Didn’t Bleed Red 11

New York

The paper no longer had staff in China, relying on subcontractors and pool reports. It was an unreliable way to get news, but the saving looked good to the owner’s accountants, so that was that.

Harrison had read the last month’s pool reports out of Beijing, trying to find anything that hinted, however subtly, at the policy Albunov had alluded to. He had found nothing, as he had expected. It wasn’t something that would be referred to aloud, anyway, so he had been looking for guarded official comments on positions that would have been the opposite of destroying the ship off Hong Kong. Not committing to its protection would have been a way for the Chinese government to leave the explosive option open.

It didn’t help that he wasn’t an expert on Chinese politics and the intricacies of the country’s internal power struggles. He was good at politics as it played out between the diplomats in Manhattan, but those too often had the tenor of petty domestic disputes, rather than important policy decisions. And there was no-one else on staff who could give him the crash course he would need to be able to spot the nuanced language that meant more than it said out loud.

There were even more stories about the country that were filed from outside China. They had to be even less insightful than the ones coming from inside, but Harrison was compelled to read at least a few of them.

With a bottle of craft lager to hand, he moved from the home office to the leather armchair in the lounge that swallowed him up and softly cocooned him. He could rest the refashioned reading slope on the arms, and only have to move to tap the screen of his tablet and turn a page. This was probably going to be another of those nights where he fell asleep halfway through an opinion piece and dreamt that its author was shouting bad advice at him.

Three hours later, he was convinced he had made an important discovery. He wasn’t sure what it meant, yet, and doubted it was the one Albunov had been steering him toward, but he needed to delve deeper.

At first, he had thought he was getting confused about people with similar names. He could have been getting excited about shoddy translations, so he had to do some extra research. Slowly, he was convinced that he had something.

The names that intrigued him started turning up just before the invasion, junior ministers abruptly promoted to important posts, with little or no background to justify the move. In a bureaucracy that more often rewarded longevity, these newcomers were particularly surprising.

After the invasion, the names started appearing more often, usually with an associated further increase in rank and responsibility. There weren’t enough of them to constitute a takeover, but they could certainly exert a lot of influence. Somehow, Harrison was sure that this group would be revealed as the source of Albunov’s alluded to destruction order.

But proving that was going to be impossible with the limited access that had sent him to the article morgue in the first place.

It was a dead end, for now. If he could soak some more information from the Russian, perhaps he could get a story out of this strangeness. Until then, it was a loss.

He was getting another bottle of lager from the refrigerator when a follow up thought hit him. Perhaps China wasn’t the only country to see such a reshuffle. Countries that weren’t so closed to outside scrutiny. Perhaps even ones where the paper had correspondents.