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Hu Ji watched the suburban landscape glide past the highway. He was in his early 40s, about 6-foot-1, smooth and confident-looking. His cases had led from Fiji to France to Mexico, making headlines back home. The work was riskier here; in fact, it was illegal. But he knew the turf. He’d identified himself as a Chinese police officer on his tourist visa, and the Americans hadn’t given him any trouble. Sometimes, it was best to hide in plain sight.
Hu’s driver took an exit into a wooded subdivision, cruising by big homes set back from the two-lane road that wound through one of the country’s wealthiest enclaves. The driver was a new recruit, a boyish-looking Chinese immigrant in his late 20s who lived in Queens and called himself Johnny. Johnny’s uncle in Houston had been a target of Hu’s covert team. Two months earlier, they had “persuaded” the uncle, a former chief accountant for a provincial aviation agency, to return to China to stand trial for alleged crimes. Hu had essentially offered a brutal deal to Johnny and his relatives: If you want to help your family, help us destroy someone else’s.
So in September 2016, Johnny became an indentured spy. He’d already done surveillance to prepare for this visit. Stopping the car, Johnny pointed out the location. The cop surveyed the large lawn, the trees flanking a brick path, the two-story house behind bushes.