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PLAYING JAZZ AND WRITING FICTION (Updated)

I’m an accomplished jazz musician (piano) and bandleader. And I’m an author of fiction. I’ve published my novel, CHINA SEA – an espionage thriller with settings in some of the Asian locations where I have lived for 30+ years. And during the writing process, the likeness of improvising music and creating fiction has become apparent. Here is my take.

One can study theory, proper form and technique in music schools and become a very good classical musician. But the schools cannot teach the emotion or the hard-to-define “soul” that one needs to become a first-rate jazz soloist. It’s a talent that is really not teachable. It only develops through a lot of listening and life’s experience.

A jazz musician does of course learn about form. He or she, for example, needs to be able to improvise confidently on the twelve-bar blues form and on the thirty-two bar popular standards form. But what made Miles Davis a great jazz musician, not just a very good one, was his ability to tell a unique story on those basic forms.

And so it goes with writing fiction. Gurus can teach technique-plot, structure and so on and so forth-to the point where one’s eyes glaze. However, I’ve become convinced, as I write, that it is really all about very good STORYTELLING. You have it (Somerset Maugham had it) or you don’t. And without having lived the life of which you write, and done a great deal of reading in your genre, the odds are you don’t.

I do strive to tell a story, to entertain – whether improvising on a soulful minor blues or writing the next chapter of second novel, a sequel, JAVA SEA.

So enjoy the journey. We’ll swing around Asia – some of the scenes off the beaten track, the cultures and a bit of the politics. And may I suggest that you play your favorite music in the background as you read. That’s what I’ll be doing as I write.

AMAZON: http://bit.ly/ChinaSeaPaperback

KINDLE: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B0130OEZMQ

ITUNES: Search for China Sea by Stanton Swafford on your iPad or iPhone.

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CHINA SEA – The Novel. Chapter 10

The fun and games in Singapore begin at the Raffles Hotel.

Roy Mancini goes undercover.

AMAZON: http://bit.ly/ChinaSeaPaperback

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ITUNES: Search for China Sea by Stanton Swafford on your iPad or iPhone.

Chapter 10
October 1974

I left the embassy before noon, and recalling the adage about Englishmen and mad dogs walking in the noonday sun, I hailed a taxi.
We drove past the Cricket Club where I had learned to play tennis on the pristine grass courts as a kid. And nearby there was the old Parliament building which looked as though it could have been transplanted from London. On our right we passed the large Padang, the massive well-tended grassy field that these former British colonial cities maintain in the center of town. The traffic that hummed along on Saint Andrews Road was orderly, one might even say polite, every vehicle traveling within the speed limit. My overall impression of Singapore so far, above all else, was that it is a city-state defined by its orderliness.
A few minutes before the scheduled meeting at five-thirty I took the stairs down to the lobby. As I walked down two floors I could hear the hushed voices and the occasional men’s laughter from the Long Bar which was off to the side.
I conducted a brief, imaginary dialogue with myself as I descended.
“An entrepreneur. That’s what you are now Roy, a globetrotting Arabica bean merchant. Live your life well as a young American trader, out to make his fortune in Asia. You can forget the rest of the spook business for a minute. But never lose track of your coffee trading legend. Never lose that focus. If you can live your Arabica coffee bean cover, the rest of it, the undercover intelligence work, will fall into place.”
“A soldier of fortune, is that what you think you are now?” The sarcastic voice of my father exclaimed as I continued down the stairs.
“No, Dad. But close. I am out to make a success buying and selling coffee beans. At the same time I’m engaged in something I’m good at but not allowed to tell you much about. I think you’d be proud of me.”
“Well then, son. A warning. Don’t fuck up. Don’t get sent home with a blown cover.”
I broke off this whimsical conversation as I reached the bottom stair. A quick glance at the reception desk and I saw the same pretty Chinese lady who had checked me in the night before was on duty. We smiled at each other and I gave her a brief wave. The two uniformed bellmen, standing at ease, greeted me with slight bows of their heads as I made a right turn into the Long Bar.
McCoy was standing at the far end of the bar. The room had been appropriately named, it might well have had the longest solid African mahogany bar in existence. There were no stools. There was a brass rail that ran along the floor, the length of the bar. A customer was expected to stand with a foot on the rail. There were rattan table settings beneath rotating ceiling fans for those who chose to sit and drink. A long mirror extended across the entire wall behind the bartenders. The mirror was convenient for a patron who was standing at the bar and wanted to see who was walking up, or seated, behind him.
There were six men at the other end of the bar, talking with posh London accents. The Englishmen wore suits and ties despite the heat and humidity. Steve and I nodded to each other, and I walked over to him.
“Greetings. And welcome to Singapore’s oldest and finest drinking establishment.” Steve turned to me. He had changed into civilian clothes. He wore a batik short-sleeved shirt and loose-fitting white tropical pants.
“I see you’re drinking a Tiger Beer. What, no Singapore Sling?” I commented.
“Too sweet. All that cherry brandy. It’s for tourists. What can I get you?”
“The same. Make it a Tiger.” Steve motioned to the bartender standing in front of us to bring another bottle.
A party of four matronly western women entered the bar together, talking audibly and fanning themselves. I could see them in the mirror in front of me. They took their seats on the rattan dining chairs at a table beneath a ceiling fan. A white-jacketed Chinese waiter rushed to their table to take drinks orders.
“Did you hear the story about the live tiger that entered this bar?” Steve asked me as he too stared at the chattering women in the mirror.
I laughed. “You’ve got to be kidding.”
“True story. One day these British rubber planters were having lunch here. Or it may have been in the Tiffin Room next door.” He pointed to the hotel’s cool white restaurant beside the bar. “And in strolled a real live, honest to goodness, tiger. Escaped from a zoo or the jungle. I think one of the planters got up and nailed it with his shotgun.”
“Those were the days.” I took a long delicious swallow of the cold Tiger beer.
“So let’s discuss Hong Kong,” he said in a lowered voice, glancing at the six men further down the bar.
I looked at the mirror in front of me to make sure we were not within earshot of anyone.
He continued in a quiet voice, “We need to come up with a name don’t we?” His use of the plural did not escape me.
“Yes, we do.”
“Well, as I was standing here, before you arrived, I came up with an idea. You see all of those bottles beneath the mirror. Must be a hundred of them.”
There were indeed. Every brand of spirit – scotch, gin, brandy, vodka, liqueurs… even the odd bourbon.
“This is going to be fun. But first, let me order you another beer. It will take some creativity on our part.” He signaled for another beer and pointed to me. The bartender removed my empty bottle and placed a fresh cold one in front of me. He walked away from us speaking Hainanese to his colleague at the other end of the bar. I recognized the dialect. Our family’s chauffeur and cook had spoken it with each other.
“Let’s pick a name from those bottles. And we’ll come up with a name for the new company. Do you follow me?”
It occurred to me that McCoy and Sommers, both officers of comparable rank, could not have been more different in their approaches to clandestine intelligence collection. Steve was starting to impress me. We had been cut from the same cloth. I appreciated a fellow wit who liked to improvise, who can be spontaneous, and not take himself too seriously.
“All right. Let’s name the company.”
“You go first,” he said.
I scanned the bottles that were lined up in front of us.
“I like the scotch bottles. The names have a certain eminence,” I commented. “They convey tradition.” I looked Steve in the eye. “Although this can’t appear to be a name that we created in some barroom. No need to inform Springfield how we came up with this, is there?”
“Nope. And, yes, one of those scotch brands might appear like some old-school firm that goes back generations. So I second the motion. Scotch it is.”
I focused then on the several brands of scotch whiskey along the bar below the mirror.
“I like Haig and Haig, sounds like a proper family business,” I said. “On the other hand, that might sound too obviously like a brand of whiskey. We’d better compress it to Haig & Company. That’s it, Haig & Company Limited. International maritime consultants.”
And thus the name of the Hong Kong firm was born at the Long Bar of the Raffles Hotel.
“Well, lo and behold. The CIA station chief just entered the room.” Steve was looking at the large mirror in front of us. I followed his gaze and saw three men walk into the room and sit down at a corner table. “That’s Hunter Lenihan. He’s the one wearing the tropical white suit, bow tie and the Panama hat. Looks like he’s auditioning for a part in Casablanca. A good man. Tells me he worked with Tom Hiatt in Beirut ten years ago.”
“Does he know about me? That I’m here?”
“No. there’s no reason he should…yet. When you come back here to recruit or debrief an agent I’ll have to clue him in. But right now, he doesn’t have a need-to-know.” I saw Lenihan and McCoy make eye contact in the mirror.
“Who’s the guy sitting beside Lenihan? The tough looking hood in the brown shirt?”
Steve glanced at the mirror before answering. “His back is to us. I can’t tell.”
“I saw him walk in just before they sat down. He was on my flight yesterday. I’m sure of it.”
“Interesting coincidence. He’s Agency from the looks of it. I recognize the older guy with Hunter. Oscar, one of his case officers. I don’t know the one in the brown shirt.”
I stared for another moment at the mirror. The man kept his back to us.
“During the flight from L.A. to Tokyo I’d needed to go to the head. The lavatory door was locked, so I waited. Finally the door opened and this guy, the heavy-set dark-haired one sitting there with Lenihan, walked out, zipping up his fly. I remember he stared at me. I didn’t think anything of it until now. I forget names. I don’t forget a face.”
“Like I said, a coincidence.”
“Perhaps.”
“You know, Roy, this is a peculiar relationship we have with the Agency. The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, who we report to in the chain of command, is higher up the White House totem pole than the Director of the CIA. I think if push came to shove over a clandestine collection issue that affects the military, the Chairman might prevail. But at our micro level, the CIA sets the rules. We need to keep them informed and receive their blessing for a lot of what we do. What I’m saying is, it behooves me to keep on the good side of Hunter Lenihan.”
McCoy motioned for the bartender to bring him the check.
“Let’s have dinner. I’ll introduce you to the American Club up on Scotts Road.” We finished our beers. McCoy paid with cash. No tip was left on the bar. I took one last look at the pock-marked face of the man on the plane.
i goes undercover.

