John Clark didn’t give a damn what anybody said—this was still Saigon.
He knew history, of course. Forty years ago the communists came down from the north and they took the place. They renamed it Ho Chi Minh City in honor of their conquering leader. To the victors the spoils. They executed collaborators and imprisoned unreliables and they changed the politics, the culture, and the fabric of the lives of those who lived here.
It looked a little different now, but to John it felt the same. The cloying evening heat and the smell of exhaust fumes mixing with the pressing jungle, the incense and cigarette smoke and the spiced meat, the buzz of the stifling crowds and the lights from the energetic streets.
And the sense of pervasive danger, just out of sight but closing, like an invading army.
They could name this city after his sworn enemy from the past, they could call it whatever the hell they wanted, but to the sixty-six-year-old man sitting in the open-front café in District 8, that didn’t change a thing.
This was still fucking Saigon.
Clark sat with his legs crossed, his shirt collar open, and his tan tropic-weight sport coat lying across the chair next to him because the slow-moving palm-frond fan above him did nothing more than churn the hot air. Younger men and women swirled around him, heading either to tables in the back or out onto the busy pavement in front of the café, but Clark sat still as stone.
Except for his eyes; his eyes darted back and forth, scanning the street.
He was struck by the lack of Americans in uniform, the one big disconnect from his memories of old Saigon. Forty-odd years ago he’d trod these streets in olive drab or jungle camo. Even when he was here in country with the CIA’s MACV-SOG (Military Assistance Command, Vietnam—Studies and Observations Group), he’d rarely worn civilian clothing. He was a Navy SEAL, there was a war going on, battle dress was appropriate for an American, even one in country working direct-action ops for the Agency.
Also missing were the bicycles. Back then ninety percent of the wheeled traffic on this street would have been bikes. Today there were some bikes, sure, but mostly it was scooters and motorcycles and small cars filling the street, with pedestrian throngs covering the sidewalks.
And nobody wore a uniform around here.
He took a sip of green tea in the glow of the votive candle flickering on his bistro table. He didn’t care for the tea, but this place didn’t have beer or even wine. What it did have was line of sight on the Lion d’Or, a large French colonial restaurant, just across Huynh Thi Phung Street. He looked away from the passersby, stopped thinking about the days when twenty-five percent of them would have been U.S. military, and he glanced back to the Lion d’Or. As hard as it was to divorce himself from the past, he managed to put the war out of his mind, because this evening his task was the man drinking alone at a corner table in the restaurant, just twenty-five yards from where Clark sat.
The subject of Clark’s surveillance was American, a few years younger than Clark, bald and thickly built. To Clark it was clear this man seemed to be having issues this evening. His jaw was fixed in anger, his body movements were jolting and exaggerated like a man nearly overcome with fury.
Clark could relate. He was in a particularly foul humor himself.
He watched the subject for another moment, then checked his watch and pressed down on a button on a small wireless controller in his left hand. He spoke aloud, albeit softly, even though no one sat close by. “One-hour mark. Whoever he’s meeting is making him wait for the honor of their company.”
Three stories above and directly behind Clark—on the roof of a mixed-use colonial-style office building—three men, all lying prone and wearing muted colors and black backpacks, scanned the street below them. They were connected to Clark via their earbuds, and they’d picked up his transmission.
Domingo “Ding” Chavez, in the middle of the three, centered his Nikon on the man in the restaurant and focused the lens. Then he pressed his own push-to-talk button and answered back softly: “Subject is not a happy camper. Looks like he’s about to put his fist through the wall.”
Clark replied from below. “If I have to sit here in this heat and sip this disgusting tea much longer, I’m going to do the same.”
Chavez cleared his throat uncomfortably, then said, “Uh, it’s not too bad up here. How about one of us take the eye at ground level, you can make your way to the roof?”
The reply came quick. “Negative. Hold positions.”
Sam Driscoll chuckled. He lay on Chavez’s left, just a few feet away, his eye to a spotting scope that he used to scan to the north of the restaurant, watching the road for any sign of trouble. He spoke to the men around him, but he didn’t transmit. “Somebody’s grumpy.”
Several yards to Chavez’s right, Jack Ryan, Jr., peered through his camera, scanning the pedestrians on the sidewalk to the south of their overwatch. He focused his attention on a leggy blonde climbing out of a cab. While doing so he asked, “What’s wrong with Clark? He’s usually the last one of us to bitch, but he’s been like this all day.”
There was no one else on this rooftop other than the three Americans, but Chavez had been doing this sort of thing for most of his adult life. He knew his voice would carry through the metal air-conditioning duct behind him if he wasn’t careful, so he answered back as if he were in a library. “Mr. C’s got some history around here, is all. Probably coming back to him.”
“Right,” Ryan said. “He must be reliving the war.”
Ding smiled in the darkness. “That’s part of it. Clark’s down in that café thinking about the shit he saw. The shit he did. But he’s also thinking about running around here as a twenty-five-year-old SEAL stud. It probably scares him how much he wishes he was back in the groove. War or no war.”
Ryan said, “He’s holding up for an old guy. We should all be so lucky.”
Driscoll shifted on his belly to find a more comfortable position on the asphalt mansard roof, though he kept his eye in his optic, centering now on the man at the table. “Clark’s right. It doesn’t look like this meet is going to happen, and watching this guy through a ten-power scope while he drinks his liver into oblivion is getting old.”
While Sam focused on the subject, Ryan continued following the blonde as she pushed through the foot traffic heading north along Huynh Thi Phung Street. He tracked her to the front door of Lion d’Or. “Good news. I think our evening just got interesting.”
