
‘Fuck me,’ Entwhistle said flatly.
‘Charlie, I am scared.’ She trembled slightly. ‘I am very scared. Marshal Wu meant every word.’
He reached across the gap between them and took her hand. It felt like a small bird in his, her skin surprisingly cold to the touch. Swiftly he moved to her side, slipped his arm around her waist. It was so tiny, and he could feel her ribs beneath his fingers. She felt so fragile, so breakable. He hugged her reassuringly. It was only when he felt the warm damp of her cheek that he realised that she was fighting hard to stop her tears.
‘It’s okay, it’s okay,’ he reassured.
She pulled away. ‘No, no, it’s not, Charlie. You don’t know. You don’t understand what a virus like this can do to the world. Really, I don’t think you do.’
He looked her straight in the face. ‘Yes, I do. It’s very serious. But it’s not the Bubonic Plague or the Spanish Flu.’
Her big brown eyes looked at him, knew he didn’t really know. ‘But it’s being weaponised. It will come with it’s own marketing and publicity team. First from China itself and then the world media. That will do the rest. The world will be terrified into total shutdown. The whole world, that is, except China. Something that even two World Wars have never achieved. Marshal Wu will have won.’
Entehistle wasn’t sure what to say to that.
‘Do you love me, Charlie?’
That threw him. ‘Of course, Linda. I’m delighted to see you again.’
‘Yes, I know you like me…’ She hesitated. ‘I like you, too. But I am not sure it is love.’
His smile was up and running. ‘Then it’s something pretty damn close, sweetheart.’
‘You work at the British Embassy, Charlie,’ she stated and withdrew her hand from his. Her eyes fixed on his. ‘Are you a spy, Charlie? Have you been using me?’
He nearly choked. ‘Certainly not.’
She did not blink. ‘I felt I had to see you, had to tell you. Warn you.’
‘I understand that. I’m very grateful. Thank you.’
‘I think I have been a fool. There is nothing between us, is there?’
That caught him out, made him feel bad. ‘I’m not sure. What do you think.’
‘You haven’t even kissed me. Is it because you think I have virus.’
‘No, no!’ He protested.
She shook her head. ‘That is a joke.’ She took a deep breath and stared at the wall. ‘You are a spy. No, I am the spy. I have done my job. You have used me, I allowed you. Now I cannot go back. I am scared. Can you help me?’
‘Help you what?’
‘Get away from Hong Kong. Maybe to UK..?’
Entwhistle hated it when his agent got scared, demanded things of him. Even if he might support those who’d helped the British government – of any political colour – his superiors didn’t support his enthusiasm. Too much trouble, too much paperwork. Can’t be asked.
‘It’s difficult…’ he began.
She read him in clear HD. ‘So I thought.’ She took a deep breath, her decision made. ‘Okay, Mister Entwhistle, you win. I fell for it, fell for you. My mistake. You betray me like your country betrays Hong Kong twenty years ago.’
‘No, Linda,’ he protested, ‘That’s not right.’
‘Not right, but how it is,’ she came back. ‘Well, I have done my duty, have warned you. Now go please.’
‘Are you returning to Wuhan?’
She shook her head vigorously. Her hair glistened like a raven’s wing in the light from the window. ‘No, I will post my resignation. I will go back to my studies here…Now, go please, Charlie. Just go.’
Outside, the Huyou Agency agent Lucy Dang was leaning against the bus stop post. Casually she raised her tourist camera with its telephoto lens and snapped the Englishman leaving the Cosco Hotel. He was alone.
The live video was transmitted.
‘White Fish One leaving,’ she said into her throat mike.
The voice came back in her earpiece. She strained to hear. ‘Eyes on. Confirm White Fish One as Charles Enwhistle. Cultural Attache. British Embassy.’
‘Do I follow?’
‘No, we have taxi waiting to pick him up. Following for when he is ready.’ There was a pause. ‘You wait for Yellow Lotus.’
‘Remember, she knows me.’
‘That fine. Play the coincidence game.’
Lucy shrugged. It was fine by her. ‘Will do.’
‘Out,’ said Huyou Agency, Hong Kong Branch HQ.
A bus came and went. Lucy Dang still waited at the bus stop. She realised that she was not the best choice for an undercover agent. She was Han Chinese and stood at nearly six feet tall with a short pixie-cut of peroxide blonde hair. Celery stick, her grandfather called her. Her job was an agent for the Huyou Agency; her mission to infiltrate the troublesome student movements of the Hong Kong province. She had already had Linda Wang’s previous “boyfriend” Bo disappeared for a period of re-education.
He would return a very different person to the one of the energetic rebel Linda had last known and fallen in love with.
