An Asian Mist in America
The sun peered over the edge of the lake horizon, nervously at first, casting feeble cautious rays of purple-red light up into the inclement dark star filled sky. The world attempted to stir, birds arising from their slumber filling the air with intimate chatter, the unintelligible conversation of another dawn.
Mist lay in great swathes over the surface of the lake, as if placed there, immobile and timeless by a romantic painter. A few great birds sat like forgotten statues in the lake. When the sun's peevish rays began to kiss the surface of the black marble, they raised their wings, stretched them, tested them out and skidded across the water on their legs until they were airborne, screeching as they did so.
Around the great lake, large pine trees were awakening from their midnight vigil, like the sentries guarding a great castle. The morning light shimmered on the beads of moisture, which clung to them like strings of pearls.
At the water's edge lay grey, polished round stones.
A man's feet crunched these stones as he made slow but steady progress around the lake. It was a touching scene and it lifted his spirits.
He walked and occasionally picked up a stone, inspected it and then replaced from whence it had come. He repeated this exercise every seventh or eighth step. Moist air plumed from his mouth and nostrils like a baby dragon's breath.
Finally the man picked up a stone and inspected it with great assiduity.
He lowered himself towards the ground, arched his arm back still clutching the stone and skimmed it across the slothful water. Each bounce creating baby shimmerings on an otherwise still and lifeless surface.
About a quarter of a mile round from this lake two figures stood taking in the scene. The sun had risen higher and with growing confidence the warmth was stirring the lace of mist and fog over the lake. The watery layer rose with each passing minute above the lightening blue-black surface.
High in the west, where the sky was still dark, a plane winked green and red and white at the strangers below.
"Fuck it, why are there no good skimming stones by this lake?" mumbled the man to himself as he replaced leather gloves over his fingers.
It had been a long time since he had worked with the two folks he was going to meet, in fact about seven years and he was very much looking forward to it. Not since he had been in London had he worked with these two. Perhaps it was a little arrogant, but as a collective team, they were probably one of the best in the world at this sort of work. He knew this job would allow him to take early retirement at forty seven if all went well. He hoped it did, he had plans to buy a log cabin, in a place like this and live a bit like he had when he was a kid, with his father who had been a park ranger. He had always, always fancied going to New Zealand. He had been there once, to Auckland and then to the South island. He had fallen in love with the place. There were still hardly any people there and it was the other side of the world. He could escape there and nobody would know him.
The man thrust his hands deep into the pockets of his warm, blue wool coat, bought in London, from Daks of Piccadilly. It had served him well but there were annoying bits of detritus in the pockets. He removed his glove and rummaged within; a rather unimpressive lucky dip: chewing gum, silver wrappers, a McDonalds cheeseburger wrapper, the odd stray match but no matchbox, scraps of tissue paper, a few receipts and at last, a lighter.
The man stopped for a moment. Pulled out his pipe and packed it with sickly sweet tobacco. He pressed it with a practised hand into the little wooden pipe. The lighter winced into life and plumes of smoke emerged. He placed it in its habitual slot in his mouth. He continued to walk and puff. The stones were larger here and it was impeding his progress.
Over the other side of the lake the two other figures had built a small fire, the smoke drifted lazily into the now thinning mist. They stood around it, throwing out their arms towards the baby flames and rubbing their hands to try and ward off the cold.
It seemed ages before the pipe smoker came around the lake to join them. When he finally did so, they looked up from the fire at him and continued to rub their hands. The pipe smoker removed his gloves, squatted onto his haunches and did the same.
He looked up and smiled, the fire glinting in his grey-blue eyes.
"Been a while," he said finally "your hair is going grey at last."
"Sign of seniority," replied the slightly younger man.
"Don't get any ideas," said the pipe smoker with a hint of humour.
"No, not yet, maybe after this one. I hear you want to go fishing a lot if this goes well."
"Yep, hope so," replied the pipe smoker chuckling.
"So, Susie. You are looking good, how have you been?" enquired the pipe smoker.
