WASHINGTON, D. C. — Tuesday 09:00
The hardcopies of the two intelligence messages were, for a short time, in physical contact, one on top of the other. The first message came from the DEA's Bangkok station. An informant in the household of a high Thai government official had eavesdropped on a conversation between his employer and a member of the Li Sung (a. k. a. Mr. Li) Chiu-chau family in Bangkok. In accordance with the wishes of the Thai government, the family would be leaving the country shortly. They waited only for a go ahead from an emissary in the United States. A large bribe had been given to the official to ensure the family's safe transit through Bangkok's Don Mueang Airport.
The second message was Buster Wislowski's report of Monday's activities at Duncan Harris's residence. It included a facsimile of the photo he had taken of Nancy Li.
A year earlier, both messages would have gone to a single intelligence officer, but a new chief had taken over the intelligence division. Anxious to put his own imprint on the division and to expand its size, he had established separate intelligence desks for heroin, cocaine, and marijuana. A fourth desk encompassed all the other illicit drugs and illegal trafficking in prescription drugs.[REF2701]
Each message sender marked to which desk his message should be routed, and a clerk sorted the messages by desk. The clerk put the message from Bangkok in the heroin pile, that being the drug in which Mr. Li trafficked. He put the message from Oregon in the cocaine pile, that being the drug to which the Duncan Harris surveillance had been allocated.
The two respective intelligence officers reviewed the reports within minutes of and within twenty feet of each other, but they had no reason to speak. The heroin desk officer forwarded a copy of his report to the U.S. Immigration Service, it being reasonable to assume that if Mr. Li's family was waiting on word from the U.S. , that was their destination. The cocaine desk officer forwarded a copy of his report to Greg Ballentine.
The heroin desk officer would have immediately recognized the picture of Nancy Li; he had seen her image before. The cocaine desk officer had never laid eyes on her.
LEABURG — Tuesday 08:30
Nancy slept late and woke to the sound of chirping. First she thought it a bird, then she spotted the squirrel through the window. The sliding glass door to the deck was still open, the screen the only impediment to the squirrel's scolding.
She had hoped she would awake to find Duncan had returned to her side. She knew men, she liked men, and she liked him ... a lot. Bedding down together had been the natural interaction of two healthy people having spent the day together and who were attracted to each other. And it helped the charade he had started over the phone, lovers being tracked by a suspicious husband. Purposefully they had left the blinds open on the bedroom's large picture window. Anyone with a nightscope could see their coupling, and the possibility of a watching DEA agent lent a certain excitement to the act.
After they had lain together, Duncan had excused himself, not quickly, but before she drifted into sleep. He had e‑mail to be checked and answered, he said, and planning to be done; he would leave her to a good night's sleep, his bedroom was off his office. She had been disappointed, had wanted to fall asleep in his arms. Was his action a concession to the memory of a dead wife, she wondered?
Nancy slipped from bed and stretched in front of the window. The sun had topped the ridge to the east. Shafts of light shown through the trees, striking moss covered ground beyond the deck in variegated patterns, the sparkle of dew within each angled pattern.
She slid the door open and stepped onto the deck. The air was still crisp and caused an immediate hardening of her nipples. Walking across the deck, she stepped on the soft, damp moss and found it delightful. She crouched and explored its texture with her hand. Her fingers came away wet and clean. Rising she looked back toward the bedroom. The two oversize pillows, each with a head impression, were clearly visible.
She wanted to learn more about Duncan, but what was the point. Her father had said Duncan Harris would be running for the rest of his life ... and it could well be a short remaining life.
Nancy returned to the warmth of the house and showered. After drying, she stood in front of the full-length mirror combing out her waist-length hair, deciding to leave it down. She opened her luggage and pulled out the red sulu, purchased on her last trip to Fiji, with black imprints of bare feet on it. Wrapping the rectangle of cloth low around her hips, she tied it over her left leg, pulling on the knot to make the garment part just above mid-thigh, and started toward the main part of the house.
“Duncan?” she asked, passing the kitchen.
“Up here, in my office.”
Duncan turned from his computer screen to face the stairs Nancy ascended. She took the last step up with her left leg, causing the sulu to part slightly farther.
“Good morning,” she smiled. He looked.
“You make it awfully hard to concentrate.”
This time they used his bedroom.
BANGKOK — Tuesday 23:00
It was no longer accurate to say it was past Mr. Li's bedtime; he spent most of his time in bed, but it was past his sleep time. He had dismissed his nurse-wife and his personal assistant for the evening. Only his bodyguard remained.
At the old man's command, the bodyguard lifted him from the bed and carried him to the chair on the bedroom's veranda. Had it been morning, he would have attempted to walk the twenty feet, but the day had been long and fraught with uncertainty. He was tired, and the bodyguard was the one human in front of whom he was completely himself ... except for the two women in the U.S. , the concubine and her daughter. Pretense had never been necessary there. That was part of their attraction.
