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The breakthrough, p.27
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       The Breakthrough, p.27

           Jerry B. Jenkins
 
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  He and Feng arrived at the gleaming Tianjin Railway Station—the one the locals called East Station—at about one in the afternoon. Not until they were on the streets and away from curious ears did Feng begin the conversation Boone knew would be the most important in his life to date.

  “We will find place where you can study texts from your Chicago people,” Feng said. “I will send to you from my phone everything, more pictures. Big problem is, uh, uh, quán xiàn. Understand?”

  “No, Feng, sorry. I know no Chinese.”

  “Legal power?” Feng tried. “Authority?” He spotted a tour group on the street with British markings on their clothes and approached the Chinese female tour guide. “Speak English?” he said.

  “Speak,” she said.

  “Quán xiàn?”

  The young woman closed one eye and scrunched up her mouth. “Jurisdiction!”

  “Xie xie!” Feng said, thanking her.

  “Méi shi!” she said.

  “Lucky she understand,” Feng said. “Tianjin dialect different from Beijing.”

  “Will that be a problem at the Astor?”

  “Should be okay,” Feng said. “Staff trained for this.”

  This time what Feng described as a short walk really was—fewer than three miles. When they reached a street of fashionable shops, including one for men, he told Boone they were within half a kilometer of the Astor Hotel. “Must look rich,” he said, working quickly on his cell phone. “You wait. Send you everything from Chicago. You read.”

  Feng disappeared into the store, and Boone found a wrought-iron bench in the shade. But once he sat he realized clouds were forming and intermittently blocking the sun. Did that mean rain? What might that do to their operation?

  The long message, which included photographs, was addressed to Feng from Ragnar Waldemarr and included information from Jack, Antoine Johnson, and even some from Brigita Velna. A bracketed note read, Boone, when Feng transmits this to you, if time is an issue, I have summarized everything at the end, including Chief Keller’s tactical suggestions.

  Boone forced himself not to skip ahead. As was his custom, he wanted the progression, the flow, every detail. If there was something to decipher that no one else had noticed, that was the way he would find it.

  The document began with everything they had learned about the kidnapping, the abductor, and the pass-off to “Virginia Tuttman” at O’Hare. Ms. Tuttman, who turned out to be Jasper Pitts’s assistant, Lorelei Shearson, was the source for all the rest of the details. Boone read through the interrogation of AKA and Ms. Shearson and realized that the information she had provided—should it prove accurate—was a gold mine.

  She began with her delivery of Max at the Beijing airport to a woman named Xui Shi, described as a “child protective matron for Chu-Hua Children of the Globe Placement Services.” Shearson had delivered to and taken delivery from Ms. Shi on more than a dozen previous occasions. The accompanying photograph showed a stocky, slack-faced woman of about sixty dressed in old-fashioned Mao-style utilitarian garb. Lorelei Shearson had noted that Shi had the ability to blend into any crowd and not draw attention to herself. Interestingly, Lorelei had also added that she believed the woman was “wholly unaware of any unethical aspects of the work of Chu-Hua.”

  Lorelei had told Jack Keller and Antoine Johnson that Jasper “Jammer” Pitts was booked at the J. W. Marriott in Beijing and would arrive in Tianjin that afternoon at six. She had hired a limo to take him the seven or so miles to the Astor. An accompanying picture showed a massive bespectacled man with sagging jowls, showing his age, with the thinning and unevenly dyed yellowish hair Shane Loggyn had described to Jack. Pitts was to meet Mr. Xing at the checkerboard table under the grand wood staircase in the History Lobby, and from there they would reconnoiter in Xing’s Hai River diplomat suite.

  According to Lorelei Shearson, each was to have a notebook computer on which they would engineer the transaction. Xing would arrange the transfer of 7 million Chinese yuan to Pitts’s Swiss bank account, the equivalent of approximately 1.1 million U.S. dollars.

