The China Ultimatum
China has abruptly given Taiwan nine days to reunify with the motherland or face destruction. Rising State Department star Philip Dawson, sent to mediate the crisis, immediately faces attempts on his life—or is the target the alluring Taiwanese newswoman who is shadowing his moves? Together, they must solve the riddle of the assassins, and somehow find a formula acceptable to Taiwan and China—with only nine days before Chinese missiles lift over the Straits and drag the United States into a nuclear war. Available from iUniverse.com
Chapter One. Day One. The Indian Embassy, Washington D.C.
Philip Dawson drained his second Dom Perignon as he gazed around the embassy courtyard, wishing that a scotch was available. Carbonated wine was a poor substitute for strong liquor, to his mind. Washington's elite stood easily among the statues and fountains, giving no evidence of misgivings about the champagne or the canapes either, their voices rising above the murmur of cascading water. Many clustered around the television screen in the corner, where the Taiwan shipping tycoon Sung Lee was admitting yet another failed attempt to avert the impending war with China.
Philip's thoughts, though, drifted hundreds of miles away, to New York's Shawangunk mountains. Long stretches of sheer limestone cliffs. Digging your toes into tiny cracks while spread-eagled two hundred feet up the cliff, wondering where the devil you were going from there, as the sharp resiny smell of pines rose from the forests below.
It had been a year since he'd negotiated the Kashmir Accords whose anniversary tonight's reception celebrated. A year since he'd been on any cliff anywhere. He only felt really alive on a climb, yet he'd been fighting with bureaucrats in memos at State for a solid year now, without once feeling the hard slap of hand on rock. How could he have let the capitol's frenzied pace suck him in?
"Philip, dear. You're thinking of your rocks again, aren't you?"
Tiffany Hayes materialized in front of him. Blond, gorgeous, her blue eyes boring into him. She wasn't the Gunks, but at least she had another champagne for him.
She was another reason for the year without a climb, and she was damn near worth it. That scotch-tasting party she invited him to shortly after his return from New Delhi had started it all, and it had been quite a ride. He liked her, a lot, but her single-minded devotion to parties and politics just didn't fit him very well. Even if she was the granddaughter of the President of the United States.
He took the champagne and drained it. Tonight was the night to face up to some things, and if scotch wasn't available, expensive champagne would have to do.
"Caught me, Tiff. But no more dreaming. I cleaned out my desk at State this afternoon and I've got something for Talbin in my pocket--I'll give it to him tonight."
Tiffany rolled her eyes. "Not another resignation letter?"
They both laughed, as Philip looked around for another champagne. "Yep. Except this one will actually get to the man, as soon as I see him tonight. And this weekend I'll be a hundred feet up on the Gunks."
She stared at him, suddenly serious. "You wouldn't."
Quickly her gaze shifted away, to the groups of people who timidly waved to her and Philip, not daring to disturb the capitol's most famous couple, the beautiful blond scion of a political dynasty, and the tall, rising State Department star with the ready smile, easy-going manner, and unruly brown hair.
"Elise! Brandon! So good to see you!"
He nodded. "Yes, I would. And after the Gunks, a cross country trip. The Red River Gorge in Kentucky, Sam's Throne in Arkansas, cliffs all the way to California. It'll take most of a year, I'll bet." A lopsided smile lit his broad face below the Roman nose.
"But darling. What about us?" she whispered fiercely, acknowledging the greetings of more couples.
"Oh. Well, I've been meaning to have a talk with you about it," he said, lifting his chin in greeting to a passing State Department colleague.
"Well, it sounds like that little talk's overdue, doesn't it?" she snapped. "Here comes the Ambassador. Try to get your precious rocks out of your head for a few moments, dear."
Philip grinned as the burly figure of Ambassador Ghandi approached through the crowd, his cream Nehru jacket accentuating his tanned handsome face, his silver ring beard surrounding a huge smile as he caught Philip's eye.
"Philip! And Tiffany. So good to see you."
"Ambassador. I do believe you're Philip's favorite at this whole gathering."
The Ambassador's smiled broadened. "Well, he's my favorite. The young man who guided and prodded the Pakistanis and us to a peace that has lasted one year now."
