The White Mandarin
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by Dan Sherman
Description: John Polly enters Shanghai in 1948 on a muggy, velvet evening, just in time for the Communist takeover of China. It marks only his fourth month in America's newly-formed Central Intelligence Agency. Over the next two decades Polly will become THE WHITE MANDARIN, a double agent buried so deep within the inner circle of the People's Republic as to shape the futures of both that nation and his own. Dan Sherman's intricate, superbly crafted spy thriller follows Polly as he walks a dangerous tightrope of intrigue and suspense. As China rebuilds itself, Polly attempts to start a family in the intersection between the American intelligence system and the Asian drug trade. Can Polly keep his wife and daughter safe? Can he keep track of the shifting stories and changing allegiances in the CIA? Will his emotion get in the way of his mission? Only pages into this stunning novel, readers will easily understand why Sherman has earned comparison to the great John La Carrï¿½ and Graham Greene. It is both a story of very personal love and loss and an insightful history of China between the rise of Chairman Mao and the 1972 visit by President Nixon. Anyone looking to understand China of yesterday and today--its power, its flaws, its beauty--need look no further than THE WHITE MANDARIN.
eBook Publisher: E-Reads/E-Reads, 1982
eBookwise Release Date: January 2011
Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [539 KB]
Reading time: 347-486 min.
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IF THERE is any single event that best seems to serve as an entrance point to this story, it would have to be the disappearance, on July 30, 1971, of John Polly's nineteen-year-old daughter. Of course, there are those who maintain that this story should be told chronologically, beginning with Polly's arrival in Shanghai twenty-two years earlier, but in terms of the existing record, it was the abduction of Maya Polly that remains most prominent in the minds of the Langley chroniclers.
It has been proposed that the abduction of John Polly's daughter represented a full-blown internal war between competing elements within the CIA's Asian division. On the one side there were those indigenous China warriors centered in Hong Kong and Taiwan. On the other side were the Asian Desk directors in Langley, Virginia. At issue was not merely an eighteen-year-old girl. At issue was an entire vision of the Far East.
In terms of a linear sequence to the abduction the record runs like this. In early July 1971, John Polly began to express concern for his safety and the safety of his daughter in Peking. As justification for this concern he cited the various political entanglements that surrounded his life as a spy just prior to Richard Nixon's celebrated meeting with Mao. A letter from the period illustrates his concern:
* * * *
There are forces here that do not want this rapprochement, powerful forces that even Mao may not be able to overcome. You want me to remain still longer, I will. My daughter, however, will be leaving for the seaside in a week.
This letter, like others before it, was addressed to Polly's case officer, and one of the leading participants in this story, an elderly man named Simon Crane. Crane was one of the Agency's oldest China hands with a career extending back to before World War II. His role was pivotal.
Ten days after this letter appeared Polly sent his daughter to a summer resort on the Gulf of Po Hai near the Yellow Sea. It is a curious landscape, reminiscent of an older China. Along the main street are whitewashed villas encircled by eucalyptus, banyan trees along the estuary, pools of deep water among the rocks. A photograph, sent by Maya to her father shortly after her arrival, shows her standing on a grassy dune by the shoreline. In the background are the green tiles of a boathouse, a line of junipers and a clump of mottled bamboo.
The next entry in the record concerns the abduction. According to Polly his daughter had apparently been taken from her hotel room in the early hours before dawn. A porter who had tried to stop the abduction was badly beaten with a length of metal pipe.
Given the extent of Polly's involvement in the political maneuvering that had been occurring at this time within the ruling structure of Peking, it was originally thought that the girl had been abducted by members of an ultra-leftist faction that had entrenched itself within the Red Army. There was, however, no concrete evidence of this, nor any indication as to why the girl had been kidnapped, no ransom note or the like.
