After two vacations (one mine and one Cormac's), I'm wading back into the fray of Friday Flash Fiction. I saw Nicole's sentence this week and it immediately sparked an idea. The first draft of this story was written before her sentence even won the vote. This is chapter 2 (well...parts of 2 and 3) of a longer story started way back in FFF23 with Bullet the Blue Sky. That's right, ladies and gentlemen, it's the return of super spy Jack Duncan. This isn't as wham-bang as the first installment, but it sets up future actions in the tale.
Bullet the Blue Sky, Chapter 2
“So much for Plan B.”
Sid Lane turned to face Jack Duncan, who was leaning against the back wall with his arms crossed over his chest. The two men were in a darkened observation room, staring through the two-way mirror at Amy Chen. The only thing they’d learned from two rounds of interrogation was a few more Chinese curse words.
“Let me have a crack at her,” said Duncan.
“Hold on,” said Sid. “Let’s give them a little more time. These folks are trained in psychology and can break anyone with enough time. There’s no need to resort to torture.”
Duncan fixed his cold, blue eyes on Sid. “Who said anything about torture? This is a spoiled little rich girl who’s also a double agent for the Chinese. What makes you think she won’t say whatever we want to hear in order to stop the pain? All I need is five minutes.”
Sid looked through the two-way at Amy Chen and then back at Duncan. He nodded and said, “What are you going to tell her?”
“The truth,” said Duncan. “Call this one Plan D.”
Two Days Earlier
From his penthouse suite in the Beijing Park Hyatt Hotel, Ambassador Chen looked out at the sunrise. The thick cloud of smog that hung over the city made the red glow of the early morning look like a fire, slowing rolling in from the plain. Before too long, the pollution and the heat of the day would make the air outside hard to breathe. Chen sucked in a lungful of the air-conditioned air and turned to the interior of his suite.
He stepped off the thick carpet onto the hard, wooden floor of the living area. The cool surface felt good on his feet this early in the morning. It filled him with energy and a sense of optimism about the day. The negotiations yesterday had gone well, he felt. It was certainly the most challenging summit of his career, but Chen felt up to the task.
Through the spring and early summer, massive protests sprung up everywhere in the Chinese mainland. Citizens, young and old, were becoming more forceful in their denunciation of the communist regime. The Chinese government was brutal in their shutdown of the protests, but only one incident, so far, had gathered the amount of international attention that the Tiananmen Square protests of twenty years ago did.
About a week ago, roughly 10,000 protesters marched through the streets of Beijing en route to the capital building. Before they could get there, they were intercepted by members of the Chinese military. The clash was swift and brutal, leaving nearly 100 protesters dead and an additional 200 wounded. The Chinese military suffered minimal injuries, including two soldiers beaten to death. Two of the men arrested for the murder of the Chinese officers were Chinese-Americans – soldiers in the U.S. Army, visiting relatives while on leave. The Chinese government viewed this as a sign of American involvement in the protests and wanted to make an example of the men on the world stage. The President immediately dispatched Chen to soothe over China’s fears and to secure the release of the captured soldiers.
Chen ran a hand over his blue silk tie and plucked an apple from the fruit basket on the glass coffee table. He took one bite of the apple and was reminded of his childhood in Liaoning province, before he immigrated to the United States. Washington has good apples, but nothing compares to the Fuji apples he used to pick fresh from the trees growing in his parents’ back yard.
He felt the stab of regret that his daughter didn’t join him on the trip. She didn’t show up at the plane and the Air Force officers couldn’t delay any longer. They had been so close when she was younger, especially after her mother had died. But Chen felt them growing apart as Amy got older. Her years in college had made her cold and distant to him. He wanted to bring her back home and share their culture – a culture she missed out on growing up in the US. He also wanted to show her that communism wasn’t the great idea her leftist professors told her it was. It’s all well and good that everyone should be treated equally and nobody was better off than anyone else, but it never worked out in practice. The violent putdown of protests is a good example of the brutality committed in the name of “maintaining order”.
Chen took another bite of his apple and slid the fruit basket to the side. He was surprised that it was a lot heavier than it looked. He put his apple down and removed the top level of apples and bananas. At the bottom of the basket, there was a small black box. He flipped it over and saw a red numbers on a digital display, counting down from five.
Chen’s eyes opened wide as he realized what he was holding. He dropped it and leaped over the leather sofa but it was too late. The bomb went off.
Jack Duncan opened the door to the interrogation room. Amy briefly looked over at him, then back at the blank spot on the wall she’d been staring at for hours. Duncan closed the door and dragged the steel chair directly into Amy’s line of sight and sat down. She looked down at the table, trying to escape from his steely gaze.
Duncan was prepared to wait as long as necessary. He was trained as a sniper to sit still for long stretches of time. SEALs are trained to move swiftly and quietly. It didn’t work going off half-cocked. Slow and steady wins the race.
Finally, Amy said, “What do you want? Why are you doing this to me?”
Duncan said nothing.
“I want my lawyer. I’m an American citizen. I have rights!”
“You’re a Chinese agent and a traitor to your country,” said Duncan. “The best your lawyer could do is get you life in prison instead of execution.”
“You don’t scare me. You’re just mad because you were played for a fool. My father’s an ambassador. He...”
“Your father’s dead.”
Amy was quiet for a second and said, “He’s a traitor to his country.”
Duncan looked into her eyes and saw pain. Her words were full of bravado, but there was no feeling behind them. They were just slogans repeated like she was a doll with a pull string Duncan said, “Do you want to know how he died?”
Amy said nothing.
Duncan opened the manila folder he carried in with him and placed five black and white photos in front of Amy. Each photo showed what was left of her father’s hotel room. The curtains were black with soot. The sofa was a charred hulk of what it once was. Her father laying on his face, bloody and burned, with a banana peel resting at his shoulder.
Amy began to cry. Big, wet tears streamed down her face and her chest was wracked with sobs. Duncan said, “You did this.”
Duncan slammed a meaty hand on the table and stood up. “You did this,” he shouted. “These are the people you work for. The information you send them? They use it to hurt people. Innocent people. People like your father who want to make the world a better place.”
“The revolution be damned! They don’t want to make a workers’ utopia. All they care about is staying in power and killing anyone who is a threat to that.”
Amy was overcome with tears. Her shoulders convulsed like she was working a jackhammer. Nothing but sobs and gasps escaped her mouth. Duncan turned and looked at the two-way mirror where he knew Sid would be watching.
Turning double agents is tricky. The key is to find a person’s motivation. If money is the key, then it’s easy. Just pay more than the other guy and you have a terrific asset. If it’s ideology, then you have your work cut out for you. You need to find one thing they care for more than their ideology.
Re-doubling an agent is trickier still. You could think they’re on your side and playing those who flipped them in the first place. Or they could pretend they flipped back and feed you false information given to them by an enemy agency. Shifting alliances are hard to read, so you need to take a leap of faith and verify later.
“Amy,” said Duncan, “we need your help. The Chinese government is holding two of our soldiers captive. We need you to help us find them, so we can rescue them. Your father was in China to secure their release, but his assassination shows that China no longer cares about averting a war. If you help us get our men back, I promise you, we’ll find those responsible for your father’s murder and bring them to justice. We need you to finish your father's work. Will you help us?”
Amy looked up at him. Her eyes were puffy and red from tears. She sniffed twice and took a deep breath. “Yes. Yes, I’ll help you.”