This arti­cle is part 5 of 10 in the series Beijing Acupuncture

Our wait­er returned short­ly with two glass­es of wine.  Before he could leave, I said, “Mark, I think we’ll go ahead and order now, but don’t bring our order for a half-hour, okay?’

“Sure,” he said bright­ly.  “What can I get for you?”

“Go ahead, L.T.,” I said.

“Well, do you have any rec­om­men­da­tion?” he asked.

“Their Outlaw Ribeye is a sig­na­ture dish of theirs. Try it.”

“Okay,” said L.T.  Sounds good.  I’ll have that medi­um-rare.  And I think I’d like to try your Shrimp and Lobster Chowder as well.”

“Yes, sir — and you, sir,” asked Mark, turn­ing toward me.

“I’ll have the Hawaiian Ribeye, medi­um.  Oh, and bring us each a glass of water with lemon, please.”

“Yes, sir.  I’ll have your chow­der here in half an hour.  Would you like bread before then?”

“No, I replied.  Just bring it when you bring his chowder.”

With that, Mark depart­ed and L.T. continued.

“Michael, this com­mis­sion involves a North Korean named Yeung Chun Le, a sci­en­tist who leads the North’s atom­ic pro­gram and with­out whom that pro­gram would prob­a­bly be set back by at least two years.

“The North Koreans are so pro­tec­tive of their nuclear pro­grams that they refuse to allow many of their sci­en­tists to have full access to every­thing going on with it.  They com­part­men­tal­ize the pro­gram, afraid that some­one with too much knowl­edge might defect and reveal the whole thing.  But that com­part­men­tal­iza­tion is also a weak­ness because if some­one is removed from the equa­tion, it becomes damned dif­fi­cult to get some­one else into the mix in a very short time.

“Yeung is right at the top of the lad­der and is almost irre­place­able, so you might appre­ci­ate the fact that chop­ping off the ser­pen­t’s head, so to speak, could do a lot of dam­age to their program.

“Right now, Yeung is in Japan, on a kind of good­will mis­sion… despite the deep-seat­ed ani­mos­i­ty between Japan and North Korea.  But the Japanese can’t afford to antag­o­nize the North by refus­ing some­one with Yeung’s cre­den­tials a vis­it, and they are going to extremes to assure that this vis­it goes off with­out any hitch­es.  So an assas­si­na­tion on Japanese soil is out of the question.

“However, Yeung has, at least, one weak spot that we know of.  Arthritis.  Apparently, this con­di­tion is get­ting worse and it is very painful because it is, accord­ing to our sources, work­ing its way into the spine.

“Because of this Yeung goes to China — Beijing to be exact — once a month for acupunc­ture treat­ments which seem to pro­vide the only real relief avail­able. Oh, there are some drugs avail­able between vis­its, but the polit­i­cal con­trollers of the nuclear pro­gram don’t allow  any­thing very strong due to the poten­tial of drugs affect­ing the work or pos­si­bly being a vehi­cle for poisoning.”

I inter­rupt­ed L.T. at this point, “You’re not say­ing you expect me to get at Yeung in either China or North Korea?  You do real­ize that those two coun­tries are the most closed soci­eties on the plan­et, don’t you?”

“Of course,” he replied calm­ly.  “But I think we’ve worked out a pret­ty good plan to get you access.

“I hope it’s some­thing some­what bet­ter than ‘pret­ty good,’ ” I said, some­what doubtful.

“Yeung gets treat­ments on the first Wednesday of every month, just like clock­work.  We’ve nev­er been able to fig­ure out why peo­ple stick to strict sched­ules like this.  It makes them pre­dictable and so much more vul­ner­a­ble.  Anyway, it works to our advantage.

“In three weeks, an orga­nized tour group will be going to China for two weeks.  That time peri­od falls in the slot where Yeung will also be there for treat­ment.  If you feel that you can devel­op a plan and be pre­pared in that peri­od of time, we will get you added to the tour group.  We thought that we’d get you in as a Canadian because they tend to come under less scruti­ny than Americans do.

“Needless to say, Yeung’s demise will have to look like some­thing oth­er than a delib­er­ate hit, so we’ll have to leave it to you to come up with the method to make that work.  I know it won’t  be easy, but you’ve got some time to work out the details and if you feel that’s there’s no chance of pulling it off, you can opt out right up to the time of departure.”

“Fair enough,” I said, already mulling over possibilities.

We sat there for only a few sec­onds in silence before Mark appeared with a bas­ket of bread and L.T.‘s chow­der, along with two glass­es of lemon water.

“Right on time,” I smiled, try­ing not to reveal the tur­moil in my mind.

L.T. knew I was deeply in thought as he rather silent­ly spooned the chow­der and par­took of a slice of but­tered bread.

“This is quite good,” he final­ly offered.  “If the steak is as good, it will be a good meal.”

Mark cleared away two cleaned plat­ters and the oth­er detri­tus of a thor­ough­ly enjoyed meal, to return short­ly with a Samuel Adams ale for me and a gin and ton­ic for L.T.

The meal had gone most­ly with­out con­ver­sa­tion and the dis­cus­sion between us now was most­ly about unre­lat­ed things as L.T. asked about things per­tain­ing to Kentucky and Lexington.

After we had leisure­ly fin­ished our after-lunch drinks, L.T. accept­ed the check, pulled cash from his wal­let, and left the required amount, along with a gen­er­ous tip on the table.

The trip back around Man-o-War Boulevard was com­plet­ed most­ly in silence as L.T. viewed the pass­ing landscape.

As I pulled up in front of the ter­mi­nal, L.T. shook hands.  “It’s been good to meet you, Michael.  I’ll leave the brief­case with you.  There’s addi­tion­al infor­ma­tion about Yeung in it as well as pho­tographs and info about the tour.  I’ll go ahead and book you into the tour.  If you decide against, we can can­cel.  Also, the num­ber where you can reach me when you decide.”

“The num­ber in Charlotte?” I asked.

“Of course,” he said almost laugh­ing, and turned toward the build­ing, but not before I could say, “Oh, and L.T.,  I real­ly like the name.”

Driving back to Winchester, the germ of an idea was already tak­ing shape in my mind.  I was going to have to do some research on China, read up on the tour group, and find out where I could take a cer­tain class that I would need to prepare.

  • Chuck Witt

    Chuck is a retired archi­tect, a for­mer news­pa­per colum­nist, and a life­long res­i­dent of Winchester.

Series Navigation« Beijing Acupuncture: chap­ter 4Beijing Acupuncture: chap­ter 6 »