HONK KONG — Sunday 08:00
Duncan's bedside phone rang at eight a.m. While he was reaching for it, his travel alarm sounded. Attempting to pick up the phone with his right hand and silence the alarm with his left, he knocked the alarm off the nightstand. He answered the phone, his voice changing as he stretched his body and the phone cord to reach the wayward alarm. The cord had wound around the base of the phone and reached its limit, pulling the phone base off the nightstand. His wavering voice, the sound of the alarm, and the crash of the phone base all fed into the handset.
“Mr. Harris?” asked the desk clerk.
Duncan decided that it was mere superstition to attach any meaning to how a morning started. “Yes, I'm here.” He reached the alarm and silenced it.
“A messenger has delivered a packet for you. Do you want it brought up?”
“Yes, please.” Duncan hung up and wondered if there was time for a piss before the bellman arrived. He decided to wait.
Duncan had expected a call from the travel agency to confirm details and arrange payment, but the packet contained prepaid tickets and confirmation of a reservation at the Mae Hong Son Holiday Inn. He checked the tickets while dribbling, noting that the payment code showed them as having been purchased with cash. Why would Li Wah pay their way to Mae Hong Son? The giving of small gifts was part of Chinese business custom, but the cost of the tickets was more than the custom would explain.
MAE HONG SON — Sunday 19:00
On a map, a line drawn from Chiang Mai in Thailand to the Shan States of northern Myanmar—the new name for Burma—to Laos and back to Chiang Mai formed the Golden Triangle, the most productive opium producing region in the world. The opium poppy grew best above three thousand feet at that latitude, and the mountainous terrain provided ideal conditions.
Chiang Mai lays at the southern apex of the Triangle, Mae Hong Son a hundred and forty kilometers northwest by air, on the Thai side of the Burma border. Twenty kilometers west, in Burma, is Ho Mong, Khun Sa's headquarters.
Duncan had not set foot in the Triangle in two decades. There had been many trips to Thailand in that time, but always to Bangkok, and he had had no reason to go north to revisit a place that had brought him so much pain and sadness.
The Mae Hong Son airport terminal didn't have jetways. Passengers walked from the bottom of the aircraft's airstairs to the terminal, but Duncan and Richard were met at the bottom of the stairs.
“Captain Harris, I am Chamlong Kraprayoon, assistant to Lord Sa.”
Duncan stepped out of the flow of deplaning passengers—Richard following—and took the man's extended business card. He looked at the card, but it was in Thai. Flipping it, he read the English side; Chamlong Kraprayoon was an Account Representative for Mae Hong Son Export, Ltd. Amazing, thought Duncan, drug dealers now have business cards.
“Please call me Cham.”
Duncan shook Cham's hand, guessing their greeter to be in his mid forties. The man looked younger, but Duncan added the fudge factor a Caucasian needed in judging the age of an Asian. He introduced Richard as Cham ushered them into a car alongside the airplane.
“If you'll give me your baggage claim tickets, I'll have your luggage brought to the hotel,” Cham said.
Duncan fished for the claim stubs, nodding to Richard's questioning look. Duncan knew the baggage would be searched first, but they had nothing to hide. Everything of importance was in the laptop computer he was carrying.
“Lord Sa will not be able to meet with you until Tuesday at the earliest. We hope this will not inconvenience you.”
Duncan assented graciously, knowing the stated desire that he not be inconvenienced was merely a courtesy. They were on Khun Sa's ground now. The drug lord could do whatever he wanted, including having Duncan and Richard simply disappear forever. Duncan noted that Cham was using Lord, the English equivalent of the Shan word Khun.
They were driven directly to the hotel on the southern outskirts of the small city. It had been an auspicious beginning, and Duncan allowed himself to believe this was going to be the type of operation he liked, problem-free and efficient.
The first hint it might not was that their reservations were for a full week, but the rooms, the best in the hotel, were prepaid and Duncan ignored the forewarning. It was Sunday evening, he could use Monday to rest and continue work on the plan.
Cham accompanied Duncan to his room. Richard was lodged in the adjoining room. There was a door between. Duncan immediately opened it.
Cham had started to speak, but stopped as Duncan opened the door. When it was obvious Duncan wished Richard to be included in anything said, Cham continued. “Lord Sa wishes to know how much opium you require.”
Duncan paused before speaking. Cham waited patiently. “This will be a one-time purchase to be put to a very special use. Due to the risks involved, I prefer to give details only to Lord Sa. However, you may say that we will need a sizable amount, and it will have to be processed into number 4 heroin. We'll also be wanting an equal amount of marijuana.”
