Agent Interviewed: Harold Earl “Cotton” Malone
Status: Retired (on special assignment here)
Interview Location: Café Norden, Copenhagen, Denmark
Subject: Recent incursion into the People’s Republic of China
Question 1: Your impressions of China?
Amazing. Here’s a culture that has been around for over 4,000 years yet is still struggling to identify itself. An ancient place, and that old-world feel is still there, especially in the areas I visited. I learned that well over 50% of the world’s great inventions and innovations originated in China--things like printing, the zero, the compass, the stirrup, the abacus, the seismograph, the rudder, the parachute, and masts and sails. The list is long. But, because of the country’s isolation, and the tendency of one emperor to eradicate all vestiges of those who came before him, the Chinese literally forgot what they had accomplished. Can you imagine?
The country is incredibly varied in geography and culture, it stretches more than 3,000 miles east to west, and it contains two of the world’s great deserts, the Gobi and Taklamakan, which I skirted. Some of the highest mountains on the planet rise from the Tibetan plateau in the south, which I visited. Maybe most impressively, 1.3 billion people live in China, so it’s the most populous place on the planet. But despite all that, the country remains tremendously fragile, its political culture is volatile and unpredictable, bound together only by force and fear. It would not take much to send it over the edge.
Question 2: Who was there, on the ground, with you?
Stephanie Nelle, head of the Magellan Billet, authorized the incursion, facilitated by a cooperating Russian agent known only as Ivan. Cassiopeia Vitt accompanied me, along with Viktor Tomas, a freelance agent I’d dealt with previously in a file titled The Venetian Betrayal. This time Tomas was covertly working with Karl Tang, China’s deputy premier. Cassiopeia and I have not worked together in a while, as my experiences in Germany and the Antarctic last Christmas (detailed in a file titled The Charlemagne Pursuit) and then in France (The Paris Vendetta) did not concern her. Her involvement here came as the result of a long term friendship with a Russian ex-patriot, Lev Sokolov, and the abduction of his son. There’s a file, The Balkan Escape, which explains in detail her connection with Sokolov.
Question 3: Are you able to offer any insight into the epidemic of child trafficking in China?
This is truly a major problem, which Lev Sokolov experienced firsthand.
Some estimate that as many as 70,000 children are stolen in China every year. Its one-child policy and a cultural preference for boys has fostered a vicious trafficking industry. Sons traditionally care for their parents and, of course, carry on the family name, so female fetuses are many times either aborted or abandoned. Incredibly, it’s illegal to abandon, steal, or sell a child in China, but not illegal to buy one. I learned that a young boy costs around $900 U.S. That’s a lot of money considering the average Chinese worker earns only about $1,700 U.S. annually. But people pay it. The government is doing something, but not nearly enough to stop it. Lev Sokolov was fighting an uphill battle, and that’s why he called Cassiopeia.
Question 4: What observations, if any, can you offer on Qin Shi’s tomb?
The tomb mound itself has stood in central China for over 2,200 years. It was once the size of the pyramid at Giza in Egypt. It took thousands of men over 12 years to complete the underground palace complex where Qin Shi is buried. His body still rests beneath the mound. The tomb itself is the size of a football field, topped by a jeweled ceiling representative of stars and a floor that depicts Qin Shi’s empire in three dimensions including mountains, villages, roads, and rivers, lakes, and oceans fashioned of mercury. It has remained unexplored, as no Chinese emperor or government has ever allowed anyone inside. The only written account of the interior was penned 2,000 years ago. A kilometer away stands the terra cotta army--an amazing collection of 8,000 unique soldiers, 130 chariots, and 670 horses, all arrayed in tight battle formation. That area is open to the public and its museum complex is extensively visited. Interestingly, when the terra cotta warriors were discovered in 1974, no one had any idea that they ever existed. Remember that practice of purging memories? The same thing happened here. The emperors who came after Qin Shi made sure that every detail of his existence was forgotten. Only in the past few decades has interest in the First Emperor been rekindled.
Question 5: What are your future plans?
To return to my bookshop and earn a living. But you never know what will happen next. I had a dream the other night that I was drawn back home, to the United States, for some reason. Odd I’d imagine that.