Act of War - Brad Thor Page 0,1
safer than Beijing, especially for a white guy.
Harmon had chosen the coffee shop. A Starbucks knockoff. It was busy, with the right mix of Chinese and Anglos. People chatted on cell phones and pecked away at keyboards. They had buds in their ears and listened to music or watched videos on their devices. Whatever happened to a cup of coffee and a newspaper? Hell, he thought, whatever happened to newspapers?
There was a front door and a back door, which meant two ways out, three if you counted kicking out the window in the women’s bathroom leading to a narrow ventilation shaft. The men’s bathroom was a death box. There was no escape if you got trapped back there. Harmon didn’t plan on getting trapped.
A net of human surveillance had been thrown over the neighborhood. He’d picked out a couple of them. Men who were too fit and too clean-cut. They were Agency muscle, ex–special operations types. They were excellent with a gun and terrific to have on your team if things went sideways, but they were too visible and Harmon had requested no babysitters. His request, though, had been ignored.
He had also asked that they buy the woman a plane ticket so he could conduct the meeting in a nice, anonymous airline lounge out at Hong Kong International. It was a controlled environment. Much harder to bring weapons in. Easier to spot trouble before it happened. Tradecraft 101. That request had also been ignored.
Langley felt the airport was too controlled and therefore too easy for the Chinese to tilt in their favor. The CIA wanted a public location with multiple evacuation routes. They had cars, safe houses, changes of clothes, medical equipment, fake passports, and even a high-speed boat on standby. They had thought of every contingency and had built plans for each. That was how worried they were.
Stepping inside, Harmon scanned the café. The air-conditioning felt like being hooked up to a bottle of pure, crisp oxygen. He grabbed a paper napkin and starting at the top of his shaved head, wiped all the way down the back of his thick neck. He ordered a Coke in a can, no ice. He had learned the hard way about ice in foreign countries.
Paying in cash, he took his can over to the service station where he gathered up a few items, and then found a table. It was set back from the window, but not so far back that he couldn’t watch the door and what was happening outside on the street.
He carried no electronics. No laptop, no cell phone, no walkie-talkie. He carried no ID. Beside his large-caliber Glock, spare magazines, and a knife, there was nothing on his person that could connect him to anything, anyone, or anywhere. That was how professionals worked.
Removing a small bill from his pocket, he folded it into the shape Mingxia had been told to look for. A heart. He could do swans, too, but everybody did swans. It was the first thing you learned. He normally did hearts when meeting female assets. It was something different. Some of them liked it. Some didn’t. He didn’t care. A heart was just a heart.
When it was finished, he set it atop a white napkin. It was unique, but low-key, nothing that could be noticed from the street. In fact, you might only notice it as you walked by the table on the way to the ladies’ room—and even then, only if you were looking for it.
An hour later, the woman arrived and slowed as she passed the table. It wasn’t much, but it was enough to tell him that she had seen it.
While Mingxia was in the bathroom, Harmon scanned the café and the street outside. He sipped his second Coke and flipped through one of the free tourist magazines that littered every café and fast-food restaurant in Hong Kong.
When Mingxia left the bathroom and passed his table again, she found the heart sitting by itself. The napkin had been removed. All clear. She hadn’t been followed inside. It was safe to sit down. Ordering herself a tea from the counter, she took the table next to his.
She was attractive. Better looking than the photo Cahill had included in her file. He could see why he had recruited her. According to the dossier, she had family somewhere that needed the money. They always did. Harmon didn’t want to know about it. He wasn’t here to date her, just to debrief her, and if necessary,