Flower Net





  1 JANUARY 10

  2 JANUARY 20

  3 JANUARY 21–22

  4 JANUARY 23

  5 JANUARY 27–29

  6 JANUARY 30

  7 JANUARY 31



  10 LATER






  16 FEBRUARY 6–7

  17 FEBRUARY 10

  18 FEBRUARY 11

  19 LATER

  20 FEBRUARY 12

  21 LATER

  22 FEBRUARY 13

  23 LATER








  For my husband,

  with love


  I wish to thank Richard Drooyan, Nathan Hochman, Nora Manella, and Carolyn Turchin who shared with me their experiences of working at the U.S. Attorney’s Office over the years. I am also grateful to Special Agent Dan Martino of the FBI, agent George Phocus of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Ken Goddard of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Forensics Laboratory, and Deborah Mitchell of U.S. Customs for their stories and expertise. In addition to those listed above, I am thankful for the work of the World Wildlife Federation and Traffic, both of which keep a vigilant eye on the trade in endangered animals and products made from them. Their publications bolstered several first-person accounts, as well as helped me to understand what I had seen in herbal markets, an herbal medicine institute, and a bear farm in China.

  Although I had heard many legends of the real Liu Hulan, it took the fine folks at UCLA Special Collections to locate two books on her: Stories from Liu Hulan’s Childhood (Chen Li) and Liu Hulan: Story of a Girl Revolutionary (Hsing Liang). On the other hand, much has been written about the Cultural Revolution, and I am particularly indebted to the memoirs of Rae Yang, Anchee Min, and Zhai Zhenhua. I have long admired historian W. J. F. Jenner’s insights into the history and culture of China. Du Xichuan and Zhang Lingyuan’s survey of China’s legal system, as well as A. Zee’s meticulous account of the importance of bear paw in Chinese cuisine, helped me keep my facts straight. I also want to acknowledge Nicholas Eftimiades for his research into Chinese intelligence operations and Mark Salzman for his help with the title for Flower Net. The watershed work of Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn continues to be an inspiration to me.

  For the bloody details, I relied on John Douglas’s groundbreaking research on serial killers, Dr. Werner Spitz’s forensics knowledge, and William Kleinknecht’s The New Ethnic Mobs for additional background on the changing face of organized crime. Dr. Pamela Maloney and Dr. Gretchen Kreiger offered invaluable information on Chinese herbal medicine, while Sophia Lo helped me with my Mandarin and other issues relating to the Chinese language. I am likewise indebted to several people in Beijing and Chengdu who prefer to remain anonymous.

  The wildlife trade, Chinese culture, and U.S.-Sino relations would remain inaccessible and incomprehensible if not for the measured and accurate reports of many journalists. These include: Marcus Brauchli, Kenneth Zhao, Andrew and Leslie Cockburn, Christine Courtney, Susan Essoyan, Seth Faison, Maggie Farley, James Gerstenzang, Michael J. Goodman, Marlowe Hood, Evelyn Iritani, K. Connie Kang, Jeff Kass, Elaine Kurtenbach, Jim Mann, Ronald J. Ostrow, Richard C. Paddock, Rone Tempest, Paul Theroux, Patrick E. Tyler, Xiao-huang Yin, and Fareed Zakaria.

  At a very dark moment, Jessica Saltsman came in with a breezy smile and lots of energy. She saved the day! Alicia Diaz also provided me with peace of mind.

  I am, as always, beholden to Sandra Dijkstra and the wonderful people in her office for their indefatigable enthusiasm. They’re the best! Ron Bernstein was inspiring as he guided me through uncharted waters. Larry Ashmead at HarperCollins and Alan Ladd Jr. were exceedingly generous in their early support, for which I will be forever grateful. Huge thanks must also go to my editor, Eamon Dolan. I didn’t know editors could be so much fun or so funny. It’s been an honor and a pleasure.

