The young boy is invited to join the household of a family friend in Nanchang and adopts the personal of Qin Qiao Xiang. A few years later, Jonathan is living in a nearly idyllic world, until, in adolescence, his innocence ends, and he finds himself struggling to use his acquired skills and connections.
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The Nanchang ConnectionA NOVEL
By Lin Sartori
AuthorHouseCopyright © 2010 Lin Sartori
All right reserved.
Chapter OneSitting stiffly on the grey metal chair in the sterile room, he resisted responding to the casual conversation they attempted. When the actual interrogation began, the atmosphere tightened. He didn't know how to answer their questions, and fearing the consequences of saying the wrong thing, he said nothing. His forged papers hadn't stood up to close scrutiny, and as a result, he had been sent to this facility. Although he had been prepared for this possibility, the attack at the airport had come as a complete surprise. Now, his imprisonment made him a person without guanxi, or connections, and he feared that it would be difficult to negotiate a release without putting others, here or in China, in harm's way.
The prisoner pondered his situation. Being unfamiliar with the facility, and concerned that no one knew where he was, made the possibility of escape seem hopeless. He was alive and getting better due to the excellent medical care, but it gave him no comfort. Soon, if he didn't give them something, his improved health would allow them to use harsher interrogation. He needed to remain calm and clear, as his laoshi, or teacher, Song Shen, would have instructed him to do.
Still, he couldn't help but compare his brief encounter, more of a nightmare, in the Qingshan Street Police Station in Nanchang, seven years ago, with his current situation. He had been ten years old, orphaned after the death of his parents. The memories of the screaming prisoners those nights and days at the local Chinese station haunted him as he thought of what lay ahead in this American jail. He had heard and read of covert American jails and of prisoners who were tortured and whose families never saw them again. If the stories were true, he was in such a place. He tried to ignore the negative thoughts, but couldn't. These men in their neatly tailored dark suits and crisp white shirts were no more than dressed up security police. His own experience taught him that when the security police arrested someone, they gave no explanations, and then people disappeared. So far, the men that detained him didn't seem any different.
Between the airport and his current cell, he had recuperated in a hospital where he had been held incommunicado. At one point, they had reduced his sedatives in order to question him. Still, he felt disoriented. As the fog gradually lifted, it was replaced with the aching from his wounds. He willed the pain into submission so that he could examine his surroundings. Opaque white curtains blocked the view outside, but not enough to obscure vertical bars set into the window. The room which was slowly emerging was simply furnished with a metal sideboard and a couple of straight back chairs. There were three individuals, one standing by his side, the other two indiscernible figures standing back in the shadows. He maintained a discreet observation of these specters.
The bed was warm and somehow comforting. The white pillow case and sheets were stiff to the touch and smelled antiseptically clean. He felt himself drifting. As he attempted to clear his eyesight, vague images, this time from his mind, flashed in disconnected segments. Slowly, pieces of the attack appeared and he started to feel a queasy sensation in the pit of his stomach. Overcome with instinctual fear, he knew that danger was near. He tried to force himself to stay awake, but his condition and the realization of his imprisonment, led him gratefully into unconsciousness.
They were patient. The next time he woke up, a man and a woman were standing above him on the right side of the bed. One spoke to him in a low and measured voice, in English, with a definite American accent. The sight of these Caucasians seemed surreal. Was he still dreaming? Where was he? Who were these people and what did they want? With detached interest, he looked in the direction of the man who was doing all the talking. The boy couldn't seem to move and felt the haze taking over again. As he went to rub his eyes, he realized his arms, chest, and legs were restrained. This jolted him to fuller consciousness. The nausea returned to the pit of his stomach. His eyes darted around the room frantically. He was too weak to fight his bonds. The man who seemed to be in charge was looking down on him, and laid his hand gently on his chest.
"Sorry about the restraints; but, that was quite a show you and your friends put on at customs and we're not sure which side you're on yet."
The fact that the boy was Caucasian, but spoke Mandarin and carried forged documentation, made him a person of special interest, enough so that they had segregated him immediately, without access to a lawyer. His attackers had fled, leaving him behind to become the main target of their investigation.
The boy remembered the scene at the airport, and realizing where he was, gazed up at the calm control in the foreign face, and mimicked his demeanor. There would be a new set of rules to follow, with observation, and eventually negotiation, key to his survival. He lay in this bed with them staring at him, a helpless prisoner. Although he was frightened, he began to rationalize that the fact that his condition was critical, and they wanted answers, would keep him safe for the time being.