The second-story veranda overlooked the slow flowing water of Klong Tan. Mr. Li looked down toward the surface of the canal, at the shimmering reflection of a nearly full waxing moon. Trees overhanging the veranda obscured the moon itself, leaving Mr. Li in the shadows. He faced downstream, looking toward the juncture of the canal and the Chao Praya River, where at his order, the informer's body had been dumped, well weighted.
The man had died screaming for mercy. It had been some time since Mr. Li had ordered a death, and he had not liked ordering this one, not because it bothered him to be the cause of another man's death, but because killing people inevitably led to other problems. He believed it better to negotiate than to kill, but negotiation took time, the one thing he didn't have. And he had to appear strong to the young men of his family who believed him to be too old, too soft.
Now the American DEA knew he intended leaving Bangkok. How long would it take them discover his destination, and how he planned getting there?He had hoped his daughter would have more time to evaluate the American 747 captain, but he needed her decision now.
The events of the day had altered his plans. Before, he questioned whether Duncan Harris could be trusted enough to make co-operating with him the best means to move the family to the U.S. Now Mr. Li had no choice but to use that means. It was the only plan close enough to completion to be practical. The only questions now were how quickly he could rush it into operation and how much watching the American would require, and he had no time to wait for the regular exchange of e-mail messages.
Mr. Li knew his daughter was with the American pilot, and thought of calling her there, but decided the risk too great. He had unsuccessfully tried to call the nephew assigned to watch Duncan Harris and to protect his daughter; the reliability of cellular phones in remote areas still left much to be desired.
He finally decided to call his concubine in San Diego. The mother could call her daughter, tell her to communicate. The roundabout routing would make interception difficult but not impossible. Mr. Li knew his lines of communication in Thailand were safe, but he feared a phone call to the concubine's San Diego home would be recorded, knowing the American NSA monitored all overseas communications into and out of the U.S. Encrypted e-mail would be far safer, but he had to know of Duncan Harris, had to get the pilot on his way back to Bangkok.
Mr. Li had called his concubine personally, instructing her to go to a payphone and call back. He knew she had felt the worry in his voice, and he had heard the concern in hers. After all these years, they still found solace in each other.
The phone rang. The bodyguard answered and handed it to Mr. Li. It was the concubine. He spoke quickly in Cantonese; the concubine had never learned Swatow. The woman replied in Thai; Mr. Li had never learned German.
LEABURG — Tuesday 10:00
The phone call came while Nancy was on top doing all the work.
“Ignore it. Let the answering machine get it,” Duncan said hoarsely.
When the mother's agitated voice—in German—came over the speaker, Nancy stopped in mid-motion. “My god, my mother?“ She quickly leaned and stretched left to pick up the phone.
Duncan's preoccupation with the sensations her movement created didn't allow him to stop her. The answering machine's speaker stopped when Nancy lifted the phone, and he waited in silence as she listened. She replied rapidly in German. When talking to her mother, Nancy always used the language in which the older woman started. There were four exchanges before Nancy hit the cordless phone's OFF button.
“We need to ....”
Duncan was ahead of her. His hands were around her waist, lifting her off him. “I understood your half. Get dressed. We'll go to a payphone.”
Duncan bypassed the public phone at the County Park. He had used it before, might have been seen using it. He knew it unlikely it would be unsafe, but he was in a maximum caution mode, and knew of another payphone at a small general store a five miles up the river.
For the second day in a row a phone call had come to his home that should never have been made in the clear. Mr. Li's people needed to be more careful. They were underestimating the resources and the resolve of the DEA, particularly of Greg Ballentine ... but they weren't even aware of Duncan's ex-associate. Maybe Duncan needed to spell out the situation in more detail.
Duncan entered the small general store while Nancy used the payphone in the parking lot. He took his time selecting a few items, occasionally glancing at the phone booth through the large front windows. When he saw her walking toward his van, he paid for the items and left the store.
“There's been a breach of security in Bangkok,” she said as Duncan closed the vehicle's door. “The DEA knows my father and his family are leaving soon.”
“Jesus. Did they get any details?”
“Only that they'll be going through the airport.”
“Which gives away the method of transportation.” Duncan pursed his lips, shook his head from side to side.
“He wants both of us to come to Bangkok as soon as possible. He wants to leave Bangkok within the week.”
Duncan's jaw dropped. He recovered and opened the driver's side door.
“Where are you going?” Nancy asked.
“To the phone booth. Airline reservations. As soon as possible means now.”
Duncan paused after opening the driver's side door when he returned to the van. He looked through the door's open window into the small store, the store where Ellie and he had frequently come to purchase small items forgotten on their weekly shopping trips to town. When they otherwise would have stayed home all day, it had been their private joke that going to the store was the day's excitement. They would stretch out the little visit away from home. Each would have an ice cream cone, she vanilla, he chocolate. The store had a small porch with cheap white plastic chairs. He always took a chair. Ellie sat on the porch railing.