  Ms. Shi was to bring “Mark Tuttman,” the American orphan who matched Mr. and Mrs. Xing’s preferences, to the suite. Once Xing took custody of the child, Ms. Shi would be excused, and Xing would trigger the deposit. When the new balance appeared in Mr. Pitts’s account, the delivery would be considered complete, and Pitts would depart. His itinerary showed him traveling immediately to Beijing in time for his return flight to Midway Airport in Chicago, via Los Angeles and Minneapolis.

  Dr. Ragnar Waldemarr had written, Boone, Chief Keller tells me to urge you to resist the impulse to exact justice from Pitts. You cannot arrest him, detain him, assault him, or threaten him. Whatever you do, he must keep to his itinerary so the FBI can apprehend him at customs in LA.

  Terrific. How’m I supposed to pull that off?

  Feng Li finally emerged from the men’s store with a garment bag over his shoulder. “Are you hungry?” he said.

  “I shouldn’t be, but I am. Probably just excitement.”

  “Big job,” Feng said. “Need energy.”

  “Let me get this straight,” Boone said as they walked, the sky darkening. “This matron will have Max in a room, and when Pitts tells her, she brings him to Xing’s suite?”

  Feng nodded.

  “Why don’t I just find them and kidnap back my own son? We could be out of there and on our way back to Beijing before Pitts even gets here.”

  Feng shrugged. “What happens to Xui Shi?”

  “Can’t we protect her somehow?”

  “From someone like Pitts or someone powerful and rich like Xing? She become new victim. Besides, cameras in hallways. You be seen. Anyway, if you think, you get better idea.”

  “I’m too close to this, Feng. It’s hard to think. Believe me, I’m trying.”

  “I help? Give you hint? Clue?”

  “Sure.”

  They had reached the Heping financial district, and Feng led Boone on a walk next to the Hai River. “Astor not far, on Taier Zhuang Road. Eat near there, then haircut and glasses.”

  “What’s your idea, Feng?”

  “When I remind you, it will be your idea.”

  “I’m listening.”

  “Whole meeting, delivery of child, everything happen when money transfer. How?”

  “By computer.”

  “What Xing business?”

  It was way too early to be so antsy. But Boone couldn’t quit worrying about Max, how confused he had to be, wondering where Mom and Dad were and what was going on. Was he old enough to understand? No. All he would want by now were his parents, familiarity, home.

  However this went down, Max must not be hurt.

  Boone had never seen a menu like the one in the eatery within the shadow of the Astor Hotel. “What is ‘eight great bowls’?”

  “Meat dishes,” Feng said. “Too much food. Maybe you like four great stews. You pick. Goose? Chicken?”

  “Actually this snack looks good. Mahua?”

  “Twisted dough sticks,” Feng said. “You like.”

  “What in the world?” Boone said, pointing at menu pictures of dishes that didn’t look bad but which were labeled wild bamboo saliva and vinegar hibernation head.

  “Traditional Chinese food, wrong translation.”

  “‘Five dirty, five factors’?” Boone pointed at the Chinese characters next to that line. “How would you translate that into English?”

  “Five meat, five vegetable.”

  “Sounds good, but I wouldn’t be able to get dirty factors out of my head.” He stuck with the mahua, and it was plenty.

  As they sat strategizing, Feng told Boone he believed Xing was like Mrs. Shi. “Does not know illegal.”

  “Seriously? He thinks a legitimate adoption would cost a million US?”

  “Very special service. Choose type of child, even hair color.”

  “So what happens when he finds out?”

  “Must avoid em
barrassment, scandal. Protect business. If I scare, he cooperate.”

  Boone nodded slowly, gradually catching on to where Feng was headed. “You get to him early, scare him off, warn him not to tip off Pitts.”

  “Yes.”

  “Then you become Xing?”

  Feng smiled. “Don’t skip step.”

  “Xing will be angry.”

  “Right,” Feng said. “Want revenge.”

  “You can get him to help sting Pitts.”

  “Sting?”

  “Turn the tables? Betray?”

  “Yes!”

  “How?”

  “Computer!” Feng said.

