recall their people in Bangkok back to the ship. We must capture the

men I need before that happens.”

“It will be done, sir. Where do you want them?”

“Here. We will use the rooms downstairs. Go, now.”

Phreng gave a perfunctory wai and departed.

Hsiao thought for a moment. It was late, well past normal office hours,

but Sword might well be at his desk despite the hour. With things about

to break at U Feng, the agent would be working to prepare things for his

role in the coming drama. Hsiao picked up the phone. Dialing a number,

he asked to be connected with a particular extension. “Is Den Phitsanuk

there, please?”

he asked when a familiar voice answered.

There was a long silence. “Den is visiting family in Chiang Mai,” the

man at the other end replied. Question and response were code phrases,

identifying each speaker to the other and verifying that there were no

eavesdroppers on either end.

“Perhaps I can reach him there,” Hsiao said. “In one hour.”

He was about to hang up the phone. The message, that he needed to meet

personally with the agent known as Sword at a particular rendezvous in

an hour, had been delivered. But he heard Sword’s sharp intake of

breath over the phone. “Please! Wait,” the man said. “This line is

clean. We can talk.”

Hsiao frowned. This was a flagrant violation of the security rules he’d

laid down at the very beginning of this operation. Sword should have

known better. “We will talk,” he said sharply. “In an hour.”

“No. Now.” Sword was persistent. “There is trouble … an American

naval aircraft lost near U Feng. The Americans have scheduled a meeting

with members of the government. They are demanding permission to mount

search-and-rescue operations in the area. I may not be able to put them

off much longer.”

Hsiao glanced at his watch. “It is already past seven,” he said. “It

is rather a late hour for government meetings, is it not?”

“The Americans are … upset.”

“You will be at this meeting?”

“Of course, sir. General … our people fear what the Americans may


The voice sounded desperate. “We could lose everything!”

Hsiao forced himself to remain calm. Sword could jeopardize much more

than the Americans would if the man lost his nerve now.

“We have lost nothing,” Hsiao said gently. Now, he judged, was the time

for soft words and assurances. He needed Sword to guide upcoming events

within the government, especially once word of U Feng reached Bangkok

sometime later this night. “We shall use the Americans, not avoid


“Are you saying we will confront the Americans directly? Your MiGs

will never get within a hundred miles of their carrier!”

Hsiao laughed. “You talk about the Jefferson as though it were magic!

She is a large warship, to be sure, but she is not invulnerable!”

“You have a battleship or two hidden in reserve, perhaps? Or a cruise


“We have something much better, my friend. Surprise … and the

Americans’ own feelings of safety within a friendly port!”

“I fail to see how that can help us.”

“You, my friend, are the key. You can make everything work. Remember!

I chose you because you can make the bureaucracy work for us! Reports

can be mislaid, orders delayed, decisions postponed or deferred.”

“That doesn’t help us with the Yankee carrier. If they should decide to

openly side with the government-”

“They will have other things to worry about.”

“What, General?” The voice carried almost open scorn. “Suicide motor

boats? An armada of hang gliders? This is a nuclear-powered aircraft

carrier we face!”

“A nuclear-powered aircraft carrier, yes. A ship which is enormously

vulnerable.” He chuckled. “You know many today claim that the aircraft

carrier is already obsolete. That its vulnerability, its total

dependence on the other ships of its battle group, would actually make

it a liability in a war.”

“You have an idea.” It was a statement of fact, not a question. “What

is it?”

Hsiao laughed gently. “Not over the phone, Sword. Attend the meeting

and report to me afterward. Then I will tell you what I have in mind.”

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Categories: Keith Douglass