“Marijuana? We don't deal in marijuana ... it grows everywhere. Anybody can pick it.”
“Perhaps you can recommend someone who picks in quantity.”
Monday was spent refining the plan, especially deciding on the exact amount of drugs needed and how they would be packaged. Duncan found it unpleasant to do; he didn't relish being a drug dealer. He finally rationalized that whereas a dealer bought and sold for profit, he would be buying with his own money and not selling—he would be giving it away. The thought made him feel better, but not much.
He wanted to distribute one million shrink-wrapped packets. Each packet was to contain a sample of marijuana, cocaine, and heroin, the three drugs that had naturally occurring sources and were objects of the DEA's international interdiction efforts. He had rejected methamphetamine, PCP, LSD, and the designer drugs. They were produced in the United States and, to his mind, their source materials were not plants that grew naturally.[REF2301]
The size of each sample was constrained on one hand by cost and on the other by his desire to provide enough for a mild but noticeable effect. He wished he knew how much the jumpseater had used to dose him; he wanted to provide slightly more than that. One sixty-fourth of an ounce of each was the figure on which he finally settled.
The next question was purity. He knew drugs at street level were rarely pure. People were ingesting god-knows-what into their bodies along with the desired drug. One reference Duncan had read said street heroin was typically cut six times.[REF2302] He would leave it pure. It made no sense to protest the illegal drug market with impure drugs, the impurities being one of the evils illegalization had produced.
The final question was form. Typically heroin was injected, often packaged in gelatin capsules and sold on the streets for $5 a shot. But Duncan didn't want to make it easy to inject; he wanted it in powdered form. Cocaine would already be powdered. Thus both drugs would be sniffable, a safer method of ingestion than injection. As for the marijuana, they would have to roll their own or find a pipe.
Duncan needed a major price concession from Khun Sa. One million samples of heroin at one sixty-fourth of an ounce per sample came to 443 kilograms. According to Duncan's research, the going rate was $4,000 per kilo in Chiang Mai, and the farther you got from the Triangle, the more expensive the price. That made the tab for the heroin alone $1,772,000. He estimated his total resources at $3,100,000. That included the expected proceeds from the sale of his house and what his father had left him.
The heroin and the marijuana were available here. He would have to get the cocaine elsewhere, and he knew it would be more expensive than the heroin. He decided to offer $800,000 for the heroin and $200,000 for the marijuana. There went the first million.
He established a target figure of $1,600,000 for the cocaine, twice the allotment for the heroin but still a sizeable reduction over the going price. That would be a problem, but Larry was working on cocaine contacts and would soon be headed for Bolivia, the source of most cocaine brought into the U.S. The Bolivians didn't like leaving their country, preferring to leave transportation to the Colombian cartels. Duncan planned on bypassing the cartels. That was risky but essential if he was to get it for the price he needed. It would be a one-time operation, and the cocaine cartels were reeling from internal strife ... and everybody hated them, especially those with whom they dealt.
$500,000 would be left for packaging, transportation, bribes, and getting Duncan to a quiet, out-of-the-way place after the operation was over.
Duncan did much of the day's thinking while laying in the sun by the pool. Arriving at the pool after lunch, he found it deserted; no one else cared to brave the tropical sun at midday. He slopped on SPF 23 lotion and allowed his body to bake in the heat, regretting the social necessity of having to wear a bathing suit. He found it curiously contradictory that conservative dress codes still prevailed in a country that made millions from sex tourism. An efficient packer, Duncan traveled with a single pair of athletic shorts for both running and swimming. He folded down the waistband and doubled-under the leg openings to get as much sun as possible.
Duncan had given Richard the day off. Never having been in Thailand before, the young man had left to see the sights. Duncan's purpose in bringing Richard had been obviated by the Chiu-chau handling, but it was still nice to have him available, and it wasn't costing anything. Duncan had liked Richard from the first, and the more time he spent with him the more he liked him. Duncan made no moral judgement concerning the boy's sexual preference, but he believed it unfortunate, an appetite that would extract a continuing penalty, as it had with Larry.
Duncan and Richard met for dinner that evening. The Mae Hong Son of Duncan's past had one hotel, the Mitniyom, and it had a restaurant he liked. They approached the first taxi outside the Holiday Inn, but the young driver had never heard of the Mitniyon. Duncan thought he could find it, and he negotiated a price to downtown.
Duncan recognized the building from the taxi. It was the Mitniyom, but now the sign said >Baiyoke Chalet ... and a sign outside advertised a disco. Richard's eyes brightened. Duncan again felt old, but decided to see if there was still a restaurant. There was.