Polly's grief was inconsolable. He was said to have spent whole nights pacing through the rooms of his home in Peking, eating virtually nothing. It was at this point, three days after the abduction, that the record redirects attention from Peking and Po Hai to Langley, Virginia, where Simon Crane began to develop an elaborate theory concerning not only the girl's disappearance but the entire concept of the story. His theory began on a relatively minor note: the report from the British border watch of an unauthorized crossing from the Chinese border into Hong Kong. The crossing occurred near Lok Ma Chau in the New Territories beyond Kowloon.
It is a moody country. There are long stretches of open marsh, hidden willow ponds and cypress mounds among the hills. At night it is very dark. According to the British, a person of slight build was ferried across the Shum Chun River in the early hours before dawn and met on the banks by three unidentified men. Also of interest was the fact that throughout the crossing the fugitive was in clear sight of Communist border guards but they did not interfere. Attached to this report was a query asking if Langley had had anything to do with the crossing. Crane cabled back that Langley had not.
There are, however, two existing memos written immediately after the crossing that indicate that Simon Crane had already begun to focus his attention on the Agency's field station in Hong Kong and the station's director, Jay Sagan. To understand Crane's thinking here it is necessary to appreciate Sagan's role in events up until this point as well as the role of his longtime friend and power base, a Chinese Nationalist by the name of Feng Chi.
Like Simon Crane, Jay Sagan's involvement in this story extends before the events of July 1971. Sagan first entered the Asian sphere at approximately the same time as John Polly, and he too originally served under Crane in Shanghai. There he made a reputation as one of the few western intelligence officers to be wholly accepted by the Chinese elite.
As for Feng Chi, his involvement also began in Shanghai some twenty months before the fall in 1949. There he was one of the leading figures of the anti-Communist regime under Chiang Kai-shek, and worked closely with Sagan recruiting and training agents and assembling teams for a coastal watch. Later, when the war had been lost and Feng was living on the accumulated wealth from his involvement in the opium trade, Sagan came to him again and said, "We can still play the same game. You supply the people, I'll supply the technical expertise." Within three years there were lines from Macao to Canton, north to Wuhan and all through the southwest. Within twenty years there were lines across the whole of Asia, and technical expertise was still a term that Sagan used whenever he wanted to explain what it was that he had given to the Orient.
As for John Polly's role in this scheme, during those chaotic months in Shanghai just before the Communist victory, Polly became involved in a dispute with Feng Chi's younger brother. Polly killed the brother and fled to Peking, and Feng Chi swore revenge.
Such was the crucial background to that series of memos drafted by Crane in the days immediately following the abduction of John Polly's daughter. In all there would be three memos, each addressed to the Asian Desk's senior officer, Norman Pyle, and each stating that there were possibilities of complicity.
"It is by no means inconceivable to me," Crane wrote, "that Feng Chi was not only responsible for the abduction, but now holds the girl. I further find it not inconceivable that S.[agan] was, if not also responsible, at least knowledgeable in this matter."
To reinforce his theory Crane's next memo listed three occasions during which Jay Sagan had defied Langley policy on Feng's request, most notably in connection with the opium trade.
Initially Crane's theory was received with skepticism. A responsible memo pointed out that Jay Sagan had been a valuable member of the American intelligence community for years, and Feng Chi an equally valuable client. Further doubt about the validity of Crane's theory came up when one considered the fact that the girl had been abducted well within the Chinese mainland, far beyond the reach of either Feng Chi or Jay Sagan.
Crane remained unshaken. Another memo argued that given the enormity of Feng's power in the East, even the Communist border did not represent a barrier. "We have seen before that interplay does exist between Feng and certain Communist elements on the mainland," Crane wrote. "Surely what I am suggesting is not impossible."
To which Norman Pyle replied, "All right then, what do you want to do about it?"
Crane's final memo dealt with the necessity for secrecy. His concern seems to have been twofold. First, he believed that any overt investigation would only succeed in alerting Feng prematurely thus giving him time to bury all traces of the girl. Then, and even closer to the heart of this matter, Crane noted that no action should be taken which by consequence would reveal the extent of Langley's relationship with John Polly. By way of explanation it should be noted that apart from Simon Crane and Norman Pyle, only two others knew the complete John Polly story. They were the director of Central Intelligence and the secretary of state. (That the president was never told would later cause no small degree of embarrassment.)
