This fictional short story is based on a real-life incident and is a prequel to the thriller That Last Mountain.  It was first published in Mayfair magazine.

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“I WANT a divorce.”

She said it like a spoiled child demands an ice-cream. Expecting to get a half-hearted reprimand, but also certain that she’d get her way in the end. And Joan had usually got her way; that had always been my mistake.

Uneasily I glanced around the pub. The festive decorations and tree in the corner just seemed to add salt to my emotional wounds. This wasn’t one of the regular haunts of my oppos from 22 Special Air Service Regiment, that’s why I chose it. But you couldn’t be too careful, and there was no way I wanted rumours doing the rounds in the mess.

I said: “Let’s give it more time.”

“We’ve had time,” Joan replied sourly. “Too much already.”

I looked at her carefully, as though seeing her for the first time. She’d changed, as we all do, but not for the better. The bland, cheerful face had been left behind with her teenage years, the once ready-smiling lips now permanently down-turned. Her eyes were full of hurt and resentment. Resentment that I wouldn’t make it easy for her to leave for the lover I knew she had.

Somewhere behind the bar an old-fashioned telephone rang noisily.

“Another month,” I said. I knew I was pleading. It was something I didn’t like doing. But Joan was all I had. Being an orphan, having someone close meant a lot. It was a fact of which she had reminded me on more than one occasion. “I’ve got Christmas leave coming up. We can spend it together. Go away somewhere. Get to understand each other.”

“And then away again without a word?” she asked pointedly.

“How long will it be this time? Six months? Nine? A year?”

I knew she was blaming ‘The Family’. But we both knew it was just an excuse. Like we both knew I could hardly deny I was away too much.

The barman leaned towards our table. “That your red MG outside?”

He must have read the instant concern on my face. Sometimes I thought that old roadster meant more to me than Joan. Perhaps it should have.

“Then you must be Mr Hunt,” he said. “Call for you.

I took the receiver over the bar. “Hello, Brian?” I recognised the voice instantly. Gabby Ash. The wife of our Mountain Troop commander, Mike Ash. Even as she spoke I found myself asking why the hell Joan couldn’t be more like Gabby Ash. I could forego the fair hair and those eyes of robin’s egg blue. But what wouldn’t I have given for her sympathy and understanding, and those ever smiling lips? At least that was how I felt when Gabby had looked at me when we’d last met.

“What is it, Gabby?”

“Thank God I’ve found you, I’ve been trying everywhere. Then I remembered this pub – There’s a call from the adjutant. Do you want to go to a party?”

“Christ,” I breathed. The code. “Where’s Mike?”


Of course, planning a climb on bloody Kilimanjaro. God, didn’t he ever get enough of it? “Okay, thanks. ‘Bye.”

I picked up Joan’s coat. “Sorry, we’re going. There’s a flap on. I’ll drop you off on the way.”

She managed to look both angry and smug at the same time. “And our Christmas together?”

There was a flurry of activity at Stirling Lines, which had every home comfort and which every ‘old-timer’ loathed as a characterless red-brick university which, jokingly, only gave you qualifications to kill people.

Major Johnny Fraser was taking the briefing of the four troop sergeants. He was Counter-Revolutionary Warfare Wing – the anti-terrorist experts; we were Mountain Troop and our paths rarely crossed. So I knew someone had been caught with their pants down.

It was a miracle Fraser had been able to contact any of my men before they went on leave. Apparently they’d only found ‘BigJ oe’ Monk because his caravan had a puncture as he was towing it out of his drive. He should have been spitting mad, but you wouldn’t have thought so from the wide grin of tombstone teeth. So I knew this flap must be looking good.

“Glad you could make it, Sarn’t-Major,” Fraser said. “We’ve only mustered a half-deck. With Mike in Tanzania, looks like you draw the short straw. So, if you’re sitting comfortably …”

It was a rapid, clipped briefing delivered in the major’s usual calm Edinburgh brogue. A Soviet ‘trawler’, bristling with antennae, had put into the north Norwegian port of Hammerfest for emergency repairs after colliding with an ice-pack. The First Mate had jumped ship and offered himself up to the local police as a defector. Because of bad weather, it was not possible for an aircraft to fly the seaman south, so the local authorities had taken the precaution of moving him inland, away from the port, to avoid a diplomatic incident.

However, in transit, the car had evidently been forced off the road by a group of Soviet heavies. Favourite theory was a naval Spetsnaz special forces team. By the time the authorities realised something was amiss, the snatchers, with the defector and the local Norwegian police chief accompanying him, had got as far as Bǿrselv on Porsanger Fjord. There, five sets of footprints led across country from the abandoned car, heading south.

