Charles Cumming



“Washington has gone crazy.”

I am standing at the foot of Joe’s bed in the Worldlink Hospital. Six days have passed since the attacks of 11 June. There are plastic tubes running from valves on his wrists, a cardiac monitor attached by pads to the spaces between the bruises and cuts on his chest.

“What do you mean?”

“Only a handful of people at Langley knew what Miles was up to. Nobody else had the faintest idea what the hell was going on out here.”

“Who told you this?”


Joe turns his head towards the window and looks out on another featureless Shanghai morning. He has a broken collarbone, a fracture in his left leg, a wound on his skull protected by loops of clean white bandage.

“How much do you know about all this?” he asks, directing his eyes into mine, and the question travels all the way back to our first months in Hong Kong.

“Everything I’ve researched. Everything you’ve ever told me.”

My name is William Lasker. I am a journalist. For fourteen years I served as a support agent of the British Secret Intelligence Service. For ten of those years, Joe Lennox was my handler and close friend. Nobody knows more about RUN than I do. Nobody except Joe Lennox himself.

He clears a block in his throat. His voice is still slow and uneven from the blast. I offer him a glass of water which he waves away.

“If the CIA didn’t know about Miles, they’ll be going through every file, every email, every telephone conversation he ever made. They’ll want answers. Heads are going to roll. David Waterfield can get you those files. He has a source at Langley and a source in Beijing.”

“What are you getting at?”

A nurse comes into the room, nods at Joe, checks the flow rate on his IV drip. Both of us stop talking. For the past six days the Worldlink has been crawling with Chinese spies. The Ministry of State Security will be keeping a record of everybody who comes in and out of this room. The nurse looks at me, seems to photograph my face with a blink of her eyes, then leaves.

“What are you getting at?” I ask again.

“They say that every journalist wants to write a book.” Joe is smiling for the first time in days. I can’t tell whether this remark is a statement or a question. Then his mood becomes altogether more serious. “This story needs to be told. We want you to tell it.”


Hong Kong 1997



Professor Wang Kaixuan emerged from the still waters of the South China Sea shortly before dawn on Thursday 10 April 1997. Exhausted by the long crossing, he lay for some time in the shallows, his ears tuned to the silence, his eyes scanning the beach. It was 5:52 a.m. By his calculations the sun would begin to rise over Dapeng Bay in less than fifteen minutes. From that point on he would run the greater risk of being spotted by a passing patrol. Keeping his body low against the slick black rocks, he began to crawl towards the sanctuary of trees and shrubs on the far side of the beach.

He was wearing only a pair of shorts and a thin cotton T-shirt. All of his worldly possessions were otherwise contained in a small black rucksack attached to the makeshift raft which he dragged behind him on a length of twine attached to his leg. The plastic containers that had floated the raft clattered and bounced on the rocks as Wang inched inshore. The noise of this was too much; he should have prepared for it. Twenty metres short of the trees he stopped and turned. Sand had begun to stick to his damp, salt-stiffened fingers and he was aware that his breathing was hard and strained. Two hours earlier, in the half-light of eastern Shenzhen, Wang had attached a cheap kitchen knife to his calf using a stretch of waterproof tape. It took all of his strength now to tear the knife free and to sever the twine so that the raft was no longer attached to his body.

Kuai dian, he told himself. Hurry. Wang cut the rucksack free and tried to sling it across his shoulders. It felt as though he had been drugged or beaten and a grim sense memory of the prison in Urumqi crept up on him like the rising sun. The rucksack was so heavy and his arms so tired from the swim that he felt he would have to rest.

Jia you.

Keep going.

He stumbled to his feet and tried to rush the last few metres to the trees, but the rucksack tipped on his back and Wang fell almost immediately, fearing an injury to his knee or ankle, something that would hamper him on the long walk south across the hills. Imagine that, after everything I have been through: a tendon sends me back to China. But he found that he could move without discomfort to the nearest of the trees, where he sank to the ground, sending a flock of startled birds clattering into the sky.

It was six o’clock. Wang looked back across the narrow stretch of water and felt a tremor of elation which numbed, for an instant, his near-constant dread of capture. He reached out and felt for the bark of the tree, for the sand at his feet. This place is freedom, he told himself. This shore is England. Starling Inlet was less than two kilometres wide, but in the darkness the tide must have pulled him west towards Sha Tau Kok, or even east into the open waters of Dapeng. Why else had it taken him so long to swim across? The professor was fit for a man of his age and he had swum well; at times it was as if his desire to succeed had pulled him through the water like a rope. Wiping seawater from the neck of the rucksack he removed several seals of waterproof tape and withdrew a tightly bound plastic bag. A few minutes later he had discarded his T-shirt and shorts and dressed himself in damp blue jeans, a black cotton shirt and dark sweater. On his feet he wore grey socks and the counterfeit tennis shoes from the market in Guangzhou.

Now I look like a typical Hong Kong Chinese. Now if they stop me I can say that I am out here watching for birds.

Wang removed the binoculars from his rucksack and the small, poorly bound volume on egrets posted to him from Beijing three weeks earlier. The back of his throat was sour with the salt and pollutants of the sea and he drank greedily from a bottle of water, swallowing hard in an effort to remove them. Then he looped the binoculars around his neck, placed the water bottle back in the rucksack and waited for the sun.


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