For these reasons, then, and for what Crane called "the delicate operational balance of Polly's position in Peking," an improbable figure was brought into play. His name was Billy Cassidy, and his story, by virtue of the fact that it threads between all opposing factions, should prove as illuminating a beginning as any.
An item of note regarding young Cassidy appeared in newspapers about twelve years ago. The story told of Cassidy's release from a Chinese prison and his earlier relationship with the Central Intelligence Agency. Other relevant information included the fact that Cassidy had originally been captured when his aircraft, a modified B-17, was disabled and forced down by Chinese interception just south of Peking. Although the flight, which had begun in Taiwan, was initially said to have been part of the CIA's photo-reconnaissance program, later admissions revealed that Cassidy's actual purpose had involved the drop of politically hostile leaflets over the rural Chinese populace. In addition to Cassidy, four Nationalist Chinese crew members were also captured. Cassidy was then twenty-three years old. There were no deaths.
Accompanying most of the newspaper articles was a photograph of Billy. It was taken shortly after his release and showed him stepping from a military transport in Hawaii, a handsome, fair-haired boy with even features and soft eyes and dressed in a light sports coat and slacks. In his left hand he is carrying a canvas flight bag. Behind him stand two Marines in summer tans, while the shadow of a third falls upon the railing. The camera had caught Billy in mid-step, smiling vaguely, perhaps gazing out to a clump of palms at the far end of the airstrip.
Apart from this photograph and those few terse articles in the press there was no other mention of young Cassidy, nor of his experience in Peking, nor of his relationship with John Polly and Polly's daughter. It was assumed that after a brief period of rest Cassidy returned to the bureaucracy from which he came and that his life went on much as it had before. True and not true. There were nine days spent in San Diego with his mother, then another week in Langley for reorientation. Finally he returned to Asia in much the same capacity as before, but he was different. Inside he was very different.
Before the incarceration in Peking, Billy Cassidy had spent most of his time on the island of Formosa in what was commonly called Taiwan Central. This was the hub of the Asian sphere, with thirty-seven Langley employees and many more stringers in the field. But upon Cassidy's release from Peking and his subsequent return to the East, he was posted not in Taiwan but in Hong Kong.
Although smaller, the Hong Kong station had always been considered the more prestigious post. In view of their proximity to the mainland, Hong Kong officers were directly in the line of fire. Agents were run right over the border. Action was fast. On the average there were half a dozen kills a year, and twice that many kidnappings. Hong Kong station employees tended to form close personal ties and to shun outsiders.
Perhaps the most important figure in Cassidy's life at this time was the functional head of the entire Hong Kong-Taiwan sphere, Jay Sagan. Sagan had originally served as Cassidy's sponsor to the secret world, and years earlier had worked with Cassidy's father (and lied to the boy about the Reds causing his father's death).
Occasionally in the evening Cassidy and Sagan would drink together, usually at one of the waterfront bars where there was a view of the harbor junks behind the typhoon shelter. Generally Sagan did most of the talking, using words like "counterforce" and "lateralism," which were supposed to indicate his expansive view of Asia and his own role as white power broker in an Oriental world.
As for Cassidy, there were simply patterns that he was just too tired to change. While Sagan spoke, he would nod and say, "Yes, sir," or "I think I understand." Afterward they would part and Cassidy would stroll out into streets which before Peking had always frightened him but did not frighten him now.
Another figure in Billy's life of this period was a young man about his own age named Johnny Ray. Cassidy had actually met Ray well before Peking but it was not until later that they became friends. In many ways Cassidy's relationship with Ray was similar to his relationship with Sagan. Mostly the two men met in bars, and mostly Billy listened while Ray talked. It seemed that Ray was always involved in some deal or another. One week he would be trying to blackmail a delegate from a Shanghai trade commission, the next week he would be trying to spike an embassy.
