This action might not be possible to undo. Are you sure you want to continue?
As Lockhart entered the lobby of the Ritz Carlton in midtown,
the mobile phone rang in his pocket. He answered it and stopped dead
in his tracks. Some voices send chills down your spine like ice water;
they command respect and fear, as if God Almighty himself was
speaking to you. Lockhart’s jaw clenched and his pulse ran when he
heard the sound of it through the receiver; it held his attention with a
steely, unrelenting grip.
“Hallooo dahling, it’s mummy, kisses and hugs. Why didn’t you
call me as soon as your flight came in from that dreadful country? You
simply cannot imagine how annoyed I am that you did not call ahead to
let your father and I know that you were returning to civilization. Oh
well, let’s not dwell on that, I’m simply dying to see my baby. Will
you be coming straight to Connecticut dear, or will you spend the night
in the City?”
Recovering from the initial shock and the blast of maternal
umbrage, Lockhart regained his composer, “Mother! How did you
know I was in the country?”
“Well that’s no sort of greeting, is it? After all, I can’t remember
the last time we spoke, and here you are getting all snotty the moment I
ring. What have I done to raise such an ungrateful little wretch of son
as you? When I think of all my friends and how their children
positively dote on them. I know even your toady little friend Larry
calls his mother at least every week, even though he lives in that same
God awful city as you. Really, I don’t know what’s the matter with
you two. At least Larry had the good sense to get married.”
“Yeah, twice already, and I’m sure he’ll have the good sense to
do it a third time.” Lockhart was settling into the usual verbal duel he
expected with his mother. “But you haven’t answered my question. I
am extremely curious to know how you knew I was in New York. Did
you call my office, did Kelley tell you?”
“Oh heavens no, and don’t go blaming that sweet girl. She has
problems enough if she gave up a Harvard education to work for you.
No dear, I simply asked daddy to have Homeland Security give me a
call whenever you are back in the States. It’s wonderfully kind of
them, don’t you think?”
“What? You can’t be serious!”
“Of course I am. A mother needs to keep track of her children
“You had the federal government spy on me for your own
purposes?” Lockhart was indignant.
“Of course my dear, daddy and I do it all the time. Don’t be so
naïve. How did you think Rose Kennedy kept a leash on that brood of
Irish hooligans of hers?” The shrill Connecticut accented tone of his
mother’s pique gave way to bourbon smooth flattery and coddling.
“Come on now, let’s not argue. Mummy misses you, how are you
Lockhart sighed, it was useless to argue with his mother; he never
won anyway. His father he could shout to a stalemate, but his mother’s
potent combination of guilt, guile and gall was too much for any man.
His father, half the US Senate, and more than a handful of world
leaders would agree. The best you could do was bide your time and
look for the first opportunity to flee.
“I’m doing fine, been a bit busy with work,” he sighed.
“Oh how nice, are you finally going to make any money from
that little project of yours?” she said without the slightest hint of
“We are doing all right, yes…” Lockhart changed the subject.
He did not want to describe his company’s profits to her, she spent
more money on greens’ fees in a single year than he earned.
“That’s nice, if you are doing well enough, then maybe you could
sell off that little company of yours for a tidy some and move back to
the States. I’m sure something would be found for you in the family
company, or we could look into something else. How about a seat in
the Assembly, with your looks and the family behind you I think you
would be highly electable. You are so much smarter and handsomer
than the Bush boys, and look how well they did!” The sentiment was
“I could see it already, we could try to get you elected in
California, it’s filled with a bunch of Asians anyway, we’d run you on
a ‘globalization’ platform, you’d be the friend to new immigrants and
international business at the same time. Why, it’s just marvelous.”
“No mom, I don’t have any plans of selling my company, or
running for Congress.” Lockhart had to stop her but she started
drafting his acceptance speech over the phone.
“Oh…” she said, pausing strategically while Lockhart waited for
the next salvo. “I just thought you might have had enough of China
and it was time to come home. The family misses you dear; I miss you.
Hell, I even think your father misses you, and you know what a
stubborn old bastard he can be.”
“I remember.” Lockhart did not want to reopen old wounds. He
was tired and the following day promised to be challenging to say the
least. “I’ll try to visit soon, but I’m in town on business and looks like
I’ll be all tied up for the next several days. Sorry, but I won’t make it
out to Connecticut to see you and dad.”
“Oh, but I am sure you can find at least a few spare hours to see
us. Let’s see, I have my usual foursome on Tuesday and tomorrow
your father will be in Washington until evening, but then I think he has
a squash game the following morning. Well, never worry, I’m sure we
can find a time.” She rattled on unfazed by Lockhart’s comment.
“We’ll see mother, but I really doubt I can make the time.
Maybe I’ll come back in a few weeks and we can meet down in the
cottage on the Outer Banks for some golf and a beach holiday. Can we
do that?” Lockhart knew he was long overdue for a family reunion,
and now that he was within his mother’s sites it was better to agree to a
negotiated settlement as soon as possible.
“Well, I really was hoping to see you this week since you were in
town. But if you absolutely promise to be back home next month, then
I think I can forgive you for not coming to see us. However, I insist
you call your father and speak to him.” She laid out her terms,
Lockhart knew better than to refuse.
