Chapter 29

Prime Suspect

 

Ermita District, Manila

Friday, 0805H (PHT)

 

         Martin drove twelve kilometers to meet Durham at Diamond Hotel located near Magsaysay Center. His counterpart had a few hours of sleep but asked to see him there at once after the phone call. He found his friend waiting at the table in Corniche.

            “Hello again, Old Chap.”

            “Nice to see you, Sonny,” Durham said as he shook his friend’s hand.

            “Hey, for a free breakfast, I’ll meet you anytime in a heartbeat,” Martin said as he took a seat. “You know I’m saving my quids for my retirement.”

            “Oh, not again.”

            “Hey, try living as a pensioner in Old Blighty.”

            “Try Brooklyn.”

            “I heard the bangers and mashes here are superb.”

            “Tired of eating bubbles and squeaks?”

            “Of course, what do you think?”

            “You’re such a freeloader.”

            “Excuse me, Old Chap. For the info I’m giving you, I’m charging you cheaply,” countered the MI6 officer. “By the way, you look so knackered.”

            “I was up until three in the morning.”

            “I can only imagine.”

           The two walked to the buffet table to get their food, and when they got back to their seats, Durham asked Martin about the urgent call. “What’s your excuse waking me up at five-thirty in the morning?”

            “Can’t you let the man eat first?”

         “You can talk while you eat,” Durham said as he cracked the crispy bacon in his mouth. “We’re not at the Queen’s table.”

            “That’s so right. For peasants like us, we can forego our royal manners.”

            “I’m waiting.”

            “Okay, the pictures you sent me?”

            Durham leaned forward and said, “Got a match?”

            “Yes,” Martin said while nodding his head. “My blokes are checking further with the Security Service.”

            “Why referred him to MI5?”

            “I told you, he’s British.”

            “Is he, really?” Durham asked while keeping his voice low.

            “Sadly.”

            “Another Richard Reid?”

            “Hold your horses, Old Chap. I never said he’s a terrorist. This fool is a nasty lad indeed but not a terrorist.”

            “Then what is he?” Durham asked. “Just spill it, Sonny.”

            “The man can’t wait,” Martin said with his usual sarcasm. “All right, I will. Okay, his name is Gregory Mallory.”

            “Are you sure it’s his real name?”

            “One hundred percent.”

            “Any alias?”

            “Probably two or three.”

            “A passport collector?”

            “Yes, got a peculiar hobby. Not sure what nationalities are on the travel documents, though. It could be Australian, Canadian, or German.”

            “He travels a lot, huh?”

            “Of course, he has to move his products. Remember the story I told you yesterday?”

            “Drug story? Yeah, I still remember it.”

            “He’s the man in the pictures.”

            “Good golly.” Durham leaned forward on the table. “You sure?”

            “Kowloon Dragon’s big boss.”

            “No way.”

        “He’s a big-time drug dealer. His company practically controls the Golden Triangle—Burma, Vietnam, Laos, and Thailand—and even extend his operation to Afghanistan.”

            “Afghanistan?”

            “Opium trade. What else could interest him in that country?”

            “Sure. Go on.”

            “He’s a shady guy, totally dubious. We had to dig up some of our old photos to compare them rigorously with the ones you gave us. Despite a slight alteration to his face, our analysts at The Firm are confident that he’s the one and only Gregory Mallory. One of the giveaways is his proclivity for designer clothes. The pictures you provided dramatically show his taste—it added more weight to his identity.”

            “Well, you British folks have a penchant for wearing fashionable clothes, so that’s not a giveaway.”

          “Well, thank you. Nice of you to appreciate our preference for good grooming. Nothing bad to say about the Americans. Hanes T-shirt and Levi’s?”

            “Keep going with your info.”

            “We’ve been searching for him for two years. I’m surprised he’s in Manila.”

            “A smuggler, huh?”

            “Yep, a bloody smuggler.”

            “Based in UK?”

            “Hong Kong.”

            “Why that place?”

            “He was born in the colony and grew up in a British orphanage. That’s what his birth records say. Accordingly, his British parents died a mysterious death while yachting, but the authorities never found their bodies. Luckily for Mallory, a rich Chinese couple adopted him. He spent most of his life in Asia, more than in UK. I would say he became more Chinese than British through the years. He’s a linguist, speaks five languages. Well, that’s what the report says about Mallory.”

            “Can you give me a copy of his dossier?”

            Martin chewed a strip of bacon while thinking of his answer. “I’ll have it ready the next time, depending on how fast The Firm acts on my request.”