There were also deals that had nothing to do with the business of spying. Opium. From Cassidy's first Asian days he had known that the trade routes ran from the southeast in Thailand and Laos, diagonally across Bangkok and into Saigon, Kuala Lumpur, Phnom Penh and finally to Hong Kong. In the beginning opium had been just another abstraction, like Jay Sagan's "counterforce."
Addicts lived in their own lost world with matches, tinfoil and twists of colored paper. These days, though, the trade was no longer so remote. Once a month, sometimes more often, Cassidy would pass a few hundred dollars on to Ray. A week later the money would be returned, doubled, often tripled. Cassidy never asked about these deals. He did not care who bought and who sold. His involvement had started not long after Peking, and now it was simply one of those things that you did like playing horses or saving spare change in a jar. Cassidy was not even certain how much money he had made, which was also indicative of a change since Peking. Before his capture and meeting with John Polly he had been fairly conscientious about money, but now it was just another abstraction.
As for Cassidy's own use, he was not smoking much anymore. Only occasionally with Ray, or else alone on Sunday afternoons. Although Cassidy's involvement with opium was relatively minor, it did bring him into contact with the third most consequential figure in his life--Feng Chi (the man actually responsible for his father's death). Cassidy did not know Feng well, but like all those who worked in the Hong Kong station he felt the man's presence, his power. In the station records there were memos about Feng's early years in Shanghai, and a few police reports regarding his association with a well-organized criminal society popularly known as the Triads. Of Feng's relationship with Jay Sagan.. .Cassidy only presumed that the same apparatus that had made Jay Sagan the lord of the Asian intelligence division had also made Feng Chi the lord of opium.
In the main Cassidy lived on the fringes of other people's lives. If others around him did not take him seriously, he did not seem to mind. It was enough that they generally left him alone...
Such was Billy Cassidy's life at the outset of this story. More than a year had passed since his return from Peking, but few had noticed the change. His memory of John Polly was still clear, his memory of Polly's luminous daughter even clearer. Once or twice he had been known to talk about Polly, but he never spoke of the girl. It hurt too much.
Seven days after John Polly's daughter was abducted, on a Tuesday, the second week in August, Cassidy had risen early, boiled an egg, smoked a cigarette by the open window and went off to work as usual at the Agency facility, which made it easy to forget you were in China. Office walls were paneled in rosewood laminate, the floors in gray linoleum. Certain rooms were partitioned with smoked Plexiglass, others with fiberboard. There was a view of the consulate courtyard from the lounge.
On this morning Cassidy was at work in finance, sorting through the operational expenditures.
Cassidy did not always work in finance. Only seven weeks earlier he and Johnny Ray had spent four days in Kowloon fishing for agents along the docks. A month before that they had followed a Soviet courier into Macao and wired his hotel room. But mostly he helped out in finance, or else in the telex booth, or sometimes they even had him typing. He had been working all morning like this. For lunch there would be a sandwich in the lounge, either tuna fish or deviled egg. There was a cafe nearby where they more or less knew him. He always ordered rice and steamed vegetables, then ate with a newspaper spread out on the table, although he did not like hard news. He nearly always wore the same raincoat. It was a kind of joke around the station--Billy and this old gray coat with missing buttons and frayed cuffs.
On this Tuesday in August he had just returned from lunch when he received word that the director of personnel wanted to see him, a crabbed little man named Desmond. Desmond also worked with the ciphers, but there was never enough to do in that department so Jay Sagan had given him a converted closet on the third floor where he could handle the staff.
When Cassidy entered his office he found Desmond hunched over some woman's service record.
"Sit down, Billy."
The chair was aluminum with molded plastic. On the desk was a photograph of a woman, probably Desmond's wife, as lost-looking as the wife of any of these consular spies.