  My deepest appreciation goes to my family. My mother, Carolyn See, my sister, Clara Sturak, and our good friends John Espey and Chris Chandler always provide sound—and loving—criticism. My sons, Alexander and Christopher Kendall, have been indispensable on issues of plot and gore. Finally, I need to thank my husband, Richard Kendall, for the access he provided me, for the trips to China and those karaoke bars, and, ultimately, for his kindness, loyalty, and strength. This book never would have been written if not for him.



  Bei Hai Park

  Wing Yun held tightly to his granddaughter’s mittened hand as he guided her in slow rhythmic glides across the frozen expanse of Bei Hai Lake just outside the burnished walls of the Forbidden City. On the opposite shore, Wing Yun could see the Beijing City Young People’s Speed Skaters hard at their interval training. Behind the team, shrouded in a haze of coal smoke and heavy gray clouds, he saw the Five Dragon Pavilion and the Hall of Celestial Kings. Nearby, along the walkways surrounding the lake, old people swept last night’s dusting of snow with bamboo brooms. Based on the solidity of the ice beneath the blades of his old skates and the way the air billowed and steamed with every breath he took, Wing Yun guessed that it must be –15 degrees Celsius. And this was as warm as it would get today.

  Wing preferred to stay on this side of the lake just inside the main entrance to the park, where the old Round City curved around what had once been a fortress protecting the residence of Kublai Khan. Very close to shore and accessible by footbridge was Jade Island. In summer, Wing Yun liked to stroll along its covered pathways, stopping at the sheltered pavilions along the way. If it wasn’t too hot or humid, he might climb to the top of the hill to the White Dagoba, an onion-shaped shrine built in the Tibetan style to honor the first visit of the Dalai Lama in 1651.

  Wing Yun kept his granddaughter in the area near the loudspeakers. Old-fashioned dance music drifted across the frozen expanse. Here and there, twosomes tangoed and waltzed. Other young couples giggled together. A few even held hands, and Wing Yun thought, Ah, how life is changing. When I was young, no one, no one, could hold hands in public. Even now he wondered what the parents of these couples would think if they saw their children acting so brazenly in front of—well, in front of so many citizens. Nearby, families—mama, baba, grandparents, aunts, uncles, and many children—laughed and teased one another. They made picturesque tableaux, bundled in old-style padded blue jackets and brightly colored Western-style coats, mittens and mufflers. Many of the younger children—still struggling to find their balance—held on to wooden chairs outfitted with runners. Seated on these chairs, grandparents beamed as their grandchildren pushed them along.

  Wing Yun was familiar with many of the skaters, but today, as usual, a few strangers tried this bit of exercise for the first time. He and his granddaughter had nearly been knocked over by two uniformed soldiers. Wing Yun didn’t scold them as he might have. He could see they were just country boys, perhaps peasants from South China. They had probably never seen snow and ice before.

  Wing Yun and Mei Mei had spent many days together here this winter. She was a good companion for him. She didn’t mind quiet and often seemed as engrossed in her own thoughts as he was in his. Right now, he could feel her fingers moving inside her mitten. She wanted to skate out on her own, but he was reluctant to loosen his grip.

  “Sing to me, Mei Mei,” he said. “Sing me that song
about the ice.”

  She looked up at him, and he had to push her scarf down so he could see her cheeks flushed pink by the cold. She smiled at him, then began to sing “Nine Nine,” which recounted the nine phases of winter and cautioned the listener about the season’s dangers. He could remember the song from his own childhood; it was familiar to anyone raised on the North China Plain.

  “One nine, two nine: hands can’t show,” she began, her voice as crisp as the afternoon air. “Three nine, four nine: on ice go. Five nine, six nine: river willows seen. Seven nine: ice crack! Eight nine: swallows back.”

  Wing Yun joined in for the last line. “Nine nine and one nine more, oxen in fields encore.” The last notes faded into the icy quiet, then Wing Yun asked, “What ‘nine’ are we in, Mei Mei?”

  “Three nine, because the ice is good and we can skate.”