"Secretary of State Talbin was the driving force, really," Philip retorted.
"I just handled the details, kept the tea coming."
"Nonsense, Philip. You were the one who knew us well enough to bring us together, to keep us up all those nights hammering out your compromises. And did I ever tell you how key your climb of the Burudum Cliffs was, before the talks began?"
Philip's eyes lit up. "Oh, really?" he said, draping an arm around Tiffany's shoulders to make sure she heard this.
"None of us had ever thought those cliffs were climbable. Not only did you climb them, but in a time that has not been equaled since. We thought--if this man can climb the Burudum, perhaps he can bring us and the Pakistanis together."
"You're too kind, Mr. Ambassador," Philip said with a grin. "The record still stands only because your countrymen are too smart to try some of the dumb moves I made on that climb. I remember especially the end of the third pitch, where--"
"Didn't Philip stay at your villa before the talks began?" interrupted Tiffany, who had heard of that infamous third pitch of the Burudum more times than she cared to.
"He was our honored guest," the Ambassador answered. He put a large arm around Philip's shoulders. "He is, in so many ways, the son my wife and I never had."
Even Tiffany was speechless.
"Much rock-climbing recently, my boy?" he asked quietly.
Philip's grin faded, and he shook his head.
"Careful, my boy. The rocks are your soul. You cannot neglect your soul."
Philip cast a pointed glance at Tiffany and tightened his grip on her shoulders, just as the sound of a yapping dog rose above the din of Washington's elite gossiping.
"Ah. Tiffany's other companion, Daisy, has arrived," said the Ambassador as he stepped back. "And I see John Ravenhurst, your grandfather's close advisor, headed our way, Tiffany. Since I have sometimes wondered in public whether Mr. Ravenhurst isn't more intrigued by war than by peace, I think it's time for me to circulate. Philip, I'll make a speech that will embarrass you when Secretary of State Talbin arrives. Until then."
"I'm gonna need another drink," Philip murmured to Tiffany as the sharp, white face of President Hayes' chief advisor, John Ravenhurst, approached. Miraculously, a waiter with one champagne left on his tray materialized at Philip's elbow, and Philip eagerly snatched it up. He was lifting it to his lips when Tiffany firmly put her arm in his, preventing the drink from reaching its destination.
"He's the second most powerful man in Washington, my dear," she whispered while fashioning a brilliant smile at the approaching figure. "Let's consider that drink a reward if you keep your chit-chat civil, shall we?"
Tiffany extended her other hand in a warm greeting. "John! So good to see you."
Ravenhurst smiled a tight, smug smile as he took her hand and lingered over it. "My dear Tiffany. Sorry to be late. Your grandfather and I have been very, very busy with this Taiwan crisis. War and peace demand complete attention."
"We're so fortunate to have such keen minds as yours..." Tiffany was rescued by the arrival of her Yorkshire terrier. She withdrew her hand from Ravenhurst's to take the little dog from her maid, gripping Philip's arm ever more tightly for moral support.
"Oh, here's Daisy! Say hello to Mr. Ravenhurst, Daisy." She held the dog up.
"My favorite presidential granddaughter's favorite companion," Ravenhurst said with a sly glance at Philip. "May I present Miss Daisy with--" He made a clumsy attempt to grab the champagne from Philip's hand. "With a glass of very expensive champagne."
Daisy lunged toward Ravenhurst's hand and knocked the glass to the side, spilling champagne all over Tiffany's hand, as she shrieked and laughed at the dog's antics.
Shaking his head, Ravenhurst let Daisy avidly slurp the few drops of champagne left in the empty glass. The dog emitted appreciative yaps between slurps, much to the enjoyment of everyone in the vicinity, save Philip.
"You know, John, I was really looking forward to that champagne," Philip said to Ravenhurst in a dangerously calm voice. Tiffany lifted her wet finger to Philip and ran it along his lips. "This will have to hold you, my dear, for now."
Ravenhurst shifted uneasily under Philip's glare. "Sorry about that, Philip. But comic relief is very welcome, when you're wrestling with the demons of war all day."
"China's ultimatum to Taiwan, you mean?" Tiffany said.