"Seems fortune has finally smiled on you, Billy. You're about to become part of what they call the officer's advancement program."
"Sir?" Still gazing at the photograph of Desmond's wife.
"That's right. For God knows what reason you're about to be promoted. Assuming, of course, you qualify, which it seems can only be determined in Langley."
"You mean I have to go to Langley?"
"I'm afraid so, Billy-boy. Testing begins next week."
"What kind of testing?"
"How long will I be gone?"
"The order says nine days. That means anywhere from a week to forever."
"And afterwards I can come back?"
"You're asking the wrong man, Billy. I don't know anything more about this crap than you do."
Soon it seemed that everyone knew that Cassidy had been selected for the advancement program, not that they knew exactly what it was all about. They knew only that it was probably important, and for this reason they were jealous. As for Cassidy, he did not know what to think. It had been a long time since he had thought of his career as anything more than a listless tramp through time, and he could not understand how someone at Langley would see it any differently.
On the eve of departure Cassidy attended a farewell dinner at Johnny Ray's apartment. There were a dozen guests, most of them men from the consulate and a few of their Chinese women. Drinks were served on the terrace, then steaks. Through the eucalyptus trees lay the harbor lights, the sloped roofs of Cat Street and the lesser villas. There were remnants of cocaine in the bathroom sink. Someone cut his finger with a knife. When Cassidy was asked to make a speech he said only, "Well I guess even the losers get lucky once in a while." Then everyone smiled and wished him good luck.
As for the flight from Hong Kong to Los Angeles and the next events, Cassidy would only remember the fragmentary impressions of a fog alert and the interminable delay. Then there were moments in the darkened cabin when he nearly convinced himself that what others had been telling him was true: here at last was a real opportunity. Later he would also recall having made the decision to get his hair cut and to purchase a new suit, perhaps something in a charcoal gray flannel.
Passing through customs all he would remember was that the line to the inspector's counter had been short, mainly businessmen and a few frightened students. Perhaps there had also been a rather striking girl, because later he would remember the image of a woman's legs against suede. Until he heard the inspector say, "This is your luggage?"
"Will you follow that officer, please."
"Why? What's wrong?"
"Just follow the officer through that door on the left." To a room where they found half an ounce of heroin sewn into the lining of his suitcase.
Cassidy was taken to a detention center where the records show that he hardly spoke at all. Except once to explain that he had been framed, and then to give the barest details of his life. Here impressions were even more fragmented, with a view of a Los Angeles slum through a wire mesh, a concrete cell and country music on a radio. Among his personal belongings were found a book of matches from a Hong Kong nightclub, a slim paperback entitled The Way and Its Power, and a street fighter's knife with a nasty spring blade. Finally there was perhaps one brief glimpse into a life that no one could relate to. It was the life of a young American in an Asian wasteland, a life with no more foundation than the life of a refugee. A subsequent interview with police revealed that the other prisoners were apparently afraid of Cassidy, while he behaved as if he were above the law.
Much attention has been paid to Cassidy's initial encounter with Simon Crane. There has been special emphasis on Crane's approach, Cassidy's immediate response, the tactical change midstream, and the final recruitment.
This encounter took place about six hours after Cassidy's arrest. Apparently the theory was that six hours was sufficiently long enough for the boy to become concerned about his legal status, but not long enough for him to panic and so jeopardize the operational security. As it happened, however, Cassidy was neither frightened nor even remotely concerned. He had known from the moment of his arrest that some kind of game was in play, and he was merely waiting to be informed of the rules.
As for Simon Crane, perhaps no more unlikely figure could have been sent to that Los Angeles detention center. Crane was by this time well into his sixties; a short, plump man with white hair. He carried a battered leather briefcase and an overcoat on his arm.
When Cassidy and Simon Crane finally met it was already late morning. Cassidy had been called from his cell and led down a long corridor into a green, windowless room, with only a steel table, two steel chairs and an ashtray. Crane was seated at the table. When Cassidy entered he rose and said, "Hello. I'm Crane."