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CHINA SEA – CHAPTER 8

Time to ramp up the tension. There’s a double-agent in our midst in this chapter of CHINA SEA. Eager to read more, and read it now? The novel is available on Amazon, Kindle, iTunes, B&N, KOBO and Google Play.

AMAZON: http://bit.ly/ChinaSeaPaperback

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ITUNES: Search for China Sea by Stanton Swafford on your iPad or iPhone.

Chapter 8
September 1974

“Good afternoon, gentlemen. Have a seat.” The Director of Naval Intelligence, Admiral Johnny Zinger, greeted the two men from the Institute. “Nice to see you again, Frank.”
“Afternoon, Admiral. I believe you know Tom Hiatt, the Institute’s Deputy Director,” Frank DuPont replied.
“Yes. We’ve met. Glad you could be here, Tom”
Tom Hiatt stared without expression at the fourth man in the room who was seated beside Admiral Zinger.
The admiral said, “Tom, I suspect you might know George Sikelman, being that you’re ex-CIA. George is now chief of staff of the President’s Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board. The chairman of that Board has requested he attend meetings of this sort. The president doesn’t want to see any more “loose cannons”, as he puts it. George’s job is to randomly monitor the military’s humint collection activities on behalf of the PFIAB. Do I have that right, George?”
“Correct, Admiral. The new president is adamant. He wants to put the scandals of the past years behind us. He has given the Board authority to monitor the clandestine activities of both the CIA and the military branches. A lot of what has come out of congressional hearings has been particularly embarrassing to the executive branch. There are to be no more Howard Hunts. The president’s words.”
Hiatt continued to stare at George Sikelman. He knew him. He had never trusted him. Senior officers at the Agency had called him ‘Clark’ behind his back. With his perfectly trimmed moustache, dark freshly barbered hair and expensive three-piece suits, his dead-ringer resemblance to the actor Clark Gable was uncanny. Except that he spoke English with a foreign accent.
Hiatt and Sikelman had both joined the Agency during the first year of the CIA’s existence. Sikelman had been an interrogator with Army intelligence in Europe during World War II. He was born in Hungary of Hungarian parents. He spoke fluent Hungarian and German. At the end of the war, the Army sent him to Hungary with the mission of recruiting former Nazis, Germans and Hungarians, to spy against the Soviet Union.
What Tom Hiatt didn’t know and what was not known among senior Army and CIA staff was that George Sikelman was Jewish. And that the task of recruiting and running these Nazis, who had done their utmost to kill every Jew in Europe, made him sick to his stomach. Literally. Sikelman became a double-agent in 1949. That year he was recruited by the Soviet NKVD, the predecessor to the KGB, under a false-flag ploy.
The NKVD case officer who recruited Sikelman was, like Sikelman, Jewish. One of the very few in the Soviet intelligence services. The Russian lied to George Sikelman and told him he was a Zionist and that he was engaging George on behalf of the new state of Israel. Sikelman agreed to do whatever was necessary to neutralize, and in many cases terminate-with-extreme-prejudice, the ex-Nazis he was recruiting to operate against the Soviets. It was only a matter of time until Sikelman learned that his true paymaster was the NKVD, eventually the KGB, and not Israel. By that time the Russians had a firm handle on the Hungarian-American spy. He was now, in 1974, the most highly placed KGB ‘mole’ operating inside the U.S. intelligence community.
“Hello, Sikelman. Long time, no see,” Tom Hiatt uttered at last to the man sitting across the table from him.
“Tom. Congratulations on the new job. I’d heard you left the Agency the same time as Helms. Seems you’ve landed on your feet,” Sikelman replied with a bland smile.
Hiatt ignored the comment. He was not at all comfortable having George Sikelman involved in this meeting.
Admiral Zinger glanced at his watch and continued. “Let’s discuss your pending operation in Southeast Asia, Frank. You have the floor.”
General DuPont briefed the admiral and Sikelman on aspects of Roy Mancini’s operation plan. They would recall later that the PFIAB chief of staff took copious notes during the briefing.
The target, DuPont explained, was the naval order-of-battle of the Soviet Union, the Peoples Republic of China and North Korea. Mancini would operate under two separate covers. He would operate from Malacca, Malaysia. And he would undertake maritime missions in the seas and ports of China and the USSR, as well as the Indian Ocean littoral.
Admiral Zinger interrupted DuPont at mention of the Indian Ocean.
“Frank, this reminds me. We need to add a target. Lately our submarines on patrol in the Indian Ocean have identified suspicious activity in the Gulf of Aden. We’ve picked up Russian submarines. And in that confined area these subs don’t appear to have any mission that we can determine. We know they are Soviet subs because our skippers have observed the markings on the superstructures during the few times the Russian boats have surfaced. Foxtrot and November class submarines. Their objectives remain an enigma. We need the Institute to do what it can to unravel the mystery.”
“Well, Admiral, Mancini’s trading cover can take him to East Africa. Kenya and Ethiopia are coffee producers.” General DuPont made a note.
“This may be sheer coincidence,” the admiral said. “But these Soviet submarines appear a month or so before there is some major terrorist event where the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine is identified as the culprit. You recall the hideous Ma’alot massacre last May. There was a Foxtrot submarine observed at night on the surface near the Red Sea a month prior, in April.”
Tom Hiatt said, “We never assume a coincidence.”
