LEABURG — Monday 09:30
Duncan returned from running in time to hear the telephone ringing.
“Duncan where?” said a teasing female voice on the other end.
“Duncan where?” she repeated again.
“Who is this?”
“Nancy here. I sat on your lap in Bangkok. Remember?”
“Alright, Nancy, where?”Duncan hoped she realized the phone might be bugged.
“Nancy in San Francisco changing planes. I'm headed your way.”
“Oh, you just decided to take a trip up here on the off chance that I would be home?”This is not good, he thought.
“Would it shock you if I told you someone has been watching you? How was your run?”
Duncan thought fast. “Do you really think your husband has had somebody watching me?” was the first plausible answer that came to mind. “Well, he may be able to pay for some one to watch me in Los Angeles, but I guarantee he can't pay for anyone to watch me up here. Anyway, my run was fine. You remember my morning schedule well.” Duncan ran out of improvisation.
Nancy stayed silent.
“When are you getting in?” Duncan filled the gap.
“The flight's just about to leave. Just a moment, I'll give you the flight number and arrival time.” Nancy replied in an uncertain voice.
“No need, there's only one flight that goes San Francisco to Eugene at this time of day. I used to use it to get to and from work. Can I pick you up at the airport?”
“That would be great! Bye,” and she hung up.
Behind the house the terrain rose steeply, the first ridgeline three hundred feet above the house, the top of the first ridge system around three thousand feet. Successive ridges culminated in ten thousand foot peaks sixty miles east.
The second story had a door that opened onto a deck over the roof of the living room. It was the one place inside from which you could view the ridge top. The door had a window. Duncan ran up the stairs, grabbed a pair of binoculars, and went to the window, standing back in the shadows.
Where are you, friend?. If you could tell her I just got back from running, you must have a cell phone, and the only way you're going to get a cell phone to work here is to be up high, higher than the DEA would be—if they're out there.
Duncan targeted the highest terrain visible. Methodically he scanned the side of the ridge, working left to right and then top to bottom. Unlike the lower, brush covered slopes, the higher parts were relatively open, having been clear cut a few years ago. His eyes passed a stump, and then came back to it ... and the stump moved.
The figure was in full camouflage, inching his way down the hill. It figured, thought Duncan, you had to go high to communicate, now you're headed back down ... right toward one of the places I'd pick if I were the DEA.
Duncan went to his computer and composed a message to Mr. Li:
Duncan encrypted and sent the message.
Duncan reached the airport at ten-thirty a.m. He phoned his realtor from the terminal and instructed him to accept the latest offer for his house; it had been the highest. Next he phoned a local moving and storage firm and asked them for the soonest date they could pack and store his home furnishings.
At ten forty-five a.m. Nancy came down the jetway. Her long black hair, her coconut skin, her smile, and even her walk, they were all as Duncan remembered. He was honestly glad to see her in spite of the circumstances. She took his arm, making him the envy of other males.
“Welcome to Oregon,” he said loudly and then switched to a lower, intimate voice. “Small talk only. Assume we're being watched and recorded.”
Nancy smiled in reply,and casually shifted the combination tote bag and laptop computer case from her left side, which Duncan was on, to her right
“May I carry that for you?” Duncan asked, back to a normal voice.
“No, it's okay. You can handle my checked luggage, though.”
They engaged in bits and pieces of idle conversation as they proceeded to the baggage claim and then to Duncan's van. He opened the sliding side door to reveal an upholstered open interior and a carpeted floor. The floor was covered with a custom cut, upholstered foam pad. Nancy's luggage and her tote bag went on the pad.
“Nice van,” she said, still struggling to make conversation.
“It's a utilitarian vehicle. Pull out that pad and you have a great vehicle for hauling. Put the pad back in and you've got a place to sleep on camping trips.”
“I like camping; it helps counterbalance Southern California's congestion. Do you camp a lot?” she asked.
“In good weather Ellie and I used to get out between rotations. Get in.” He opened the passenger door for her and took advantage of the opportunity to touch her, lightly guiding her up the step into the van. He remembered Bangkok, her bikini, her ...
Duncan paid the parking charges at the gate, and they continued towards town.
“Has my coming caused a problem?”
“Don't know. I messaged Mr. Li that it might. You can read the message when we get to my house. I don't know the depth of the DEA surveillance.” Duncan spoke of his belief there were watchers on the hill above his house. He described his procedure of reading license numbers into a recorder and then checking them against a list after he ran, told of the same unattended cars being in the County park on a three-day rotation.
“The problem with your call was referring to the man you've got watching me. If the DEA was up there and listening to a phone tap, you told them they've got somebody else on the hill with them. My comeback may have been transparent, but it was the best I could think of.”