The male officer paused to see if his new charge would respond. The boy cautiously withheld reaction to the polite comment, even though he understood it. The officer looked down at the pale teenager and tried to reconcile him with the zealous combatant he had observed at the airport. As far as he was concerned, this was just an assessment to see how open the line of communication would be. But, the boy looked into the intense round eyes of the strangers and instinctively withdrew into himself. The man turned to the woman standing next to him and motioned for her to take over. Even though he spoke Mandarin well himself, he had brought in an interpreter, Lee Xiaoming, who would continue the questioning while he observed, more closely, the boy's response.
The woman began. "You were carrying a forged passport, and on the way to the hospital you spoke only Mandarin. We'd like to know who you are and what you know about the shooting at the airport." The boy listened intently to what the woman was saying and continued to be unresponsive. Lee tried again, this time feigning kindness.
"Son, you're facing some serious charges and it would be in your best interest to talk with us before this goes any further."
They waited patiently, still nothing. A voice from the corner of the room suggested they take another tack.
"Let's go with Plan B."
The next time the boy woke, he was alone in a cell, in an empty cell block. Unknown to him, he was in a facility built for special guests of the United States government. It was originally built in the 1980's for the Comtrec Corporation, a major global entity that specialized in high tech satellites, a discreet pharmaceutical development and research division, and it went on from there as it bought out other compatible companies, the complete list unavailable for public scrutiny. The facility still used the Comtrecnameandwastuckedawaywithinseveralhundredacresofundeveloped property in suburban Virginia off a secondary highway, its major building complete with a low key exterior and a camouflaged helicopter pad. Trucks and cars delivering materials and personnel came and went unnoticed. One of the myriad intelligence agencies, the Administration, or a powerful CEO of an international corporate conglomerate with political connections, had to be pretty interested in an individual for them to be invited for questioning.
The boy took inventory. The cell was more Spartan than the hospital room and much smaller. He saw no one else besides the guards and his interrogators. His amenities included a cot-sized metal shelf with a bare mattress, a toilet and sink. It was antiseptic and high tech, no peeling paint here, nor were there any discernible odors. The lights, which were on all day and night, were a blessing as they kept the ghosts at bay. The sophisticated security system which at first made him feel self-conscious with its invasive monitoring, recorded each movement and sound, sleeping and awake. After awhile, he ceased to notice and began to create a routine to overcome the agonizing boredom. There were no reading materials, no windows, and no contact from the outside world. Yet, he refused to give in to the isolation.
His current situation paled in comparison to his brief stay in the Qingshan Street jail. Unlike the Chinese counterpart, the temperature here was a civilized 68 degrees, the cell was clean, the food seemed healthy, if distasteful, and there were no screaming prisoners. Still, it was prison, and the feelings he had were the same. He was in their custody and he was terrified thinking about what might come next.
Making the best of the time, and doing what he had to do to maintain his sanity, was all he could do. The ritual of being transported from his cell to the interrogation room became a respite from the tedium of his daily routine. In his cell, he kept himself busy with a self-directed exercise program designed to rehabilitate his body and meditation to lift his soul. He grabbed conversation between the guards and interrogators as they passed to and from his cell block. From a distance, some nights, when they crossed in and out of their station leaving the door ajar, he could hear the uncensored programs from their television. When a particular guard was on duty, he enjoyed hearing American rock music. He wanted to get to know them, to understand how they thought. Past experience had taught him how to survive under adverse conditions. It kept him from doing anything impulsive; instead, he waited and respectfully complied with their orders to stand or sit, eat or sleep. Through the hopelessness of the situation, he tried to maintain his sense of humor. When it became too boring in his cell and his regular routine wasn't working, he would rely on his imagination to keep his mind busy.
In his eagerness to get home, the boy had accepted Zhang's explanation that he needed to use an assumed identity in order to protect him from his enemies. He was told that the obscure entrance would allow him to disappear into a community. Later, Zhang would help him re-establish his identity and life. There were, however, certain complications of which he was unaware. Even so, the shooting spree at the airport brought an end to the fantasy that he could enter the States without being noticed.
The attack brought him unwanted attention and now the U.S. authorities were questioning him over and over again. They wanted to know about the attack, but he didn't know what it meant. That was part of his insecurity. What if Zhang Jin decided to release himself of the burden of his foreign ward? The Americans had fingerprinted him, taken his photograph and DNA. Eventually when he wanted to reestablish himself, this information would be in the hands of the American security police. He would have to convince them of his innocence, prove to be of some use, or offer them something in trade for his freedom. If abandoned by Zhang, he would have to find a way to survive on his own.