Ravenhurst sighed, deeply. "The only place on a very troubled planet where we're one small miscalculation away from a nuclear war. Yes."
"And working against a deadline yet," Philip said, tasting the last sweet bit of Dom Perignon on his lips. It had a nice tang to it, he had to admit. "The President is going to send Secretary of State Talbin as the mediator the Taiwanese requested?"
Ravenhurst shook his head. "Unfortunately, Talbin is needed here, Philip, with Syria threatening to enter Iraq to support the Sunnis, and Iran pledging to enter the fray also. We seem to have wars erupting all around us. Dangerous times. Exciting times."
Daisy began wriggling in Tiffany's arm. When Tiffany couldn't quiet her, she turned and handed the dog back to the maid, who was from Scandinavia and matched Philip's six feet with about the same weight, although proportioned much differently. Philip judged that the dog and the maid about balanced each other out.
"Well, good luck to whoever you send to Taiwan," said Philip. "The poor bastard will have his hands full. Probably Baden, from the East Asia desk?" As he said it, an unaccountable thrill shivered up his spine.
Ravenhurst pursed his lips. "Perhaps. Several names are being bandied about. May I speak to you privately, Philip?"
"What? Why, sure."
"Pardon us, Tiffany," Ravenhurst said, opening his palms. "Duty calls. Good luck with Daisy, there." The dog was yapping excitedly as it tried to wriggle out of the maid's arms now, attracting amused stares all around.
Philip felt a little agitated, himself, as he walked away with Ravenhurst. He shrugged the feeling off. It was just champagne, after all. Still, he felt curiously on edge.
"The President would like to see you, young man. Tonight," Ravenhurst said in a low, dramatic voice. "May I send a White House limo to pick you up, in fifteen minutes?"
Philip stopped in his tracks. What the devil? He had only talked to President Hayes twice in his life, once when he and Talbin triumphantly returned with the Kashmir Accords a year ago, and then last Christmas, with Tiffany at a family gathering. His heart was racing--surely not over what Ravenhurst had said? He focused his mushrooming mind on Ravenhurst.
"Why, of course I'll come. In fifteen minutes? What about?"
"Good. I'll see you there." Ravenhurst glided off.
Philip put his hand on a nearby table to steady himself. Yes. His heart was definitely racing, and he fought an urge to dash around the courtyard. What the hell was going on? His face felt hot, and his right leg began to twitch.
"Philip. Are you all right?" he heard Tiffany say beside him.
Philip laughed a tight, humorless laugh. "I don't know. I feel ... like everything's going fast. Excited. Weird."
"Too much champagne, I think," laughed Tiffany, putting her arm in his.
A real laugh now, from Philip, although much too loud. "Not this boy, on only three glasses. What was in that last glass, anyway?"
Tiffany stopped laughing. "Whatever it was, it got poor Daisy in a tither, also. I had to send her home with Katrina, she was making such a nuisance of herself. Are you all right, Philip?" she asked again.
He rubbed his forehead. "I don't know. I've gotta move. You socialize while I walk around. I'm meeting your grandfather in fifteen minutes, and I'd better feel a hell of a lot more focused than I do now."
"Really? Whatever about?"
"Ravenhurst wouldn't say. Probably just a photo op, to get some publicity out of the Kashmir Accord anniversary." He looked around the room. "I gotta move. Keep an eye on me, huh? Don't let me collapse or anything. But if I do, send a St. Bernard with scotch to the rescue. No more champagne."
He moved off a few steps, unsteadily. "And if you see Talbin arrive, come and get me. I've gotta get this letter in his hands before I change my mind."
Chapter Two. Hsiao Lung Bay, the northeast coast of Taiwan. Dawn
Meiling Soo pulled hard on the steering wheel, forcing the red Miata through the last tight curve on the mountain road, then let the wheel slide smoothly through her hands as it straightened out and the car shot onto the coastal road and immediately banked steeply down to the shore. The newspaper on the side seat slid toward the door. She stopped its movement with one hand, and grinned at the hollow feeling in her guts as the car entered the downhill bank, thinking back to the roller coaster outside San Francisco. With Tom Ling. Back when she was in love and he was alive.