“So I've caused a problem?” she said glumly. “What should we do?”
“Nothing. Shit happens. Don't worry about it. But learn from it. Be more careful next time.”
“I didn't mean to cause problems. Mr. Li ...” She stopped, then made a decision. “My father asked me to come. My task is to report on your emotional stability and your ability to see this plan through to the end.”
“Have I given reason to worry?”
“No, but he's a cautious man, and the whole future of his family is at stake.”
“Your family,” Duncan said, acknowledging Nancy's admission that Mr. Li was her father.
“No, my mother and I are outcasts. Long story. Look, I'm really sorry.” She turned side ways to face him, swinging her legs into the passageway between the two front seats. “My father often asks me to evaluate people. After Bangkok I told him I didn't see any problem, but that was on the basis of one evening's exposure. He asked if I would mind seeing you again. I told him I would like that.” Nancy tensed, waiting for Duncan's reaction.
Duncan continued driving, thinking. Nancy paused, gathered her resolve, and continued.
“With your wife and you father having been killed ...”
“Murdered,” Duncan interrupted her.
“... yes. That's traumatic. Trauma produces instability. He saw you, we both saw you, only that one night. He wants to be sure you're holding up under all this.”
“He must have great confidence in your judgement.”
“He does ... and I'm a trained psychologist. I'll finish my doctorate at U. C. La Jolla in the Spring.”
“Well, I can't blame your father for being prudent. As for you, I think we need to make sure you get to know me. It wouldn't do to have to render a professional opinion without adequate research, would it?” he ended in a teasing tone.
Nancy relaxed and thought, You do have self-confidence, Duncan. You're laid back, but underneath there's a monumental ego.
They were headed east on an elevated portion of freeway. Ahead the beginning of parallel ridges formed a notch that acted like a gun sight, targeting a distant mountain, its glaciers white in the sun. As the valley narrowed, the city ceased. They moved through farmland interspersed with timber. As they continued, it became timber interspersed with farmland. Finally, just timber, and they were alongside a river, going upstream. The talk had become less serious.
“If Mr. Li is your father, that makes you half Chinese. What about the other half?” Duncan asked.
“Ah, you can't tell, can you?” Nancy said.
“No, but I like the results.”
“My mother is half German, half Thai. What about you?Harris is English, isn't it?”
“Yeah, but the Harris men kept running over to Germany to get their women. About the only thing left that's English is the name. My mother, grandmother, and great-grandmother were all German.”
One hour after leaving the airport, Duncan turned right,crossed the river on a small dam, and turned right again onto a gravel road. Six tenths of a mile later they stopped in Duncan's parking lot.
Duncan led her down steps fashioned from old railway ties embedded in the earth to the front door.
He turned and saw her still at the top of the steps.
“There's a stream running underneath your home. And, my God, all the glass.”
“As I said, you can enjoy the fire in the living room while listening to the creek and looking at the stars.”
He led her into the house, crossed the creek through the living room, and into the guest bedroom at the very end of the house. Off the bedroom was a deck accessed through sliding glass doors, beyond that moss-carpeted forest. That part of the wall not occupied by the doors was all glass. The visual effect of sleeping in the bedroom was not unlike that of sleeping out-of-doors in a lean to.
“This bedroom is a peeping tom's delight, but there aren't any neighbors and, but for your friend on the hill and any DEA agents, there's nobody to complain. So, if you like the view, which most people do, leave the curtains open. With the doors open, it's almost like being outside. The screens will keep the insects out.”
“This is beautiful.”
Yes, it is. And I will be leaving it forever. Duncan thought while leading her back through the living room. He then showed her the kitchen, dining room, family room, and den, and then led her upstairs to a balcony overlooking the family room.
“This is my office. The door at that end leads to our ... my bedroom. The door at this end leads to a deck built over the living room roof. If you want some sun while you're here, that deck is the only place not in the shade at midday. I try to get an hour's sun at midday.”
Nancy walked to the window of the door to the deck. The sun shown on twin lounge chairs and a patio table. Two other patio chairs were still in the shade. “Two lounge chairs ... and they're in the sun ... looks inviting.”
Duncan glanced at his watch. “We're about forty-five minutes from midday. Ellie liked the sun too. One of the many things we had in common.” He paused. “It's a good place to have lunch. Do you like pastrami sandwiches and milk?”
“Pastrami sounds fine. A beer would go better.”
“Alright, I think there're a few beers hiding somewhere. Lunch in ten minutes on the deck.” Duncan handed her two large beach towels from a cabinet inside the door. “Make your self comfortable.”
Duncan walked onto the deck with their lunch on a tray. Nancy was stretched out on one of the lounge chairs, her clothes piled neatly beside it. She had turned the lounge to face directly into the sun. Duncan set the tray on the patio table, turning so that his back was to the hillside.
