Fabienne King was a very young eighteen. She was not considered beautiful by her peers. Joyous ; vivacious; lively; but not beautiful. Her face still showed the last traces of puppy fat, she had not yet resorted to the use of makeup, but her skin was golden, clear and unblemished. Her eyebrows were unprofiled and her long eyelashes, which had never seen mascara, glinted golden in the sun. She had a perpetual smile on her face and her hair hung down in a cascade of untamed curls to her shoulders. It was only in her eyes that the mature woman lurked. Her eyes were those of a very determined young lady. She wanted a taste of everything life had to offer.
Her husband Robert was thirty five, at the peak of his physical powers. He was a large man but without an ounce of fat on his body. When he had retired from competitive rugby, a tendancy for muscle to turn to fat had been countered by continual exercise. He wore his jet black hair a little longer than he should, which tended to emphasise the lean angularity of his face. When he moved he was incredibly graceful for a big man. It was this grace which had first attracted Fabienne’s attention.
When they embraced Fabienne threw herself up from the floor knowing that he could support her for hours. In public she kicked up her heels behind her but in private she wrapped her legs around him. Her body danced against his without the need for choreography. Most people assumed that because of the difference in their ages, Robert must have seduced Fabienne but nothing could have been further from the truth. She had hunted him down at an embassy party after she had seen him deliver a lecture on financial control to her first year course on political science. They were married within three months.
She had transferred her course from the Sorbonne to the LSE and they lived in a small mundane flat in Chelsea. At the weekends they had access to a holiday home in Rural Dorset where Fabienne kept horses. It should have been perfect, but the year was 1989.
James Hardbottom looked up from the pile of papers on his desk.
“Thanks for coming Robert” he was not known for prevarication. “Look , we need you to go to Honkers for an extended period’
“Hong Kong?” Robert asked increduliously. ”But you have given me a three year tour here in London, personell development, assignment progression and organisation of the European Station.”
Well we need you in Hong Kong, things are getting nasty and we need you.” He leaned forward, “You are incidentally, bloody good, the best!”
“Can I take my wife”
“Absolutely not, before you married her, we did a screening and decided not to bring her inside. She is a French National, which is enough, but there were one or two other blemishes, we did warn you”
“She is a British Citizen, my wife, and she is eighteen years of age”
“Past her formative years, old chum. Whatever she is, she will remain. She can’t go”
Robert looked gloomily out of James’ window which overlooked the Thames.
“O.K. then I resign.”
“Can’t do that, there is a small matter of your oath of service. And what is happening over there is Queen and Country stuff. “
Robert told Fabienne that he was being asked to run a conference and several training courses in Hong Kong, that it was an offer he could not refuse and he would be away a month, possibly longer if the program was successful.
Fabienne was obviously hurt badly by the news. “Robert I have seen very little of you since we married. You told me these continual absences would stop.” Her eyes gleamed with expectation “take me with you”
“Can’t do that, darling; part of the contract. In any case it will not be fun, I will be working too hard”
“I love you Robert, I get a buzz every time you come near me, but I tell you now that if you do not take me to Hong Kong I will not be here when you return”
Robert had nowhere to go.
“So be it. I do love you Fabienne, please be here when I get back. I promise this will never happen again, please, please believe me”
She shook her head and sat on the edge of the bed tears welling up in her eyes. With a heavy heart Robert started to pack his bags.
He flew British Airways to Dubai, where a compliant local government allowed him to change passports and proceed to Hong Kong with Cathay Pacific. He smiled at the irony. His new passport showed him to be a French National. He was now Robert Leroi, with a birthplace of Paris. At least his new name was easy to remember.
His controller in Hong Kong was Kwan Kee Lo, who had been educated in London. Like most Hong Kong Chinese Lo had a European pseudonym, he had chosen Richard. Robert was given a map and told to learn the layout of both Hong Kong and the nearby mainland of Kowloon on foot or by public transport; surface transport not MTR.
Richard called him in again two days later.
“I don’t think you will know everything about Hong Kong” he reassured Robert “But we are running out of time,” he paused and eyed Robert carefully, “well what do you think?”
Robert sighed. There was no alternative but to tell the truth. “Richard, it is your city, and I don’t want to insult you, but….” He tried desparately to think of a good way of putting it. He failed. “It is a stinking mess”
Richard did not as much as raise an eyebrow. “And what makes you think that Robert? He asked gently and patiently.
Robert started at the beginning “Let’s start with the fire escapes in this building. They are used as overflow storage by one of your co-tentants. If ever there is a fire in here it will be a disaster.” He took a deep breath. Richard showed no inclination of wanting to interrupt his flow. “Then there is the canterlevered structures on every building. Wider and wider as the building gets higher and higher. I have asked about them. They are all totally illegal but nothing is done.”