A local Norwegian Army unit had tracked the group to a remote hunting cabin in the taiga near the Swedish border. So far no word of the incident had reached the press, but it was only a matter of time. When it hit the fan it would present a major diplomatic problem.

The Norwegian Government had requested ‘technical assistance’ from 22 SAS. I knew what that meant; we all did.

It meant trouble. Fraser’s CRW Wing was stretched at the best of times and, with something evil brewing at a foreign embassy in London, he temporarily was ’embarrassed’ of manpower. We were the not unwilling answer to his prayer. Of course, we’d all done the training, but we were rusty. And that was not something it was wise to dwell on.

The briefing finished, I found the fourteen other members of our hastily-assembled force counting the spoils of their lightning raid on the Quartermaster. Arctic cam-whites, skis, ropes, crampons, ice-axes, packs – maybe a Mountain Troop wasn’t such a bad choice after all.

There was hardly time to load the kit into the Puma helicopter before it took off for RAF Lyneham in Wiltshire. The giant CI30 Hercules was waiting, its Allison turbo-props already turning impatiently.

Five hours of ear-splitting hell in its cavernous hold found us in northern Norway, and the first bit of good news that day. My old rival, jug-earred Sarn’t-Major ‘Dusty’ Miller of the Royal Marines Mountain and Arctic Warfare Training Cadre was waiting. Better than that were the BV snowcats he’d brought with him for our use. Immediately one was adopted as our operational base and comms centre.

The trusty tracked monsters made short work of drift-covered roads and the treacherous climb up through the tree-line to the site of the hunter’s cabin. And they appeared to thrive on the stinging sub-zero temperature that froze the skin on your face if you left your ski mask off for more than a few moments.

Whilst our HQ team established secure links with Oslo and Hereford, I made myself known to the local police-chief.

Gert Finn was a giant bear of a man, the impression enhanced by the thick fur coat and boots he wore. He had a tough, leathered face and hard I’ve-seen-it-all-before eyes. But this time he was totally out of his depth.

“Has any contact been made?”

He shook his head. “Not unless you count them shooting at us. There is no telephone, and I did not want to approach. You see the cabin is in the centre of a forest clearing some 200 metres in diameter. They have a clear view. My men would be sitting targets. Besides -“.

I sensed there was worse to come. “What?”

“A car registered to a Norwegian woman – a Vita Tilberg – has been found parked under the trees just off the track. She is not the owner of the cabin. We think maybe she is inside. An accomplice? A hostage?” He shrugged. “We do not know. Was she alone in the cabin? Is the owner also there? If so, why were they in the cabin? Who is she?”

I said: “Then the sooner we get in for a closer look the better.”

He shook his head. “Impossible. The snow is over two metres deep so you cannot move quickly. You will be seen.”

I kicked at the stuff. “There’s a way, Gert. There always is. ”

And this way was one hell of a slog. A hundred metres oft unnel, chipped and shoveled through the deep-frozen layers of old snow. I put ‘Big Joe’ Monk in charge of the first team; he was the sort of bloke who didn’t know the meaning of the word impossible. He was either thick or incredibly determined – or maybe both, as I’d jokingly told him many times before. Stripped naked beneath their water-proofs, the team would sweat buckets in their task and lose pounds of bodyweight before the job was done.

I dispersed the rest of my men as ‘stop-groups’ covering all angles of fire around the clearing.

Satisfied that all was going well, I returned for an update to the BV that was serving as our HQ.

Len Pope was pure Hampshire, a real country boy. A veteran of the Regiment in his late thirties, he was also the inseparable oppo and protagonist of Monk. The ‘unholy alliance’ of Monk and Pope.

“A report through from the GCHQ, boss,” Pope reported.

“Them and NSA have picked up HF transmissions from this area and responses from the Moscow region. One-off codes.”

That pretty much confirmed all our fears. This ‘First Mate’ of a Soviet’ trawler’must be highly-regarded for such a risky snatch to be made – under direct GRU control – when glasnost and perestroika was all the fashion. Funny, I mused, how everyone thought what a nice guy Gorbachev was when, behind the scenes, espionage activities had increased manifold.

“Is it true about the woman?” Pope asked tentatively.


“That one of the Spetsnaz team in the cabin is a woman?”

“Jesus, Len, not that old chestnut.” The legendary ‘Volga Olga’. Ever since it had been learned that the elite Spets assassination teams sometimes included women, rumours of sightings in Norway were getting beyond a joke. “Whose idea was that?”

“Some bloke in Noggy security. He was just speculating.”

