Tuesday, January 15, 2013

PARALLAX VIEW, Chapter Seven

My brand-new thriller, PARALLAX VIEW, is now available. I'm very excited about this book and will be posting several preview chapters over the course of the day. Here's Chapter Seven:


Berlin, GDR

May 29, 1987, 11:25 p.m.

After his contact had departed, Aleksander savored the relief he now felt. He took a deep pull on his vodka and smiled. It wasn’t up to Russian standards, but it was better than he had expected to find in Germany.

He wondered how long he should wait before departing. His contact had said “a few minutes,” and Aleksander wanted nothing more than to leave this club behind and get on with his life.

He tried not to think about the envelope, but couldn’t help it. General Secretary Gorbachev had indicated it would eventually be delivered to the Americans, of all people, which was strange, but Aleksander didn’t claim to know anything about international diplomacy. Didn’t want to, either. If Comrade Gorbachev wanted the Americans to have the envelope, and was willing to go to such great lengths to conceal its contents from the KGB, who was Aleksander to question the decision?

He shrugged. It was no longer his problem to deal with. The damned envelope was out of his possession. He had done what was asked of him, had performed admirably, he hoped, in service to his country and the Communist Party, and could finally relax. He looked at his watch and decided enough time had passed for his contact to have disappeared into the night.

Aleksander finished his vodka—was that his third or fourth glass? Fifth?—and slammed it down on the tiny table before struggling to his feet, swaying unsteadily. The German vodka may have been a poor substitute for the real thing, but it still packed a satisfying wallop. He placed some of that phony-looking GDR money under his glass and staggered through the crowd, unnoticed and unimpeded, just another Friday night drinker on his way home to face the wrath of his frau.

Aleksander pushed through the door into the cool German night. The stars glittered overhead and a light breeze caressed his flushed face. He felt light-headed, more than he should after just a few glasses of vodka, and decided it was due to lack of sleep and the tremendous strain he had been operating under. But that didn’t matter now. He had done his duty and was in the clear.

He turned right and staggered unsteadily along the dimly lit sidewalk, occasionally sidestepping an onrushing pedestrian or couple walking arm-in-arm. Tomorrow he would take a cab to the airport and fly home to Moscow and the reassuring monotony of his bureaucratic life. Tonight, though, he walked unhurriedly, enjoying the fantasy he had constructed in his alcohol-addled mind. He was a superspy, a man counted on by all of Mother Russia, indeed, all of the USSR, to keep the empire safe. He felled all enemies of the state and was treated like royalty by the Supreme Soviet. He was James Bond, only on the proper side of the equation.

It was an enjoyable fantasy, and Aleksander was lost in it when two men overtook him from behind. They were on him before he knew what was happening, and when they reached him, each one grabbed an elbow in a vice-like grip and propelled him forward. “Do not say a word,” the man on his right side whispered fiercely into his ear in Russian, and Aleksander did not say a word.

He risked a quick glance to his right and then his left. The two men were dressed identically—black overcoats, black slacks, black shoes, even black Homburgs covering their heads. They escorted him directly past the entrance to his hotel, walking him roughly half a kilometer along the main road, still busy with pedestrians at this relatively early hour. None of them paid any attention to him or to the men dressed in black. Aleksander’s heart was racing but he tried not to panic. One call to Secretary Gorbachev’s office and this misunderstanding would be cleared up.

The strange threesome continued, moving so far down the sidewalk that they left the flickering, pre-World War Two-era streetlights behind. They turned a corner into a secluded alleyway, walking Aleksander to an East German-made Trabant automobile parked in the shadows. The car was ancient, tiny. They shoved him wordlessly into the back seat. One of the men leaned over and lifted a foul-smelling cloth from a well-sealed plastic bag in his pocket and pressed it to Aleksander’s face. Aleksander willed himself not to panic and tried not to breathe.

Eventually he did both, in that order, and everything went black.

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