“All right.” Admiral Zinger looked at the man sitting beside him. “Unless you have something else to add, George, I believe we can adjourn this meeting. The Navy needs the Institute’s human intelligence to augment what we’re getting by other means.”
Sikelman shrugged. “Mancini’s mission sounds okay to me. I’ll inform the Board. Good luck with it.”
When George Sikelman left the Pentagon fifteen minutes later he did not return directly to his office at the Old Executive Office Building beside the White House. Instead he drove to a pay phone in downtown Arlington. He phoned the picture framing shop which was owned by his Russian cutout.
“Orlov Gallery,” the man answered the phone with his heavy Slavic accent.
Sikelman responded. “This is Rene. Is my stunning Monet completed yet?”
Igor Orlov hesitated before answering. “I will check. And call you later.”
George Sikelman waited precisely one hour before again phoning the gallery.
“This is Rene. Is my stunning Monet completed yet?”
“It will be completed in the morning on the seventh of next month.”
The message informed Sikelman that his Russian case officer, Boris, would meet him on Sunday (the seventh day of the week) at 4:00 in the afternoon. The meeting would take place along a trail in Rock Creek Park.
That Sunday George Sikelman parked his car just off 16th Street at 3:30 in the afternoon and walked into the park. He conducted very active counter surveillance along the park’s paths for twenty-five minutes before entering the trail that Boris had selected two years earlier for their infrequent meetings. At precisely 3:58 he stood beneath a tree, looked up and feigned an interest in birdwatching. He tucked a copy of the Baltimore Sun under his left arm. This was the safety signal that would indicate to Boris that his agent was not being followed. They had synchronized their wrist watches that morning with a BBC broadcast. At 4:01 Sikelman saw Boris walking up the path toward him. They greeted each other and continued walking together.
Boris insisted they conduct their meetings in German, a language in which they were both fluent.
“So George, you must have something very interesting for you to request a personal meeting. Am I right?” the Russian asked.
“Yes. And it should be worthy of a generous bonus.” Sikelman smirked as he said this. He had been handled by six different Soviet case officers over the past twenty-five years. By now he had a sense of the tail wagging the dog in terms of his relationship with the Russians.
Boris chuckled. “You are already paid very well . . . we shall see. What do you have for me?”
“There is a new intelligence agency under the auspices of the Department of Defense. Like your GRU. It is called the Institute.”
“We know. I hope you did not disturb my Sunday afternoon, George, just to report that to me.”
The American scoffed. “Of course not. I attended a meeting at the Pentagon on Friday where the Institute’s commanding officer and deputy director briefed Johnny Zinger about a new mission, targeting the Soviet navy.”
“Go on.”
“They are sending a case officer to Asia next month. He will run agents into Russia to observe and photograph naval shipyards and warships with emphasis on your Pacific Fleet submarines.”
Boris stopped walking and held Sikelman by the arm. “You have the details? The case officer’s name and where he will be based?”
“Of course I do. I took notes. Here.” He removed sheets of paper from inside the folded Baltimore Sun and handed them to Boris. The Russian quickly placed them inside his jacket.
The two men walked in silence for a few minutes. The American waited for the Russian to speak.
At last Boris said, “You must order the new counterintelligence chief at the CIA to keep the Institute’s case officer under close surveillance in Asia. Understand? And have the CIA report back to you, and only to you. You come up with a reason for that, George. Maybe CIA and the Institute are less-than-friendly competitors, like KGB and GRU. You are good at planning that sort of thing.”
Sikelman thought for a moment before replying. “It is fortunate, Boris, that James Angleton will soon leave the Agency or I wouldn’t attempt this. Angleton may be paranoid. But he is smart. Perhaps the new CI chief, Angleton’s deputy, will wish to ingratiate himself with my Board. He might go along with my request. Let’s see. I will update you through the dead drop.
“And before I forget, there is another thing you should know. Your submarines in the Gulf of Aden are easy for the US Navy to identify because of the markings on their superstructures. Foxtrots and Novembers. That’s from the admiral. He wonders what those subs are doing up there since the Suez Canal is still closed and they are not performing any obvious mission. Zinger suspects a link to Palestinian terrorists.”
“That information could be bonus-worthy, George. I’ll pass it along to the naval attaché at the embassy.”
The Russian case officer handed his agent an envelope containing fifty untraceable $100 bills. He knew better than to ask his agent for a receipt. The two men parted in separate directions.
The next day George Sikelman paid a visit to Langley and on behalf of the PFIAB ordered the future head of counterintelligence to place Roy Mancini under close surveillance, beginning with his departure from the US and continuing with his activities throughout Southeast Asia. The CI deputy chief had no choice but to comply, and curry favor with the President’s Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board.

Chapter 9

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CHAPTER 7 – CHINA SEA

The notorious Palestinian terrorist, Wadi Haddad, meets his Russian controller in a submarine at night in the Gulf of Aden. Trouble ahead. Impatient and want to read more? China Sea by Stanton Swafford is available on Amazon, Kindle, iTunes, Kobo, B&N and Google Play Books.

AMAZON: http://bit.ly/ChinaSeaPaperback

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ITUNES: Search for China Sea by Stanton Swafford on your iPad or iPhone.