            Durham thought where the operational lead was taking him. What was the connection between RGP and Kowloon Dragon, and Kowloon Dragon with Berzowski? Was there a link at all or was it an anomaly?

            “I have a NICA report purportedly linking RGP to a Chinese drug syndicate.”

            “Jumpin’ Jack Flash! Really?”

            “Really.”

            “You piqued my curiosity, Old Chap.”

            “The guerillas get the meth and other stuff and sell them to raise money for the Party. Profits are reportedly good like they’re running a cottage industry. They use a big portion of their earnings to purchase firearms.”

            “You think PDEA’s raid of the syndicate’s den yesterday had something to do with RGP and KD?”

            “No, I don’t think so,” Durham said as he reached for his coffee. “I heard it was a carnapping syndicate moonlighting into the drug business. PDEA retrieved a lot of chop-chop cars in the compound.”

            “I’ll have my lads work on that story. Anyhow, going back to the communists and mobsters, you said the report came from NICA?”

            “Yes.”

            “We never got the info.”

            “I got it a couple of days ago.”

            Martin was silent for a moment. He forked an omelet from his plate and guided it into his mouth. He said, “Hmm, still fresh.”

            “Of course, the report is just forty-eight hours old.”

            “No, the scrambled eggs,” Martin said, then chewed another piece.

            “Come on, Sonny. Get serious once in a while.”

            “Can’t do it. I want to live long.”

            “Then stop eating greasy food.”

            Martin put down his fork. He raised his cup and sipped the tea while thinking about Durham’s info. He placed the cup back on the saucer and said, “I can smell Mallory from the rubbles of Manila Hotel.”

            “No, that’s not possible.”

           Martin looked directly into Durham’s eyes and whispered. “Can’t you see the connection? What do you think of narco-dollars funding the bombings?”

            “Now you hold your horses, Old Chap. You believe RGP is capable of doing that?”

            Martin contemplated on his answer and said, “Honestly, no. But what if the Kowloon Dragon hired some SOFs?”

            “Mercenaries?”

            “Why not?”

            “Nah, CIA would know it.”

            “What if you’re wrong? You guys couldn’t even predict Yemen falling to the Houthis or Crimea to the Russians.”

            “Why would you link Berzowski’s death to KD? KD’s AOR doesn’t even reach stateside.”

            “No, Old Chap. KD’s outstretched arms reach Los Angeles and San Francisco.”

            “You sure?”

            “Positive. Check with your DEA. Now think hard for a moment. What would be the reason to kill Berzowski?”

            Durham thought sensibly of the possibilities, then he said, “Got it, Sonny. I got it.”

            “What you got?”

            “Operation Gentle Sweep.”

            “Now you’re talking.”

            “So, it was payback from drug lords in Asia?”

             “You tell me?”

            “DEA launched the ops eight months ago. All DEA stations in Southeast Asia conducted a unified saturation drive. A massive and simultaneous strike against drug cartels in the region. Ops netted top leaders of drug syndicates and confiscated tons of products and hundreds of millions of dollars in hard cash.”

            “I wasn’t here in Manila when it happened, but I heard about it from my staff,” Martin said. “You guys have stirred up the hornets’ nests. Your folks messed up the billions of dollars’ drug industries in Asia-Pacific.”

          Durham understood what his British counterpart meant. But he doubted the transnational drug syndicates would attempt to kill Berzowski. First and foremost, they were entrepreneurs, and killings were just secondary to money. Well, maybe not. If what was at stake meant the total eradication of their business, then killing would become their top priority.

            “Sonny, I need more info about Mallory and his Kowloon Dragon.”

            “Old Chap, now that we know what a colossal mess we’re in right now, we have to put a clamp on this guy together. That old dog Mallory is a British national. He’s my responsibility in Manila.”

            Durham took note of Martin’s sudden interest to be part of the operation. He turned down the proposition. “No, I want to make this thing, ah . . . What do you Britons say—off-the-cuff? I want this unscripted as much as possible, and this means no official joint op. Just informal meetings, like what we’re doing now. Also, I would ask you to stay away from Mallory for the next three days.”

            “What? You’re asking me to bugger off from Mallory? I don’t think I can do what you want. He’s on my priority list.”

            “Only for the next three days–until Monday. You can do anything you want after Monday.”

            “Tell me what’s going on here?” Martin became suspicious. “There’s something you aren’t telling me.”

