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A China Maroc Novel
By Eric Van Lustbader
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1985 Eric Van Lustbader
All rights reserved.
SUMMER, PRESENT Washington/Hong Kong/Beijing/ Tokyo/ Moscow/Tsurugi
'THROW IT onto the screen.'
Colour shot, eight feet by ten, made grainy by size: a human face that radiated power in precisely the way a tiger caught in mid-leap will. Curly black hair above a wide, intelligent brow. Hooded coppery eyes, extraordinary in their intelligence. An aggressive, clean-lined jaw, high cheekbones that set the eyes deeply into the skull.
'Is there an update on him?' This was another voice, somewhat warmer in tone.
'I don't think he was hit too hard,' Henry Wunderman said. 'Although we're not yet sure of the extent of the damages, it's fairly certain the worst part will be the psychological aspect of the dantai's death.'
'Dantai?' Rodger Donovan asked.
'Yes,' Gerard Stallings said in the slightly supercilious tone he used when addressing Donovan. He was a large, rawboned man of six-four who had the chiselled countenance of an Englishman but spoke in a deceptively soft Texas drawl. Suntanned, his lined face was lean, as muscular as his body, dominated by deepset jade-green eyes below a high, freckled forehead. He had thrived in 'Nam; when Henry Wunderman had recruited him for the Quarry in 1971, he was leading the rebel forces in a small but strategic African country. Heavily supplied by the Russians and not giving a damn, Stallings had been about to mount the final assault on the capital when Wunderman had intervened. Wunderman had recognized Stallings's superb strategic mind and what had to be done to win the man over. He had selected a Soviet military cipher that had been intercepted by the Quarry. Its vowel-transposition, inconstant-double-consonant code had been broken, but despite that, no one in staff could make head or tail of it. Wunderman took it to Stallings, who had one good look at it and was hooked.
He was a student of Sun Tzu. 'To unite resolution with resilience is the business of war,' he had quoted to Wunderman that hot, sticky day in Africa, with the skulls of the government functionaries he and his raiders had killed piled all about them. He loved the business of strategy, too, moving men around the world as if it were a wei qi board. Like Jake.
'Dantai is a special kind of group,' Stallings continued, 'closer even than a family. They rely on one another completely. In situations of extreme hazard, we have found that this intimate kinship reinforces the most desirable combat attributes of courage, stamina, and clear, incisive thinking under duress.' Stallings, the only active field operative in the room, clearly disliked anyone who lacked that experience. Of the three, only Donovan had no inkling of what fieldwork was like. He often thought that if Donovan was ever called upon to do wet work, he would upchuck all over his expensive loafers.
'The dantai,' Wunderman went on, 'is what made Jake Maroc's unit so successful for so long.'
'Up until the time of the Sumchun River incident,' Donovan said. Occasionally he glanced down at a sheaf of computer printouts. 'It is the opinion of staff that that encounter radically changed Jake Maroc'
Stallings shrugged. 'The Sumchun River was a bad one. Jake lost ... what was it, Henry? Three men?'
'Four,' Wunderman said. He was a shorter man than Stallings, but a good deal chunkier. 'Henry, you look like a sum?,' Jake had told him laughingly more than once. He was coarse-featured, with the veined, vaguely bulbous nose of the Irish prizefighter too long at his work. His dark hair was receding too fast for him, his ears were as large as a puppy's. His cheeks bore the scars of a childhood bout with smallpox, but his soft brown eyes managed to turn a decidedly heavy face into a friendly one. 'A fifth was crippled for life. That was well over three years ago, and since then Jake put together the new dantai. The men were supposed to be something special. I think he did not want what happened at the Sumchun River ever to happen again.'
'Yet it did. He lost them all — and almost himself — on a chaos mission.'
'He saw a chance to get Nichiren and took it,' Wunderman said. 'After what happened at the Sumchun River, can you blame him?'
'I don't, God knows,' Donovan said. 'But the Old Man does.' He was by far the youngest man in the room, of medium build, fair-skinned, thick blond hair, cool grey eyes which quietly took everything in. A graduate of Stanford and the Rand Corporation, he was the odd man out here, and knew it. He was also smart enough not to try to overcome it. 'You know better than I do, Henry, how he feels about discipline.' His voice took on the deep, almost stentorian tones of Antony Beridien. ' "Discipline is the backbone of the Quarry. Without it we would have no mandate. Without our mandate, the world would have chaos." ' Donovan shook his head. 'I know what Jake was up to, but the Old Man can't or won't. I'm just trying to prepare you.'
'Shit,' Stallings said.
Tension laced the room like fog, but it was as if the three men seated across from one another at the round ash-burl table had made a silent pact never to acknowledge it overtly.
There were four seats permanently bolted to the lead-lined floor, but one was vacant at the moment.
'Where's Antony?' Wunderman asked at last.