Chapter 7
The Gulf of Aden

The sky at one o’clock in the morning, 136 miles west of the Yemeni island of Socotra, was pitch dark. There may have been a sliver of a moon. If so, the acrid haze that blew north from the Horn of Africa disguised it. There were no other lights as far as the eye could see.
The Suez Canal remained closed as it had for the past six years, as payback for the Egyptians’ defeat in the 1967 war with Israel. This had once been a busy shipping lane with scores of merchant ships sailing to and from the Canal. No longer. A small vessel at this time could wallow in the middle of the Gulf of Aden unobserved, day or night. And that was why the fishing trawler without a national flag or a name was here, gliding over the swells at a speed of four knots.
The trawler displayed no running lights, as a precaution. The single navigation light shining on the craft rode atop the fifty-foot mast. The commander of the vessel, his foreign guest and the five Palestinian crew members were silent as they scanned the horizon. The wizened commander stood erect and held a flashlight and a compass at his side.
“Wadi, over there, to the left. I think I see it,” the mate beside him whispered in Arabic.
The forty-five year old commander’s eyes were not good. He was loath to wear spectacles around his men, and especially in front of his guest. He gazed into the distance off the port side of the trawler. The men waited. At last others saw the sinister profile of a submarine a few miles off the port bow.
“I see it, Ahmad,” the commander said.
Wadi Haddad switched on the flashlight and blinked the recognition signal in the direction of the submarine. The sub flashed back a reply from the top of its tall black superstructure. One could barely perceive the dark shape of the Foxtrot-class submarine as it approached on the surface. When it was near, the crew noticed that B-427 was painted in white onto the sub’s black superstructure.
The commander held the Soviet submarine in view through his binoculars.
“Open the hatches,” he ordered. “Prepare to take on cargo. Ahmad, get the lines ready.” The sub was now less than one mile distant, approaching port side.
Wadi Haddad’s Russian code name was Natsionalist. The KGB didn’t know he knew.
He uttered to himself, “All profess to be nationalists.”
Wadi pondered on the most fickle creed of all. Muslim nationalism. It stretched from distant Indonesia to Pakistan, into Afghanistan and through the Arab and Persian worlds. The clashing Sunnis and Shiites who hated each other. And onward, west to North Africa and the south of Russia. So many unconnected races and cultures in disarray, cultures with little in common with each other except for the pillars of Islam, if that.
And he reflected on Arab nationalism. Nasser had tried and failed. There were too many rivalries and jealousies in the mix. And leaders who loathed each other. And who paid lip service to Palestine’s cause, Palestine’s liberation.
“There is but one true nationalism, the only meaningful one: Palestine.” Wadi Haddad sneered, and ground his decaying teeth.
The commander had been born in what today is northern Israel. The term Israel made his blood boil. His family’s home had been destroyed in the 1948 Arab-Israeli war when he was twenty-one years old. They fled to Lebanon. Wadi had battled against Israel, as a guerilla in the underground, for the past nine years. The KGB recruited him in 1970.
“Prepare to toss the lines,” the mate shouted in Arabic.
Two Russian sailors appeared on the rocking deck of the submarine. Thick mooring lines were thrown to the sailors on the sub.
“Set the fenders. Hurry up.”
Rubber truck tires were dropped between the trawler and the submarine to prevent the vessels from coming into direct contact.
Commander Wadi looked on. He thought of the times he had performed this maneuver in the past three years. Five, six times? Always with a submarine. Always the same KGB officer, the infidel who called himself Vladimir. The Russian would signal him to come over to the sub, not an easy trick on a pitching sea. Vladimir never dared to crawl over to the trawler. Another reason Wadi crossed to the submarine was because of the alcohol that his case officer swilled during their meetings. His crew would not have been comfortable with that.
Vladimir stood at the top of the superstructure with a flashlight. He turned it on and pointed it at Wadi’s feet, motioning for him to come over. A narrow metal ladder was stretched from the sub to the trawler and, as always, Wadi crossed to the submarine like a dog on all fours. He spat into the sea and recalled the expression, ‘Beggars can’t be choosers’, then banished that thought. Vladimir was waiting for him, alone, at a table in the officers’ mess.
The first thing Wadi noticed was that, as usual, the vain Russian had his shirt unbuttoned, showing off his muscular white physique, and feigning it was because of the heat. Wadi knew his own build was sickly by contrast. He could just make out the strange tattoo on Vladimir’s powerful chest. The drawing of a dagger, a Muslim Kris.
Wadi greeted the Russian officer in Arabic. Vladimir replied in the same language, and asked, pro-forma, if the commander was well as he poured himself a glassful of vodka from the half-empty bottle that had been in the middle of the table.
“Join me, Wadi?” the Russian asked in Arabic. He pushed a shot glass across to the Palestinian, and stared at him with watery blue eyes.
Wadi Haddad stared back with a caustic glare. The Russian knew well that he did not drink alcohol. This was the same ritual they went through at every one of their meetings – Vladimir would push a small glass of vodka at him, and he would decline it.
“I’ll pass,” he muttered.
“All right then,” the Russian continued unabashed, “here is the packing list for the weapons we are supplying you tonight.” He slid the list across the table. Wadi snatched it up and read it.
150 AK-47 Rifles
10 Shoulder-Fired Surface to Air Missiles
20 Beretta 9mm Handguns with silencers
50 Anti-tank grenades and RPG-7 launchers
100 Radio controlled mines
50 Sets of Night Vision Goggles
60 Gallons of fuel for the Trawler
The Palestinian nodded after reading the list. “This is what we were expecting. No more, no less.” He tucked the packing list into his pants pocket.
“Good. Now let’s review our operations – past and future. I understand you have a guest aboard your fishing boat, one who is known as Carlos the Jackal. Why did you not bring him with you to the submarine tonight?” The Russian held a grin in place.
Wadi shrugged. “He wishes to keep a low profile. If you want, you can crawl over to the trawler on your hands and knees and make his acquaintance.”
“Not necessary, my friend. I understand that you are training him in your methods. Am I correct?”
“Yes. In Baalbek.”
“You know, Wadi, my people relish plane hijackings, like the ones you pulled off three years ago. Those airliners you snatched in one week and landed in Jordan. What were they? TWA, BOAC, Pan Am, Swissair? And then you blew up the planes on the ground. Brilliant.” The Russian chortled and drained his glass of vodka. He believed his Arabic became more fluent, less inhibited, the more he drank.
The Palestinian replied with a baleful look on his face, “Yes, that is what we did. It was a great success.”
“Okay.” The Russian drummed his fingers on the table. “We supply the weapons. And the cash. Can we expect more activity in the future from the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine? My people want to know your plans. Deploying this submarine to arm your group is expensive, and risky. Understand, we want to see results. We want the world to see the events in newspapers and on television. We need to terrify them – the Americans, Europeans, and the Israelis. Don’t get complacent, my dear Wadi. In today’s world, when nuclear arms have made military force obsolete, terrorism should become our main weapon.” The Russian was no longer grinning.
“Trust me, Vladimir. With Carlos the Jackal we are going international. The massacre in Munich last year and the one in Ma’alot this year should have pleased you, did it not? Have patience. We must plan carefully.”
“We know a thing or two about careful planning,” Vladimir mumbled in Russian. He poured himself another glassful of vodka, his fourth. He stared at the Palestinian and shrugged his shoulders. “That is all I have to say, Wadi.” They stared at each other, neither trusting, nor particularly liking the other.
“Then I shall return to my boat. I can show myself out.” Wadi stood, reached for the packing list in his rear pocket, and left the room.
Vladimir remained seated at the table and sipped his drink, satisfied that he had pulled off yet another successful arms transfer and meeting with his agent, the most dangerous terrorist in the world. The irony, no one in the West knew this Palestinian’s name. The Russian, intoxicated now, laughed to himself. He absent-mindedly buttoned his shirt, covering his chest and the tattoo.
Wadi crawled back to the trawler on the ladder and was helped aboard by the mate and the Jackal. He glanced forward and noted that the hatches had been closed, the cargo loaded.
“Cast off,” he ordered, “Set your course to the Red Sea at full speed.”
The fishing trawler would sail north through the Red Sea until it reached the Gulf of Aqaba. At the port of Aqaba the cargo would be loaded onto waiting trucks, under cover of darkness. They would drive north through Jordan, parallel to the Israeli border, until they reached Syria and then Lebanon. Vladimir had issued Wadi sufficient cash to make pay-offs at the borders. Final destination: Baalbek, Lebanon.