            “I’ll let you know later. Promise. Right now, just sit tight and don’t let your men rush at Mallory or anyone from his group. We need a clear area to operate.”

            “Don’t tell me your garbage plan.”

            “Three days, Sonny. That’s all I ask from you.”

            Martin mulled over the request as he worked on the sausage in his mouth. “Three days, huh? I don’t think Vauxhall Cross would allow me to comply with your order.”

            “It’s not an order. Come on. Yesterday you said you’re just working on a routine request from Victoria Island. Now you’re dropping the name of SIS Home Office?”

            Martin didn’t say a word and was no longer smiling either. It was a bad sign to Durham, so he pressed on with his inquiry. “You’re keeping something from me, aren’t you?”

           “I’ll have to consult my bosses in LEGOLAND. Those people at Vauxhall Cross have been on Mallory’s tail for years. I just don’t want to rock the boat.”

            “I sense you’re not telling me the truth about Mallory.”

            Martin wagged his fork at Durham. “No. No. No. You’re the one withholding info from me. Three days? You want me to sit on my behind for the next three days? For what? What are you hiding?”

            “Who really is Mallory?”

            “I told you, he’s a drug lord. It’s all in the newspapers.”

            “Oh, for Pete’s sake. Anna Chapman was a realtor when the FBI caught her in New York. A Russian SVR sleeper engaged in selling houses. Come on.”

            “Why do you want my station to stand down?” Martin was adamant to get the truth. “We’re not going anywhere with this half-truth chat of yours.”

            Durham finally gave in to Martin’s pressure at the risk of alienating the man who held the ace card on Mallory.

 

            “My station has a standing order from HQS to TWEP your guy.”

          “Oh, boy. Boy, oh boy. Not good, Old Chap,” Martin said, shaking his head. “Your plan isn’t going to sit well with Vauxhall Cross.”

            “Manila must be cleared of threats before Monday.”

            “It’s going to be a problem. Big problem.”

            “What’s your story? Give me something. Off the record. I gave you mine.”

            “I’ll have my superior in UK talk to your—”

            “Come on, Martin. It’s your turn now to speak up. You don’t trust me anymore? Hey, whose asset did you use to help smuggle your Chinese spy from Guangzhou to Hong Kong?”

            Martin wiped his fingers with a napkin, then he rubbed his hands on his greyish beard.  “LEGOLAND wants Mallory alive. Dead man tells no info, right?”

            “So, what do you want from him?”

            “The last time our Six saw Mallory in Hong Kong, he was dining and wining with a Chinese intelligence officer. A top MSS brat from mainland China.”

            Martin gave the overall picture of Mallory’s business with the Chinese government’s Ministry of State Security, and Durham listened to the story of corruption in the People’s Liberation Army.

            “Oh, my lord. MSS is using Mallory?”

           “Or Mallory is using the Chinese in his drug trade. Either way, a link has been established between Mallory and MSS.”

            “A pay-for-play is bad enough, but working with corrupt MSS Officers? It just makes the story worse.”

           “One week after the meeting, our Six spotted Mallory again, and this time with another contact in Luk Yu Tea House.”

            “Oh, I still know that place on Stanley Street.”

            “Yes, we spent numerous times at that restaurant.”

            “So, was it the MSS brat again?”

            “Nope, not this time.”

            “Who?”

            “He met a British consular official.”

            “Oh, great.”

            “Probably facilitating drug smuggling into UK or something. We don’t know what transpired in the meeting. Our consul was found dead in his flat a day later.”

            “Oh, my goodness.” Durham digested Martin’s info for a moment. “So, we’re really at a crossroad.”

            “Your current op against Mallory will cross paths with ours.”

            Durham unmindfully sipped his coffee and said, “I have to take this up with my COS. Off the record, of course.”

            Martin nibbled the sausages slowly and nodded his head. “Same here, Old Chap. Same here. I’m in a bind by telling you this, you know?”

            “Your info is safe with me, just like in Hong Kong. I’ll sanitize my report.”

            “I’ll do the same here. Let’s meet again ASAP.”

            “Call me anytime. You have my direct number and the embassy’s hotline. Okay, Martin?”

            “Sure.”

            “And Sonny?”

            “What?”

            “Cut back on what you eat and start going to the gym.”

            “Hey, we’re in Manila. You don’t need to exercise to lose weight. Just walk two blocks on your lunch break. When you come back to your office, you’ll be sweating like crazy.”

            “You’re such a cheapskate.”

            “Nope. I’m a practical man,” Martin said as he forked another sausage.