Cassidy sat down, looked at him. "What do you want?"
"You've heard of me?"
"I've heard of you."
"Well, that simplifies matters. Tell me, how's Jay Sagan?"
"He's fine. What do you want?"
"Well, first off, I think you should know that you're in a great deal of trouble."
"Is that so?"
"These kinds of affairs nearly always end with a mandatory prison term."
Cassidy moved his eyes from the blank wall, to the door, to the edge of the table. Finally he smiled. "Well, you really got me scared."
"May I ask where you got the heroin? Did you get it from Feng Chi?"
"Yeah, sure. Feng always passes me a little something for the holidays."
"You're aware that Feng is involved with the trade."
"Really? I didn't know."
"Consequently I was wondering if that involvement extends to the personnel at the station."
"Right. We're always running stuff for Feng."
"Does Jay Sagan know about your involvement?"
"Look, Crane, who are you trying to kid? The stuff was planted and you know it."
There was, at this point, a notation in the record of this conversation regarding a strategic change in Crane's approach. Until this point, Crane had evidently been uncertain as to whether or not the boy truly understood his position. Now, however, there seemed no doubt at all that Cassidy was not even faintly shaken, and so a more direct approach was made.
Crane said, "I think you should know, Billy, that I'm fully prepared to get you out of here today."
"In exchange for what?"
"For answering a few questions."
"You people set me up for leverage. Well that's nice. That must have taken a lot of imagination. How did you plant the junk? Someone in the airline?"
Then Crane just as calmly as before: "We believe that you have certain information that we need. Now surely you have nothing to lose by at least listening to the questions."
Cassidy's hand fell to the table and his eyes moved back to the door.
"I'd like to begin with Jay Sagan," Crane said softly.
"What about him?"
"Do you know what he's been doing lately?"
"Yeah. He runs the Orient."
"I mean specifically."
"How should I know?"
"I was under the impression that you and Jay were rather close."
"Sure. He tells me everything. I'm his right-hand boy. Jerk."
"Do you know if he's been seeing Feng Chi?"
"He always sees Feng Chi."
"I don't know. Once a week, maybe more."
"What about recently? Would you say that Jay has been seeing more or less of Feng recently?"
"Look, I don't move in that company. You got to have an eight hundred-dollar suit just to get in Feng's front door. Okay?"
"What about eleven days ago? Do you recall seeing Jay eleven days ago?"
"Are you kidding? I don't even remember what I had for lunch."
Crane said, "I'd like to talk about your time in Peking."
"Why? I've already been through all that with you people."
"I realize that, but I'd like to go over a few aspects that might not have been covered in your original debrief."
"Oh, so that's what this is all about."
"I understand that you knew him rather well."
"I knew him."
"Can you describe him?"
"What is this?"
"Please. Just tell me about him."
"What do you want me to say? He's a Red. He's been over there for twenty years, and he tap dances for Chairman Mao."
"I understand that he actually got you out of prison and took you into his home."
"Yeah. So what?"
"Well, are you grateful for that? Do you feel you might owe him something?"
"Why should I owe him?"
"Because he saved your life, saved you from what I understand was rather brutal torture."
"Well, I thought perhaps you might feel that you owe him."
"Well. I don't."
"Okay. What about his daughter, Maya?"
"What about her?"
"I understand that you knew her as well."
"Did you like her?"
"Why should I like her? She's a Commie too."
"I hear that she's very beautiful."
"She's not bad."
"Nineteen and very beautiful."
"Okay, so she's beautiful."
"Did you talk much?"
"I don't know. Nothing."
"Did she ever express a fear of the political climate in Peking?"
"What do you mean?"
"Let me put it like this. Would it surprise you to know that eleven days ago she was kidnapped and has not been heard of since?"
Cassidy's movements became less precise, with his head cocked to one side, his shirt drenched in perspiration.