“I like Thailand,” Richard said after they had ordered and Duncan had returned from pissing.
“Jesus,” Duncan said, breaking into a broad smile while shaking his head.
“What? What's wrong?”
“I said the same thing my first night in Thailand, but I wasn't talking about the land, it was the Thai women. I fell in love with the first twenty Thai gals I met.”
“Right. Well, with me it's not the gals. I mean, they're cute, too, but, wow ... these guys are really cute... and willing.”
“I think it's part of the culture. Look, ah ... be careful. In Bangkok the statistics have eighty percent of the bar girls HIV positive. The boys can't be far behind.”
Richard's face sobered; he nodded but didn't speak.
Duncan continued, “Look, you can head home whenever you want. Khun Sa's people have got to be watching for any tails while they're watching me, and the Chiu-chau had to have covered me on the way. One or both of those groups will track me after the deal. Khun Sa will worry I'm going to sell the drugs rather than give them away. I'm going to try to arrange the packaging with the Chiu-chau, so they'll stay with me to the end. On the other hand, I like your company, so if you want to stick, you're welcome. But the more time you spend with me, the greater the chance somebody will connect you with whatever happens. The DEA's not stupid ... well, actually they are, but....” Both men laughed.
“I'd like to stay. Look, this may sound corny, but I kind of believe in what you're doing.”
“Okay, your choice. Cham called just before I left my room. He'll meet with us at noon tomorrow.”
“No, Cham, at the hotel, but I think he'll take us to Khun Sa.”
Tuesday morning Duncan awoke early, still suffering from jet lag. He laid in bed until six a.m. before deciding on an early morning run. He thought of calling Richard but didn't; after their dinner Duncan had returned to the hotel for bed but Richard had stayed at the restaurant, which converted to a disco at ten p.m.
Duncan dressed in the same athletic shorts he had used at the pool and a net tank top he carried for running in countries that frowned on bare-chested men in public. Thailand preferred not to see >farangs, foreigners, in shorts but he knew it would raise no eyebrows while he was running. The Thais were very understanding about practical matters.
Duncan headed north out of the hotel on Highway 108. Thailand drove on the left side of the road; Duncan crossed to the right side to face the oncoming traffic, still light this early.
It had been too long since he had enjoyed the incredible calm of an early morning in Southeast Asia ... a real morning, away from the non-stop hustling of the cities, away from airports awash in jet noise. To his right rice paddies stretched to the mountains to the east. The sun was barely above the ridges, leaving the western flanks in a deep purple shadow that merged with mist rising from the flooded paddies. It was good to be alive.
Duncan showered, dressed, and checked his e-mail. There was one message waiting. He had gotten used to seeing the unintelligible gibberish of an encrypted message appear on the laptop computer screen. This time it was short:
hIsCXm3TUkO1YFkBA/dOzrJ+czODWDkTioF0hxAJQcBSHmjBcsX1 mVBENh9xWAfL0H5uYbdsMXa2JF/MmgLeceDsEBD8B4pCvlqrhlos +j895aTMCMRjEdGneeS0TO1Jj7PxgyD6jUCLTl+ZReU7AgGVDDmH wxFVu7q9JSpSNBTGqdhyJnBylvOeB/8BpgAAAFUPDmpLcdi10ulV2 T53lg3TQ8+XaGhuzwT3zMpGhcN+yIZsGjaOG28uPi18YuKsAdeAi9J 8yUeDnRGAFHg1Vx0lkibxyoCqYW/kShqvrkShZb5W0dh9=Bqh2
He knew the first five lines represented overhead that was the same approximate size regardless of the length of the message. The message, first compressed and then encrypted, would be in the sixth line.
Simultaneously Duncan pressed the Ctrl and E keys. The next thing to appear was the request for his password. He had changed it on the way to Thailand, and it was a pass phrase, not just a word. As he developed the detailed plans for the operation, the more he had to protect those files. He needed to bring himself up to date on the advances in cryptologic theory, but he knew one thing hadn't changed, the need to protect the key that unlocked the message. The longer and the more obscure the phrase the better; it had to be something no one would ever guess, but something he would never forget, even when under stress. Names of relatives, birth dates, telephone number, places you lived, all of these were poor choices. An attacker would feed thousands of these details concerning his life into a high speed computer and in minutes all combinations and permutations of those details would be tried as a pass phrase. The advice given in the documentation accompanying the encryption software given him by Richard had advised making the phrase outrageous and to use upper and lower case and numbers to minimize possibility of a successful attack.