Richard smiled “Ah yes, I had forgotten that you were trained as an engineer. Anything else?”
“I learned rapidly to use the main streets as the back streets act as food preparation area for the restaurants. There is no co-ordinated effort to clean up refuse. After the rain it is necessary to wade ankle deep through a stinking mess.” Richard inclined his head in a listening posture which Robert took as an invitation to continue. “ I then learned that the Harbour itself, the very same Harbour which figures prominently on the tourist posters is a massive open sewer. There is no sewage treatment in Honk Kong. It is made ten times worse by the fact that the pig farms in Eastern Kowloon swill the pig excrement down channels in the hillside and into the harbour.”
Richard still gave no bodily reaction, “Hmm perhaps you should have become a town planner” he said drily. “And the politics?”
Robert was into his stride now, this retched assignment had probably cost him his beloved Fabienne, therefore he was not in the mood for telling anything but the truth. “Hong Kong is a frightening example of what unregulated capitalism can and probable always will produce. It is dog eat dog out there, a multi levelled society in which each level mercilessly takes advantage of the level below. Those who have no concern for others can become rich, very rich. The whole system survives because of the endless supply of cheap labour furnished by the stream of illegal emigrants from China. Everyone takes advantage of them and, in the process, trains them to be just as vicious when they manage to climb the first step of the ladder. What really bothers me is that I am probably here to help protect this god forsaken system”
Richard smiled icily, “Not quite Robert. What you have just shown me is why London was so keen to send you for this assignment. Too many people see only the facade of Hong Kong. In only two days you have managed to see underneath that facade. It was vitally important that you did so, as you will be working with people who want to see that system change. If we cannot get acceptance that change is necessary we are faced with great danger”
It was Roberts turn to smile icily. Irony piled on irony. He had never been politically sensitive. It was his short relationship with Fabienne which has sensitised him and she was not allowed to “come inside!”
Richard looked at his watch. “Come let us finish this conversation in my club”
Robert then saw a completely different side of Hong Kong. Richard spoke gently and quietly. They were on the twenty-sixth floor in a room which continually rotated bringing a never ending vista of views over Victoria harbour and Mount Victoria.
“Hong Kong is due to be handed back to the Chinese in 1997, only eight years away. The prospect of bureaucratic socialist minded controls being imposed on the good citizens of Hong Kong terrifies them. The rich and powerful, and many of them are members of this club, have formed an unholy alliance with the triad gangsters to revolt against the transfer of ownership to China. There is more money than you could imagine to back such a revolt. If the revolt occurs there is every prospect of a civil war in Southern China , and one of the participants would be a colony governed by Britain. We would be drawn in on one side or the other, with disastrous results.”
What surprised Robert was the phrase “one side or the other,” he queried it with Richard, who grimaced. “Did I say that? Well you need to know. One scenario has us fighting with the Chinese against the rebels in our own colony and the Americans deciding to back the rebels. Without doubt in these circumstances a third world war would result, with rather unexpected combatants”
Robert’s jaw dropped. “Queen and Country” indeed. But why him? What could he bring to these desparate circumstances?
Richard saw the look of alarm on Robert’s face. “Relax Robert,”he said “It may never happen. Two initiatives are in progress, one to manage the expectations of the rich, powerful and dangerous here in Hong Kong. We have penetrated the Triads and we have our people as directors of most of the major companies, as indeed do the Chinese. Our people collect information and help influence attitudes. That is going quite well, and but in parallel with that we must try to modify the intentions of the Chinese government when it takes over. We have literally hundreds of agents within China carrying out the same tasks of gathering information and influencing opinion, but sadly this initiative is now in trouble. The agents there have lost control of student groups and other activists and now the most likely result is a revolt within China itself. There will be a violent crack -down. We urgently need a control centre here in Hong Kong. That is where you come in. We need at least fifty extra people helping with co-ordination and rescue attempts should they be needed. We cannot house this number in the barracks and march them to the office every day. Your conferences and training courses will be the cover. We will take over the entire Lee Park hotel. The additional staff will be your course attendees. Even the catering and room service will be done by our own staff to avoid any security issues. In the workshopping areas you will set up an exact copy of the European station in which you work in London. I am told there is great difficulty in stopping you taking control in London. Well Robert, go for it! Take control here, we are playing for the highest possible stakes!”
On the 14th of April 1989 students began gathering in Tiamen square, Pekin, to mourn the death of Hu Yaobang, a Chinese pro democracy activist. Yaobang quite possibly died of natural causes. The Chinese government gave formal disapproval to the ritual sorrow. It was for them a great mistake.
By the 22nd of April, the day of Yaobang’s funeral there were a million people in the square and demonstrations commenced in other Chinese cities.