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CHAPTER 6 – CHINA SEA

We jump now to chapter 6. Roy Mancini has been hired and trained to be an undercover intelligence officer. He will soon depart to Southeast Asia. But first the Institute sends him to Panama so he’ll gain foreign merchant shipping experience. Fun and games in the Canal Zone. Want to read more? China Sea is available on Amazon, Kindle, iTunes and Google Play Books. Read the 5 Star reviews on Amazon.

Chapter 6
September 1974
I travelled to Panama using a pseudonym, Louis Francisco, and a freshly minted passport in that name.
At the airport I grabbed a taxi that took me to the squalid Panama City train station, just in time to hop aboard an eastbound train. The two-hour trip along the length of the Canal was uneventful.
The train chugged in to the Cristobal station in the late afternoon. The American zone. At that time, in the mid-1970s, the Panama Canal was a United States territory administered by the Panama Canal Company. That company employed scores of Americans to run the Canal and various and sundry activities inside the Zone.
Major Jonathan Sommers was under cover as the military liaison officer to the Panama Canal Company. Which meant he had little or nothing to do except gaze out of his window at the ships lining up in the anchorage waiting to transit the Canal from the Atlantic to the Pacific. The Institute provided him and his wife, Julie, with a comfortable villa in Coco Solo, a country club membership, household staff and a secretary. Typical for the pampered expatriates who lived and worked in the Zone.
I don’t know what task he otherwise performed for the Institute. I suspect he’d been passed over and this was his last hurrah prior to being sent out to pasture. Nevertheless, as a civilian case officer, I required military supervision, and Sommers was the man. I was told I would recognize him at the train station because he’d be wearing his Army uniform with a major’s insignia. And there he was.
“Do you always dress like a bum, Mancini?” he asked me as I walked up to him, preparing to shake his hand. He was not speaking in jest. And he should have known better than to refer to me by my true name.
I glanced down at my aged cowboy boots, faded Levi’s and casual Hawaiian shirt. I was about to make a smart rejoinder when I remembered Pomeroy’s advice, to ‘go along and get along’.
“You must be Major Sommers. Nice to meet you, sir,” I exclaimed, ignoring his initial greeting. There was no hand shake.
Gus Pomeroy had accurately described Jonathan Sommers as a prissy s.o.b.
Fortunately I did not have to deal with him often because I was kept busy boarding foreign ships as they entered the Canal, under my cover as Louis Francisco, U.S. Customs officer trainee.
I boarded six or seven vessels every single day, including Sundays, for one month. There were the well maintained, immaculate and freshly painted Scandinavian freighters – Swedish, Danish and Norwegian. There were the seedier cargo ships flying the flags of convenience: Cyprus, Panama, Liberia and Somalia. And every nationality in between – the Russians, Japanese, South Korean, German, British, Dutch, and Brazilian freighters and oil tankers. I didn’t waste my time boarding any American ships. We rode in a speed boat out to each ship as it arrived at the anchorage.
I boarded the ships with a posture of authority. I was, after all, a U.S. Customs officer and the Canal was American territory. The first thing I did after arriving on board was seek out the captain of the ship. I would introduce myself and pass the time of day with him. I’d ask him where his ship was coming from and where it was headed after it passed through the Canal. I’d peruse the crew list and make a mental note of the crew’s nationalities. Sometimes, the captain would offer me a gift, which I gratefully accepted – a bottle of Chilean wine or a box of forbidden Cuban cigars. More often than not I established a friendly rapport with the ships’ officers.
The higher-ups at the Institute had sent me to the Canal Zone in their belief that I needed to gain experience dealing with foreign ships and officers. In truth, the trip to Panama turned out to be a pleasant one month tropical holiday. By day I would board ships and shoot the breeze with the officers about their experiences at sea. And by night I would carouse in the bars and restaurants in Colon.
Colon was the somewhat raunchy, multi-racial city in the Republic of Panama, and not part of the American Zone. Throughout that month I struck up a few friendships and practiced speaking Spanish with Panamanians on that side of the tracks. And that did not sit well with Major Sommers. He reported to Pete Wright that I was ‘fraternizing’ with locals, and he thought that was a risky thing for me to do.
What the managers at Springfield may not have realized was that I could also use my cover in the Canal for spotting potential clandestine agents.
I realized soon, after less than a week of boarding, that Filipinos dominated the crewing industry. Seventy percent of the ships that I boarded in the Canal had Filipinos in the crew – as officers and as seamen. I asked a captain on a Liberian-flagged freighter why this was so. “Three reasons,” he explained. “We Filipinos all speak English, sort of. We work hard and are considered competent. And we are cheap to the ship owners.” I expected that I’d spend some time in Manila in the not too distant future.
Soon after breakfast, and three weeks after I had arrived in Cristobal, our U.S. Customs team boarded the speed boat and headed out to the anchorage. Two of us climbed the ladder of the m.v. Pacific Star as she was slowing and preparing to drop anchor.
The vessel was a ten year old tramp general cargo ship sailing under the flag of Cyprus. She was about 20,000 deadweight tons. The Cypriot flag did not denote the nationality of the vessel’s owner.
Flags of convenience are used to disguise the identity of the ship’s owner, so that he can avoid paying taxes. This owner also gets away with paying low wages to a polyglot multinational crew. And he limits his liability by registering each of his ships under a separate shell company. These ships masquerade around the world as being home ported in countries like Cyprus, Liberia, and Panama. The Pacific Star was owned by a rich Swiss businessman who owned four other cargo ships, each of them registered under a separate company at a lawyer’s office in Limassol, Cyprus.
The captain of the Pacific Star was a stout, saturnine Greek. He was unshaven and had bloodshot eyes at half-mast that morning. He wore a soiled, untucked short-sleeved shirt and greasy black trousers. His lopsided captain’s cap had a company insignia. He seemed unwell and not in a mood to chew the fat. I suspect he wanted to get the customs and immigration formalities over with so he could go back to bed.
He handed me a copy of his crew list, and I scanned through the nationalities of the crewmen. The three other ship’s officers were from Egypt, Syria and Turkey. I noticed that the radio operator was an Indonesian.
I handed the crew list back to the captain. “By the way, where did you load your last cargo?” I asked.
“We load it in Cuba,” he replied with his thick accent. I figured his final night out in Havana might explain his bloodshot eyes.
“And your next port of call?”
“We discharge the sugar in North Korea,” he said without looking me in the eye.
We learned later that the freighter’s Swiss owner had fixed a two-year charter with the North Korean government through the Baltic Exchange in London.
I saluted the captain and left him on the bridge.
I now had one destination aboard that ship, the radio room, which was tucked behind the wheel house. I realized that having an Indonesian agent on a ship that sailed to North Korea could be my golden opportunity. As luck would have it, the young man was alone in the radio room, smoking an aromatic clove cigarette and listening to a local music station on a portable radio. I intended to do whatever it took to strike up a friendly rapport with the man.
“Selamat pagi,” I greeted him good morning in Indonesian. And I asked him how he was. “Apa kabar?”
He was astonished by my speaking his language. The first step in gaining one’s confidence.
“Baik, baik,” he replied that he was fine. He stood up and broke into a big smile as we shook hands. He invited me to sit down. I introduced myself as Louis Francisco and told him my friends call me Cisco. I pulled up a chair.
He laughed. “Like Cisco Kid!”
And this gave me a good laugh too. I asked him how he knew about the Cisco Kid. He explained that his school teacher in Bali used to have her students read old American comic books as a way to learn a little English. Our conversation continued in Indonesian.
He turned down the music on the radio and asked me why it was that I spoke Indonesian. I explained that my mother was from Indonesia. He was evidently delighted to be able to speak his language with someone. I glanced at the clock in the radio room. It showed that I had twenty minutes before I would have to leave the ship with the other customs officer.
He told me his name was Komang. He was twenty-three years old and he had been to sea for over a year on the Pacific Star. He had studied to be a radio operator in Surabaya, and had joined this ship in that busy East Java port when the previous radio operator had gone AWOL.
He had a wife back in Bali, living in the small fishing village of Amed on the east coast of the island. Komang had been born in Amed. But rather than fish for a living, like all of his friends and relatives did, he had decided to further his education in Surabaya, and go to sea. I remarked that I was interested in astrology as a hobby, and asked him when he was born. It so happened we were both born in the same month, December. So I now had his name, his occupation and I had elicited his date and place of birth. Enough information for the Institute to start a background trace.