Duncan looked at Nancy with a sad smile, closed the door without getting in, put the flattened palm of his right hand toward her in a just-a-minute sign, and went back into the store. A minute later he came out on the porch, a vanilla ice cream cone in his left hand, a chocolate cone in his right. With his head he motioned her toward the porch.
He had already sat in a chair next to the railing by the time she arrived at his side. He extended the vanilla cone to her.
“I hope you like vanilla ice cream.”
“I do,” she said, and started to take an empty chair beside him, a questioning look on her face.
“No, please, sit up here on the railing,” he said, shifting his cone and patting the railing top with his right hand. “Lean back against the wall. Your right foot should be up on the railing, your left foot down. Humor me. It won't be the same. Your hair is longer, stronger, heavier ... and it's not blond.”
He paused. Nancy did as he asked.
“The breeze would come around the corner and catch her hair ... she'd reach up to keep it out of the ice cream. She planned to cut it, thinking with the baby coming short hair would be better.”
There was no breeze this day.
“From now until we get on the airplane, I'll be looking at where I live ... my home ... just as I've looked at it for years. I'll leave just like I left for years. Only this time I won't come back ... I'm closing out a life.” He paused again. “This ... is the only nostalgia I'll permit myself. I won't look back after this.”
Nancy looked at him steadily.
“I have the luxury of these few minutes to ... to adjust to leaving, to reorient myself to a new reality. My father had time to think about closing out his life, to accept whatever awaits us after death. But Ellie ... Ellie was given no time, no time at all. No time, no warning.”
For all her training, Nancy couldn't think of anything to say.
Arriving back at his house, Duncan first went to his desktop computer and downloaded to his laptop computer all of the files having to do with the coming operation. The transfer took less than five minutes. The desktop machine's hard disk was four times as large as the smaller machine's, so downloading everything was out of the question. He solved by gathering all two hundred and nineteen removable diskettes he had and putting them in an old shoebox. They contained all his backups and all of the distributed software he had accumulated. He threw in twenty blank diskettes to fill the box.
He kept one diskette out. Created as a rescue diskette, it had a number of utility programs whose primary purpose was to allow recovery from severe problems occurring on the computer's hard disk. The utilities included a wiping program for writing repetitive alternating patterns of zeroes and ones, thus destroying after a few passes all possibility of recovering what had been on the disk.
Duncan inserted the diskette in its drive and restarted the machine, causing it to operate from the diskette rather than from its hard disk. He called up the wiping program and instructed it to clean the entire hard drive. The last parameter the program requested was how many passes to make. Duncan knew that after three or four only the most sophisticated equipment stood a chance of recovering anything. Certainly after a dozen passes not even the NSA could get anything off the disk. He entered ninety-nine, removed the diskette, and left the machine running.
Other than the shoebox full of diskettes, Duncan packed as he normally would for a flying trip. He avoided looking at the shelves of books, the paintings and photographs on the walls, the knickknacks each of which had a small story behind them ... the accumulation of years in a place he loved.
With their bags at the front door, Duncan went up and looked at the computer. It was in the middle of the third pass. Leaving it running, he put a note on the kitchen table for Dolores to turn it off when she next cleaned. The note also included instructions to retrieve his van from the airport. He laid an extra set of the van's keys on the note.
They carried their luggage to the van. Duncan drove off without looking back.
In downtown Eugene Duncan left Nancy sitting in the van while he ran into Bill Batteman's office to sign half-a-dozen blank power-of-attorney forms. Bill was in court. Duncan told the secretary he would call later with instructions, and left his old friend's office without looking back.
At the airport, he left the van in long-term parking and the keys in the glove compartment. At the airline ticket counter he requested and received an aisle seat on the flight departing Eugene. At no time during the taxi or the takeoff did he look out a window.
REFERENCE MATERIAL[REF2701] “One of the first of the so-called sweeping changes made by the FBI after its takeover of DEA in 1980, to ‘improve and streamline narcotics enforcement,was the creation of the desk concept. The newly appointed FBI/DEA administrator, Francis Mullen, decided that DEA headquarters would be more efficient if divided into sections, or ‘desks,' charged with the control and oversight of all narcotics investigations according to the type of drug involved (heroin desk, cocaine desk, marijuana desk, and so on), as opposed to the previous geographical organizational structure, with a South American division controlling all investigations and operations in that area, a European division, a Middle East division, et cetera. This one move effectively destroyed even the notion of effectively and centrally controlling an international narcotics investigation and threw DEA headquarters into an irrational, illogical, bureaucratic mess from which it has never recovered.” Michael Levine, Deep Cover (New York: Random House Publishing Group, 1990), ch. 3.