The boy started to formulate a plan. He wasn't going anywhere and he needed to prepare himself for the inevitable. He had no gun at customs, so a story about a returning citizen abandoned to his own wits in a foreign country as a child, might just work. During this interrogation, he would make it seem that he was reluctantly giving the officers his name and a clue to the identity of his parents. He would let them figure out what happened to them and why he wasn't returned to the States sooner. Any information he had of any importance would be held until the right moment and used as a negotiating tool. In the meantime, he would stall his interrogators with stories, some true, some made up. The boy was tired and physically uncomfortable. With his morale boosted by purpose, he summoned the strength he would need in the upcoming session.
The prisoner stared into the two-way mirror in the interrogation room with moderate interest at his own image. It revealed a need for grooming and sustenance. His lean features reflected the trauma to his body, and most recently, the reaction to the foreign food that made his stomach queasy. At times, among the Chinese, his looks had made him feel self-conscious. His gaze focused on his eyes. Still outstanding as a feature, they seemed to be unaffected by the strain that was starting to show in the rest of his face. They weren't the rich natural brown of the warm fertile earth, granted to the Han people; instead, his eyes reflected the blue of the cold distant sky. Whenever he had gone out, he would disguise them with sunglasses or contacts. There wasn't much he could do with the rest. The nose was too big by Han standards, the skin too pale, and the hair had begun to turn light brown, soft in texture, and undisciplined. In the hospital, it had been hastily cut, had grown out unevenly and could use a washing. He returned from his reverie and remained passively still.
To this session, they brought in McNamera, a CIA Ops officer currently on an indefinite administrative assignment at Langley. Mac, as he was called, was in his mid forties, tall, with dark brown hair, offset by grey at the temples. The hair was slightly longer than his fellow employees. Like the rest, he was athletically lean with white, straight American teeth. He wore the same basic uniform of the others, a conservatively cut, dark colored suit with a nondescript silk tie and a plain white shirt. It was the intensity in the eyes that set him apart. As others watched the enigmatic man, he stood for a while observing the rigid and expressionless boy that he had met at the hospital, before entering the room.
What the interrogator saw was a gaunt and disheveled youth, age approximately 16 or 17. To him, the face exhibited an inexplicable innocence of demeanor which was in sharp contrast to his expectations. Physical characteristics: Caucasian, European or possibly North American. He glanced down at the summaries to date and read something interesting: "Demonstrates strong will and self-discipline while under observation and during questioning. In his cell, subject keeps a light, but daily, exercise regimen, including meditation." McNamera wondered what he thought during his moments of introspection. As he leafed through the case notes, he consciously disregarded any discomfort his prisoner might be experiencing as he took his time beginning the session.
"Who is this kid?" Mac heard himself say out loud to no one in particular. "I reviewed the tape, nothing there. Has he been eating?"
The senior guard, Manny Rodriguez, who had been standing nearby responded. "Yeah, we haven't been screwing around with him, if that's what you're asking. He came in like that. Doesn't eat much."
"You're sure the exercise routine's not too strenuous, considering his condition?" McNamera asked, not in concern over the prisoner's wellbeing, but to ensure that he would not harm himself before being thoroughly interrogated.
"The doc came in, checked it out, and said everything looked all right. His sleep patterns are as normal as can be expected."
"Do you think he's ready?"
"Good. See if you can adjust his meals. Ask Lee Xiaoming for some suggestions on food. While you're at it, get him some books and magazines, in English. Let's see what he does."
McNamera looked intently into the window of the interrogation room again, his eyes narrowing. He liked this part of his job, playing mind games with prisoners and observing behavior, waiting for them to give up that one little piece of information that would unravel the elaborate defense in which they surrounded themselves. Ironically, while he was assigned to this case, the FBI was watching him as they did all CIA field agents with close ties in foreign lands and loose connections at home. Mac hated the scrutiny of headquarters and the mindset of bureaucrats. The only reason he continued to play their agency games was the hope that he could return to covert operations. Showing some concern about office politics was a healthy survival skill, and Mac could be dangerously oblivious.
Excerpted from The Nanchang Connection by Lin Sartori Copyright © 2010 by Lin Sartori. Excerpted by permission.
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