I had to make a decision. And it was an obvious choice. I would ride this ship through the Canal to Panama City, and assess the possibility of recruiting Komang as my first clandestine agent. I had to inform Sommers of my plan. And I knew he’d be livid when he found that I had stayed on the Pacific Star through the Canal without clearing it with him first. He’d made it pretty clear all month that he disliked me in principle. This latest stunt, I knew, would drive the major nuts.
I excused myself from Komang so that I could step outside and write a note to Sommers. I passed the sealed note to the real customs officer. And I asked him to hand-deliver the envelope to Major Sommers. By now the American customs officers were familiar with my strange training regimen.
My note to Sommers explained that there had been a development that caused me to ride the Pacific Star through the Canal, and that I would return to Cristobal within two days. At the bottom of my note I wrote: Urgently require background trace for Komang Surya, D.O.B. 12/02/1950 P.O.B. Amed, Bali, Indonesia. Radio operator m.v. Pacific Star.
My next move was to tell the captain that I planned to stay on the Pacific Star until the ship reached Panama City, on the Pacific Ocean side of the canal. He shrugged and told me to follow him below. He led me to the owner’s stateroom. This was the relatively posh cabin reserved for the owner of the vessel in the unlikely event he ever visited the tramp ship. Meanwhile, it can be made available to selected guests. And since I was a U.S. Customs officer, as far as this captain knew, he made the room available to me for the period that it would take to transit the Canal.
I returned to the radio room.
Komang was still there – puffing on an Indonesian clove cigarette and listening to music on his radio. I had noticed a framed photograph on a shelf beside the radio equipment. It portrayed a very beautiful young Balinese woman dressed in full ceremonial regalia. I mentioned the photograph to Komang.
“That’s my wife, Putu,” he said with a certain sadness. “This photo was taken at our wedding ceremony in Amed. I miss her so much.”
Komang stared out the porthole for several moments. He seemed to be in another world.
He looked again at the photograph of Putu.
“I want to return to Bali. I want to make babies with Putu. And I miss my family. I’m not sure I can continue this life at sea much longer. It’s a lonely job. Sometimes I think my life is passing me by, in the wake of this ship.”
He continued, “There are Indonesians who have no problem leaving our country. They see it as an opportunity. But for a Balinese, it is difficult to stay away from Bali for long. We have our unique culture. It is profoundly a part of us. And it’s hard for me to be separated from that.”
I needed to change the subject. His desire to leave the ship and return to Bali did not conform to my plan of recruiting him as an agent with access to seaports in the denied area. I would have to make it worth his while to remain on board the freighter for the long-term. And I began to think for the first time of the risks that I would ask him to take for me.
I told Komang that I had some work to do in Panama City, and that I would ride Pacific Star through the Canal. He was pleased to hear that. It was clear that he enjoyed the opportunity to speak Indonesian again. He hadn’t spoken that language with anyone in over a year – not to mention his distinct Balinese dialect.
The Pacific Star would wait at anchor until the late afternoon before she could begin the westbound transit because the eastbound ships heading to the Atlantic Ocean and the Caribbean Sea had priority in the morning. I knew that the fifty mile trip to Panama City would take about ten hours. So there was no need for me to rush the recruitment of Komang. What’s more, I would have to wait a couple of weeks while the Institute conducted the background trace. This was the time to become Komang’s friend. As luck would have it, I discovered that he liked to play chess. We adjourned to the crew’s mess hall where there was a chess set.
It was apparent from the beginning of our first game that I was a more experienced player than he was. So I made a point of playing subtle blunders to keep our games even. Other crew members gathered around the table to watch us play and keep a running commentary on our moves. Two of them chuckled at my blunders. The crew were a motley assortment of nationalities. There were Filipinos, Arabs, Indians and Burmese in the mix. Each spoke his own uniquely accented brand of English. The mess hall smelled like an unsavory blend of Indian curry, fried fish, fuel oil, cigarette smoke, and body odor.
At five o’clock in the afternoon, the ship got underway. I suggested to Komang that we climb to the bridge for some fresh air and to view the sights along the Canal. The American pilot had arrived. He took command of the ship as it passed through the Canal.
I have never been a cigarette smoker. But during that month in the Canal I had smoked one or two of those Cuban cigars that had been given to me as gifts. And now standing outside on the bridge of the underway freighter with the breeze blowing around us and the sun about to set over Gatun Lake, it seemed the perfect time to light up one of those pungent cigars. I offered one to Komang, but he preferred his own spicy clove cigarettes.
The passage across the massive Gatun Lake at sunset was an adventure. We passed ships in the lake that were heading in the opposite direction, toward the Atlantic Ocean. Veritable ships passing in the night. Never to meet again. Another cargo ship followed us through the Canal, 300 yards astern. As the sun set, all of the ships switched on their navigation lights together.
Throughout much of the ten hour journey I befriended Komang. He took me into his confidence – his courting of Putu from their early teens, his original desire to escape the confines of the small fishing village in east Bali, and now his intense yearning to return home. The money he made sailing on Pacific Star could not compensate for the loneliness he endured when he thought of his wife, his family and his friends in the village. I listened with rapt attention to his dilemma, and spoke only to cue him.
Toward midnight, and before he retired to his stateroom for the night, I upped the ante. I explained to Komang that there was a chance we would meet again. I told him I had accepted a job offer that would take me to Asia. I said I had not revealed this to the U.S. Customs Department, and that he was the first person that I had confided in. I requested that he keep it a secret. He pledged that he would. It is never too early to get a potential agent conditioned for the secret world.
I told him I would like to stay in touch by ship’s radio. I listed down his ship’s call sign and we selected a radio frequency that we would use together. I gave him the hour of day, Greenwich Meant Time, when I would attempt to make contact. We now had in place the germ of a clandestine communications scheme.
“And by the way, Komang, my new job involves maritime research and the collection of port and shipping information. I pay the people who help me collect the information. I can arrange to send money to Putu, five hundred dollars a month, if you’ll be my representative. But we have to keep this secret.”
Komang was elated, not only for the confidential sideline job, and welcome financial bonus, but also for our friendship that would continue into the future. He wrote down the name of the bank in Denpasar where he kept his account. I told him to expect my call on his radio in a few weeks, after I arrived in Asia.
I spent the remaining hours, from midnight until three in the morning, on the bridge and in the wheelhouse with the American pilot and the ship’s Turkish chief mate, drinking coffee, smoking a Cuban Cohiba and experiencing a feeling of accomplishment as the Pacific Star plowed slowly through the dark Canal.
The pilot had arranged for a motor boat to pick us up as the vessel sailed beyond the Miraflores locks. The pilot and I climbed down the ladder of the moving ship and hopped aboard the launch as it glided alongside. The boat made a sharp turn away from the freighter and raced through the black water back to nearby Panama City. The Pacific Star sailed into the Pacific Ocean, and on to North Korea.
I checked in to a hotel in downtown Panama City in the small hours of the morning, slept until noon, and then took the familiar train back to Cristobal in the afternoon. I had phoned Sommers earlier. He ordered me to meet him at his home so that he could debrief me as soon as I arrived.
I’d anticipated his anger. I listened to him rant about my lack of discipline, my impertinence and the unlikelihood that I would succeed as an intelligence officer. I was embarrassed for his wife, Julie, who was in the next room and within earshot of his diatribe. After listening in silence for ten minutes, I asked him if he had forwarded the information about Komang Surya to Springfield. With a sigh, he acknowledged that he had.
There is a lasting memory of Panama that I do carry with me through life. Sommers and Julie had invited me to dinner at their tony country club to celebrate Julie’s thirty-second birthday on my last night in the Canal Zone.
Julie was a very pretty woman. A petite, dark-eyed brunette. She had a very fit, well-proportioned figure. And she dressed with cool, tropical good taste. Julie had impressed me as being pleasant enough and cordial in a rather formal sense during the few times that we had met at their home. She was a regular tennis player at the club, and we had discussed the sport together on occasion.
We sat at a table for three in the clubhouse dining room. After the main course, before the birthday cake was delivered to the table, and as Jonathan Sommers pontificated about one thing and another, Julie began rubbing her bare foot up and down my leg beneath the tablecloth. I stretched my leg to make it easier for her toes to meander high up the inside of my thigh. It took an effort for me to contain my breathing when the tips of her toes struck home. Indeed we struggled to keep our eyes off of each other as the sensual foreplay continued over the champagne toast and singing of Happy Birthday. It was timely, I suppose, that I departed the Panama Canal Zone the very next day.