Tom Manx removed the pipe from his mouth and tapped some of the tobacco out on the back of his leather sole.
"Well, really well, you?"
"Fine. I've been in Europe since we last met for most of the time."
"I know,” replied Susie.
Tom looked genuinely surprised.
"You keep yourself well informed," Tom replied after a pause.
"I hear you have been in China, creating opportunities? Beijing wasn't it?"
Susie smirked, "Touché, Tom, touché."
"So Henry, you are looking well, apart from the odd grey hair, still keeping yourself fit then?"
"Henry Roydon," said Tom Manx," it's been, what seven years now." Tom opened his arms and slapped Tom on the back.
"Good to see you both," continued Tom," it's been too long. Henry, you clever old sod, I wasn't even sure if you’d show. You have been cleverer than us, I have no idea what you have been up to."
"I've been in New Mexico," Henry said with an imperceptible smile.
"Oh, that job hey?" said Tom catching Susie's eye and they both laughed.
"How long has that one been running for now? Must be nearly a goddam century?"
"Yep, still it keeps coming back to haunt them," replied Henry evenly, "keeps us busy eh?"
"Well, keeps you busy.” Tom shivered, “that sort of job always gave me the creeps. Give me people anytime," he added with feeling.
They stood around the fire for a while rubbing their hands taking in the silence.
"Nice place to meet up," said Henry finally, "cloak and dagger in the open rather than in some stuffy smoked filled room somewhere."
"Yep," sighed Tom," makes a refreshing change. Place like this I wanna be in. So it better had."
Tom looked at them both with keen eyes.
"The money's the best on this one, so I don't want any mess. Let's go in and get the job done with as few loose ends as is possible. Right? I’ve already done some ‘tidying’ with the Andertons, you know about that. I don’t want any mess."
"The two figures nodded."
"Yep, I'll buy that," said Susie. "This is an important job for new clients and I've got longer to run in the business than either of you."
"Shall we check that we can speak freely?" Tom asked out of politeness.
Tom removed a small black box from one of his labyrinthine pockets and held it up above his head. He looked down at the dials.
"Think we are okay but let's keep this conversation reasonably obscure shall we? I never did trust modern technology very much."
"Right, you know the situation here with the recent departure of our learned friend the Governor?"
They nodded their heads.
"You have absorbed the necessary material."
They nodded their heads.
"I will, as I hope you know, be taking the ‘corporate division’ of this little enterprise, you Henry will be taking the ‘rural division’. Yesterday's events shown on T7 show that this job might be easier in fact than we had in fact anticipated but we can't afford to take anything for granted. You're job Susie will be to be our eyes and ears amongst the top people in the playground. Communications will take place via secured lines via the Governor's friend. You both understand?"
"It's unlikely but if things get out of hand we will meet up again here, you both know the signal, otherwise there will be no direct contact at all between us. If anything, anything at all leaks out about this it will make the Watergate look like some kind of mild misdemeanour. I don't have to underline just how important this is. The jobs of a lot of people and the vested interests of a lot of people are at stake here, so we can't afford to fuck up."
"Anyway, I want to retire, so let's keep it tight shall we? We all know what we have got to do."
"Recent incidents in relation to the murder of a man in the company may help us, the hand of fate is helping us here. We had no part in that at all."
"Tom, at first I just want you to understand the lie of the land in the company, I don't want you to do anything yet. Susie, same deal, I want you to understand what makes the top players tick and find out if they have any dark little secrets that we could use but keep your head low. Err on the side of caution; don't go finding things out for things sake. I will make moves fairly swiftly with our rural friends, I have, as you know secured a farm, some help and we have already made the necessary contacts with the local farming union. I will be on the stir quite quickly. As ever this job is all about timing."
Tom took out his pipe and slowly started to pack it.
Over the other side of the lake, a small group listened with interest to the conversation. The three men were small and looked Japanese, though they could have been Chinese, Thai, Philippine or Korean.
They were in fact Korean.
They too had a vested interest in what was going to happen in Hertferd."This is going to get extremely complicated," said the smallest of the men and sighed with genuine vexation.