CHAPTER 68

Gage held his breath as the teleconference monitor in the situation room flashed. He had no reason to trust General Shi Rong-bang, now appearing on the screen with Faith sitting to his left. He’d already guessed what General Shi planned to do with Old Cat once he’d served his purposes, but was terrified of what Shi would do with Faith once she’d served hers.

Standing against the wall behind Wallace, Casher, and Abrams, Gage could see two sheets of paper lying on the table in front of General Shi. It was clear that he intended for them to be seen, and they all knew that the discussion would end with them.

For a moment Gage felt grateful that Ibrahim had broken down, and hoped that the catatonic world of nothingness he now occupied felt safer than the reality that would’ve confronted him here.

Gage watched Faith translate the introductions, her eyes staring back at him. He could feel his heart beating, and knew it was doing so in time with hers. The official PLA translator on the opposite side of General Shi nodded as Faith reached the end of each sentence.

General Shi sat without expression, monklike in his impassivity, his unadorned uniform sagging on his body.

Gage had listened in on the earlier discussion between Abrams on one side and the head of the Chinese Central Bank on the other and knew what both sides had come to understand about the origins of the crisis.

Except that Abrams hadn’t disclosed that Minsky was dead and that his secrets about what would trigger the collapse, and how to stop it, had died with him.

“Mr. Vice President,” General Shi began, “we both know that to a large extent, the resolution to this crisis rests with you.” He waited for Faith to translate, and then continued. “All we have to offer is our cooperation, but there is a condition.”

Wallace didn’t respond.

“My single concern,” Shi continued, “is with the stability of the People’s Republic of China. And there is only one way to end the current troubles, short of violent suppression: punishment of those responsible for the crimes committed against the people of China. I have a much freer hand in the matter than you, for China is not a nation of laws. As long as I have the power, I’ll decide what a crime is and how it will be punished. I’ll decide what a contract is. I’ll decide who owns what. You don’t have that power. Your wrists are bound by legal handcuffs.”

Shi paused, but not as though he was waiting for an answer, then said, “I used to be jealous of the American legal system, but now I see that when law and justice diverge, you are helpless to act.”

Gage suspected that Shi was only jealous in the abstract.

In the concrete, he’d always wanted-needed-the power.

“Assuming we come to an agreement,” Shi said, “I’ll use my authority to abrogate the contract between the Central Committee and the Group of Twelve. The bonds will remain in the hands of the Chinese government. That way, they will maintain their value. That act, however, will leave the Relative Growth Funds naked, with no security to back up its trillions of dollars of obligations.”

Gage saw Abrams’s body tense, and knew what he was thinking. The Chinese could walk away with both the bonds and all the assets purchased with the Relative Growth money.

Abrams cast a glance at Wallace, as if to ask whether the vice president understood the implications.

Wallace nodded without looking over.

“I think it’s time for you to tell us what you want,” Wallace said.

Shi held up one piece of paper in his left hand. “This is a list of our Group of Twelve.” He held up the other sheet in his right hand. “This is your group of twelve, including the CEOs of your old company, Spectrum, along with that of RAID and ten others who’ve paid the largest bribes in China and poisoned our people.”

Shi lowered his left hand and turned the sheet facedown on the table.

Gage saw Faith swallow and her eyes widen.

Shi looked over at her. “No,” he said, “they haven’t been executed.” He looked back at Wallace. “But at the proper moment they’ll be arrested. I want you to do the same with yours. And I want the Japanese and the British and the Germans and the Taiwanese to arrest the ones on the lists I’ve made up for them.”

Shi looked at Casher and said, “I suspect that your lists and mine contain the same names.”

“You’re asking me to eliminate the cream of worldwide corporate leadership,” Wallace said.

Shi lowered the second sheet and stared at Wallace.

“You mean the scum.” Shi rose. “I’ll need your answer in two hours.”

The screen went dark.

Gage glanced down at his watch, but his mind still saw Faith’s frightened, weary eyes.

Wallace bit his lip as he stared at Abrams, then said, “He doesn’t know that without Minsky we have no hope at all of turning this thing off.”

“And that if even a hint of any of this gets out,” Abrams said, “currencies will begin gyrating, Minsky’s algorithmic trading program will activate, and we’ll go into a black hole.”

Wallace raised his palm toward Abrams. “And we don’t even know if all of this is real.”

Gage felt a flash of rage. Backtracking and pretending it wasn’t real was the way Wallace had chosen to excuse his inaction and to escape responsibility. Abrams looked back and caught Gage’s eye and shook his head as if to say: Give him time.

Wallace stood, and said, “I need to meet with someone for a few minutes.” He then walked out of the room.

“Who?” Gage asked Abrams.

“I think Manton Roberts is waiting in his office.”

Gage rolled his eyes. “Not only is Wallace a coward, but he’s delusional. He thinks Billy Graham is sitting in there, but it’s just a lunatic.”

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