Chavez followed Ryan’s gaze. “Really? How so?”
Jack watched the woman as she turned sharply into the restaurant from the sidewalk and moved directly toward their subject’s table. “The meet has arrived, and she is hot.”
Chavez saw her through his own binos now. “I guess it’s better than watching another fat dude slurp gin.” He pressed the push-to-talk button again. “John, we’ve got a—”
Clark’s voice crackled over Chavez, because he had the command unit on their network and could override other transmissions. “I see her. Too bad we don’t have any fucking audio.”
The men on the roof all laughed nervously. Damn, Clark was grouchy tonight.
Colin Hazelton made a show of checking the time on his mobile phone as the woman sat down. She was an hour late and he wanted to indicate his displeasure, even if only passive-aggressively.
She fixed the hem of her skirt and crossed her legs, and only then did she look up at him. She seemed to notice the phone and his focus on it, then she lifted the sweating water glass in front of her and took a sip.
Hazelton dropped his phone back into his pocket and drank down half of his gin and tonic. He had to admit she was every bit as attractive as advertised. It was virtually all his control had said about his contact tonight. Statuesque and blond, with mannerisms that transmitted refinement and poise. Still, Hazelton was too pissed to be impressed. Not pissed at her, exclusively, but generally angry, and he certainly wasn’t in the mood to ogle his contact tonight.
That she’d made him wait a goddamned hour took even more of the luster off her splendor.
Before either spoke the waiter appeared. It was that kind of place, not like the dive bars and tea shops that populated the rest of this part of Huynh Thi Phung Street.
The woman ordered a glass of white wine in perfect French. Hazelton could tell it was her native tongue, but his control officer had mentioned this fact as well, between breathless comments about her almond eyes and her lithe body.
He assumed she was a former French spook, either DGSE or DCRI, although she also could have been from DST, which became DCRI in 2008. Virtually everyone Hazelton met with in the course of his work was a former intelligence officer, so this was no stretch.
She did not introduce herself, though he wasn’t surprised by this. He had, however, expected some contrition for her late arrival. But she didn’t mention it at all. Instead, she opened with, “You brought the documents?”
Hazelton did not answer her directly. “What do you know about the circumstances of the operation?”
“The client. Have they read you in on the client?”
She showed a little confusion now. “Why would they do that? The client is not relevant to my brief.”
“Well, let me fill you in. The client is—”
The woman held a slender hand up. Her nails were perfectly manicured, and her skin glowed with lotion. “When they don’t brief me, I take that to mean I am not supposed to know.” She looked Hazelton over. “You don’t appear to be new to this work, so surely you understand this.” Her French accent was thick, but her English was flawless.
He took another gulp of gin. “Sometimes it’s best to know.”
“Perhaps that is your philosophy. It is not mine.” She said it with an air of finality. She wanted to move on. “So . . . do you have them or not?”
Hazelton spoke slowly and softly, but stressing every word through a slur from the alcohol he’d been consuming all day, both here and in the lobby bar back at his hotel. “North . . . Fucking . . . Korea.”
No response from the Frenchwoman.
He said, “You did know, didn’t you?”
She did not answer. Instead, she replied, “You are very emotional, aren’t you? This surprises me. I know you were given a rush assignment, someone took ill and they pulled out and then you were called over, but New York should know better than to send in an emotional traveling officer.” Below the table, Hazelton felt the tip of her high-heeled shoe as it ran along his leg, just next to his ankle. There was a time in his life when this would have excited him, but that was long ago. This was work; he knew she was just feeling around to see if he had a briefcase. Soon he heard her toe thump his case, next to his leg.
She said, “Slide it to me, please.”
The big American just sat there. He drummed his fingers on the table. Considering.
He expected to see frustration on her face, but she was oddly cool about his delay. After several seconds she repeated herself with no change in tone. “Slide it to me, please.”
He didn’t know what he was going to do tonight. Would he pass the items or shred them and dump them in a river like fish food? The ramifications for each course of action had been weighing on him all day. But now a sense of composure came over him, and he heard himself say, “You know what? I didn’t sign on to this job to be an errand boy for a bunch of murdering psychos.” Then, “There is other work to be had without stooping this low.”
“I don’t understand,” the woman said, and while speaking she glanced into the street, a casual gaze. She looked bored, but Hazelton knew she was simply keeping an eye out for surveillance.
Hazelton waved his arm in the air angrily. “To hell with this. I’m out.”
The woman, by contrast, displayed no emotion. “Out?”
“I’m not passing the documents on to you.”
She sighed a little now. “Is this about money? If so, you will need to talk to New York. I have no authorization to—”
“It’s not about money. It’s about good and evil. That’s completely lost on you, isn’t it?”
“My job has nothing to do with either.”
Hazelton looked at the woman with complete derision. His decision had been made. “Tell yourself that if you need to, but you’re not getting these docs.” He kicked the briefcase loud enough for her to hear it.
The woman nodded. A countenance of calm. Her detachment was odd to Hazelton. He’d expected screaming and yelling. She just said, “This will complicate things. New York will be angry.”
“Screw New York.”
“I hope you don’t expect me to join you in your moral crusade.”
“Doll, I don’t give a damn what you do.”
“Then you won’t give a damn when I walk out of here and make a phone call.”
Hazelton paused, the strain of his work and the travel evident on his face. “Call him.”
“He will send someone to take that case from you.”
Hazelton smiled now. “He might try. But like you said, I’m not exactly new at this. I have a few tricks up my sleeve.”
“For your sake, I hope you do.” The Frenchwoman stood and turned away, passing the smiling waiter approaching the table with the wine on a silver tray.