They say you never forget your first true nemesis. This is true.
He and I first met at the camp in Korea. I was a prisoner of a war we were trying to pretend wasn't happening, yet. He was on the other side, observing the man they'd all been so scared of, but now had in chains.
(Well, a really complicated set of paralytic, power-negating manacles supplied by their friends in Beijing, but let's not get technical.)
The guards were all agog and amused. This was the man that killed Hitler? You must be joking. He looks like any other GI, here. Dirty and humbled and afraid.
He looked at me differently, though. He sized me up, and knew that I was not afraid. I was just acting, watching, biding my time.
He took one look at me and knew me. Who I was. What I was.
What I was going to do.
He claims he didn't smile. I know he did. That little upturn at the corner of his mouth as he looked askance and walked away, knowing full well what was going to happen next, and not wanting to be there when it did? That's how he smiles.
That is exactly how the dragon smiles.
I killed 52 men with my bare hands in ten minutes, not half an hour later. I'd have tried to kill him, too, but The Dragon was already winging it back to China with his confederates and subordinates. When he got there he warned his superiors that America had, indeed, employed strategic talents in the theater, and that if they wanted to see the matter through they had better do the same.
The rest was history, and for ten years after that I hated The Dragon with every fiber of my being, and imagined he felt the same way about me.
It wasn't a difficult leap, given our careers. Every time I turned around, he was there, somewhere, pulling invisible strings and pushing deadly levers. There were plans within plans, traps within traps, and an endless supply of silk screens and false fronts designed to send me every which way but towards him. Death trotted along behind him like an evil, obedient dog, and he had no worries about where the thing might !@#$.
I hated him, but he only ever thought I was a distraction. One of many, as it turned out.
In the sixties things changed. The Soviet Union and China weren't friends, anymore, and The Dragon and I actually found ourselves working towards similar goals from different sides from time to time. Our people kept tripping over each other, and soon we were face to face again, trading punches and one-liners as our mutual plans came crashing down around the transparent architecture of each other's tradecraft.
Friendships were fluid, as were allegiances and alliances. Sometimes he worked with HONEYCOMB and SQUASH (never ABWEHR, to his credit). Sometimes he sold them out, and often for what seemed a laugh. If there was a plan I never figured out what it was. For all I know he was making it up as he went along, day by day, just to insure that China came out on top, and remained "inscrutable."
But I went from a distraction to the distraction, then. This I know.
Then it was the 70's. Nixon went to China, and we all followed suit. Handshakes and wary glances. "Oh, have you met...?" "Oh yes, we have." "A pleasure to once again make your acquaintance." "Likewise." blah blah blah.
All the while, in that little room, with the President on one end and the Premier on the other. Looking only at one another while pretending not to. Subtle chuckles at mistakes in translation. Knowing nods when there was promise of progress.
That little smile.
Thereafter, we were no longer enemies on paper, but rivals. In reality it didn't change a !@#$ thing, but it was amusing to pretend, sometimes. All it meant was that the real throw-downs went down in private, and not out in the streets where other strategic talents (or, more importantly, the Soviets) might see.
We lived that Chinese curse, he and I. Interesting times and all that. Sometimes we saved each other, sometimes we saved the world, and sometimes he held out a hand only to yank it back and try and shoot me with what was in the other.
He was The Dragon, after all. He had a reputation to uphold, and superiors to please. He could behave no other way, or so he insisted.
But again, that little smile.
In the 80's, he hated me with every fiber of his being. That was because of some amusing things The COMPANY did in and around Asia, most of which are still so above-to-secret I'm not even supposed to remember them. The deathtraps and plans got really outrageous, then. Really personal, too.
He even contracted out to Japan, of all places, and I had ninjas attacking me every time I turned around. I don't think they were too happy when they found out who was hiring them, but for a while I had the satisfaction of kicking ninja ass every other week. Often when least expected.
I'd gone from the distraction to the obsession. The smile turned into a sneer.
And then, in the 90's, the obsession petered out and he pretended I didn't exist. That was just fine by me, quite frankly. The ninjas were getting boring, and so were the crazy, cyborg mercenaries that had replaced them. I had other, bigger fish to fry, too, now that the Soviets were done with but the time bombs they'd left behind were still going.
We met, one time, entirely by accident. It was an Outland, back in 1995. I don't know what he was doing there. For once I was genuinely surprised to see him, which is saying something.
And when he looked at me, I got that old smile back. So I abandoned reason, walked over, and offered him a drink. He accepted, and offered a cigarette. I accepted.
We talked for hours. Like soldiers. Like men. He told me some things I'd never guessed at. I confessed a few things, too. It seemed the genteel and correct thing to do, given the circumstances.
"So what was up with that smile, back in the camp?" I asked after the First Church of Jesus Christ, Supervillain, walked by.
"The smile you smiled when I was locked up in that !@#$ manacle you brought them."
"That was no smile. That was... it doesn't translate very well into English. It was a mark of respect. And something more."
"I still get that mark?"
"We're talking, aren't we?"
"True, but you've tried to poison me three times."
He laughed: "And you have a gun aimed at me under the table."
"That's no gun."
"Are you, as they say, happy to see me?"
He looked at me. I looked at him. Again that smile.
We still run into each other, now and again. He's under house arrest, supposedly. He's no longer in official favor for some weird slight of party politics that no one will ever fully understand or know the details of. I'm not even sure of all the specifics, myself, but I think it's nothing to do with him or me.
It's all to do with the changes that have happened, there, in the last few years. Their days of "cowboy diplomacy" are coming to an end. They know they're poised to be the economic superpower as soon as America trips over its debt shoelaces and breaks its jaw on the pavement.
And people like The Dragon are just an embarrassment. A sad reminder that once they had to resort to under-the-table dealings and unsavory allies to stay ahead, instead of being smarter with their money than everyone else.
Every so often he drops me a line, which looks like a lot of bull!@#$ but is actually a special code he knows I broke. In it, he tells me how things are, and what he does. What he reads and watches. What he'd like to be doing.
He always tells me how boring it is to no longer have a friend for an enemy, and every so often I write back and tell him he just has to send me word and I'll have him extricated in seconds. No strings, no deals, no conditions, no !@#$%. Just him on a transport and a new life over here, guaranteed.
But he never sends it.
(SPYGOD is listening to The Power of Love (Frankie Goes to Hollywood) and drinking a Cheerday, with an extra glass for an absent friend.)