Tires squealing, she turned into the parking lot at the shore and slid to a halt. She sat there, exulting in the rush that came from the melding of eye, mind, and hands forcing her car from Taipei to here in less than an hour. Here. She drank in the waves lapping on the sand, the dark bank of clouds offshore to the east, jagged shards of pink breaking through at a dozen spots along the sea horizon. As she sat, she traced the change spreading over her sleek body, the quiet calm replacing the rush. She liked both.
When she was relaxed, she took the keys from the ignition, her eyes involuntarily straying to the headlines of the newspaper angled on the side seat. Large black characters told of the continuing impasse in the reunification talks, beside a photo of Taiwan’s negotiator Sung Lee grimly striding past one of the huge columns of the Sun Yat-sen Memorial. A color map showed the position of Chinese forces massing on the Fujian coast, 112 miles west of here, red arrows pinpointing the 600 missiles, green the airfields where jet fighters sat, awaiting the deadline China had imposed, only nine days away.
Plenty of time for that world, later, she thought. Missiles, bombs, and the Shen Clan conglomerate puzzle. But now, she was here. She took off the light jacket over her black bathing suit, and dropped it on the seat, atop the paper. A dozen fluid steps brought her to the ocean, and she stood ankle deep in the water, inhaling the fresh chill air, studying again the shafts of pink breaking through the dark clouds. What brush strokes would she use to build the clouds up like that? Was there some yellow in that pink light? The water slapping against her calves was cold at first, then warm compared to the wind on the wet skin.
Sea gulls flapped past her, their raucous calls smothered by the swooshing of the incoming waves. She shifted to stay balanced as the sand dissolved under her feet with each incoming wave. A soft laugh. The sea playing with her already, not even really in it yet. For the first time this day she thanked Ma Tsu, goddess of the sea and the protector of sailors and women, for the sea and the pleasures it brought her. Her patron goddess, her Ma Tsu, who had guided her through so much in her thirty years.
She moved another dozen steps into the water, then launched herself in a flat dive and with smooth, methodical strokes pulled away from the beach. She swam hard to counter the sudden cold shock of the water, and within a minute was fifty feet out at a twenty foot depth. She turned, and soon was swimming parallel to the beach. Her body pulsed with the familiar sensations: the steady pull then stretch of her arm and leg muscles, the cold bite of the water, the strong sea smell in her nostrils as she lifted her head for air every third stroke, the blue sheen of the water out of the corner of her eyes as she sucked in the air.
She was laughing. At the pleasure of the sensations. At being in the sea. At being young and strong. Alone, yes. But alive. Cavorting with the sea goddess Ma Tsu. The laughter trailed off as she felt the first tug of the riptide, then the strong surge as the massive body of water pushed her away from the shore, spawned by the ever-changing combination of wind, currents, and underwater terrain. The tempo and exertion of her strokes jumped a notch as she reasserted her course parallel to the shore, perpendicular to the rip’s push. She swam hard for ten minutes before she escaped the riptide, and was so far out that she couldn’t see the shore. That caused a moment of alarm, but she put the dark clouds obscuring the sunrise to her back and swam steadily to the west for another ten minutes, finally sighting the cliffs above the shore, then the palm trees along it.
She was exhausted and her arms were wooden as she studied the unfamiliar shore, saw the great roars of spray as the waves broke against rocks there. She scanned the shore right and left. There. To the right, an area with no spray. Ma Tsu, let it be a safe passage between rocks. She swam stiffly for it, and let the waves push her into the passageway. She feebly kicked but mainly the incoming wave pushed her in, and her knees banged against rocks. Then she was tossed onto a narrow rocky beach, and deposited roughly on cobble-sized stones as the water receded. She lay there, exhausted.
Another wave came in and crashed over her. She pushed herself up with a groan and crawled on her knees another ten feet away from the water, and with a grunt sat down on the cobbles, facing the sea. Never turn your back on the sea, she thought. I love you, Ma Tsu. I love your sea. Riptides, even. But you are a stern goddess. Like life. Rich. Beautiful. But demanding respect, and an alert eye.
