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 Two:
The Kremlin, Moscow
Mikhail Gorbachev’s residence
May 28, 1987, 11:15 p.m.
Mikhail Gorbachev trudged into his den. He was exhausted and felt like a man carrying the weight of the world on his shoulders. Raisa had gone to bed hours ago, but sleep would be elusive for Mikhail tonight. He eased into his plush leather office chair, selected a sheet of custom stationery, and got to work.
This might be the most important letter he would ever write, and it was imperative he compose it here, at home. Working in his office, filled as it was with monitoring equipment, would risk his words being seen by the wrong set of eyes.
So he began writing, taking his time despite the fact he had put in a full day already and had another long day planned for tomorrow. He paused every few words to rub his chin and think. It was critical every word be phrased to convey the proper sense of urgency. Mikhail knew full well the letter’s recipient would be suspicious, if not outright dismissive, of the veracity of his words and the motives behind them. And that was assuming the letter even reached its intended destination.
Mikhail realized he was probably under surveillance here, too, but working at night in his home office was not an unusual occurrence and should not elicit undue suspicion. More importantly, the quality of the surveillance cameras here was likely a step below those in his executive office. It was a risk, but a calculated one, and one worth taking.
He had long-since grown accustomed to being watched. Clandestine KGB surveillance was ingrained in the consciousness of Soviet society, accepted as just as much a part of the late-twentieth century Russian experience as exquisite vodka and blisteringly cold winters. Still, he hunched over his work, shielding the letter to the maximum extent possible with his body’s bulk. The KGB might not be able to read the specifics of what he was writing, but they could probably guess the subject. And that made this communique one of the most dangerous pieces of paper in the world.
Once he finished crafting the letter, the next step would be to enlist a trustworthy courier to make delivery. That would be a tricky and dangerous proposition, and where his plan could easily fall apart. A contact well-versed in espionage techniques would be the obvious choice, and as Soviet General Secretary, Gorbachev could take his pick of the skilled KGB operatives in their considerable arsenal.
But there was a problem. This assignment would require personal loyalty, and a career spy would have no reason to offer such loyalty to Mikhail Gorbachev. In theory, Russia’s espionage service existed to support the Communist party, of which he was titular head. The reality, however, was much different. KGB officials enjoyed tremendous power and were accustomed to wielding that power to their own benefit. Mikhail knew if he entrusted this mission to the KGB, the document would not be out of his hands thirty minutes before it would be undergoing intensive scrutiny. And the consequences of that could be dire.
But Mikhail Gorbachev had not risen to power through the cutthroat ranks of the Soviet political system by being timid—or by being stupid. He wielded power and influence, too, and his inner circle was filled with men fiercely protective of him. Not only because he was their friend and confidant, but also because their livelihoods depended upon his maintaining power. Were he to be overthrown, the new Russian leader would bring in new lieutenants, disposing of the old power brokers in whatever manner he saw fit.
Including making the most knowledgeable—and thus most dangerous—of them disappear.
Gorbachev knew the courier would have to be a man inside his inner circle, but it could not be someone so close to the General Secretary that he was indispensable, because the odds of the man completing the mission successfully and also returning alive were slim. Practically nil, he thought grimly.
The Soviet leader took a break from composing his letter and flipped it face down, then stretched out in his chair. His eyes were tired, burning from the exhaustion of a full day followed by the stress of tonight’s illicit work. Tomorrow he would have to carry on as though he had gotten a good night’s sleep. It would not be easy, but then nothing was easy in a world where Mother Russia’s hold over the rest of the Soviet republics was slipping steadily away.
The world was shrinking, and people who at one time were easily controlled via intimidation were beginning to demand freedoms unthinkable just a decade ago under Russian rule. No one inside the Kremlin wanted to admit it, but the burden of repressing the citizens of so many nations, all yearning for freedom and self-government, was stretching the Soviet Union to the breaking point. The largest military in the world was not going to be enough. Things had to change, and they had to change soon, but most inside the ruling body of the USSR refused to see it. They buried their heads in the sand and pretended the year was still 1962.
Mikhail Gorbachev knew better. The Soviet Union was headed for disaster. It was inevitable, and would tear his country apart. The KGB had set a plan in motion that would cause a massive shift in global conditions, allowing them to consolidate their own hold on power, and he could not allow that plan to happen. It was too extreme. It would trigger World War Three.
So he would do what must be done. But to challenge the KGB openly would be foolhardy and likely considered treasonous. He would disappear without a trace in the middle of the night, just like millions of his countrymen had disappeared under Josef Stalin. The KGB could make it happen, his status as Communist Party General Secretary notwithstanding, and no one would question a thing. A new leader would be installed and the system would lurch along toward its own demise.
This was why he worked in exhausted solitude at his desk while the rest of Moscow slumbered. This was why he risked everything. For his beloved country. He yawned and rubbed his eyes. He whittled down the list of potential couriers in his mind. He chewed on them endlessly until he decided on the perfect candidate.
Aleksander Petrovka’s official title was Undersecretary for Domestic Affairs. Aleksander would do as instructed, particularly if properly motivated. He was fairly intelligent for a party apparatchik, maybe even intelligent enough to pull off what Mikhail needed of him.
Tomorrow they would talk, and Mikhail would put his own plan in motion, the one which would, with any luck, negate the KGB’s. He would dispatch Petrovka to East Berlin on the first available plane. The KGB would know something was up but would not have time to stop him, provided Mikhail acted quickly and decisively.
He nodded, alone in his office. Having decided upon a courier, Mikhail felt a great weight lifting from his shoulders. The plan would either work or it would not, but solidifying things, even if only in his mind, made Mikhail feel better, like he was accomplishing something of significance. He straightened in his chair and got back to work.