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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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CHINA SEA – Chapter 2

Last month we posted Chapter 1 of the espionage thriller, China Sea. Good news. I will serialize the novel on this blog. Hint: if you’re impatient, you can order the book right away on Amazon, Kindle, iTunes and Google Play Books.

Chapter 2
July 1973

The third interview, the one with Pete Wright, took place a month later in a second-rate motel room in South San Francisco, near the airport. Through the slightly open window I could hear the roar of planes taking off and landing every five minutes or so.
The first thing I remember was that Pete was annoyed when he met me at the door. As he explained it, he had flown in from Tokyo that morning, and upon opening his suitcase he found that the two duty free bottles that he had packed had collided, shattered, and drenched the contents of the suitcase with scotch whiskey. In lieu of a fresh change of clothes, he appeared to wear the same rumpled dress shirt and loosened necktie that he had worn on the long flight from Japan. He at last gathered his composure, greeted me politely and asked me to take a seat. I saw a copy of my Personal History Statement laid out on a desk.
I would describe my first impression of Pete Wright as one of intimidating self-assurance, like a light-heavyweight prizefighter, or a district attorney. He had black, crew cut hair and intense, chiseled facial features. He was one of these people who may be fifty and is mistaken for forty. His initial displeasure had made him appear rather fierce. You wanted him on your side. He was someone you did not want to tangle with.
“Have you wondered who we are, Roy?” This was his first comment to me as we took our seats. He held my Personal History Statement in one hand. I was speechless for a moment. Of course I had been curious about who they were ever since that bizarre second interview. I had a hunch by now they were not ship owners that wanted to hire some rookie to represent them in the Far East. I replied that I did have a sense things were not as they first appeared.
“That’s the way we structure this series of interviews. By now, a smart guy is supposed to suspect that the whole thing is a ruse. If he hasn’t been clever enough to figure that out by now, then we don’t need him in the Institute.”
Well, there wasn’t much I could add to that. I knew now my gut feeling that the process had been a subterfuge had been right. With this out of the way, he asked me a few personal questions. He asked which one person had had the greatest influence on my life. I told him, without hesitation, that it had been my late grandfather, and I gave him the reasons. Papa, as we called Lorenzo Mancini, had trained me from an early age in the two sports where I had excelled: sailboat racing and tennis. He’d encouraged my love of music, had given me my first trumpet, and introduced me to the music of Miles Davis. He’d stimulated my intellectual curiosity and love of reading. And, he had taught me how to play poker and a good game of chess. Wright seemed satisfied.
“Let me ask you,” he continued, “do you have a living hero that you can relate to?”
“Yes. That would be Sammy Davis Junior.”
“Oh…why?”
“His incredible talent.” I spread my hands and shrugged in a gesture of amazement.
“Interesting. Let’s move on,” he said. “We’re running a background investigation on you.” He raised the questionnaire that he held. “It’s almost complete. Some of your friends and family may inform you that the FBI interviewed them.” I must have gaped at that. “I can tell you at this point, though, that you have provisional Top Secret clearance. What I’m about to tell you falls under that category. You are not to reveal this discussion to anyone – your family, your girlfriend, anyone at all.”
“Yes, sir, I understand.”
“That’s good. Because if you don’t agree, we can end this conversation right here and now. You can leave and we forget we ever met.”
I nodded and I remarked that I was here because I was intrigued. The notion of intelligence work, if that’s what it was, appealed to me. I must have stammered in my eagerness to reassure him. He raised his hand somewhere in mid-sentence, and said okay he got the picture.
And he continued. “Our organization, the Institute, is the clandestine intelligence task force of the Department of Defense.” He paused to let that sink in. “In the chain of command, we report to the Joint Chiefs of Staff. I’m an Army colonel and I’m the Institute’s operations officer.”
“Oh, so you’re from the Pentagon?”
“We don’t work at the Pentagon. We’re outside-the-Beltway. In fact, you can count on the fingers of one hand the number of people in the Pentagon who even know we exist. The Secretary of Defense, of course, and very few others.
“Our overseas bureaus are commanded by military officers. We don’t permit those officers to engage as spies. A matter of plausible denial. Are you with me?”
I nodded, speechless and comprehending little of what he was describing.
“You are being considered for a job as a case officer. We plan to insert you into a location somewhere in East Asia. We think you’ll blend in. That part of the story they’ve fed you is true.” He stared at me with raised eyebrows, as though asking me to comment. I pondered for a moment.
At last I asked him what a case officer did. Was it dangerous? I sort of hoped it might be.
“No. It’s not particularly dangerous. You’ll handle foreign agents. They’ll do the dangerous work. You will manage an important part of your agent’s life.”
I nodded as if I understood. At this point it sounded like a movie I’d seen starring Richard Burton.
“I will recommend to the commanding officer of the Institute that we invite you back for a final interview. Management knows about you because of your last two interviews and from the background trace. They do want to meet you. When can you leave for Washington?”
