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The rule of the people, p.43
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       The Rule Of The People, p.43

           Christopher Read

  * * *

  Anderson was reacquainting himself with the delights of Dulles Airport, a seat on the late evening flight to Heathrow courtesy of the FBI. It wasn’t exactly a reward or even a bribe, more a hint that he should let America deal with its own problems from now on. There was evidently no chance of a belated invitation to the White House, Anderson having to settle for a free one-way airline ticket and a handshake from Ray Flores.

  Anderson’s chest wound would forever be a reminder of Pat McDowell, the FBI feeling guilty enough to foot his medical bill. For eighteen months McDowell had escaped first British then American justice and his political meddling had come at a high cost; most of those killed might not have actually been by his own hand but he had condemned them nevertheless. In an apparent change of heart, the Department of Justice inquiry had put responsibility for the earlier shooting in the National Mall squarely on McDowell and his associates, the FBI exonerated, with Anderson and Flores saved the embarrassment of a second grilling.

  Despite almost getting shot by Thorn’s protection detail and then being caught at the edge of the bomb blast, Flores had emerged with nothing more than a cut to his face. The bomb itself had been C4, the plastic explosive artfully transformed into a standard police bullet-proof jacket, Lee Preston kicking it under Thorn’s limousine once the protection detail had been distracted by Lavergne – simple but obviously effective. Detonated remotely, Preston’s timing had been brutally impressive, Thorn and three agents killed instantly, four more critically injured.

  Thanks primarily to Flores, the FBI had swamped the National Mall and the surrounding streets within seconds, Lavergne cornered near Independence Avenue and shot dead resisting arrest. Two hours later, Preston had been killed by the Arlington County Police, apparently also trying to make a fight of it.

  It was all very convenient, both men with more than enough secrets to reignite the political crisis. Anderson didn’t know the whole story with respect to Adams and Jensen but he could guess, and the President’s TV address was all part of a state-organised whitewash with Thorn turned into a hero. It was a familiar tale to Anderson, the White House and Kremlin not that dissimilar in the way they dealt with their enemies.

  The fallout from that day hadn’t yet spread beyond the minor players and Mayor Henry was still enjoying life in the public eye, his past support of Thorn ensuring a regular slot on the news reports. Henry had been quick to blame Pat McDowell for being behind the murders of both Adams and Thorn, a fact duly confirmed by the White House during Sunday afternoon’s press briefing.

  Anderson might be sceptical of various aspects but there was little he could do and The Washington Post would expect something conclusive, especially if Anderson went so far as to accuse the President of being an accessory to murder. The evidence was out there, it just needing to be found: money-trail, CCTV image, someone wanting to make a deal – if Jensen was minded to continue the search then something damning would turn up eventually.

  That clearly was no longer Anderson’s concern, his departure from the U.S. long overdue. Whether he’d be able to settle back down to a more relaxed routine was a major concern; Charlotte certainly deserved something more permanent than he seemed able or willing to offer. Three months, a year at most, and he’d get frustrated with the confines of domesticity, always wanting something that was forever out of reach.

  Or perhaps he’d actually learnt something important from his month in America – no-one was invulnerable and how many more times could Anderson chance his luck and get away with it? Maybe it really was time to settle down and opt for a slightly quieter life, the challenge of domestic bliss possibly a little less risky than involving himself in the intrigues of a superpower and its leaders.

  USS Benfold – Monday, 14:12 Local Time; 06:12 UTC

  Tanner and his team had worked virtually around the clock sonar-mapping the reef, the Galene pushed to the limit of her capabilities with the normal safety protocols temporarily put on hold. The dangers were obvious but the financial inducement was substantial, the guarantees if it all went wrong enough for Tanner to take the gamble. To everyone’s relief, his faith in the Galene had proved entirely justified, and although the mapping would take at least another three days to complete, they had enough data for the dredger to make a start.

  Tanner stood on the deck of the USS Benfold and watched as sand and sediment was pumped from the shallower parts of the sea bed through a long flexible pipe before being sprayed out onto the reef. A single dredger would take years to make a difference, China employing as many as twenty at once to turn a half-submerged rocky outcrop into an artificial island. One cubic yard at a time Hardy Reef was now following suit and more dredgers were apparently on the way, plus a massive floating platform.

  Although uninhabited, Hardy Reef was just one more reef in the Spratly Group claimed by at least two countries, the Philippine Navy regularly sending out patrols to remove any territorial markers placed by China, it turning into a test of the other side’s persistence. For both, Hardy Reef was of minor interest, it thought to be too dangerous and difficult to be worth any serious effort.

  Not so for the United States. The agreement regarding the freezing of land reclamation in the Spratly Islands had been very precise, explicitly naming the five nations it applied to; the U.S. was not even mentioned, the omission again slipping past the Chinese negotiators without comment. Whilst perhaps not in the spirit of the accord, Deangelo was prepared to take the risk of it all falling apart; the U.S. needed a foothold in the Spratly Group, something to act as a visible deterrent once the Chinese dredgers returned. There was a lot of time to make up, America with a five year period of grace to create its own unsinkable aircraft carrier.

  Tanner was no expert but he assumed America’s occupation of the reef would break some aspect of international law or a particular U.N. convention, and the U.S. legal experts would struggle to find a convincing argument to justify their right to simply sit tight. Having made a suitable protest, the Philippines would no doubt be persuaded to worry about something else; China would be more vociferous but was hardly in a position to do much about it, not unless the Politburo was willing to go to the extreme of ripping up the agreement and starting all over again.

  Tanner well understood the rationale and in a few months, six at most, the U.S. could start to build something permanent on the reef; in the meantime the floating platform could easily house enough Marines to show the flag and prove intent. The United States was staking its own claim to one of the Spratly Islands, the principle of possession being nine-tenths of the law as valid in the South China Sea as anywhere else.

  Tanner gazed out across the reef and towards the north, wondering if it would all flare up again in another five years. The Politburo had merely tested the water and come away with the Paracel Islands and a scalded toe; for the moment China’s creeping invasion of the South China Sea had temporarily been put on hold, and its leaders certainly wouldn’t make the same mistakes next time, the strategic importance of the remaining Spratly Islands and the uncertain promise of their natural resources a prize far too precious to simply ignore.

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