Duncan smiled as he entered his pass phrase:
fUck tHe dEa wIth a dRy cOrn cOb 9999 tImes
In less than a second the plaintext message appeared on the screen:
Urine test results: mostly cocaine, a little heroin - a speedball.
At noon they met Cham in the lobby. He suggested they go to Duncan's room. Once there, he said Khun Sa would not meet with them until Duncan told the exact amount of heroin required, what he was prepared to pay, and presented written details of his plan. Duncan refused to put anything in writing, he would tell only Khun Sa the details, but he gave Cham an honest appraisal of his financial position and his intention to pay $1,000,000 for 443 kilos of heroin and a like amount of marijuana. As he had done in Hong Kong, Duncan outlined why he needed the drugs. He added the information that the heroin and marijuana would be packaged, along with cocaine that he had yet to purchase, into one million samples and would be given away publicly in a major American city in a manner that would attract worldwide attention.
The intended distribution left Cham speechless. Recovering, he shook his head negatively. “Asking for that much opium at that price is like asking Lord Sa to give it away.”
“I realize that, and if Lord Sa wants to donate the drugs, that would be most welcome. He might want to do that in retaliation for the U.S. having indicted him. Remember a few years back when they put a price on his head? He put a price on the head of Americans in Chiang Mai. And these last few years they've rejected every one of his offers to sell them his opium. This will be a major embarrassment for the U.S. Government. He could take credit for having supplied the drugs which the they could have kept off the streets had they accepted his offers.”
The representative was thinking, and Duncan knew the man wouldn't risk second-guessing his master. He pressed on. “The less I have to pay for the heroin and the marijuana the better. I expect major problems purchasing the cocaine. The Colombian cartels are only interested in money, not principle.” Duncan hoped the attempt to flatter by contrast was not too blatant. “If Lord Sa wishes to give me the drugs, that will help immensely. I know $1,000,000 is not a fair price. I offer it only because that is all I can offer. This operation will leave me penniless, but I will have avenged my father.”
“Perhaps you should think in terms of fewer ... samples.”
“I will if I have to, but the public relations impact of having distributed one million samples, a full million, will be enormous. That number will appear in the headlines of every major newspaper in America. The spectacle of the DEA not being able to stop the distribution of a million illicit drug samples will make them a laughing stock. I'm confident it'll cause the U.S. Congress to hold hearings that will expose every aspect of their operations.”
After the meeting, Duncan skipped lunch, changed to his bathing suit, and went directly to the pool. He slopped on less SPF 23 than the day before and let the midday sun work at raising his morale. Richard accompanied him but sat under a nearby pool umbrella.
Duncan had expected to talk to Khun Sa, not a recalcitrant underling. The drug lord's reluctance to meet him was confusing. From past observation, he knew the preferred method of doing business in this part of the world was to do it face to face and quickly—had that changed?
“What now?” Richard asked.
“We wait. I don't understand what's happening. Khun Sa is not a recluse. Hell, he meets with journalists all the time. He's a very hands-on type of fellow—or at least he was. Even if he's going to say no, you'd think he'd be curious to meet us. And he's got to know I'll give him more info than I'll give an errand boy.”
BANGKOK — Tuesday 15:00
All knew the old man was dying, but his mind was as strong as his body was weak. He was confident he could command his body to live for another few months, long enough to complete this one last adventure. His ancestors would be pleased, and his children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren would revere their ancestor for having set them on a path filled with opportunity in a land of limitless potential.
He would have preferred to have lived his life in Swatow, but when the Communists came in 1949, he had led his family to the opportunities of Hong Kong, and he had prospered. It was there he had learned English, and he had learned it well, so well that he came to be known as Mr. Li rather than Li Sung. The name had stuck and knowing English became a key to his success, especially as he learned how different a mind formed within the confines of the English language differed from the timeless view of the Chinese mind.
When the officials he had made rich with his bribes decided he was an embarrassment, he had left his cousin, Li Wah, in charge of those of his family who could safely remain in Hong Kong. Others who were capable he distributed throughout the world, some in Manila, some in San Francisco, others in the Middle East where Arab dictatorships were easily bribed. Those still young and learning the family business he had taken with him to Bangkok.
Bangkok was still Asia, and Swatow was in Asia. The Communists were a thin veneer on the face of China. They wouldn't last forever. One day they would be gone, and if he still lived he would go to Swatow. But once again he had become an embarrassment—and he was hemmed in.
They were watching for him in Hong Kong, especially since the Communists had taken control. He had tried to go north to join his friend and half-countryman, Khun Sa. But the Shan drug lord now had to kowtow to new Burmese masters and hadn't been able to accommodate Mr. Li. Mr. Li understood, and he checked himself as he completed the thought. Burma was no longer Burma. Burma was now Myanmar. A despicable name, he thought. But he had to keep pace with change; he had to stay young in his mind, however hard that was and however much he might dislike the change.