  At long last, Boone had connected with Feng. He had found him fascinating, impressive, certainly. But for the next hour, as they traded ideas and suggestions, the language barrier seemed to fade. Boone had found a like mind, a kindred spirit. In, of all places, the most exotic land he had ever visited, with everything looking, sounding, smelling, and feeling foreign, it was as if he were just sitting with a fellow cop. And by the time they had memorized their next steps, Boone was as confident as he had been since he boarded the flight at O’Hare that this had a chance of working.

  As they left the restaurant, a young woman at the counter stared at Boone. “American?” she said.

  “Yes,” he said, returning her smile.

  “Try English?”

  “Sure.”

  “Thank you and welcome for the next time.”

  “Very good.”

  Two blocks away Feng found a barbershop and pointed Boone to an optical shop. “Find frames like Xing in picture. Clear lenses.”

  “Feng, I speak no Chinese.”

  “Point to merchandise. Pay yuan listed on sign.”

  “You may have to rescue me.”

  For some reason, this made Feng laugh.

  Half an hour later, when he added the new frames to his freshly cut hair, Feng at least looked like he could be Wang Xing’s brother.

  It was late in the afternoon when Boone and Feng came within sight of the Astor Hotel. Boone found it a stunning mixture of architectural styles. Situated on a corner rimmed with ornate double street lamps, it was surrounded by a wall topped with crisscrossing wood lattice patterns. A brick tower with square decorations and half-circle arch windows rose five stories on the corner, attached to a three-story building that covered half the block. This lower section carried the same motif as the tower but was adorned with light wood add-ons that served as patios for each room and repeated the latticework adornments.

  “Just 153 rooms, three suites,” Feng said.

  “How do you know that?”

  Feng smiled. “Tour guide.”

  The pure white lobby was graced by gentle sloping arches and a huge floral arrangement near the entrance. Boone and Feng each carried heavy bags over their shoulders, and Feng also had the garment bag, so it made sense when a man behind the counter said something in Chinese and quickly followed it with, “Checking in?”

  “Just tourists,” Feng said. “Looking.”

  “Make yourselves at home.”

  “Where is diplomat suite?”

  The clerk told Feng, and added, “Occupied.”

  As they moseyed on, Feng whispered, “Only hotel in all of China with own museum. Too bad not enough time.”

  They passed several quaint eateries with names like O’Hara’s, Cafe Majestic, and Victorian Lounge, some airy and modern, others heavily wooded and intimate. Boone imagined how interesting and fun such a place would be for him and Haeley and Max under any other circumstance.

  The meeting place arranged for Pitts and Xing was a beautiful spot that must have seen many an interesting and romantic rendezvous in its time. But something told Boone that even if his and Feng’s elaborate scheme worked perfectly and he was able to spirit Max out of the country, nothing could make him return to this hotel.

  39

  Ploy

  Boone heard the gentle rain begin as he and Feng made their way to the river-view side of the hotel and found the diplomat suite. They silently placed their heavy bags on either side of the doorframe. Feng tucked away his new glasses and ran a hand through his hair until it looked spiky, then folded the new garment bag over his forearm. Boone stepped a few feet down the hall and pressed himself against the wall.

  Feng rapped smartly on the door and said, “Laundry!”

  They heard movement in the room, but no one came to the door.

  Feng repeated the knock and announcement. This time footsteps approached and a voice said, “Wrong room. No laundry order here.”

  “So sorry, sir!” Feng said. “Receipt says Mr. and Mrs. Wang Xing.”

  “Let me see that,” the man said, quickly opening the door. He found himself staring at a badge. “What’s this about?”

  “Captain Feng Li, sir, Tianjin Police. Just need a moment.”

  “What for?”

  “Please, sir. May I come in? Not long.”

  The fortyish businessman wore dress slacks, a silky black T-shirt, and black stockings. “I have a meeting soon and—”

  “Promise not too long.”

  Scowling, Xing held the door open but looked surprised to see Boone follow Feng Li in, gathering up both shoulder bags as he came. Boone was struck that Xing’s English was so good, much better than Feng’s.

