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CHAPTER 4 – CHINA SEA

Roy Mancini undergoes a series of interviews and is at last recruited into the super-secret DOD intelligence task force known as the Institute in chapters 1 through 3. And now . . . Chapter 4.
CHINA SEA the novel is now available on Amazon, Kindle, iTunes and Google Play.

Chapter 4
January 1974

I was deep in a dream when the incessant ringing started. There followed a pounding on the door. I glanced at the clock on the bedside table. It was a few minutes past two o’clock in the morning.
“Who is it?” I called, as I rolled out of bed.
“Hotel security. Open the door, Mr. Kentfield.” I had used the assumed name when I’d checked in to the hotel.
I squinted through the peephole, and saw a hand holding up a badge of some kind. As I unchained and unlocked the door and began to turn the knob, it thrust open violently.
Two men dressed in black from head to toe shoved me back into the room. One of them, the taller one, grabbed me by the arms and handcuffed me with plastic strips behind my back. The other one placed duct tape over my mouth and pulled a hood over my head. I could barely breathe through my nose. They’d found my overcoat and wrapped it around me, and buttoned it up like a straitjacket. I was then frog marched down the long hall. We descended to the ground floor in a freight elevator and exited the hotel into a back alley. There they pushed me into the rear seat of a car and we drove off at high speed. We must have driven for fifteen minutes before we stopped and they lead me into a dimly lit warehouse. It was eerily quiet, no sound of traffic. Neither man had said a word.
They removed my hood, the gag, the straitjacket and handcuffs after we entered a room. They left their black ski masks on. The room was around ten feet square. A dim yellow light bulb in the center of the ceiling provided illumination. The one scarred wooden table with three folding chairs was placed in the center of the room. Otherwise, the room was bare and windowless. And unheated. I sat on one side of the table and the two hooded thugs sat opposite, and faced me. I could just make out their eyes through the slits.
I had not uttered a word. Rather I’d done some sober planning during the ride from the hotel. Conjuring up a cover story for the impending interrogation. They allowed me to slip my overcoat back on.
“You listen to me,” the tall one began in accented English after we were seated at the cigarette stained table. “We can do this the easy way. Or . . .” I remained silent, staring straight ahead. “You tell us who you are and what you’ve been doing here the past two days. Trust me, we are going find out one way or the other. Clear enough?”
I muttered that it was clear.
“I can’t hear you,” he shouted behind his black hood.
“Yes, that’s clear. I can explain,” I replied, raising my voice.
“We’re listening, asshole,” the shorter one chimed in, hands folded in front of him on the table.
“Okay then. Listen. I arrived here two days ago to meet the woman. I wrote love letters to her for months. My pen pal.” They looked at each other. I had composed this line during the fifteen minutes it had taken to drive from the hotel to this warehouse. “I’ve spent the last two days waiting to meet her. She never showed up.”
A silence. They stared at me. “And where were you supposed to meet this ‘pen pal’?” one of them asked, using his fingers as quotation marks.
I explained that she and I had agreed to meet each other at a well-known restaurant five blocks from my hotel. I had mailed her a photograph in one of my letters. She would have recognized me.
“I waited, off and on, for two days inside that restaurant. She never arrived. And never tried to contact me at the hotel either. You know, I think maybe she’s married. She got cold feet.” The two stifled guffaws behind their hoods. They seemed amused by my ‘cold feet’ idiom.
“What’s her name? Address?” the shorter one demanded. He slapped one hand on the table top. The other one held a pen, preparing to write my answer on his notepad.
“Her name is Anastasia Molotov. I can’t remember her address. I didn’t think I’d need it. And, you know, if she really is married, then it probably isn’t her true address anyway. Right?”
“No. I think that is bullshit story. You’re an American spy.” the tall one shouted. “Why do we know this? We saw you meet your agent in that bar next to the public market yesterday afternoon.” He folded his arms over his chest. “Don’t deny it, Mister Kentfield, we’ve been following you from the day you arrived. Explain.”
So they’d had me under surveillance and they had watched me make the meeting the day before with the tall man. He passed me information in a brown envelope as we sat at the bar and drank a beer together. The meeting lasted no more than ten minutes. We’d left the bar separately.
“Look, I was depressed. I’d flown all this way to meet Anastasia. She’d stood me up. A no-show. I mean, what more can I say, I planned to marry this woman. Arrange her visa. We’ve been writing to each other for, let’s see, about three months.”
I was winging it, improvising a solo in an unfamiliar key. “I found a saloon near the market. I needed to have a few drinks, drown my sorrows. And I met this guy, a stranger, sitting at the bar. I never did get his name. I wanted to talk to someone, practice my Russian.” I hesitated here before I said in a quiet voice, “Speaking Russian won’t do me much good now. I’ve lost Anastasia.” I made a gesture of throwing my arms up in frustration.
The interrogation continued for half an hour. The two thugs tried their best to trip me up. I stuck to my story, a cover-within-a-cover. At last the tall one looked at his partner and gave an almost imperceptible nod. And at that point they both tore off their hoods. Right away I recognized these two Green Berets from the school. I’d seen both of them playing liars dice and telling war stories at the bar in the Officers’ Club.
“Hey, I know you guys.” I grinned with relief. They snickered.
“Well done, Mr. Mancini. You win this round.” The taller one reached across the table and shook my hand. The two-day tradecraft exercise in Boston was over with. We conducted a brief post-mortem and they drove me back to the hotel. I graduated from the spook school with highest honors one month later.

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