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.