With students at Chinese colleges accused this month of conducting cyber attacks on US businesses in and outside China, plus the alleged Mossad involvement in the assassination of a Hamas leader in Dubai, I’m reminded of Paul Ulrich’s spy thriller Saudi Match Point, in which Chinese and American spies compete to seize control of the Saudi oilfields. An excerpt below.
“WAIT A MOMENT, MUSTAPHA. Pull over.” Nick instructed the driver to bring the consulate’s vehicle next to a beat-up car with its hood propped open and a man in Indian dress bent over the engine, peering inside. Nick had noticed the same broken-down sedan on the roadside of Dhahran twenty minutes before while en route to the commissary.
“Can we give you a lift?” Nick called out.
A bedraggled man straightened himself and wiped the sweat from his face with a dirty sleeve. “Thank you, that is most kind, good sir, but I do not wish to leave my car. I think the battery has died.”
“Hold on, we’ll help you jump start it.”
First, at Mustapha’s suggestion, they tried the easy way, seating the man behind the wheel, shifting the car to neutral, and pushing. But the engine still failed to turn over and catch. They then opened the back of the consulate’s vehicle to fish out some cables for a jump start. As Mustapha and the stranded driver began attaching them, with Nick looking on, a second SUV pulled up.
“Nick, what are you doing in this heat?” It was Ma Ling, unveiled, in the front passenger seat. “Get in. We’ll give you a ride.”
“I’m trying to help out this fellow. . . .”
“Your driver seems able to handle it. You haven’t forgotten our game, have you?”
“No, Mustapha was going to drop me at the club. I suppose your taking me will save time and leave him with one less thing to worry about.”
Nick grabbed his bag, climbed into the back seat behind Ma Ling, and gave his driver some final instructions. “If the cables don’t do the trick, please stop at the nearest service station and have them send a tow truck for this guy.” Mustapha did not reply but cast a bemused look at Ma Ling and back at Nick.
As they pulled away, Nick asked, “Ma Ling, don’t you think this might seem improper?”
Ma Ling turned with her elbow propped on the front seat. “Oh, you are an old ninny, Mr. Hansen. I always sit up front. We Chinese are egalitarians.”
“Not just that. I mean, driving with an unrelated man…”
“Who? You or Mr. Huang?” she said, looking at her driver who was decked out in a tan cap, matching gloves, and loose-fitting Mao-style jacket. “That is one of the local inconsistencies, isn’t it? If the religious police found me alone with you—a non-related man—they could take me away to be whipped as a prostitute. But I’m not allowed to drive, so must have this unrelated man take me all over town. Of course, with Huang Lei, no one would dare insult me in such a fashion. Please introduce yourself. He’ll be amazed to hear you speak Chinese.”
Nick greeted the silent driver, whose broad bulk and close-cropped, gray hair reminded him of a calmer Ambassador Gewalt. Huang’s face lit up in a big smile. He looked at Nick in the mirror and replied in a deep voice that Nick couldn’t understand. Ma Ling translated. “His accent is very strong, so you won’t catch much of what he says, but he follows you perfectly.”
Nick said, “If it weren’t for that driving outfit, I’d think he might be a bodyguard.”
“And you’d be right! Oh, you are clever!” Ma Ling laughed. “I t