Saturday, 6 November 2010
YELLOW PERIL By J R Lindermuth
It was on a Thursday the Chinese deputy foreign minister went missing.
At first no one was concerned. Lin Fah-shien was known for eccentricity and it would not be the first time he had wandered off on his own and got lost in a foreign city. But when he had not returned by that evening to 12th Avenue the consul general began to worry. Comrade Lin was an important man and the consul general’s responsibility since the foreign minister was in New York for an important meeting on trade policy.
The consul general and his minions made discrete inquiries and sought advice from colleagues and the PRC’s friends in other legations.
A North Korean spokesman immediately proclaimed Comrade Lin had been kidnapped by the Americans and his release would be contingent on more pressure on Korea’s nuclear ambitions. Though closely allied with the Koreans, the Albanian envoy called that nonsense, pointing out the U.S. had other carrots to dangle and would not dare to jeopardize Sino-American relations in this manner. Though China held the edge as the U.S.’s biggest foreign creditor, the Cuban delegate said he would put nothing past the CIA.
Meanwhile, Comrade Lin was getting off a Greyhound bus in a small upstate village. A dapper gray-haired gentleman clad in a tailor-made Hong Kong suit, he stood a moment on the square in this unfamiliar community and asked himself where he was and why he’d come here. He gazed around the square and observed a gas station on the opposite corner and a line of various shops up and down both sides of the street. It seemed a pleasant little town on this warm spring afternoon, people strolling up and down the tree-lined street and darting in and out of the shops, greeting one another pleasantly as they passed.
Lin suddenly realized he was hungry. He couldn’t recall exactly when he’d last eaten. But knew it must have been a while, since he was hungry. He marched up the street, nodding and smiling at people who greeted him. Lin thought this was a very nice town. Much friendlier than the last place he’d been. Lin halted then, scratching his head. He couldn’t remember where he’d been before this town.
Well, it didn’t matter. He was hungry. That was the important issue. Soon he came to a small diner. He entered and sat down at a counter. In addition to Mandarin, Lin spoke fluent English and several other European languages. He had no trouble reading the menu or giving his order to the cordial waitress.
It was getting late and the consul general was extremely worried now. He couldn’t risk reporting the absence of Comrade Lin to his overseers, but he knew he had to do something. He carefully wrote, and then rewrote, a short enquiry which he emailed to his counterpart over at the United Nations. This man was a friend and could be trusted; he was also very wise. The envoy gnawed his nails until a reply came from his friend. The message suggested he contact the Americans immediately and ask why they had taken Comrade Lin. The envoy didn’t see this as the wise advice he’d anticipated.Still he didn’t know what else to do. So, rather than accusing the Americans, he dispatched a brief note explaining the minister had gone missing and asking if they had any idea where he might be.
His American counterpart read between the lines and immediately contacted his superiors who, in turn alerted the FBI, CIA, NSA and every other possible acronym. He was instructed to reply the U.S. had no knowledge of the minister’s whereabouts but would cooperate in a search.
Distrusting one another, none of the agencies took overt action.
A free-lance journalist tracked rumor and learned a Chinese official was missing. By six o’clock that evening the news had been released to major news media and broadcast on television even in the tiny village where Lin Fah-sien wandered the streets. Though he’d fed his hunger, he still couldn’t remember his name or what he was doing in this place.
Lin Fah-sien wandered around the town as though searching for something, but every person he approached acted afraid and avoided his inquiries. This puzzled the minister. People seemed so friendly earlier in the day. Had he done something to make them angry? If he had he couldn’t imagine what it might have been.
One of the people who’d seen him and suspected Lin might be the missing official contacted his legislator. The legislator promptly alerted authorities.
Representatives of several agencies arrived in the town and kept a close watch on Comrade Lin. None dared to intercede. An international incident could only be avoided by taking him in custody and returning him to his people. But U.S. officials feared any move might be misinterpreted or confirm suspicion of kidnapping.
As dusk descended and the world hovered on the brink of war, the dishwasher for a local Chinese restaurant talked himself into taking a bold step. Danny Shen’s student visa was long expired and he was an illegal alien who judiciously endeavored not to attract attention. But he had been following and watching the minister from a distance for some time and it was clear to him now something was not right about the man.
Danny seldom watched television. So he had no idea who the man was. His curiosity had been peaked when he observed other people shy away when Lin tried to talk to them. Danny Shen suspected the minister might be an illegal alien like him and didn’t speak good English.
By the time Danny worked his nerve, their peregrinations had brought them back to the bus station where Lin had first alighted in the town. A Greyhound coach stood before the building, motor throbbing and spewing exhaust, its door open for boarding passengers. Spying the vehicle, it suddenly occurred to Comrade Lin he had arrived in this village aboard such a bus. He hurried forward.
Danny called out to him and picked up his pace. Comrade Lin had got into line with several other people. Just as Danny reached out a hand to tap him on the shoulder, two FBI men ran forward, seized him by both arms and dragged him away from the bus. “Wait! What are you doing?” Danny pleaded. But they ignored his protest, shoved him against a wall and one of them quickly frisked him while the other demanded his identification.
“That man,” Danny said. “You’ve got to stop him. I think he needs help.”
“Never mind him,” the agent said. “Let’s see your papers.”
While Danny stalled and tried to explain Comrade Lin entered the bus and found a seat. He still had no idea what he’d been doing in this town. But it didn’t matter. Lin remembered he’d come on a bus like this one and he was certain it would take him back where he belonged. He glanced out the window and saw two men accosting another who looked Chinese. Poor fellow, he thought. It’s dangerous being a stranger in a strange land.
The driver closed the door and the bus drew away from the curb.
Being Someone Else (July 2010), Whiskey Creek Press
Watch The Hour (April 2009), Whiskey Creek Press