"Ostensibly she was abducted by an underground military faction, presumably because her father had been openly opposing them. There has not, however, been any real indication as to what they want with her. No direct threats, nothing like that. In fact there is even some indication that she's not actually on the mainland, and that the abduction was not politically motivated at all."
A silence, broken only by the tap of Cassidy's fingers on the table. "So what? You think Sagan and Feng had something to do with this?"
"Yes, Billy, we do."
"And you thought I was involved too?"
"Well at one time you worked rather closely with Jay, didn't you?"
"Look, no one works closely with Jay. Except maybe Feng."
"Yes, well, I can see that now."
"And I don't know anything about Polly's daughter either."
"But that does not mean you won't be able to help us."
"Help you do what?"
"Establish whether or not Feng really has her."
"Why should I?"
Crane opened his briefcase, removed a brown envelope, and handed it to Billy Cassidy. He opened it and withdrew three black-and-white photographs. Each showed a naked girl and a man's hand resting on her body. The girl was tied to a bed frame by her ankles and wrists. The man's hand lay on her breast in one photograph, her thigh in another and finally her throat. Her face was partially covered by her hair, but her features were still visible. Cassidy looked at the photographs, one after another. Crane watched in silence.
"It's Polly's daughter," Crane said.
"I can see that."
"Polly received them about four days ago. There was no accompanying explanation, just the photographs."
Crane noted that Cassidy's left hand was clenched in a fist throughout the following exchange.
"Why don't you just drag Sagan in and sweat him?" he asked.
"Why? So that he can deny it, and meanwhile Feng will have time to hide his tracks?"
"But you don't know for certain they have her, do you?"
"No, not for certain."
"So it's all really just a lot of speculation, isn't it?"
"In a sense, but as I said there are indications, certainly enough to justify sending in a man." "You mean me?"
"If you're willing?"
"And if I'm not?"
"It's a stick-and-carrot, Billy. You can play with us, or you can stay here. I might also add that we are prepared to sweeten the deal with a substantial cash bonus."
Then again Cassidy lapsed into a motionless silence, staring at nothing, one hand still clenched in a fist on the table. "What would you want me to do?"
"We'd like to play you back into the station."
"And then what?"
"Our feeling is that if Feng really does have the girl there's bound to be some sort of trail in the records."
"When would I start?"
"Six days. That will give us time for certain preliminary steps, time to brief you fully on the complete story, and it's also about the amount of time you would have actually been absent had you really been in Langley for the program."
"So there really is that officer advancement shit?"
"Oh yes. The program does exist."
"But I didn't qualify, is that it?"
"No. I'm afraid not."
There was supposedly an argument at this stage between Simon Crane and Norman Pyle concerning Cassidy's motivation. Crane maintained that, although they were unstated, Cassidy truly did hold certain feelings for John Polly, and particularly for Polly's daughter. As evidence of these feelings, Crane pointed out various moments in his conversation with the boy, moments when there was clearly some deeper emotion in his eyes, in the way his voice wavered, in the movement of his hands.
Norman Pyle, however, who knew Cassidy only from his service record, disagreed. Cassidy, Pyle argued, was nothing more than another Asian tramp, a back-street fighter whose sole motivation in the matter was money and saving his own neck. "If he can be trusted," Pyle was heard to remark, "it's only because we're going to pay him more than the other side."
Regardless, four hours after Cassidy's initial conversation with Crane he was released from the detention center in Los Angeles and formally put on an operational footing. During the next twelve hours Cassidy was kept in a suburban house above the city basin. Here he met a tall, exceedingly muscular young man named Eliot, who would silently follow him to the end. When Cassidy was introduced to the man he was told: "This is Eliot. He's going to be your bodyguard." Cassidy was leaning against a refrigerator, pealing an orange with a serrated knife. Eliot, standing in the doorway, was wearing tight jeans and a shirt unbuttoned to the chest. Their eyes met briefly, then Cassidy continued working even faster with the knife.
