I’ve been toying with an idea of a writing project that introduces interesting aspects of Taiwan’s recent and distant past in a pulp fiction esque treasure hunt populated by characters from forumosa and local Taiwan celebrities.
The problem is with three kids, a school and my editing business (don’t laugh) I rarely have enough time to eat let alone my hobbies.
Anyway here is an extract. Have a read you could be in it. Then tell me should I can it or keep it.
It’s not the first chapter.
You can’t flush your memory with booze, but you can try. I tried and I tried and I tried but one thing kept coming back to me; the sound of Corey’s decapitated head hitting the bitumen. That thick dull thud and liquid crack. I purposely smashed all manner of fruit and veggies to somehow recapture that sound and take control of it. I wanted to have some power over it before it consumed me wholly. What I learnt was that Corey’s skull must have had the consistency of a champagne melon and that if I was smashin’ fruit to get a grip then Corey’s wasn’t the only melon that was cracked.
I’d had the box from Corey’s car locked in the garage of my parent’s place in Brighton for 13 years. It was stored in the rafters in a place where my father used to hide my grandfather’s WW II Lee-Enfield rifle. It was a safe place to store a deadly weapon and keep it away from the prying eyes and fingers of a child but no place for state secrets, or personal commitments.
Avoidance is to fear as shit is to mushrooms. Bury your fears and you might as well take a shovel to your soul. It’s in the dark, in the rafters, in the places we no longer look nor care to remember that fear finds fertile soil. Drinking on the milk of our guilt, it thrives and then surfaces adding all manner of new dimensions to our personalities. It lurks, rises and then grabs at the levers. The only thing it abhors is acknowledgement and action. Not one, not the other, but both and in equal measure.
I spent the best part of those 13 years working as a local reporter for a village newspaper. I think it was Orwell who said that early in his life he noticed that no event was ever correctly reported in a newspaper. I’m pleased to report I never let you down George. It’s not that I fully engaged in deceit; it’s just that every story, no matter how banal, needs an angle or spin. As my editor used to say, “We’re building a community not tearing one down.”
Facts are little shreds of light that can reveal the truth’s hiding place, but it is still possible to have a head full of facts and know nothing of the truth. What is important is not the facts themselves but what you can do with them. Concepts are stronger than facts. That is the truth. The concept of community in Brighton was way more important than all the facts pointing to police corruption, and local council malfeasance. What seemed to really count were the truly little things: neighborhood watch programs, smoking in public places, jay walking, and speeding.
The small fears we carry around every day were to be exaggerated out of all proportion; all for the purposes of building a strong righteous local community. Forget about the facts. The minute chance of dying of cancer from some guy lighting up next to you in a bar seemed to be far more news worthy than the local drug squad moving more blow than George Jung. Or easier at least to investigate and report on. After years of this kind of crap and knowing full well how fear can help bury knowledge of a crime and how avoiding reality can crush a man’s soul until nothing remains but the bouncing from one fear to the next drink, I decided I could sink no further and I reached up and grabbed for Corey’s box of secrets like a drowning man grabbing for a lifeline. My soul needed peace no matter the price.
Until that day I hadn’t once looked in that box. The very thought of it loosened my bowels. Even thirteen years hence and in the full knowledge that no one could possibly be watching it still ruffled me to open it. Unlike Pandora’s Box, however, on opening it I didn’t find all of mankind’s sins of greed, vanity, slander, envy, and pining escaping with only hope remaining inside. In fact, it was quite the opposite. I found hope and saw all those vices neatly filed and appositely addressed by a man who had an astute eye for detail and a hankering for the truth.
That hope wasn’t evident in the files upon files of technical specs for nuclear power stations, weapons systems, financial records, character profiles, accounts of conversations, maps, and newspaper clippings, but in Corey’s personal writings: seven black-leather- bound Moleskine journals. Here Corey’s voice was strongest; it was like having my old mate bottled in a jar.
For six months, I did little more than rifle through those journals cross referencing installments with other files looking for a clue as to who or why someone would want Corey dead. His life read like 60 Minutes on steroids. Of all the tales of deceit and intrigue, there were two particular installments that seemed to ring true with Corey’s last words. In particular, that there was an organization within the CIA or in someway related that could tacitly sanction Corey’s murder and protect Colonel Chang. At the time I had little idea I was tugging on a thread that would unravel a tapestry of travesty and leave the six-thirty news describing me as a professional thief working for buyers in the Far East.
The first clue came in an installment in 1981 and the other not until two years later.
September 11, 1981
Click goes my brain, I’m insane again. If the Taiwan Garrison Command had a clue as to what was good for it, it would lay off the murder incorporated shenanigans; if only for self-preservation.
Last night, I got a call from Sandy James at Associated Press to try and get one of its journalists, Tina Chou, off the hook for mentioning the word ‘autopsy’ in a press report and spoiling the Government Information Office’s cover story for the Garrison’s obvious murder of Professor Chen Wen-chen. Chen’s body was found dumped on Taiwan University’s campus. He was, to the witnesses who found the body, beaten lifeless. The Garrison had picked him up on reentry at the airport less than 24 hours earlier. The intention was to send a clear message to all those planning on studying in the States not to get involved in independence movement politics. Chen was a small time political activist on his campus at Carnegie Mellon in the US.