“Too much moonshine more like. Or your wishful thinking. Forget it.“

Still dwelling on the unlikely possibility of the lady’s existence, I sought out Gert Finn who was involved in an untypically heated exchange on the telephone with his superiors in Oslo. He was not a happy man.

“Impatient bastards,” he snarled at the handset. “Don’t they realise it takes time!

What can I tell them?”

I said: “That we need decisive action. It’s time to show our hand before Moscow sends over a team to pull them out. And we must establish direct communication.”

That pleased the police-chief. Fifteen minutes later he was doing his ‘You are surrounded’ routine over the bullhorn with great relish.

There was no response from the cabin, even when Finn told them that he was going to establish a field-telephone link. It was a moment of high-tension as Monk, in the uniform of a Norwegian policeman, waded through the snow, unravelling a land-line cable behind him. Nothing stirred at the cabin as he placed the field-set on the verandah and thankfully retraced his footsteps.

When the clearing was empty again, the door opened and a mitted hand reached out and pulled in the handset. The door closed again.

Finn made the call. It’s a strange experience, phoning up a hostage-taker for the first-time. He said: “Hello. How are you?”

Equally polite and incongruous was the reply, in perfect Norwegian. “We are fine. No one is hurt.”

The banter continued like this for a few minutes. Until an expert negotiator arrived, Finn would have to rely on the list of questions I’d given him. It was established that there would be no immediate danger to the hostages provided no one approached the cabin. There were provisions enough for one hot meal that night, and no one needed medicines or first-aid. The speaker refused to be drawn on the number of people in the cabin.

Finn said calmly: “Is it necessary to keep so many innocent hostages when our political masters will no doubt sort this out amicably?”

There was a short rasp of a laugh at the other end. Well, it had been worth a try. At least we were dealing with professionals. They sounded almost relaxed, so there was little danger of panic and the needless massacre of innocents by some jittery amateur.

At last Finn reached the bottom-line. “What exactly do you want?”

In response the line went dead. He looked at me and shrugged. “I guess they still wait instruction from Moscow.”

I could imagine the GRU mandarins running around like headless chickens at their Khodinka headquarters. I said: “I need another cabin, Gert, like this one. We have to practise – just in case.”

“No problem, Brian. There is one seven kilometres from here.”

“A psychologist from the MOD should be arrive soon. Meanwhile keep those bastards awake. There should be no rest for the wicked.”

I left him to it, found a space in one of Dusty Miller’s BVs, and bedded down in an Arctic feather bag. As I slept like a babe, the lads continued in relays to bore like ice-worms ever nearer the cabin. Finn phoned the Spets team at intervals throughout the night until they finally sussed him and pulled the plug. So he persuaded a Royal Marine to drive his noisy BV snowcat up and down, just to keep them on their toes.

Morning was little different from night. Almost as dark in the Arctic circle, and just as bloody cold. ‘Big Joe’ Monk had a brew on and played at being Mum with the oatmeal porridge and apple-flakes.

Len Pope arrived, dripping perspiration and wet snow. “We’re nearly through, boss.”

I could hardly believe it; no wonder he looked like a zombie. “Will it hold?”

“No problem. Thank God we hit soft stuff farther up the slope. Otherwise, we’d have been at it for days.”

Now we were in business. I gave Gert Finn the good news, and arranged for a ‘noise cover’ from manoeuvring BVs whilst I went up the hundred metre snow hole to inspect the target and supervise the insertion of the probe-mikes.

The tunnel finished at the rear of the cabin, beneath the snow line. It was possible to wriggle through into the open area under the floor which is traditionally used as a log store. The probes were worked in between the thick pine logs and tested that they were giving a clear reading.

But I decided against the probe camera. That meant hand drilling above the snowline to insert the fibre optic probe. As the Spets were taking it in turns to walk around the cabin to ensure that no one was up to the sort of tricks we were up to, that was a decidedly unhealthy proposition.

After all, I had back-up in the form of a thermal-imager the type of device firemen use to detect the heat-source of a human body in rubble.

By mid-morning a clear picture of the situation was developing. A sound scan with the probe-mikes indicated eight separate voices. Only one spoke solely in Russian, and he was quickly identified as the defecting ‘First Mate’. The four male Spets members (Pope would just have to swallow his disappointment) spoke Norwegian, except when talking to him. Finn identified the captured police-chief from Hammerfest, who was an old friend of his.

The cabin’s owner had also been identified: a successful middle-aged businessman whose wife thought he was on a solo elk-hunting expedition. The mysterious woman – surprise, surprise – was his secretary. Unfortunately they did not yet have photographs. However, this can hardly have been the sort of climax they had been hoping for in their cosy little love-nest.