In the evening Crane and Cassidy talked in a bedroom with the curtains drawn. Below were the sounds of Eliot in the kitchen and a television set turned to the news. Cassidy had asked how long they would be staying here, was given no answer.
Later in the evening there was a meal which Eliot had prepared with obvious care. There were steaks seasoned with pepper and mushrooms, red wine and a green salad. When the meal was served Cassidy noticed that Eliot waited anxiously for some compliment. Finally Crane told him that the steaks were very good. In the weeks to come Cassidy would understand that this absurd ritual was to be played out every night.
The return to Hong Kong also came in the night, one long night aboard a military aircraft. Meals consisted of bland, freeze-dried food. Everyone was armed. When they landed there was a waiting van at the airstrip. The name of a cleaning company was stenciled on the side panel.
The rear windows were blacked out, and when Cassidy asked Crane where they were going he was given no answer.
It was sometime after midnight when they reached the house that would later be the focal point of all final moves. Cassidy was exhausted by this time, and so his first impressions of the house were disjointed. From the road he saw only two dark towers rising above the palms. Then there was a black stretch of land and black rock. There were no lights, and only the sound of waves on a cliff.
Eventually he was told that this house had once belonged to a sea captain. The walls were knotted pine, the furniture heavy oak. Lace curtains hung at the windows. There were paintings of the shoreline and sailing ships. By dawn he saw that the grounds were remote, cut off from the highway by a stone wall. In the rear there was a long grassy walk across the sand dunes, and then cliffs dropping away to the ocean.
In the morning Cassidy had risen early and spent an hour prowling through the empty rooms. Everywhere he smelled wet ash and coffee. He found a brass compass, an hourglass and a pair of dueling pistols. There was a clock that told the phases of the moon, and a map of the South Pacific. Finally Crane appeared, and the two men walked out to the rocks above the bay.
The air was cold. Cassidy wore an old purple sweater and the raincoat he always wore, but still he felt the cold. There was a wind off the bay rocking two sloops in full sail. As he and Crane moved out across the grass and dunes there was the sound of a slamming car door. When Cassidy looked back he saw Eliot unloading groceries from a black station wagon. The man was wearing only a pair of brief shorts.
When Crane and Cassidy reached the promontory they sat down on the rocks. From here lay a long view of the coast and the tide pools below. There was a jetty stretching far out into the water and a few tormented trees on the bluff. Crane was wearing a large duffle coat. Even when the weather grew warmer he would not take off his coat, which led Cassidy to believe that a tape recorder was concealed in the lining.
There was one terse exchange, which took place before the actual briefing began, and although it seems to have no obvious importance, Crane thought fit to include it in his opening notes. Apparently the two men had been sitting only a few minutes when Crane said, "I think you should know that when this is all over there's a very good chance that Jay Sagan is going to take a bad fall. I mean that he's gone way over the edge this time, entirely out of control."
"So what else is new?" Cassidy frowned.
"Well I merely thought that you should know where it stands."
"I know where it stands."
"All right, Billy, then we might as well get started. Unless there's something else you'd like to clear up first?"
Cassidy thought a moment. Then he said, "Yeah there's something I want to clear up. That freak of yours, Eliot. I want him to stay away from me."
"What's the matter? Have you two had some problem?"
"No problem. Just tell him to stay away."
"Very well. I'll tell him. Anything else?"
"No--yes. I want my knife back."
"You know what I'm talking about. My knife. Someone took it out of my suitcase and I want it back."
"Oh yes. Well I'll make sure you get it before you leave."
"Now I think we should get started. We have a lot of ground to cover."
There was no other introduction, only a brief silence while Cassidy struck three matches trying to light a cigarette in the wind. Then it seemed that Crane simply started talking, speaking much as he would continue to speak through the days to come, sometimes in great detail, then withdrawing again to the larger scheme. While he spoke Cassidy did not look at him. He looked only at the sea, or farther out to the horizon. Later, when they started to drink out here, Cassidy always threw his empty beer cans into the water.