Neither was Lucy Dang the secretive and quiet character people somehow expected of a spy. She was outgoing and gregarious, the heart-and-soul of any party. She was outspoken about Hong Kong’s freedoms and railed against the social smothering of Chinese Communism. But she and her family had secretly been signed-up members since she was a teenager. Lucy was an older student, ran a help-line for mental problems, and was very popular with everyone. She knew all their personal problems and a lot of their secrets.
‘Hello,’ Lucy said suddenly. ‘Yellow Lotus emerging. Eyes on.’
‘Does she have luggage?’
Linda carried a small and brightly-coloured designer backpack. ‘Yes. Do I follow?’
‘Remember she knows me. May recognise.’
‘Of course.’ Contempt in HQ’s tone. ‘Engineer a genuine meet.’
Lucy slipped her smartphone into the back pocket of her skinny jeans, detached herself from the bus-stop post and danced her way through the passing cars to the far pavement.
When she was confident that Linda Wang was heading towards her family home, she detoured around a residential block, sprinting to bring herself out in front and ahead of Linda, to find herself walking towards her while engrossed on her phone.
They nearly collided head-on.
‘Linda!’ Lucy stepped back, full of smiles and apologies. ‘It is Linda Wang, isn’t it? Hallo, stranger.’
‘Oh, Lucy, long time, no see.’
‘Are you back from Wuhan..? Obviously. For holiday or..?’
‘For good,’ Linda said emphatically. Her mind was made up the more she had thought about it. I miss Hong Kong, my friends.’
Lucy grinned widely. ‘Me?’
‘You, of course.’
Lucy settled in, walking beside her. ‘Weren’t you going the other way?’
‘Oh, just to get some soy sauce for my Gran we’re running low. Not urgent. To see you again and catch up on news is more important.’
Linda had never really taken to Lucy, and she didn’t really know why. ‘No news to tell. Life and work in Wuhan was boring.’
‘I am sorry to hear that. And your new boyfriend, one who help get you Wuhan job. Englishman?’
‘Not boyfriend,’ Linda protested sniffily. Images of their one night of lovemaking flashed unbidden in her mind. He had a cruel, but exciting streak to him. ‘Just associates.’
‘So, Bo is still the love of your life?’
Her laugh came out more as a snort of derision. ‘Bo stops writing.’
Lucy shrugged. ‘He disappears. Maybe goes back to his family in the country.’
‘Bo hated it there.’
‘I know police were harassing him. He got too involved with democracy movement, near to the leaders. That is what I suspect.’
Linda was thoughtful for a moment. ‘If you are right, I hope he will be okay.’
‘If he bends with the wind, goes with the flow,’ Lucy reassured.
‘He can be stubborn,’ Linda said.
‘Hopefully he will see sense,’
They had reached the backstreet residential block where the Wang family lived. Linda looked up to see that the windows of their apartment where open, some laundry drying. ‘I think they are in.’
Gabbled words rushed into Lucy’s earpiece.
‘Let’s meet tonight,’ Lucy said suddenly. Celebrate your return.’
Linda was taken aback. ‘What, oh?’
Lucy’s eyes widened. ‘I will try to get news of Bo for you.’
‘Where?’ Linda wasn’t enthusiastic, felt that the other young woman was almost pressurising her.
‘How about the Little Tonnochi Canal by the waterfront?’
‘That bar – where we used to meet?’
‘The Happy Dragon?’Lucy guessed. ‘If it’s still there. I’ll call round the gang, see who can come. Say nine ’
Linda nodded and watched as her friend from the democracy movement danced lightly away into the crowded street. She smiled, her concerns about Lucy evaporating, melted by the warmth of the exuberant homecoming welcome. She looked up to the balcony. Her parents would be pleased to see her, but also wagging fingers of I-told-you-so.
An hour with her parents and a thrown together fish and vegetable stir-fry proved enough for Linda to be thanking the gods for her decision to meet up with Lucy and hopefully her old student mates of the democracy movement. And – just maybe – news from Bo.
To a fanfare of protests from her parents, she slipped away through the narrow backstreets to the forgotten neighbourhood of where the Tonnochi Canal snaked its dark and smelly route to the waterfront. With old and dilapidated building on each side, it was a favoured playground for drug-dealers and prostitutes. A half-hearted effort had been made to create pleasure parks on the banks, but they were badly- attended and just emphasised the atmosphere of urban neglect.
Linda arrived just before nine. In the dim evening light she could see that the shed that housed the Happy Dragon street-food stall was shut. In fact it didn’t look as though it had been open in months. The surrounding lawn, pathways and benches were empty.
Empty, except that is, for Lucy. She stepped out from behind the shed. Her cropped mop of hair caught the light.
