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Authors: Joe Poyer

The Chinese Agenda

BOOK: The Chinese Agenda
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CHAPTER ONE

The three men waited on the dock as the boat crept sluggishly up the river, engines pounding against the heavy current. The late afternoon sun filtered down through the overhanging jungle canopy to ripple along the boat's length in a patchwork of color. One of the men on the dock, a small, painfully thin figure, sighed once, partly in relief, partly in despair, and the other two exchanged apprehensive glances. The racket from the engines increased for a moment as the helmsman eased the throttle forward and turned the bow into the dock. She was now side-on to the three watchers and they could see that the boat had been badly battered. A line of splintered holes ran from the bow to the waterline amidships and the port forward edge of the deckhouse was badly shot up. The bow wave swept under the rickety pilings and the boat edged alongside. A black sailor jumped down onto the dock and looped a snubbing line around a piling, then trotted back along the length of the boat to catch a second line tossed to him from the stern. The ear-splitting racket increased as the man at the helm threw the wheel over, then died abruptly as the stern bumped against the dock. General – courtesy of the Gambian Governmentin-exile – Emile Jacques gave a distinctly Gallic shrug of apology to his two companions. The sailor climbing back onto the boat caught the gesture and grinned at Gillon.

Gillon stared at the two men on either side of Jacques. Both were well-dressed but distinctly out of place in the jungle setting in their business suits and ties. And, both had that hard indefinable air about them of men who are at their best in any situation simply because they fully believe in their own competence. Anyone who found his way into the camp was of the deepest concern and though Jacques must have satisfied himself that their business was both urgent and legitimate, Gillon found himself growing angrier by the minute. He was well

aware that it was impossible for anyone, and especially anyone as distinctive as an Oriental and a Caucasian to travel together in Africa without it being known from Cape Town to Cairo in a matter of hours.

The two men watching the battered boat saw a man of middle height, with broad, rangy shoulders and a shock of immensely red hair glaring down at them through red-rimmed eyes. His face was smeared with a mixture of engine oil and cordite and his gaze, travelling over each in turn, was contemptuous. A dark smear of dried blood lined one cheek and a once-white shirt was streaked with oil.

Beyond the dock, stretching back into the gloom of the rain forest and resembling an abandoned lumber camp more than a military base, were a series of prefab buildings surrounded by brush and grass huts and a few tents, all huddled together in mutual support under the jungle canopy into a small, cleared area edged with concertina wire. Soldiers could be seen moving slowly in and out of the buildings and along the few paths, while scattered here and there were the reclining bodies of a few uniformed troopers, most of them asleep. Gillon snorted in disgust and waved a hand at Jacques.

'Hullo, Emile.'

Jacques waved back and turned to speak with the other two men for a moment. Then he grasped the railing and pulled himself up and onto the deck. The other two followed as he started slowly aft to the deckhouse, examining the damage as he went. He stepped down into the cockpit and squeezed Gillon's shoulder.

`You have had a rough trip, it would appear.'

`Goddamn it, yes, we had a rough trip,' Gillon snorted, and instantly Jacques assumed his well-practiced air of hurt patience that Gillon had learned to recognize during their two-year association. Jacques leaned back against the coaming with the resigned air of one willing to wait out a storm in good cause and Gillon gritted his teeth and swore to himself.

'Yes, we had a hard time.' His carefully conserved control deserted him in a rush of shouted words. 'We put shells into the oil barges then shot up the tug. Before we could sink her in the channel off Point Loma their

damned air force showed and I lost my best gunner. Two twenties through the chest. There's hardly enough of him left to bury. Now they'll get that damned tug off and we'll have to go out and do it all over again.'