On 20th May martial law was declared but the Pekin based division of the Peoples Republican Army (PLA) mingled with the demonstrators trying to pursuade them to leave peacably rather than using force. A statue of the “goddess of democracy” was erected in the square.
On 27th May, in Hong Kong, 300,000 people gathered at Happy Valley racecourse to express solidarity with the occupants of Tianamen square. There was a strong Taiwanese and therefore American prescence at Happy Valley and calls for rebellion against union with China were heard.
The following day over 1.5 millon people gathered in waves at Happy Valley and marched along Harcourt Road towards Central District. The road was packed from wall to wall. All the MTR stations were closed. The theme was however completely different. to influence the Chinese government by democratic means after union not by rebellion against union. Robert King walked in the second line of the march immediately behind Martin Lee and Szeto Wah.
On 1st June in China, PLA units from outside Pekin were called in to clear Tianamen square. They could get nowhere near it as the ordinary citizens of Pekin in their thousands, possibly millions, blocked the streets. On the 2nd of June the army started firing on the crowds.
Increasing violence was applied until on the 4th of June, tanks were brought in, they advanced regardless of opposition. Makeshift barricades and people trapped in their path were crushed under their tracks.
The square was finally cleared on the 5th of June. There are enduring images of seventeen tanks being delayed by a single protester who stood in their path.
The whole episode was deemed by Time magazine to be one of the twenty most significant events of the twentieth century.
No record of the sequence of events has ever identified a possible British involvement.
Richard visited the Lee Park hotel on the sixth of June by which time Robert had been in total control for over seven weeks. Richard found it difficult to get access to Robert. He was faced with security screen after security screen. He reflected wryly that Robert worked for him not the other way round. Eventually he came face to face with Robert.
“I think to take part in the demonstration was a mistake, you broke cover and intelligence services in many countries will now be analysing the people in the first ranks of the parade to identify key organisers”
Robert was preoccupied reading the latest messages. “Hmm you may be right, but it was a small price to pay, Martin Lee and Szeto Wah were potential leaders of this community but they will now sooner or later be sidelined. My involvement was a small price to pay to win their support. In any case, we rescued everyone who wanted to be rescued from China, but many of my people have died or are dying out there. I felt a personal demonstration of support was necessary”
Richard was startled. This was not the reaction he expected from a professional. “Robert, do not take it too personally, these agents are not your agents, you did not recruit or train them”
Robert looked up from the messages. “I never used the word agents, and they are not your agents either, those who chose to stay behind made it clear to me that they do not regard themselves as British agents but as Chinese patriots. Nevertheless for seven weeks I have been responsible for supporting them and giving them anything which might help them. I can assure you they are my people.”
Suddenly on the television pictures of the protester standing in the way of the tanks flickered on the TV screen. “Is he one of your people?”asked Richard.
“I don’t know” said Robert. “I have never met any of them, but quite possibly he is, excuse me I don’t normally swear, but they are all bloody heroes”
It was another week before Robert left Hong Kong. He made the trip to Dubai where he changed back to his own identity. An hour into the flight to London the flight attendant brought him a bottle of champagne and a small marbled grey envelope. There was a plain card inside which said “Thank you, we appreciate the sacrifice you have made to serve your country.” It was signed by the Queen.
Robert smiled and wondered how many man hours it had taken to get that message on this flight. A second later his hair stood on end. What sacrifice?
He ran up the stairs to his flat, and could hardly wait for the key to turn in the lock. He burst open the door and ran to the bedroom. Her clothes were gone! On the dressing table was a small square envelope virtually the same as the one from the Queen. He opened it hesitantly. The note was in Fabienne’s handwriting
“Goodby, Robert’. You will never see me again. My lawyers will however be in touch. I will always regard myself as your wife. “What God has joined together let no man put asunder. ” However to give you a chance to find happiness with someone else I will negotiate a civil divorce. All I want in settlement is the right to bear your name forever.
Love, Fabienne of the five hundred days.
P.S. Of the five hundred days we have been married we have only spent fifty nights in bed together. It is not enough Robert. Not enough for you, not enough for me.”
For years Robert kept the two messages in the same folder, they were in his mind inevitably linked.
On the 1st July 1997 the transfer of Hong Kong to Chinese sovereignty was achieved without bloodshed, let alone a third world war.
The liberalisation of the Chinese government started well in advance of that date and through free enterprise they are now the economic powerhouse of the world.
Robert did not resign from the secret service and played a significant role in many other crises.
However, Robert Leroi along with Martin Lee and Szeto Wah are still banned from entering mainland China.
Fabienne sent Robert Birthday and Christmas cards every year. She made sure he always knew where to contact her.
First draft – 3180 words — Target 2500- 3500 words