  “That’s right. And what will happen at seven nine?”

  “Grandpa!” she said indignantly. “I promise not to skate then. I always tell you that.”

  “I just want you to be careful,” he said. “Now, do you think you’re ready to go by yourself?”

  A shy smile crept across her features, and he watched as she took a deep breath of anticipation. Then he pulled to a stop and released her mittened hand. With her narrow ankles wobbling, she edged out on her own. With each stride, she grew more confident.

  “Don’t go too close to the middle,” he called out, though he knew that at this “three-nine” time in January it was perfectly safe. Still, his granddaughter slowed, then set off toward a deserted area of the lake near the shore. As Wing Yun followed, he noticed how few grooves there were here in the ice. Funny, he thought, how people like to stick together—the racing team so far away, the families gathered in groups near the main gate and no one in between.

  Just as Mei Mei neared the bank, she lost her balance. Her arms flailed about her for a moment as she tried to regain her equilibrium. Then she fell forward, hard. Wing Yun hesitated. Would she cry?

  The little girl sat up, stared at the ice before her, and began a high-pitched wail that cut through the romantic waltz music, the soft conversations of young lovers, and the jovial teasing of the family groups. Wing Yun skated quickly to his granddaughter. Once he reached her side, he, too, wanted to scream. Before his granddaughter, a man lay embedded in the ice. He stared up at Wing Yun and Mei Mei, wide-eyed but unseeing. He was a white ghost, a foreign devil, a white man.

  Two hours later, Liu Hulan arrived on the scene. The atmosphere had changed dramatically since the body had been discovered. All of the skaters were off the ice and being held as witnesses in one of the pavilions on the shore. Local police guarded the perimeter of the crime scene. Within their loose circle, Hulan could see other men in plainclothes, some looking for evidence, others standing and talking to a citizen and a small child. At the very center of the circle, a man hunched over a dark shape lying next to a small mound of what appeared to be shaved ice. Liu Hulan sighed, pulled her scarf and the collar of her lavender down coat up over her ears, and set out across the ice.

  She seemed oblivious to the ripple her arrival caused among the men. If they could have gotten their nerve up to say what attracted their attention to her, they might have pointed out that she was too beautiful for her job, that she dressed differently from other women they knew, that she was vain, that she always held herself apart. In just a few answers the men would have moved from the hazardous territory of sex to the safe realm of political criticism that they knew so well.

  It would have been easy to attack her on her physical presentation, except that she didn’t seem particularly interested in the Western-style fashions that had been available in the city in recent years. She preferred to wear pre-Revolutionary clothes: long skirts tailored to fit her sleek shape and cream-colored embroidered silk blouses of antiquated Chinese cut that crossed at her breast. In winter she added cashmere sweaters made in villages along the Mongolian border and dyed to soothing tones of coral, aqua, and winter white. These colors set off her complexion in ways that brought to mind all the time-honored descriptions of women in China: Her skin was as translucent as fine porcelain, as delicate as the rose petal, as soft as a good-luck peach.

  Liu Hulan would have laughed at any such comparisons. She dismissed her beauty. She never wore makeup. She didn’t perm her black hair, wearing it, instead, in a blunt cut that reached just below her shoulders. It was always slipping forward over her ears in silky waves. A few strands always seemed to stick straight out from her head as though electrified. More than one man had wanted to run his hands through them. But none of her male colleagues would have ever risked touching, even casually, Inspector Liu Hulan.

  As she reached the circle, she held up her credentials from the Ministry of Public Security and was waved through. Walking these last few steps, she braced herself for what she would see. She had been with the MPS for eleven years now but still had not hardened herself completely to the sight of the dead, especially those who had died violently.

  Fong, the pathologist, looked up from the body. “Another pretty one for you, Inspector,” he said, grinning.