“We have a choice. We can stay aligned with the sun and restrict our conversation or we can face the river and talk about anything,” he said. Nancy looked at him quizzically. “Precautions, if there are DEA people on the hill they may have a directional mike. Personally, I prefer to face the sun.” He angled the second lounge chair into the sun beside Nancy's. Already barefoot, he pulled off his clothes and piled them in the table's shadow. He retrieved the tray and set it between the two lounges.
“I like your shorts,” she said leaning over and reaching one of the sandwiches. “You can tell a lot about a man from his shorts.” She took a bite of the sandwich and reached for the beer. “Did you know that?”
Duncan couldn't tell whether she was serious or kidding. He glanced at his shorts on top of the pile. “What do my shorts tell you?”
“You're not boring. Exciting men wear exciting shorts. Boring men wear boring shorts. White jockey shorts and boxer shorts are boring.”
“Did you learn this in graduate school or are you speaking from personal experience?”
“Oh, they would never teach anything so practical in graduate school.”
“One damn fine woman,” Buster Wislowski said to the bush through which he had his binoculars trained. Once again he had traveled from Washington, D. C. for surveillance duty in Oregon. Once again he found himself in a forest he didn't like, and the remembrance of what had happened to him after he had watched Duncan Harris commit the ashes of his wife didn't help. He would definitely leave before it got dark, even if his relief hadn't showed.
Buster shifted his view to Duncan Harris. “Well, buddy, you sure don't waste any time. I'll give you that,” he said to his distant, unhearing target. “Bare ass naked in broad daylight, a god damned exhibitionist.” He shifted back to the woman for a few moments.
Attaching the strongest telephoto lens to the camera, he positioned it on its shortened tripod, being careful to catch only the woman's face lest he be accused of enjoying the pulchritude. After he had shot six frames, he took his finger from the release button, but his eyes remained glued to the viewfinder; he moved the lenses slightly.
Li Fat focused on the nude whore stretched out on the lounge chair. The oddity of her being his great-aunt while being younger than he never entered his mind. The thought that his great-grandfather had sired her, that his blood flowed through her veins, was repugnant. It had been an old man's folly, but Li Fat had to acknowledge the woman was useful. When his great-grandfather needed to know what was in a man's mind, the woman, and her whore-mother before her, had been of great value.
They were waiting, he knew, in Bangkok, in Hong Kong, in San Francisco, even in Manila, for a signal from this imperfect vessel. She had to decide whether the man reclining a few feet from her could truly be trusted.
Li Fat desperately wanted this plan to succeed. It had been years now since he had laid eyes on his oldest living ancestor, and he desired to once again bow at his elder's feet, to have the old man see the sons he had produced. To do anything to further that dream, including protecting the promiscuous daughter of a concubine, was an honor.
SAN FRANCISCO — Monday 16:00
Larry Tanner was not happy. His life of the past week had been a series of minor disasters. First had been the aborted trip to Bolivia. He had spent a lot of time setting it up and was looking forward to the experience; it would counterbalance Richard's Thailand pleasures. Duncan's decision to accept Mr. Li's offer had made the journey unnecessary. That had been last Tuesday; Larry had picked up the message on his final check before leaving for the airport. He had to call and cancel his airport van pickup.
On Thursday Richard had returned home with numerous tales of his good times, first in Mae Hong Son and then, especially, in Bangkok. Larry endured the chronicling of Richard's exploits in silence, covering his jealousy by ordering Richard to get an HIV test.
And on Saturday Larry had turned fifty. How Richard had managed in only two days to organize a surprise party was beyond Larry's comprehension, and he both hated and loved his young partner for doing it. Then and there he had forgiven Richard for lately having had more fun than he, but by the end of the party he was awash in self-pity. The gay culture was more intolerant of age than mainstream America, and now Larry was old ... officially.
Larry looked around the weight room, but didn't see the man for whom he waited. He had time for one more set. He lay back on the bench and slid himself under the bar, grasping it where the chalk from his hands had already whitened the shallow serrations. He lifted the three hundred pounds to the full extension of his arms and then allowed the weight to bring the bar down to touch his chest. Eight times he did it with no obvious straining, groaning, or almost- making it. Damn few fifty-year-olds can do that, he thought.
“Impressive. It gets attention. Do you know how many stop to watch when you do that?” Jeffrey Tolson asked. He had entered the weight room at the start of Larry's first repetition.
“Since I do it without a spotter, they're probably waiting for me to screw up.”
“You really should use a spotter. You know, with your advanced age.” Jeff grinned. He had been a guest at the birthday party.
“Right, another asshole reminding me how old I am,” Larry shot back.