She sat there on the cobbles, mind and body numb from her exertions. Tom Ling's face appeared in her mind. They had planned to marry, have a family. The old, deep panic feeling swept over her, the panic of being alone, and of dying barren, with no one to mourn her and carry part of her into the future. She let the tears come, let the nausea well up, the trembling sweep her body. Then she took a deep breath, and gave her panic to the cosmos. Here, the sea was green with a hint of aquamarine, white as it washed ashore. Things were as they should be in the world. Ma Tsu would look after her, she reminded herself. Surely. She wearily climbed to her feet and began limping her way south along the shore.
In fifteen minutes she saw her beach, with the tidepool she liked to explore between her and the beach. Two figures bent over in the tidepool, a mother and her daughter, by the looks of them. The little girl saw her first, and waved as she tugged on her mother’s shirt. The mother stood up as she approached, a young woman, pretty, a yellow bucket in her hand. With a start she recognized the mother as Sung Lee’s mistress. One of the two. Meiling had seen her at his seaside mansion not far from here, earlier this year when she was doing a story on the shipping tycoon. Back before China had changed everything by imposing the deadline for reunification, and Taiwan’s president had tabbed Sung Lee as the wretched man to grapple with the nightmare for them all.
“Hello. You must not be seeing much of Mr. Lee these days,” Meiling said as she limped within talking range.
The mother’s smile froze and her hand drifted to the black front pack she wore, resting lightly on it. She has a gun in there, Meiling thought with a shock. Of course. Sung Lee’s mistress wouldn’t just wander the coast without protection. Meiling looked around. No, no bodyguards. A car was parked high up, on the hairpin curve. Probably there. She noticed another car, higher up. Two body guards?
Her eyes returned to the mistress, who was warily staring at her, hand on the front pack. Could she get a story out of this? Taiwan’s negotiator wrestling with the demands of the giant China as his young mistress wanders on the seashore with their daughter? She totaled it up. This would be, what? His seventh daughter? She glanced at the girl, who had wandered into a portion of the tidepool with a sandy bottom.
“Be careful!” Meiling called out to the mother. “Your girl. That pool has the gold-tented cone shell."
“Syau Loo! Away from there!” the mother said sharply. The girl jerked and scampered away, kicking up small sprays of water which glistened silver in the slanting rays of the growing light.
“Thank you,” the woman said, frowning. “I’ve heard the tented shell is bad."
“But not aggressive, thank goodness. Still . . . ”
“Syau Loo can pester me, she can certainly pester a little shell.”
They both laughed.
“Good hunting,” she said to the mother, and waved to the little girl. No, you can’t make a story out of ‘Life goes on, as Sung Lee tries to ward off the threatening China monster.’ She wondered if the Americans would really send a mediator to help with the impasse, as Taiwan’s president had requested three days ago.
Meiling limped to the beach. She claimed her clothes from the car, showered under the freshwater nozzle, and changed into her blouse and suit in the beachhouse. As she spread her swimsuit to dry on the back of the car’s side seat, she noticed the green light blinking on her message machine. She punched the button as she ran a comb through her damp hair. It was short, and would dry quickly.
“Ah, Miss Soo,” an unpleasant voice rattled from the machine. The Managing Editor. “You’re usually back from your swim by now,” continued the harsh voice. “Some day you’re going to drown yourself and cause me the trouble of replacing you. Don’t you realize how hard it is to find a decent reporter these days? Well, assuming you are still alive and listening, the Publisher has given me a special message for you. You’re off the Shen Clan conglomerate investigation. Yes, they are complaining of you and your snooping around. Which makes us worried for your safety. Murder is very much part of old Shen's business plan, and it's hard to replace a good reporter, as I said. The Publisher has another assignment for you. It’s about the reunification negotiations. Seems the Americans are in fact going to provide a mediator, although we don't have his name yet. Surprisingly, China has agreed to it. I’ll give you more details. Be here at ten. See you then. And don’t get yourself drowned, Miss Soo.”
Chapter Three. Washington, D.C. The White House
President Hayes and Ravenhurst were staring at a television as Philip was escorted into the study. Hitting the mute, the President motioned Philip to one of two pink and white damask chairs fronting his teak desk, which was littered with papers.
