Beijing, Summerpalace, West Dike
Soon he found the Mirror Bridge (Jing Qiao) marked on the plan and, as promised, there stood an angler, watched by a second man who stood in servitude beside him. That had to be him, the chef of «Buro 106».
Colonel Li nodded his head in brief greeting and immediately turned his attention back to what he was doing.
«I must offer you my thanks», said Li in almost accent-free French.
«You have perhaps saved the life of one of our best people. Were it not for you, he would probably be still lying up there.»
«It was a pleasure.»
«The only pity is that you could not retrieve the dossier. That was snatched back from you by the assailant, wasn't it?»
«So it seems, yes.»
«Did you recognise the man?»
«No, that was my first encounter with him.»
«But perhaps you know for whom he works?»
«I have no idea, alas», fibbed Maille. That was the reason why the boss of «Buro 106» wanted to see him. It was clearly about finding out what Maille knew. The only curious thing was that nobody had seen fit to ask him why he had been present at the Wall.
«Naturally we know what you are seeking», said the Angler as if he had read Maille's thoughts. «We are all working along the same lines. But you will understand that we cannot help you directly. The situation is somewhat difficult. What’s more, you work for a foreign regime.»
«Naturally, I understand that very well.»
«Thanks, many thanks. Master Kong says, ‹Morality puts the difficulty in front and the reward behind›*.»
«Yes, my butcher also slaughters the cow first and then sells me its tripe.»
Colonel Li swung around sharply, fixed his tiny slit eyes on Maille's face questioningly, a tad menacingly, and then broke into a guffaw.
At the exit of the Summer Palace Maille met Zhang, who had evidently been waiting there for him. As Maille walked closer to him, the agent gave him a military salute, rather like a puppet whose mechanism has turned somewhat rusty.
«I would like to thank you personally.»
Maille had not expected anything different.
«I am truly sorry that we cannot help you any further.»
Such a human life appears to hold little value in China, thought Maille and laughed – like a person laughs when he has the last roll of bread in the bakery snatched away from under his nose.
«By nature human beings are close to one another, it is only through learning that they draw away from one another»**, remarked Zhang, lowering his eyes.
«Who says that, your wife?»
«No, those are the words of Kong Tse. Have you been to Kong Miao, the great temple of the Master at Guozijian Jie?»
* Confucius: «Analects», VI, 20.
** Confucius: «Analects», XVII, 2.