“Ok, I will.”
“I would have you speak to him now, but he’s all the way over on
the other side of the house doing God knows what in his study and I
can’t be bothered to get out of bed now that I’ve settled in for the
night,” she said offhand.
“I don’t blame you,” Lockhart said, thankful for the reprieve.
“That’s a dear, now don’t forget to call. We’ll talk again soon
about next month. I think I’ll invite the Cabotts, you know them.
Alfred is in the Senate; a Republican from Wyoming. Unfortunately
his wife is an insufferable bore, but their daughter Cecile is still not
married. For such a mousy little girl she’s grown up to be quite a
beauty, such elegant cheekbones. You two would make a wonderful
“Invite whoever you want mother…” Allowing his mother to
daydream about his grandchildren’s cheekbones and his future political
fortunes seemed like a good opportunity to make an exit. “I’ll call you
in a few days.”
Zhang Huping’s house was a traditional Beijing courtyard
siheyuan near the city’s old imperial drum tower north of the Forbidden
City. Sitting on an acre of prime real-estate, the Ming dynasty home
ran along a north-south axis. It consisted of two courtyards surrounded
on four sides by two levels of lavish rooms renovated with every
modern convenience. The entire edifice was constructed out of grey
stone, clay tile roofs and brilliant imperial red and vermillion painted
wood inlaid with polished brass fixtures. From the second floor
windows the rooftops of the neighboring single-story homes
comprising the sprawling hutong, the traditional Beijing alleyways,
could be seen stretching to the nearby Houhai Lake. The house that
formerly sat adjacent to the property, and the only other home on the
small lane leading to the house, was purchased and converted into a
four-car garage. The residence was a tranquil culmination of ancient
Chinese architecture and contemporary luxury. One opulent era
overlaid with the promise of the next.
The first courtyard was dominated by a large fountain
constructed out of a natural limestone formation brought from Guilin in
southern China. Goldfish swarmed the fountain waters in intermixing
groups of red, yellow and white. Around the fountain lay a ring of
hibiscus trees and perennials supported by an intricate bamboo lattice.
Dressed in a black floral qipao Zhang Huping sat on a marble stool at a
large marble table placed under a gazebo. She looked intently at her
father and Conally.
“Do you still think Lockhart was a wise choice?” Huping
“I’m still confident he’ll do what we need him to do. We didn’t
anticipate this trouble, but it can be handled.” Conally was on the
defensive. He was thankful he rigged the thumb drive with the tracking
device, otherwise the situation could be far worse. Because of the extra
surveillance Lockhart was becoming more and more a known quantity.
Not everything about the man was as it appeared.
The tracking device was redundancy, one surveillance device on
top of a myriad of others. Conally had spent a career eavesdropping on
criminals and foreign spies; he knew how to do it right. But something
about Lockhart didn’t add up. If he was planning a clandestine meeting
he certainly made no effort to cover his tracks. Was he an amateur, or
just plain sloppy? Or had the meeting been a surprise? Maybe he was
unexpectedly approached and barring any other hard intel he just
handed over the thumb drive; he must have copied the contents on to
“I think this changes very little,” he said.
“I disagree,” Huping countered immediately.
Vice Minister Zhang Tieying looked at the two of them; his
thoughts were forming behind calculating brown eyes. Attired in
yellow silk pajamas and the black cloth slippers favored by many
Chinese, his outward appearance implied sanguine inertia. He moved
slowly and rarely spoke. However, neither of his fellow conspirators
underestimated the old man’s attention or cunning. Pouring
chrysanthemum tea from a clay pot he addressed his daughter in thick
Beijingese, the rumbling, consonantal dialect of their home city.
“I don’t like it. Lockhart is in the States for a few hours and the
first thing he does is pass off the information we gave him. And to
Huping translated and summarized for Conally. The old man
could effectively communicate his thoughts in English, but he would
not allow himself to lose face by speaking in heavily accented and
imperfect sentences. Moreover, he did not like conversing with
foreigners under any circumstances.
“Maybe we should send Lockhart a warning. He should learn to
keep this business to himself,” Huping spat.
“No, that would be unwise,” the Vice Minister growled. “We
shouldn’t let Lockhart know what we are capable of, if we corner him
he might strike back.”
“I agree, let’s not give the man any more reason to work against
us,” Conally shook his head. Emotion was getting the better of the
“Well, then what do we do?” she snapped.
Before Conally could answer the Vice Minister dismissed his
daughter’s question with a raised hand and cut in, “My people tell me
they think Robert Tillman, the man Lockhart met, was most likely FBI
or CIA. Whoever he was, he appeared to be trained in counter-
surveillance measures and self defense.”
Conally listened to Huping’s churlish translation, and calmly
replied. “It’s unfortunate your men killed him, now we may never
know. It’s unlikely he’s FBI, I would have heard something…”
“Not if you were the subject of the investigation,” the Vice
Conally ignored the remark and continued with his own analysis.
He rose and paced around the table as he spoke. “According to my
sources, the car he drove was registered to a small insurance company
based in the Midwest. He was the only person working in the
Manhattan office for the last two years. It doesn’t feel like FBI to me.