Unwillingly I thought of Joan and how things should have been like that with us. Only I couldn’t afford a getaway love-nest.

The thermal-imager filled in the gaps, giving us vague shapes, but enough to register the general cabin layout and the position of the occupants.

From the verandah the front door led straight into the main room. There was a chemical lavatory closet in one front corner, a woodburning stove in the far left corner, and four trestle bunkbeds in the far right. A table and benches dominated the centre of the room. Simple stuff. But that very simplicity made it a tricky nut to crack. The only door and two windows were at the front, dominating the downhill view. There was just one other window in the right-hand wall, wooden shuttered; the two remaining walls were blind and made of solid Norwegian spruce.

Over a lunch of self-heating rations I held a ‘Chinese parliament’ with Len and ‘Big Joe’, going over every possibility of breaking the little wooden fortress. We’d tryout our ideas later on the identical cabin in the next valley.

Finn, too, felt more confident. The Spets had finally decided on their demands. A safe passage back to Soviet territory – with their ‘First Mate’ – in return for the release of the police-chief and the innocent hostage couple. Predictable enough.

Negotiations were calm, reasoned. Finn agreed to supply more provisions. It was looking as though we wouldn’t be needed after all.

Nevertheless we set out for our ‘rehearsals’ that afternoon, using all the data we had accumulated: cabin movement patterns from the mikes and the imager, rest periods, eating times, toilet routines. We whittled five options down to two, tested them both, and made a final choice. After ten dummy-run attempts we reckoned we’d succeeded six times without casualties. Not good. But not bad given the number of people in a confined space. We added a couple of refinements.

It was then I got the call. Finn’s voice was shaking. “God, Brian, it’s terrible! They’ve killed Oskar – the police-chief!”

“Calm down, Gert. Tell me what happened?” I demanded, hiding my own anxiety.

He took a deep breath. “One of their guards goes out to check up and collect wood from the store. He checks around the blind-side and falls into one of your snow tunnels!”

Oh, Christ.

“They are furious that they’ve been tricked. They shoot Oskar through the head and throw him onto the verandah. They demand a helicopter by morning or the girl gets it next. You understand?”

“I understand. How is the girl reacting?”

“I think your English word is hysterical. I am afraid she will do something foolish.”

I said: “Keep the lid on it, Gert. We’re on our way.”

“Oh-four-forty-nine,” agreed Finn, but he didn’t sound happy about it.

Never on the hour or a quarter. A golden rule. That’s the sort of time division that people set their alarms by. We synchronised our watches. Just over an hour to go.

Outside the oily warmth of the BV it was snowing thick and hard, a curtain of white petals blotting out the black velvet sky. It suited us.

The rear hatch of the snowcat opened. Major Johnny Fraser’s face was pinched with cold as he grinned. “Have I missed the party?”

I wasn’t surprised to see him. He was the sort of bloke who’d move heaven and earth to be up the sharp end with his ‘pilgrims’ whenever he could. “Just in time,” I answered, and added the magic words: “There’s a brew on.”

As he cupped the hot chocolate to warm his hands, he explained that the problems in London had been resolved. The CRW Group had its reserve back. “I’m afraid there’s no time for them to take over. Still happy to go ahead?”

“Sure, Boss,” I lied. I wasn’t happy about anything. Nevertheless I briefly ran over the plan. He seemed satisfied with it, and offered to take command of the HQ whilst I led the assault. You don’t turn down that sort of expertise.

H minus thirty.

In cam-whites we were virtually invisible as the eight man assault team approached the tunnel. Using a head-torch I led the way up the eighteen-inch rabbit hole. The dripping ice ceiling rubbed against my shoulders as I hauled myself along the slippery incline. In those conditions a hundred metres goes on forever. We reached the cabin with fifteen minutes in hand.

As the final preparations were made to the explosive charges, ‘Big Joe’ gave me the final sitrep. “The defector, the owner and his secretary are asleep on the bunks, along with one of the Spets. Two others are drinking coffee at the central table, and there’s one looking-out by the door.”

“Fine,” I said. “And is the field-telephone still beside him?”

“They haven’t moved it.”

Despite the eye-watering air temperature of minus forty, we were like toast as we waited, hearts thumping and adrenalin coursing. Weapons were checked. Browning pistols holstered. Heckler & Koch 9 mm MPS sub-machine guns loaded, safeties off, cocking-handles primed.

I said into the throat-mike of the Clansman PRC 349:  “Minus two minutes.Charges into position, go.”

I break cover, ploughing up through the fresh powder like a snow mole, ‘Hockler’ out, its snout arcing defensively round to follow my line-of-sight. All clear.