"Good to see you, Philip. You know John Ravenhurst, I assume." Philip nodded as Ravenhurst took the other chair. Outside the social setting of the Embassy, Ravenhurst looked every bit the former CIA Director he was, a brilliant strategy analyst with nary a single restraining moral scruple. Actually, that didn't bother Philip, certainly not as much as the President's sloppy desk.
"John," Philip said affably, remembering Tiffany's advice to be civil. Thankfully the agitation and racing heart had passed half an hour ago. He needed a vacation.
Ravenhurst gravely nodded, and fixed Philip in his gaze, his head swinging side to side. Since Philip rather liked snakes, he found Ravenhurst interesting. Dangerous, to be sure. But you just treated him like any deadly reptile. Be wary and keep your distance. Gaboon viper, he thought, as the head oscillated. No, more whip-like. He noted the man’s trademark loud tie, overlooked at the reception. Bright red with yellow stars. Coral snake, then. Red and black, good jack. Red and yellow, kill a fellow.
"Philip, you're probably wondering why I wanted to see you," the President resumed as he lowered himself into the chair behind the desk. Philip loved the President's mellow voice. Smooth as blended Scotch, as he'd described it to Tiffany. The President was a big man, with a shock of white hair above his ruddy face. He looked every inch a President, and sounded like one, too.
"Our friends on Taiwan have asked for a mediator to help them deal with communist China's ultimatum for reunification. It's going to be a tough assignment."
Philip wondered what this had to do with him. But it felt bad.
"Taiwan doesn't want to give up the freedom they've flourished under all these years. We can't let the Chinese swallow Taiwan." The big man warmed to the subject, rising from his chair like a whale breaching water, so engrossed he left the remote behind. "Taiwan stands for everything we stand for. Democracy, capitalism, freedom."
Philip cleared his throat. "Sir, all true. But may I ask what it has to do with me?"
The President turned to face Philip. "I want you to be the mediator, Philip. To go to Taiwan and find some way to satisfy China without sacrificing Taiwan's freedom."
Philip usually liked surprises. Not this one.
"Uh, sir. I can't do that. I don't know anything about China. In fact, I'm considering a leave of absence, to pursue some other interests." A wave of desire rippled through him, a lust for the hard, honest slap of rock against his hand that he could sense was about to be stolen from him. He badly needed to get back to his climbing. Bad enough to consider resigning State and taking off. "So, I'm sorry. But no."
"You majored in Chinese history at Yale, I believe?" he heard Ravenhurst say from his side.
"I concentrated on China and India. But everything I know about China is book-learning. I've lived in India. My roommate at Yale was the son of a rajah, and I spent a couple of summers training hawks on his family's estates." He was scrambling, desperate for a solid reason to turn down the assignment.
"Philip, you're our best negotiator," persisted the President. "You showed that in New Delhi. This is going to be a tough one. We need your skills and experience."
"But that's the point, Mr. President. I know India, knew the issues inside-out last year. Hell, I already knew most of the negotiators on both sides, knew what they liked to drink, what kind of women they liked to sleep with. China? It's been years since I've paid any attention to it."
"We'll give you Baden, from the East Asia desk, plus Baden’s specialists. And Talbin says you can have Assistant Secretary Dirk on your team, as well, to add heft to it. They can bring you up to speed."
Again, Ravenhurst from the side. "Your grandfather was a peace maker, wasn't he? Bringing people together who were in conflict?"
"Yeah, a missionary to China, then back home during the civil rights movement."
"China and Taiwan are on the brink of war," Ravenhurst pressed. "Actually, it's brilliant timing on China's part. We thought we'd just turned the corner in Iraq, when Syria threatens to jump in to protect the Sunnis there. That sets off Iran. And Afghanistan won't stop boiling over. So we're stretched very, very thin, and don't have much to help Taiwan with. China knows that. Your job is to devise some formula that both China and Taiwan can live with. And to let China know that if they refuse to bend, we'll support Taiwan with the only thing we currently have available: our nuclear arsenal."
Philip sat stock still, his reeling mind suddenly supremely focused. Had Ravenhurst really threatened a nuclear war?
He looked to the President, standing behind his desk.
"Is this true, Mr. President? Nuclear war if we don't get what we want?"
The president stared somberly at Philip, then nodded his head.