My guess is CIA, or maybe NSA.”
Huping translated and the Vice Minster listened intently.
“Lockhart’s family is connected to government at the highest
levels, any number of people could want to speak with him about his
movements in China and his opinions. That doesn’t make him a spy,
just well informed and plugged in.”
“This wasn’t a cocktail at a country club, it was brief exchange in
a dirty little restaurant in New Jersey. Obviously the meeting was a
secret. Doesn’t that say anything to you?” Huping delighted in
translating the accusation for the Vice Minister.
“It could mean Lockhart’s careful and doesn’t want to be seen
rubbing elbows with anyone from the intelligence community. If word
got out he had friends in the CIA it might not be comfortable for him in
China. Or, maybe the CIA chose a convenient location and approached
him. We don’t know.” Conally had been around along enough not to
immediately believe in guilt by association. Lockhart obviously swam
in some strange waters; it was one of the reasons he was chosen.
“Can you find anything out about Lockhart’s connection to CIA
or any other government agency?” Huping quizzed Conally.
“Unlikely, and at this point I don’t want to go poking around and
start raising any suspicions.”
Huping pursed her lips and stared at Conally, she contemplated
the unforeseen limitations of the man’s value. She looked at her father;
they traded glances confirming each other’s thoughts.
“I don’t like it, but we shouldn’t abort at the first sign of trouble,
too much is at stake,” Huping hissed. “You said it could be handled,
tell us how.”
Conally rolled his eyes skyward pretending to think, but in fact
he already had a solution. He enjoyed baiting Huping and her father;
they were hamstrung by their limited experience within the confines of
China’s borders. They couldn’t see beyond their own heavy-handed
tactics; tactics based on political authority, cash and violence. The FBI
man had set up stings around the world and netted drug lords and
terrorists. He could manage massaging a small case of a disappearance.
“Let’s suppose Tillman was CIA or an agent from some other US
intelligence service, when he goes missing an alarm will go off. The
fist thing we do is delay the discovery of his absence.”
“How do we do that?” Huping challenged.
Conally curled his lip in amusement, “Simple, we send out a
decoy. We have his credit cards and drivers license; let’s use them.
Vice Minister, can we use the woman you have in New York for the
The old man nodded.
“More importantly, do you think she can find a friend? We need
a man who can match Tillman’s general description. It shouldn’t be
too hard, from the information I saw he was an average guy; not too
tall, or heavy, brown hair with a simple haircut.”
Huping answered Conally’s question without translating it for her
father. “The woman is very resourceful, and she’s operated in New
York before. She’ll be able to find someone.”
“Fine, then this is what I propose. The woman and a Tillman
stand in take a trip to Atlantic City, use Tillman’s card to get a room; a
nice one. They also use his bankcard to make as large a cash
withdrawal from an ATM as possible, unless I miss my guess, your
people should be able handle that.”
“Of course,” Huping snorted.
“The woman and our Tillman than take a walk through the hotel
lobby, play a few games in a casino and then get lost. They never need
to check out. But we also need to make flight reservation to Miami two
days from now as well as book a room there.” Conally leaned back,
stretched his arms across the table and tapped it triumphantly. “That’ll
After Huping finished translating Conally’s plan for her father
she remarked, “That hardly covers up a murder.”
“No, but it doesn’t have to. See, this is what’s going to happen;
sometime in the next several hours Mrs. Tillman is going to ring the
police and report that her husband is missing. I doubt very much she
knows her husband is a spook, so she’s probably not going to call CIA.
Either way it doesn’t matter very much, because the cops, or maybe the
CIA, will start looking at Tillman’s credit cards and see that either he is
having the time of his life with some woman, or someone who stole his
credit cards is.”
“And then?” Huping asked.
“They’ll waste their time trying to track them down in Atlantic
City, the airport and then Miami. Meanwhile we’ve just bought
ourselves about forty-eight hours.”
The Vice Minister considered the plan and then grumbled an
objection to Huping. “My father wants to know what happens if
Tillman’s superiors question Lockhart. What then?”
“We’re watching Lockhart, so we’ll know if that happens. If it
does, then hopefully it won’t happen until for forty-eight hours from
now when it won’t matter. If it happens sooner, we pull the plug on the
operation and prepare our best defense. But no one will be able to
Huping was confused, “Why wouldn’t it matter forty-eight hours
“Because that’s how long we give Lockhart to complete his
“Can he do what we need him to do in such a short period of
time?” Huping looked doubtful.
“We’ll see. The man appears to be quite persuasive when he
wants to be,” Conally said. “We should at least let him try, at this point
we have a lot to gain and very little to lose.”
“I’ve instructed my people to keep an even closer eye on
Lockhart. I won’t hesitate to get rid of him and stop this whole thing if
he makes any more attempts to reveal our identities or plans,” the Vice
“Fine, but let’s not be too hasty, a lot is at stake. It would be a
shame to blow it when we are so close,” Conally said.
“Nothing should deter us from getting what we are after,” Huping
This action might not be possible to undo. Are you sure you want to continue?