'He's winding up the meeting at State with the President. I think they're all pretty pissed with the flap that Jake's created. Right now the Japanese government is using the yakuza to explain away the violence, but I can tell you they've been very cold to us today. That makes the President madder than hell, because he's spent the last nine months of his term in office creating a series of reciprocal trade agreements with Japan to help lessen our enormous trade deficit. Now only the Devil knows what will happen. And I don't have to remind you that if the President's unhappy, the Old Man will light a fire under us.'
The three men froze as the lead-lined door to their inner sanctum, far below street level, slid open with a distinctive rumble. In the doorway was revealed the small, gnarled figure of Antony Beridien, the President's advisor — and prime confidant — on all matters involving international security.
As the automatic-seal door closed behind him, the room's internal light devolved upon him, outlining his features. He had an abnormally large head with a wide, high forehead above which thick, curling hair sprouted, brushed carefully back. He had enormous eyes the colour of cobalt that could, at times, appear just as hard. His heavily bridged, hawklike nose would otherwise have dominated that face. The deeply scored lines in his cheeks and brow, like notches in a revolver's grip, were worn with pride rather than the fear of passing time.
Perhaps to compensate for his lack of height, he moved in a long, almost loping stride. Without a word he sat down, surveying them all. Then he turned his adamantine gaze on Wunderman.
'Your man Maroc took a crack Quarry unit off their preplanned assignment outside of Hong Kong and disappeared with them into the mist. He endangered a waiting Quarry network up near the border, alerting the Communist Chinese and destroying all chance of ever running that particular mission.'
'Nichiren,' Wunderman said, his knuckled fists hard against the wood tabletop. 'He got a lead on Nichiren. The first iota of positive information we've come up with in sixteen months. He acted on that information. There was no time to notify you, to put it through proper channels.'
'For us to be implicated in the death of an inspector of police, for Chrissakes, is unthinkable!' Beridien made no effort to calm himself. 'Tell me one thing. Did he clear it with you? I mean, Wunderman, you're his goddamned superior, aren't you? You run the bastard, just like you run all our agents. That is in the job description of the head of wet section, if memory serves. Or is Jake Maroc running you, as has been my suspicion ever since the Sumchun River incident?'
Wunderman's eyes flickered involuntarily toward Donovan and Beridien, picking it up, said, 'He's not going to help you this time, Henry. Your personal loyalties have gotten in the way of the orderly running of this organization once too often for my taste. I ought to ...'
'If we have serious business to discuss, we should get to it now,' Donovan said, with enough intensity that Beridien gave a quick, birdlike flick of his head.
'The Quarry comes first in all things,' Wunderman said. Angry at feeling so defensive, he was obliged to state the obvious. 'It always has, ever since you created us.'
Beridien took a deep breath and his voice softened. 'No one is accusing you of disloyalty, Henry. Good God, you are my mailed fist against the chaos out there in the world. But you are, like the rest of us, only human. We all have frailties, we all blunder every so often, or lose our way. In this gigantic labyrinth in which we've chosen to make our home, it's quite understandable. I was only pointing that out.'
Dismissing the subject, he turned his head in the same quick, jerky fashion that had helped earn him the long-time sobriquet 'the Owl', and said to Donovan, 'Any glimmer of what Maroc found on Nichiren, and how?'
Donovan shook his handsome head. 'Not a thing. I've been personally monitoring the Soviets' new polar cipher route over the past seven months.' He glanced at a page midway through his sheaf of printouts. 'Nothing came over our normal international routes, of that I'm certain. Whatever Maroc filched, he did it solely on his own.' He shrugged his shoulders. 'Anything we'd got would've been passed immediately on to you. Nichiren has been Code Red around here for more than three years.'
Beridien inclined his enormous head. The rose-coloured overheads threw his eyes into deep shadow, making him seem even more birdlike. 'It's clear then that Maroc received some volatile information on Nichiren. He did so outside this agency's aegis, without' — here his head swung in Wunderman's direction again — 'this agency's knowledge, support, or sanction.'
'He had a good shot, it appears,' Donovan said, 'at terminating Nichiren, which has been this department's disposition for him ever since he surfaced a little more than five years ago as the number-one independent assassin-for-hire.'
'We'll get to the consequences of Maroc's failure in a moment,' Beridien said. 'At this juncture, however, the operative's success or failure is irrelevant. I'm afraid, Henry, that Maroc's effectiveness in this agency has been permanently compromised.'
Beridien raised a pale hand. 'Henry, please. We're all professionals here. This is what I was speaking of before. Maroc was under discipline. We have nothing here — nothing at all — unless we maintain discipline. The Quarry was formed fifteen years ago, with the full consent of the then President of the United States, to fight what we perceived as a growing international chaos, fomented in part by foreign governments, all of which were and still are hostile to ours. I'm not, I know, telling you anything you don't already know since you signed on with me, from the beginning. But perhaps you don't know that each President, upon his inauguration, has a period of ninety days in which to reevaluate the Quarry in order to decide on its disposition. Not one, I'm gratified to say, has ever contemplated dismantling us.