Philip exhaled. Goddam it. I hate old men who bandy war about as a policy option, he thought. Especially nuclear war. Whether it's on the Indian subcontinent or Taiwan. He groaned at the thought of what he was about to put off. He saw himself as a boy climbing the rugged granite cliff outside his hometown in Vermont, his grandfather belaying the ropes.
There was the rub. His grandfather wouldn't let him turn this down. Dead ten years, but still with him. Grandpa had given him the tools and the passion to help people, to bring them together, whether China or Vermont. This was another chance to make a difference. Just like in New Delhi. He exhaled again, and heard himself say the words.
"Yeah, Mr. President. I'll take it on."
Hayes breathed a sigh of relief. Philip didn’t look at Ravenhurst. As the President began to speak, Philip cut him off.
“Let me review my understanding of our position, Mr. President. Me and Baden and Dirk are to come up with some formula that satisfies China’s desire for official reunification of Taiwan, but that in fact retains the functional independence of Taiwan. And to let China know that we will not tolerate the use of force against Taiwan in any event, and reserve the right to respond with our nuclear arsenal, if need be.”
The President nodded. “Not that Taiwan needs much help from us. Thank God George Bush sold them those F-16s back in ‘92. Hell, even Clinton came through, with Stinger ground-to-air missiles, Super Cobra attack helicopters, antisubmarine missiles."
“Plus three Knox-class frigates,” Ravenhurst added. “And George W. gave them four Kidd-class destroyers, eight submarines, and a dozen P-3 Orion submarine hunters.”
"Impressive firepower," commented Philip. "How much of this weaponry, and command structure wielding it, do we need retained by Taiwan?"
“Most or all,” the President snapped. His face turned red. “You can’t very well be functionally independent if the other fella is armed and you’re not.”
“And the specific forms of union we’re comfortable with?” Philip asked.
The President waved his hand impatiently. “Baden on the Far East desk will let you know where we are on that. And all the other concerns. It’s incredibly complex.”
“Well, no more complex than in New Delhi last year, I suppose," said Philip.
The President fixed him with a heavy stare. “That’s just it, Philip. Huddle with Baden and Dirk and the team. Get all the details in your head. But remember what I said. Functional independence. In every respect. Or there’s no deal.”
“Well, it won’t be easy, sir," observed Philip, shifting uneasily in the chair. "In fact, I’m not sure it can be done.”
The President lumbered back to his desk. “We’re pinning our hopes on you, Philip. John, see that he has cable and phone access to me twenty-four hours a day. And give the press a release announcing Philip as the requested mediator, immediately. The Communists’ deadline for an agreement is the 30th--nine days from today. Baden and Dirk and the rest of the team are scheduled to leave for Taipei on Air Force Two at midnight tonight. Can you join them?”
Join them? He had planned to carve out a day and climb in the Gumps this weekend. It was his life blood. Was he shoving it aside yet again?
“Yeah, I guess I can,” he heard himself say. “Midnight, huh? They know I will be heading the team, and will need heavy duty briefing on the current status of things?”
The President looked at Ravenhurst. “Break it to them, John."
"Oh, and I'll want Tom Morgan from the CIA for my personal security man. Just like in New Delhi. Without a veto from other echelons on his activities."
"Sorry, security for this is already set up, and it's being run through Homeland Security channels," said Ravenhurst.
"I can't concentrate on negotiations unless I have confidence my back is covered. That means Tom. We go way back, beyond New Delhi, even."
"Sorry, boy," Ravenhurst said crisply.
Philip rose, suddenly feeling lighter and happier. "It's been real nice chatting with you, Mr. President. Hope you find someone to help you out. Have a good evening." He turned and headed for the door, walking quickly.
A moment's hesitation from the President. Then he spoke. "John, get this Morgan from CIA. I want him on the plane tonight, integrated into the rest of security but with autonomy in his decisions. Understand?"
Ravenhurst's head wasn't moving. His jaws clenched.
"Yes, Mr. President."
Philip paused at the door. "Oh, and John. It's true you've got a couple of decades on me. But if you ever call me 'boy' again, I'll forget my upbringing and knock the crap out of you. Even in front of a President." He glared at Ravenhurst, then left the room.