A surge of adrenalin. “I’m free to leave soon,” I replied. My voice was strained all of a sudden. “Say within a week.”
“Fine. Here’s a check.” He withdrew an unsealed envelope from his attaché case and handed it to me. “Purchase a one-way ticket to Dulles. We’ll issue your return ticket on arrival. Meet the Institute’s managers. Sign a few agreements. There will be an officer to guide you through all of it. This won’t take you more than three days. Afterwards you’ll fly back to San Francisco, say your goodbyes, cancel your lease agreement, so on and so forth. Then you return to the Washington area and begin your training.”
I looked at the $500 check in my hand, issued to me by Monarch Executive Staffing. This was all coming fast. Pack up and leave San Francisco within a week. Move to Washington D.C. New places and new faces.
“You know, Roy, you would be the youngest case officer we’ve ever hired. Just twenty-six, right? In your case, we’ll make an exception. You have the background. And leave it at that.” He looked at me, cocking his head to one side. Again, he waited for me to comment.
“I do have one question, Colonel Wright.”
“Shoot.”
“Why did you claim you were the largest ship owner in the world?”
“Well, that describes the United States Navy. And the Navy is one of our most important customers.” He chuckled at this double entendre. “We expect you’ll be involved in clandestine maritime operations. Your experience on that freighter, as a radioman, is one factor.” They knew, of course, about my two years of active duty on a Navy cargo ship, the USNS Wake Forest. I wondered if they had learned of my more recent visits to the seamen’s union hall. They had.
“Oh, and by the way, Roy, one requirement for this particular position is that you remain single. Any plans to get married in the near future? We anticipate that you’ll travel a lot. No time, really, for any kind of family life.”
“No, I have no plans to get married any time soon.” And there it was. We had a deal.
We made arrangements that I would phone him as soon as I had my flight details. We parted on that note, and agreed to meet again in a few days. As we stood up, he told me to call him Pete. He explained that we never refer to anyone in the Institute by military rank.

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Amazon Links to CHINA SEA

For Amazon.com
http://www.amazon.com/dp/B0130OEZMQ

For Amazon.co.uk
http://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B0130OEZMQ

For Amazon.de
http://www.amazon.de/dp/B0130OEZMQ

For Amazon.fr
http://www.amazon.fr/dp/B0130OEZMQ

For Amazon.es
http://www.amazon.es/dp/B0130OEZMQ

For Amazon.it
http://www.amazon.it/dp/B0130OEZMQ

For Amazon.co.jp
http://www.amazon.co.jp/dp/B0130OEZMQ

For Amazon.com.br
http://www.amazon.com.br/dp/B0130OEZMQ

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THE BOOK REVIEW

A debut novelist needs, more than anything else, good reviews of his story. All of the social media marketing one can come up with will have little effect, I believe, if we don’t receive reviews – very positive reviews. I published my espionage thriller, CHINA SEA, three weeks ago. There is no way to know how many readers have purchased the book. Time will tell. So I was elated to receive the following email from a Japanese gentleman who had recently bought the book. Here it is.

Dear Stanton-san,

Last week I asked my wife to purchase your book, China Sea, at the Amazon
for me. This week the book arrived. I so far read up to the chapter 30. It is
really exciting and I am enjoying it very much. I hate to finish it too soon, so
I stopped at the current chapter to leave my enjoyment until this weekend.
Upon finishing all the 48 chapters, I will send my review to Amazon.

As I am quite familiar with places like Hong Kong, Singapore, Malaysia etc., I
felt the place of Cisco’s activity very close. I lost my father who was the chief
engineer of the Japanese Imperial Navy submarine at the Malacca Straits and
visited the area more than a few times.

Thank you for the interesting French mathematics. My case will be something
like this:
74 divided by 2 + 7 = 44 A little bit too old, don’t you think?

Look forward to seeing you again sometime soon.

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CHINA SEA – The Novel

After much anticipation and a lot of polishing with my proofreading team, my international espionage thriller, China Sea, is officially released.
Here’s a snapshot of what it’s about:
The protagonist, Roy Mancini, is living the good life in San Francisco when he discovers a ‘help wanted ad from heaven’ in the San Francisco Chronicle. A mysterious client needs someone to set up and run an office in East Asia. The ‘client’ turns out to be The Institute, a clandestine human intelligence (humint) task force that reports directly to the Joint Chiefs of Staff. The Institute hires Roy – a sailboat racer and jazz musician – and trains him in the craft of espionage, sending him to Southeast Asia under deep cover as an Arabica coffee bean trader where he . . .
I won’t spoil it for you except to say that the life and work of an undercover spook is often fun and games – and at story’s end, indispensable.
If you are a fan of espionage novels or just like an intriguing read in foreign settings, I’m offering the ebook at $2.99 for a short period. If you prefer to hold a real book, the paperback is available on Amazon.
Here are the links where you can buy the book:
AMAZON: http://bit.ly/ChinaSeaPaperback
KINDLE: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B0130OEZMQ
ITUNES: Search for China Sea by Stanton Swafford on your iPad or iPhone.
GOOGLE PLAY: http://bit.ly/ChinaSeaNovel
I hope you enjoy reading China Sea as much as I enjoyed writing it.
Best Wishes from Redondo Beach,
Stanton Swafford (Sandy)
http://bit.ly/StantonSwaffordAmazon