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 Three:
The Kremlin, Moscow
May 29, 1987, 10:10 a.m.
Aleksander Petrovka was suspicious and nervous—Mikhail could see that the moment the man entered his office. Petrovka worked in the Kremlin as a member of Mikhail Gorbachev’s personal staff, but his status within Gorbachev’s inner circle was not so lofty that he had ever had occasion to take a private meeting with the general secretary.
“Aleksander,” he said, rising and extending his hand. It was critical he put his underling at ease.
Petrovka shook his hand uncertainly. “You wished to see me, sir?”
“I did,” Mikhail said, smiling. “Let us stroll the grounds.” He knew this development would arouse further concern in Petrovka, but it could not be helped. His office was certainly under surveillance, with listening devices as well as cameras, so broaching the subject here would get them both arrested for treason before an hour had passed.
The men remained silent until they had exited the building. Mikhail could feel Aleksander’s discomfort. It was rolling off him in waves. As they strolled through flower gardens just beginning to bloom in the dank Moscow climate, the secretary spoke in a near-whisper to avoid detection by ubiquitous KGB listening devices. “You are being entrusted with a great honor,” he began. “A patriotic duty. You are being given the opportunity to perform a service to your country far beyond any you may previously have imagined possible.”
Aleksander remained silent and Mikhail removed an innocent-looking envelope from his suit coat. He held it up for Aleksander’s inspection, but kept it close to his body, hoping to conceal it as much as possible from view of surveillance cameras. “You are to leave immediately—we will provide you with a change of clothes for your overnight stay in the GDR. You will be driven straight to Tushino Airfield and fly via private plane to Berlin, where you will pass this envelope along to an operative at the location specified in your paperwork. Please note the envelope has been sealed in wax with my personal insignia, and its contents are classified Top Secret, not for your eyes or anyone else’s except its intended recipient. The consequences of opening it would be severe and immediate. Do you understand, comrade?”
Aleksander nodded slowly. Mikhail could see that he understood. Severe consequences in Russia meant only one thing.
“How will I recognize the envelope’s recipient?” Aleksander asked.
“I am told he suffered facial disfigurement in an automobile accident years ago. A long scar on his right cheek. But you needn’t worry, I have passed your description along and your contact will be watching for you. He will address you as ‘Dolph’ and you will respond, ‘Hello, Henrik.’”
The secretary continued. “After delivering the envelope to your contact, your mission will be complete. You may enjoy the rest of your evening in East Berlin and then fly home tomorrow. Simple, yes?”
Mikhail knew Aleksander wanted to question him. Hell, he could see the man wanted to refuse the assignment. But he also knew he would do as asked. His place was not to question. He was a bureaucrat and had been given an assignment by the most powerful man in the USSR. What else could he do?
Aleksander reached out reluctantly and took the envelope. “Remember,” Mikhail said. “No one is to open this letter.”
“What if…” Aleksander’s voice trailed off.
“What?” Mikhail asked, annoyed. The lack of sleep was catching up to him and he still had a long day ahead.
“Well, what if I am challenged, you know, by the authorities?”
Mikhail reached into his pocket and removed a pen and a small pad of paper. He jotted something down and handed it to Aleksander. “The authorities would have no reason to challenge you, but if you encounter any difficulties, this is my personal telephone number. Anyone wishing to question you can call me, any time, day or night, and I will be happy to explain the situation.”
It was clear to Mikhail that Aleksander was not pleased, but that did not matter. He placed the envelope in the interior breast pocket of his suit coat and the men began walking toward the building. Mikhail knew he had just passed the point of no return. He hoped Aleksander Petrovka was up to the challenge.
The Kremlin, Moscow
KGB monitoring station
May 29, 1987, 10:30 a.m.
Viktor Kovalenko squinted, his eyes glued to a tiny black-and-white monitor. The screen was crammed into a metal rack mounted on the wall next to his desk, alongside eleven similar monitors, each transmitting a different view of the exterior of the Kremlin.
The image was small, but he could see enough to know something unusual was happening. General Secretary Gorbachev was speaking with one of his assistants, something he did regularly throughout the day. But normally the men would be surrounded by aides and secretaries and assorted party apparatchiks. This meeting was being conducted one-on-one, almost an unheard-of scenario with a low-level bureaucrat like Aleksander Petrovka.
The men were engrossed in an intense conversation, Gorbachev doing most of the talking, Petrovka’s body language suggesting he would rather be almost anywhere else in the world. Gorbachev removed something from his pocket and after stressing a point, finger waggling, handed the object to Petrovka.
Kovalenko glanced at his watch and jotted the time down on a small pad of paper, along with a notation regarding Gorbachev’s odd behavior. He squinted, watching the small Russian-made Ekran television monitor closely as he lit a cigarette and took a deep drag. Tried to determine the relative importance of what he was seeing. Decided to play it safe. He picked up a telephone handset and dialed a number from memory.
The call was answered on the first ring, as Kovalenko knew it would be. It always was. He laid out the details on the phone for the KGB watch commander: The virtually unprecedented change to General Secretary Gorbachev’s routine. The seeming reluctance with which Aleksander Petrovka received what Gorbachev had to say. The secretive passing of an object, perhaps an envelope, between the two men.
Despite his familiarity with Gorbachev—he had been assigned to this post for over three years—Kovalenko could not guess what the General Secretary might be up to. Something was definitely amiss, though.
Colonel Kopalev listened without comment for five minutes or more as Kovalenko reported his observations. Finally, when Kovalenko had finished, the colonel said, “Continue observing Secretary Gorbachev. When he leaves his office for the day, I want it thoroughly but discreetly searched. Have your men look for anything unusual and then report back to me with your findings.”
Kovalenko grimaced. “Colonel, the object was passed to Petrovka. I seriously doubt any evidence will remain in Secretary Gorbachev’s office by the end of the day. There’s probably none in there now. If I may suggest following Petrovka—”
“Thank you for your assessment, Major. Of course we will follow Comrade Petrovka. But it changes nothing as far as you are concerned. You have your orders. I will expect to hear from you immediately if your search turns up any useable information.”
“Yes sir,” Kovalenko replied, and the connection was abruptly broken at the other end. His boss had just slammed down the receiver. He replaced the handset in its cradle and lifted his middle finger at it, fully aware that he might be under surveillance as well, that his insolence was probably being observed, but was annoyed enough not to care.
He lit another cigarette and resumed observing the activity in and around the Kremlin.