Already two men are scrambling out of the snowpit, carrying the special shaped-charge of PE4 gauged to blast through the solid timber wall. My heart is thudding, sweat coursing down the small of my back. Two more men appear with the 1.2 x 0.6 metre frame-charge for the side window.

The digits flicker silently in the watch face on my wrist.

“Minus sixty seconds. Sunray, confirm no change of targets.”

The voice is tinny in the earpiece as Fraser comes in on the net. “Confirmed. Targets in position. No change.”

Thank Christ for that. No armed bastard caught short on the chemical lav as we go in. No nasty surprises. Suddenly the Kevlar body armour I am wearing beneath my smock seems to demand more trust than I am prepared to give it.

‘Big Joe’s’ voice is my earpiece. “Charges in position.”

“Minus thirty. Standby, standby.” As I speak I join Joe’s team taking cover from the blast. At the side window I know Pope’s four-man patrol will be doing the same.

Twenty seconds. Standby,standby.

Joe’s face is only inches from my own. His eyes looking at me steadily through the smoked window of his respirator. An alien being. I’ve no idea what’s going through his mind.

Ten seconds. Standby, standby.

I stare at the figures on the watchface, mesmerised. Hoping time will stand still and we can all go home. My grip tightens on the ‘Hockler’.

Five, four, three, two –

Inside the cabin I hear the trill of the field-phone. Finn is calling the Spets team, a diversion, ensuring that one target at least is where we want him by the door.

I drop my hand in signal. And the whole world blasts apart with a flash as brilliant as fork-lightning. Huge spruce timbers vaporise, lethal jagged matchwood scything in all directions as the shock-wave reverberates around the mountains.

Despite the ear-defenders, my head is still ringing from the double explosion as rear wall and side windows are taken out simultaneously.

“GO, go go – !” I shout, already up and running towards the smouldering cavern even as the first stun-grenades are lobbed into the blackened void.

‘Big Joe’ and I are first into the smoke-filled interior lit by the angry fire of burning curtains. We open up together, the ‘Hocklers’ stammering out their rounds in deadly unison. The two Spetsnaz members at the table have been too stunned to move. Their weapons still lay before them, just inches from their fingertips.

We send the bodies spinning from their chairs.

Len Pope’s team are firing through the window, punching holes out of the front door as the man by the field-telephone takes a half magazine.

One to go. He’s there by my feet, decapitated by the blast. I move on through the stench of smoke to where the defector, the owner and the terrified girl should be in their bunks. And I pray to God they haven’t been hit by a stray round.

My heart sinks like a lift in a shaft. I can see their shapes beneath the blankets. There is no movement. I throw off the cover. I see the owner. He is dark-haired, and motionless. She is blonde, and quite, quite still beside him.

Emotion sticks in my throat as I reach out to touch her hair, and it comes away in my hand.

“Bastards!” I breathed as the realisation slowly dawned. I turned to the rest of the group. “Okay, lads, stand-down.”

‘Big Joe’ noticed my tone. “What is it, boss?”

I smiled sourly. “We’ve been had.”

Three minutes later Mike Ash, our Mountain Troop commander, came through the front-door.

“How was Kilimanjaro?” I asked, sarcastically.

He looked around at the shattered furniture and plastic dummies, weighing up the score. “Well done, Brian. Looks like a clean count.”

Finn entered next, looked at me sheepishly and shrugged. “Just doing my job,” was the best he could offer.

“You deserve a bloody Oscar, Gert,” I growled.

Johnny Fraser, head of CRW Wing, completed the party. “Next time we have the real thing, I’ll know where to come.” He glanced up at the loft. Of course, the stooges, who we had been monitoring on the sound and thermal scans, had to have been evacuated somewhere safe. “Better not forget to let our actors out.”

Suddenly I felt exhausted, drained. After the frantic activity of the past two days all I wanted to do was sleep. My eyelids would hardly keep open.

I know such ‘for-real’ exercises were necessary for us to keep a honed cutting edge, but it didn’t stop you hating them. Especially when I could have been with Joan, patching up my marriage. Or what was left of it.

Mike Ash said: “Gabby saw Joan yesterday. Asked to give you this.” He pulled an envelope from inside the smock of his cam-whites. I opened it later. The letter began: I want a divorce . . .

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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.’
‘Fu Manchu.’
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.’
‘Which is?’
‘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.
‘Yes, Lindy.’
‘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.’
‘Confirm. Out’
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.’
‘And then?’
‘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
Rights asserted in accordance with Sections77 & 78 of the Copyright, Design & Patents Act 1988
No reproduction without permission

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