‘Oh, so sorry, Linda! It’s just me, Seems no one else could make it.’ She shrugged with sympathy. ‘I guess too short notice.’
An alarm bell rang in the back of Linda’s head. Sudden, urgent. And loud.
Although there was no reason to be fearful or suspicious, somehow she was. At the back of her brain, something was eating away at her. That she had a very big secret. However young, a silly and daffy student, who loved drink and drugs and democracy, she was. She had a very big secret that was planned to kick off a Sun Tzu- style war that would be fought without soldiers, without tanks, aircraft or ships. It would be fought with bio-engineered microbes.
It would be started without warning by a woman. One woman. On her regular way home. It could be her, Linda! Whoever the Director instructed. This woman would stop at the edge of the Wuhan Fish Market and open the triple-sealed plastic of contaminated frozen fish next to the plate of squid. Next to the air intake of the air-conditioning. Air-conditioning shared with the building of the country’s high-speed rail network.
She, student and intern, Linda Wang knew how China was going to launch and win World War Three without a shot being fired. China’s world-wide enemies would be defeated without even knowing that they had been in a fight, let alone a war.
She remembered vividly Marshal Wu often spouting the words of Sun Tzu in his classic The Art of War: ‘Make your plans dark and impenetrable as night. And when you move, fall like a thunderbolt. To subdue the enemy without fighting is the acme of skill. The whole secret lies in confusing the enemy so that he cannot fathom your real intent.’
Her knowledge of that had to be dangerous. Surely?
Linda glanced around her. Lucy had vanished, disappeared.
Momentarily, that was a relief. But, she realised that meant another threat had replaced her.’
Sure enough, as she glanced round the canal-side gardens, each path out was guarded by a dark figure. Armed? This was the Hong Kong underworld.
Suddenly driven to do something, anything, Linda jumped onto the central stretch of lawn and strode forward. Two shabbily-dressed men rushed at her. In a glimpse she could see they were seasoned and mean, pock-marked faces, dark-haired and Oriental in appearance. Undoubtedly Triad hitmen. It flashed through her mind that she would be quickly dispatched, maybe rolled in some carpet and tossed into the canal to float out to sea and disappear. With luck her death would be painless. Her mind went blank, paralysed with fear.
Suddenly the air was filled with the stink of cordite and the stutter of suppressed gunfire. She lost her footing and fell.
She’d barely hit the ground before she was scooped up by a hand each side and moments later found herself in the back of a white Range Rover.
It was dark in the vehicle as it pulled away, bumping over the canal gardens and out into an alleyway. The men crouched over her all wore balaclavas, were laughing, relaxed.
‘Okay, baby, You’re safe now.’ English voices, on different. Scottish, she thought.
There was one face without a balaclava, one she recognised. ‘Charlie!’
‘Linda, Thank God I checked when you left the hotel. I was slow on the uptake.’ His face showed genuine remorse. ‘As I reflected on what you’d told me, I thought I’d check and discovered you had a tail. Luckily I know Lucy Dang, she features on the office Rogue’s Gallery. Poor training. Following you, she didn’t think to check if anyone was following her.’
‘And these men?’ She could still smell the faint smell of cordite in the confines of the vehicle.
‘God’s little helpers,’ one joshed.
‘Just laundry workers at the British Embassy,’ another added.
‘Even we don’t really know who we are.’
Entwhistle said, ‘The important thing is the Ambassador has arranged to have to you flown out of Hong Kong to London on the first flight tomorrow morning.’
Linda’s mouth dropped. Slowly her mouth reconfigured into a smile. ‘That is good.’
‘Yin and Yang.’
‘China Desk in London think your story is a wind-up.’
She looked aghast. ‘Why?’
‘Because they don’t want to. Because former top civil servants, MPs and Lords are all board members of big Chinese companies in UK, like Huawei. The UK Establishment has been bought by Beijing. It’s been going on for years.’
‘But I tell you the truth,’ Linda pleaded.
‘There are none so deaf,’ Enwhistle said, ‘than those who do not want to hear.’
‘So what will happen?’ She looked alarmed. ‘I risk everything to tell you. I see the reaction to the plan of Marshal Wu. Someone say, what is the downside? It is win-win.That makes me very afraid.’ She fixed him with her stare and repeated, ‘Charlie, please, what will happen?’
‘Your report will be encrypted and sent to London. It will be scrutinized by my people and sent to the Foreign Office. It may go to the Foreign Secretary. He may send it to the Prime Minister, but probably not. If so, she will undoubtedly read it, because she reads everything.’
‘Because everything is about Brexit, I expect it will be filed.’
‘Like everything else. Under pending.’
Copyright © Terence Strong, 2020
® and 1997 Silver Fox Press. All rights reserved
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