“Oh, sensitive are we?”
“Shit. I alter my workout schedule to match a friend's. Why? So I can give him the hottest story of his entire broadcasting career. What does he do? He gives me crap.” Larry looked at the TV news director, who had yet to experience hitting forty. “Next you'll start calling me an old troll.”
“I'd never call you an old troll. You're too big, too dangerous.” Jeff paused. “Story of my career?”
“Yup, but here are the conditions.”
WASHINGTON, D. C. — Monday 20:00
It was a working dinner at a restaurant floating on the Potomac. Greg Ballentine was paying the bill. He was the supplicant at the feet of the NSA representative, who was enjoying lecturing Greg on his neglect.
“As I remember, you avoided learning anything about cryptography back when we were both in the CIA, right?”
“Yes, and now it's costing me an expensive dinner,” Greg grinned.
“It ought to cost you more than that. Damn it, everybody else at your level has had to bone up on this stuff. And if you had, you'd know you're wasting your money trying to get me to put anything in the hopper for you.”
“All I'm asking is for somebody knowledgeable to look at it.”
“Greg, I don't care if it would give the DEA the biggest drug bust they've ever had. The NSA is concerned with national security, not running down drug dealers. You've got your own cryptography section. Go see them.”
“I already have,” Greg lied; he couldn't afford to involve his agency in an illegal tap. “They're set up to break simple things, word processor encryption, amateur stuff, not this level.” That he knew was true.
“Try the CIA. They've got a good section.”
“It's a domestic situation so they can't legally touch it, but I checked with them. They suggested you since the NSA can get away with domestic surveillance.”[REF2601]
“Jesus, you mention cryptography in this town and everybody screams for the NSA. We're supposed to be a secret agency, you know. Out of the limelight and all that.”
“But you've got the best decryption shop in the world.”
“Damn right, and we keep it that way by confining ourselves to our task ... and the DEA isn't making our life any easier.”
Greg reacted with surprise. “How's that?”
The NSA man was annoyed. “You'd know all this if you'd done your homework. Look, we want all encryption outlawed unless we can look at it, a back door. We need that. We can't protect this country without it.”
“I know that. God, I'm for it.”
“Yeah, but every time we propose it, there's this big hue and cry about privacy. Now people don't worry about privacy unless it's their personal privacy that's threatened. They don't complain unless you're stepping on their toes. Frankly, we think that if drugs were legal, there'd be one helluva lot less people opposing controls on encryption.”
“Wait, wait, wait ...” Greg shook his head. “All kinds of criminals use encryption, not just drug dealers.”
“It's not just dealers using it. It's ordinary users. We think most non-commercial use of high-quality encryption is drug related. Think, Greg, think. Seventy million Americans have used illicit drugs.[REF2602] That's a lot of people, and it's no secret that the more educated people are, the more willing they are to experiment, so you've got a lot of smart people, a lot of computer- literate people using high-quality encryption just so they can have their drugs. Hell, man, there're computer bulletin board systems all over this country just for making drug deals. Now how in hell are we supposed to find a message about planting a nuke in New York when we're flooded with orders for pot?”
“So you won't help?”
“I can't help, but if you're really desperate, try our British cousins in Cheltenham. The GCHQ is the U. K. equivalent of the NSA. They have more maneuvering room than we do. Sometimes—when we're nervous about something here—we get them to do it and route the material back to us ... I'll give you a name.”
[REF2601] Despite its size and power, however, no law has ever been enacted prohibiting the NSA from engaging in any activity. There are only laws to prohibit the release of any information about the Agency. ‘No statute establishes the NSA,’ Senate Intelligence Committee chairman Frank Church reported, 'or defines the permissible scope of its responsibilities. 'The CIA, on the other hand, was established by Congress under a public law, the National Security Act of 1947, setting out that agency's legal mandate as well as the restrictions on its activities.
“In addition to being free of legal restrictions, the NSA has technological capabilities for eavesdropping beyond imagination. Such capabilities once led former Senate Intelligence Committee member Walter F. Mondale to point to the NSA as 'possibly the most single important source of intelligence for this nation. '
“Yet the very same capabilities that provide the United States with its greatest intelligence resource also provide the nation with one of its greatest potential dangers. Noted Senator Church: 'That capability at any time could be turned around on the American people and no American would have any privacy left, such is the capability to monitor everything: telephone conversation, telegrams, it doesn't matter. There would be no place to hide. '”
Bamford, James, The Puzzle Palace (New York: Penguin Books 1983), p. 4.
[REF2602] “An estimated 74,378,000 Americans age 12 & above have used illicit drugs at some time in their life.” Public Health Service, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, National household survey on drug abuse: population estimates 1992, p. 19.