Gillon stopped abruptly, too weary to continue. To hell with Jacques, he thought, and leaned against the deckhouse and shut his eyes, wishing he could shut his ears and his senses to the stolid African evening. Under the canopy of the rain forest there would be no surcease from the oppressive humidity that filled the air. Even off the coast the humidity never left them. Jacques' nasal voice, telling the two men that indeed the ship had fought hard and valiantly, that indeed there was no one that knew small patrol ships

– as many times as Gillon had corrected him, Jacques still referred to the riverine boats as ships – as well as Gillon, added to the misery created by the humidity and Gillon opened his eyes and stepped away to the lee side of the boat, where he could at least feel the stirrings of the water-laden air on the back of his neck. But even that did no good and he finally swung around and snapped:

Èmile, for God's sake, shut up, will you. What the hell do they want anyway?'

The two men exchanged glances, glances that questioned Jacques' judgment without words more than anything they might have said. Nor did Jacques miss the implication.

'He is overwrought for the moment, gentlemen,' he replied hurriedly. 'Overwrought and overworked. You can see for yourself that he ...

'Emile, for Christ's sake ...'

Jacques capitulated and drew himself up. 'Permit me, gentlemen, to present Colonel Robert Gillon of the Gambian Independence Forces, Captain of the . . . the . . . this; uh, ship, since it does not at present have a name. Colonel Gillon was formerly Major Gillon in your Armed Forces, Mr. Jones; the Army I believe.'

'Jones!' Gillon snorted. 'Sure, why not? Everywhere you turn in Africa these days you fall over a spook.'

'Colonel Gillon,' Jacques persisted, his voice taking on a warning note, 'permit me to present Phan Duc Phnom, Deputy Minister of Internal Affairs, Royal Kingdom of Laos, and Mr. Jones, attached to the American Embassy in Laos.' In spite of everything, including forty years' absence from Europe, Jacques would remain a continental to his dying day.

. Gillon nodded and ignored Jones's outstretched. hand. `How's the embassy business . . . uh, Jones? Sorry, I'm not very good at names. And you, what do I call you, Your Excellency?'

Phan Duc Phnom looked at Jacques dubiously. 'Mister will do, Colonel Gillon.'

Gillon sighed and rubbed his forehead.

`Look, I'm tired, you must be tired – or at least you are if you have any sense. Let's quit playing around. Jones or whatever. You are from the CIA, NSA, DIA, ABC or God knows what. If you have anything to do with Laos, you have my deepest sympathies, Mr. Phnom. Now, once more, what the hell do you want?'

Jacques started to interrupt but Gillon cut him off. `Stop it, Emile. We all know what the score is . .

Jacques persisted, however, glaring at Gillon: 'These gentlemen have traveled a long, dangerous way to talk with you, Robert. At least, you can show them the common courtesy of hearing what 'they have to say.'

'I suggest.' Phnom interrupted, 'that since Colonel Gillon is tired and we are tired as well, perhaps it would be better to wait until morning to begin our discussion. Then, we would all be at our best.'

`Very nice of you I'm sure, gentlemen,' Gillon said sarcastically. 'Now, I would appreciate it if you would all get the hell off my boat so we can finish up and get some sleep.'

The three men exchanged glances once more, then started down the gangway without another word. In the embarrassed silence, Gillon grabbed Jacques by the arm and held him back. Èmile,' he said softly, tightening his grip and glaring down at him, 'how many times have you told me that no outsiders come into this camp at anytime?'

The older man saw his own frustration and fear mirrored in the angry face. Half smiling, half pitying, he stood his ground against Gillon's anger.

'Is that all you can do?' Gillon snarled at him. 'Stand

there and grin like a fool? If you hunted all over Africa you wouldn't have done any better. A diplomat and a spook, for God's sake. The only two professions in the world where a flapping mouth is a basic requirement. Why the devil didn't you go and get M'

bouti and bring him here with a division?'

Jacques stepped closer and laid a hand on Gillon's shoulder. 'Go and get some sleep, Robert. You are tired and you are not seeing things clearly. I understand your concern and fully appreciate it. And you know that I, of all people, would do nothing to endanger this camp. I do what I must, even though I wish I did not have to.'