Taiwan’s nascent independence movement has taken root in the US. It’s the only place they can find a platform to share their grievances. It scares the Bejesus out of the Nationalists; they’ve got nowhere else to go. And it has put the wind up enough people in Washington for them to start monitoring the movement.
That monitoring is happening on two levels; both are illegal and both officially sanctioned. The first approach is run by the KMT and involves planting of “professional students” on campuses. These guys are usually on scholarships; they make reports on their fellow students and heavy anyone critical of the Nationalists. This is all done with the tacit approval of our security agencies.
Then there is the dark side of the flipside, me or people like me. There are those on my side whose sole aim is manipulation by intimidation. We’re fighting the Cold War in a pressure cooker. In order to keep the pressure down we’ve got to let off a little steam now and then. There’s no telling who’ll get burnt in the process which is too bad for the likes of Professor Chen.
They say in my line of work you have to stay focused on the big picture, because the detail is painted in blood. Every now and then, however, you get splattered in that paint and it leaves a stain. Professor Chen did nothing more than be on the wrong side of the Cold War ledger. I conveyed the dirt on him. The source, I was told, the Western Goals Foundation, a group of right wing nut jobs.
The Western Goals Foundation is the intelligence gathering arm of the John Birch Society. They provide blacklists on domestic communists in the States to corporations, politicians and agencies like the CIA, who can’t spy domestically. If you think Joe McCarthy is dead, think again; he’s conducting his witch hunts from the grave. Ronald Reagan used these blacklists to vet all his aids.
The difficulty for the independence movement is in drawing a distinction between itself and the communists. The KMT is keen to brand both as communists and refuses to acknowledge publicly that such a seditious movement even exists. If anything, however, they’re harder on independence activists than communists and why shouldn’t they be. The communists will never be holding the KMT to account, but the independence crowd, on the other hand, will have a very dull axe to grind. Personally, I advise for localization, if not full independence. This puts me in conflict with US current policy which is to bolster anticommunist regimes at all costs. Selling out Professor Chen probably would have burned Paul Revere but principle stands little chance against the raging inferno that is political expediency.
Still, knowing I was just doing my job was cold comfort. I lost a part of myself in this fiasco and I was keen to help out Sandy James from AP. I made some calls and got a promise that Ms. Chou’s journalists’ credentials would be reinstated, but she’d have to take an overseas posting.
September 3rd, 1983
11 Days ago I was asked to participate in what I thought was a routine disinformation exercise. I traveled to New Delhi and met with a known double agent. My message to him was that some Korean Airline planes had been equipped with RC 135-intelligence craft surveillance equipment and were spying on Russia’s North Pacific coastline. Along with this information I gave him the name of the pilot, Captain Byung-In Chun, upon whose flights the missions would be conducted.
Yesterday, KAL Flight 007 was shot down over Sakhalin in the North Pacific with all 269 people onboard killed. Clearly, I wasn’t involved in a disinformation exercise but rather a provocation exercise. In this job, we work everything on a need to know basis; they say it is to protect sources, but it also shields all and sundry from responsibility.
Why a provocation exercise? Readiness. Nuclear war depends on first strike capability. Provocation exercises keep everyone on their toes. The most likely scenario for a nuclear confrontation is in the North Pacific; and there is no point in having a nuclear arsenal without a hair trigger and the safety off. You only get one chance at being right.
There seems to be more going on here, though, than a provocation exercise. Larry McDonald, Chairman of the John Birch Society and founder of the Western Goals Foundation, was on that flight. The timing of my going to New Delhi and Larry McDonald being on that flight can only mean one thing, an assassination.
If, after the first twenty minutes, you don’t know who the sucker at the poker table is, then it’s you. I’m beginning to get that same feeling about McDonald’s death. If I wasn’t in on the plot, but I was a bit player in his murder then there’s going to be people out there who know I know he was assassinated, and they must be wondering what I plan to do about it. That’s what you call a loose end. Right now, I’m vulnerable to manipulation or worse. I need to confide in somebody as a form of protection, and quickly.
The only person I can think of is Lord Lucan.
It didn’t take me long to track down Lord Lucan. He wasn’t, of course, a real Lord, though his father was. He was the equivalent of a modern day comprador working to facilitate Western companies doing business in Taiwan. He was the fat that greased the wheels. He used his father’s title to help him open hearts, doors, and legs. In short, he was a scoundrel of the first order. Why Corey would seek him out in an hour of need, I wasn’t fully certain, as I was yet to meet him, though we’d talked on the phone. He said he would meet me in Taiwan and talk, but for a price; 60 Chinese seals that I’d have to lift from the Irish National Museum and deliver to him personally. As he put it, “compromising me would guarantee my commitment.”