There were other countries, but their officials all knew of him. They were happy to take his money, but the story was always the same: The American DEA is everywhere, in every country. They have billions of dollars to spend every year, and they watch everyone. We want your business, but we don't want you. Work through our local people, but don't come here. They're watching.
In time he could get his family into Europe. Drugs would be legal there in a few years, and the objections to his presence would be dropped, but he didn't have a few years, and none of his family was there to prepare the way.
His Thai hosts were patient because they knew he was dying. On his death they would sweep away his family to please the DEA. For the Thais business would go on as usual, they were already grooming his replacement, just as the Burmese were grooming Khun Sa's replacement in case the Americans did to him what they did to Noriega in Panama. The same American court had indicted them both.
Mr. Li had given up hope of seeing Swatow, and he had begun to reconcile himself to dying in Bangkok, but now he wasn't sure. He might just die with his family about him in San Francisco.
Serendipity. He had had trouble with the word when he first learned English, but the concept was truly Chinese. He wondered if Duncan Harris had ever read the Three Princes of Serendip.
It bothered him not that the three deciphered messages laid on the bed table in front of him were in English. While it couldn't convey the nuances of Chinese, it was an excellent language for communicating physical detail, and the most practical for encrypted communications.
The message on the left was the oldest. It was from his brother in Hong Kong, giving him the itinerary of Duncan Harris and Richard Lee. Mr. Li wondered how distant a relative Richard was. Li and Lee were merely different Anglicizations of the same Chinese surname. There was no question that he was a relative; all of the Han were related.
The middle message was from San Francisco and gave a complete run down on Duncan Harris including verification of what had happened to his family. It also said Richard Li was a partner with Lawrence Tanner in a small firm named Tanner Security Services. The two partners were tsi fat gwai. Mr. Li decided Richard must be a very distant relative.
The third message, from Chan Shee-Fu, was the most recent ... and the most pressing. The opium lord liked what he heard of Duncan Harris's plan. If Mr. Li didn't want to use the man, Chan Shee-Fu would open negotiations with him.
The old man closed his eyes and thought for several minutes. His nurse—who was also one of his wives— his bodyguard, and his personal assistant all stood quietly. Mr. Li's lack of movement neither alarmed them nor seemed unusual. If need be they would wait in silence for hours.
But minutes, not hours were all that were required. Mr. Li opened his eyes and quietly spelled out orders: a message was to be sent to Chan Shee-Fu, Duncan Harris was to be brought to Bangkok after a suitable delay, Mr. Li's daughter in Los Angeles was to get on a plane for Bangkok as soon as possible. The first two orders were accepted without question. The third would be acted upon without hesitation, but none of the three underlings liked it, especially the nurse.
[REF2301] “The upward spiral of its value is amazing. One square km of poppy field produces almost 2,000 kilos of raw opium. One kilo of raw opium, worth only US$35 in Burma or US$4,000 as heroin in Chiang Mai, brings US$250,000 as Grade 4 heroin in America. And that's the price before being cut six times by street dealers. The final tally: one kilo of raw opium eventually brings US$2.5 million, and a single square km of land can yield heroin worth US$50-200 million. Small wonder the hilltribes refuse to grow peanuts.” Carl Parkes, Thailand Handbook (Chico: Moon Publications, 1992).
[REF2302] “While international criminal syndicates reaped enormous profits from the narcotics traffic, the Hmong farmers were paid relatively little for their efforts. Although opium was their sole cash crop and they devoted most of their effort to it, they received only $400 to $600 for 10 kilos of raw opium in 1971. After the opium left the village, however, the value of those 10 kilos spiraled upward. Ten kilos of raw opium yielded 1 kilo of morphine base worth $500 in the Golden Triangle. After being processed into heroin, 1 kilo of morphine base became 1 kilo of no. 4 heroin worth $2,000 to $2,500 in Bangkok. In San Francisco, Miami, or New York, the courier delivering a kilo of heroin to a wholesaler received anywhere from $18,000 to $27,000. Diluted with quinine or milk sugar, packaged in 45,0000 tiny gelatin capsules and sold on the streets for $5 a shot, a kilo of heroin that began as $500 worth of opium back in Long Pot was worth $225,000.” Alfred W. McCoy, The Politics of Heroin: CIA Complicity in the Global Drug Trade (New York: Lawrence Hill Books, 1991), p. 325.