Jacques said this last with such a sad smile that Gillon relented, although he knew that Jacques was a consummate actor. He was too tired to argue any further and let go of his arm. '

Àll right, Emile. I'll get some sleep and we'll talk in the morning. But, I want you to put a guard on those two tonight. Somebody you can trust to stay awake. And I don't want them to know they are being watched either.'

The Belgian nodded. 'I have already done so, even though I know who they are and why. they are here.' He waved once and trotted down the gangplank to join the two men who waited for him on the bank.

Gillon watched him go with mixed feelings of anger, respect and affection for the old man. Forty years he had spent in Central Africa, through more wars than he could remember. Belgium was a faded memory and even the War was thirty years in the past, as were the last traces of Jacques' optimism, liberalism and faith in man. There were only innumerable petty squabbles to be fought now, all masquerading as National Wars of Liberation, civil wars, revolutionary wars, struggles of the proletariat and so on. All the modern terms applied to senseless killing by the Western and Eastern worlds in their struggle for hegemony. One hundred years ago they would have been called imperial wars and two hundred years ago tribal wars. But now they were immensely more deadly than the cattle and women raids of the tribal days; fought with the latest obsolete military equipment short of nuclear weaponry, the dead were measured in the thousands and sometimes millions.

As Gillon watched the old man walk up the path, his back still as ramrod stiff as the day he left the Ecole Militaire, he knew that if he wasn't careful, thirty years from now he might very well be walking up a similar path. Why he stayed he really was not certain. The high pay certainly did nothing to offset the boredom, and what adventure was there in dying in ninety-degree heat and ninety-eight per cent humidity with your chest torn open by an AK-47 bullet? But he knew, as with any job, if one was not careful, one fell easily into a rut in which the effort required to extract oneself grew in proportion to each passing year. As had happened to Jacques. In the beginning, in the 1930's, it had been his sense of duty that had kept him in Central Africa. And then had come the War and its aftermath. Through the fifties the beginnings of inertia mixed with a fading professional conscience had by the 1960's led him easy into the new wars in old colonies with new nationaliapic.-names. Trained military officers were in short supply and he never lacked for employment, hence the rut had grown deeper and deeper. Jacques would die here. Not by an enemy bullet since he was a staff officer and not by a firing squad if captured or surrendered. The other side was always in need of trained officers, especially staff officers, and as long as you were flexible enough . . . no, Gillon thought to himself, Jacques stood an excellent chance of dying of old age, providing chronic alcoholism - or some obscure tropical disease didn't single him out first. Gillon flicked his cigarette into the oily water and turned away to shamble across the cockpit and swing himself down onto the dock.

CHAPTER TWO

Gillon lay on the hard cot for a long time, chain-smoking and staring at the lighter patch of sky visible in the gloom through the screened window. The interior of the

-hut was rank with the moldy smell of heat and humidity and the thin mattress beneath him was soaked with his sweat. In spite of his exhaustion, the tenseness and anger that he still felt, combined with the heat to keep him awake. His mind raced like an engine gone wild and, try as he might, he could not turn it off.

He twisted on the soggy mattress and pushed the thin pillow higher under his head to lift his neck away from the dampness. He had spent two long years, monotonous years, in Gambia, during which times the rebel forces had lost ground steadily in spite of the, vast quantities of material that had been poured in to support them. Even the British advisers in the South and the new air force so thoughtfully supplied by the Israelis as they replaced the last oft-their obsolescent equipment were clearly not enough to stem the growing demoralization and fast approaching final defeat.

With seemingly unlimited Soviet bloc support, the incumbent government was growing stronger by the day, extending its hold ever farther into the countryside in spite of the brutal ineptness of its army, until finally, the rebel forces held only the. Northeast, inland from the coast, and the eastern border areas which formed a narrow corridor to the forces in the South.

BOOK: The Chinese Agenda
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