'All of that's for a very good reason. We're the best and we're rigidly controlled. So ironclad is our discipline that what happened in the CIA more than once could never occur here. We have never had to clean house and we never will.
'This crash meeting at State was difficult for the President to field. Unlike the CIA, which now belongs to the country, we are the President's stepchild. Therefore, our blunders reflect directly on him. He takes any mistakes quite personally. Let me say that right now the Quarry is not very high up on his list of favourite government organizations.' Those eyes bored into Wunderman's skull. 'As for State, they were, as usual, in a panic over a series of particularly heated exchanges with the Tokyo Chief of Police, Yasuhiro Tanaba. It seems his man, Higira, was an innocent-bystander fatality in Maroc's abortive raid, as was the businessman Kisan.
'I was not happy to be the cause of the President's difficulties today. His cause célèbre has been these reciprocal import-export agreements with Japan.
'In any case, Maroc broke discipline, and discipline is what makes us strong. It is also, Henry, what allows us to survive through changing administrations. The moment Jake Maroc set foot on Japanese soil, he cut himself off from us. He's totally on his own now. That's final.'
Wunderman said nothing, but his eyes dropped to his fingers, interlaced before him on the table. Why, he asked himself, did he feel like a schoolboy called out in front of the class by the principal? He felt a momentary lick of rage at Beridien's cruel and, so it seemed to him, unfeeling summary judgment. Where was consideration for all that Jake had done for the Quarry over the years? Wunderman knew that he should speak up now, that the heroic thing to do would be to make an impassioned speech in Jake's defence on just that subject. But he remained silent. Why? Was it because he felt instinctively that Donovan was right? That somehow, in some inexplicable fashion, the Sumchun River incident had marked Jake forever? That the trauma he had suffered there had impaired his effectiveness as an agent?
The fact was that Jake had broken discipline. Wunderman had had no idea what Jake had planned until the aftermath of the failed raid had been relayed into Quarry HQ. Damn him! he thought now. If only he'd let me know, I could have provided some backup. I'd be in some kind of tenable position to help him now.
What really had happened at the Sumchun River? Wunderman asked himself. Was it the trauma of seeing four of his men die and a fifth become a paraplegic that had turned Jake hard and inward-directed? Wunderman recalled the debriefing. It had been an effort to get Jake to talk in full sentences, let alone to get the entire story of what had happened. And in the end, Wunderman thought now, I suspect he gave me only pieces of the story.
'Now to Nichiren,' Beridien said, and Wunderman knew that his moment to defend Jake had passed. 'Henry, do we have any leads as to what happened to him after the explosion?'
'No.' Even as he spoke, he wondered what would happen to Jake without the Quarry. Wunderman knew that he himself would be like a rudderless boat without this organization. Wouldn't it be the same for Jake? 'When the O.D. of Ciphers relayed the signal, I ordered an emergency team in from Hong Kong, which is our nearest station. One of the dantai had managed to drag Maroc out of there before dying. They took Maroc back with them to Kowloon. There was nothing else to do.'
'Five men.' Beridien shook his head. 'How galling to have to add them to this long list. My God, Nichiren's a one-man abattoir!'
'I've got to hand it to him, though,' Stallings said. 'Maroc sure had the right idea about how to take out Nichiren.'
'What do you mean?' Beridien asked.
'Huo yan. The entire manoeuvre was like a potent wei qi move. Just like Jake.'
'Wei qi?' Beridien said. 'What's wei qi?'
'A Chinese game of military strategy.' Stallings was pleased to at last be in his element. 'The Japanese call it go.'
Beridien snorted. 'A game? Translated into real life? Oh, come on.'
Stallings ignored his tone. 'Unlike Western games, wei qi has a strong philosophical side. A player's wei qi strategy is a translation of his view of life.'
'And what is Jake Maroc's view of life, Stallings?' Beridien wanted to know. 'According to this game?'
'The raid was like huo yan, a move known as the "movable eye." An "eye" is created when a player's pieces surround an intersection on the board. By leaving a space in the centre, he creates a defensive formation which he then repeats across the board. No enemy piece can be placed within the "eye." Surrounded, it will die.
'But' — Stallings raised a long forefinger —'an "eye" can also be used for offensive purposes. When it is, it is called huo yan. That was the essence of Jake's raid.'
'Yet it failed,' Beridien pointed out.
Stallings nodded. 'Obviously Jake was outplayed.' He shrugged again. 'Pity.'
Wunderman's coarse-featured face was set in a frown. 'We've got a somewhat more immediate problem,' he said. When he was certain he had their attention, he turned his gaze on Beridien and said, 'Jake Maroc's wife, Mariana, is missing.'
From out of the hollow silence, Beridien's baritone rose. 'What the fuck are you telling us? Missing? Goddammit, what do you mean, she's missing?'
'I think you'd better tell us all of it, Henry,' Donovan said in his calm, unhurried voice.
Excerpted from Jian by Eric Van Lustbader. Copyright © 1985 Eric Van Lustbader. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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