  The victim, a young white man, had been laid on a clean white sheet. The workers, whose gruesome task was to chisel the body out of the lake, had done their job carefully. The corpse was still encased in a thin shroud of ice. His form was straight and flat. Only one arm twisted awkwardly away from his torso. His fingernails were dark purple. His eyes and his mouth were open. Everywhere else on the body, the icy shroud showed pure white, but here, in the victim’s mouth—where his teeth appeared as horrible black pearls—as well as in his nostrils, the ice was tinged pink. Other than this, Liu Hulan could see no external signs of injury.

  “Have you turned him over yet?”

  “What do you think?” Fong retorted. “This is my first case? Of course I turned him over. I don’t see anything, but that doesn’t mean I won’t find something when I get him back to the lab. I can’t get all of the ice off of him out here without damaging the body. So we’re just going to have to wait. Let him thaw out, then I’ll know something.”

  “But what do you think?”

  “Maybe he was drunk. Maybe he came out here on the night before the big freeze. Maybe he stumbled. Maybe he hit his head. I don’t see any signs of this, but it’s possible.”

  Liu Hulan thought about that scenario, then said, “He looks pretty young to me. If he fell in the water, or even through the ice, wouldn’t he have had the strength to pull himself out?”

  “Okay, Inspector, lesson time,” Pathologist Fong said, his voice sharpening. He never liked it when she questioned his expertise. He stood and stared up at her. He was several inches shorter than Liu Hulan, and he didn’t like this either. “You take an average person. I’m talking about a man of average height for a foreigner, maybe five feet ten inches. He’s wearing everyday clothes. In this case, I see he’s wearing just jeans, a shirt, a sweater.”


  “So, our average man here—dressed in street clothes and in good physical health—should be able to last about forty-five minutes in water that’s less than about two degrees Celsius. Something kept him from fighting his way to shore.”

  “You think it’s alcohol?”

  “Could be. Could be a drug overdose.”


  “I can think of better ways,” Fong said and grinned again as he squatted back down next to the body.

  Liu Hulan bent over to get a closer look at the victim. “What’s this blood in his mouth? Does that have something to do with freezing to death?”

  “No, I don’t know what caused that. Maybe he bit his tongue. Maybe he broke his nose in the fall. I’ll let you know later.”

  “Does it bother you that he isn’t wearing a coat? Could he have been dragged out here and dumped?”

  “Everything about this case bothers me,” the pathologist answered, “but if you’re thinking murder, you’re just going to have
to wait for the results of the autopsy.”

  “One last question. Is it him?”

  “I haven’t been able to get in his pockets yet, but it sure looks like the photos they gave us.” He jutted his chin over to the shore. “I’ve been waiting for you to get here. I think you’d better deal with them.” Liu Hulan followed his gaze and saw a Caucasian couple sitting on a wrought-iron bench.


  Fong snorted. “Are you surprised?”

  “No.” Liu Hulan sighed. “But I wish I wasn’t the one who had to tell them.”

  “That’s why the vice minister sent you.”

  “I know, but that doesn’t mean I have to like it.” As an afterthought, she asked, “How did they know to come?”

  “Their son has been missing for over a week, and the victim appears to be the right age, the right race. The vice minister called you after he sent the car for them.”

  Hulan absorbed the political implications of this information and said, “I’ll come down to the lab later. And thanks.”

  She looked at the body one more time, then over to the shore. The Caucasian couple would have to wait a few more minutes.

  As she usually did at a crime scene, she began stepping backward away from the body. With each step, her view of the scene widened. Although digging out the body had been a difficult job, the workmen had meticulously kept the excess ice in one neat pile adjacent to the shallow grave. And although there had been dozens of people on the scene, the ice was so hard that it still appeared utterly smooth except for two sets of skate tracks. One set etched deep grooves, the other only lightly scraped the surface. Liu Hulan could see no signs of a struggle, no blood, or any other imperfections in or on the ice.

  She turned now and walked briskly to where an old man and a little girl huddled together. The old man’s arm was draped protectively over the child’s shoulder. They were still wearing their skates.

  “Good afternoon, uncle,” Hulan said, bestowing a polite honorific on this stranger.