  “What do you want?” Xing said, pulling out his business card. “I’m just visiting from Xi’an and—”

  Feng set down the garment bag and took the card in both hands, making a show of reading it carefully. “I am familiar with your company, sir. A customer.”

  “Well, that’s fine, but—”

  “May we sit, sir?”

  “I must start getting ready—”

  “I will honor your time, Mr. Xing.”

  Pastel walls contrasted with brown and white drapes and an elegant chandelier in the contemporarily furnished suite. Boone draped the garment bag over his arm and dragged it and the other bags into the closet.

  “What is he doing?” Xing said, rising.

  “Please sit, Mr. Xing,” Feng said. “This very important matter.”

  The man pressed his lips together, sat back down, folded his arms, and glared at Feng. “What is?”

  Boone said, “It has come to our attention, sir, that you may have unwittingly involved yourself in a national investigation.”

  “What?”

  “You are planning to adopt a son tonight, are you not?”

  “I am. And my wife and I are quite excited about it. It is perfectly legal. I have gone through a wonderful American placement organization.”

  “I’m afraid, Mr. Xing, that you have been duped.”

  “Duped?”

  “Fooled. Lied to.”

  “There is no child? No money is to change hands until the orphan has been delivered to me.”

  “There is a child, but he is not an orphan. He was abducted, and the organization that has promised him to you knowingly engages in human trafficking.”

  “I don’t believe it!”

  “The Chu-Hua Children of the Globe Placement Services, headquartered in Illinois?”

  “Yes!”

  “And you’re dealing with the president?”

  “Mr. Jasper Pitts, yes!”

  “I’m sorry to have to tell you that Mr. Pitts is an international fugitive wanted by the United States Federal Bureau of Investigation.”

  Wang Xing turned ashen and covered his eyes with both hands. “Oh no! No! Bai will be devastated!”

  “Your wife?”

  Xing nodded, folded his hands, and stared at the ceiling. “How will I be able to tell her? We have had two other adoptions fall through at the last minute when the mothers changed their minds. She refused to come this time, unwilling to face another disappointment. I was so looking forward to taking home our son.”

  “I’m sorry, but I must ask. Did you not feel the price was exorbitant? Seven million yuan for an adoption? There are legitimate placement
agencies, you know.”

  “No! I don’t know! I thought this one was. Nothing in all our correspondence hinted at anything amiss! The boy was represented as an orphan from a top facility in the States.”

  “The truth is, sir, he has loving parents desperate to get him back.”

  “That is horrible!”

  “I’m sorry for you and your wife,” Boone said.

  “Feel sorry for my workers, my company! I can’t be mixed up in something like this! I’ll be ruined!”

  “That’s why we’re here, Mr. Xing,” Boone said. “There is no need to publicize your involvement in this case.”

  “There isn’t? How can that be?”

  “If you’re willing to help us . . .”

  “Help you apprehend this man? I’d like to kill him. I will do whatever it takes to see him pay.”

  Boone rose and moved to sit closer to Xing. “If you are willing to do this, you will be free to go. I am sorry that you will have to bear bad news to your wife, but surely neither of you would have wanted a kidnapped child.”

  “Of course not!”

  “You can leave immediately for Xi’an, and no one will ever know what you were doing here.”

  Xing looked back and forth between Boone and Feng. “Tell me how I can help.”

  “Tell me, sir,” Boone said, “are you primarily a businessman-entrepreneur, or are you a computer-software expert?”

  “I am both. I have been called the Steve Jobs of China.”

  “Perfect. Our understanding is that you were to set up the transfer of funds on your notebook computer and trigger it once you had taken delivery of the child.”

  “Yes, and then when the monies showed up in Mr. Pitts’s account, the deal would be done.”

  “Tell me, Mr. Xing,” Boone said, “is there a way that you could make it appear that the money has gone to Mr. Pitts’s account, so he would be satisfied and leave, but it would never actually be deposited?”

 
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