Authors: Greg Dinallo
He was unconscious. Blood ran down the stone from his palms in long streaks. A sign proclaiming
was affixed above his head.
The TV crew had come down the staircase from the balcony, and was running between the horses. The cameraman dropped to one knee in front of the stone door, and began recording the event for the evening news. Paparazzi surged around him, shouting in Italian, pushing, shoving, maneuvering for the best angle.
Andrew and Melanie were coming through a door from the catwalk into the maintenance passageways. The remaining terrorist ran past spotting them, whirled on the move, and opened fire. Andrew and Melanie took cover behind an abutment, the rounds chipped into the stone until the pistol clicked empty and the hooded figure ran. Andrew pursued.
Fausto had left the Maserati and was stretching his legs in the courtyard when the guard’s pipe caught his eye. Anyone could have dropped it, but Fausto had thought it curious no guard was on duty. He crossed to the gatehouse and saw little piles of ash on the ground outside where the guard often rapped the pipe to empty it. Something wasn’t right. He dialed an emergency number on a sticker affixed to the gatehouse wall.
In Borsa’s stables, the door on the staircase exploded open, and the hooded terrorist ran onto the landing, Andrew a few steps behind. He dove through the doorway at the hooded figure. They both tumbled down the stairs into the stable, the Ram-set skittering across the floor.
Melanie came through the door onto the landing, and watched terrified as they grappled below.
The terrorist came out on top, grabbed a handful of Andrew’s hair, slammed his head to the floor, and ran. Andrew got up and dove into the fleeing legs from behind. Again, the hooded figure went down, then, all in one motion, made a catlike swipe at the Ram-set, lunged upward, jammed the muzzle into Andrew’s chest, and pulled the trigger hastily—before the safety depressed. It clicked, but the charge and spike Silvio had loaded earlier to pin Borsa’s feet to the stone door, didn’t fire.
Now they stood face-to-face, hands wrapped around the deadly tool, fighting to control it. Andrew had come within a millimeter of having a sixteen-penny spike planted in the center of his chest, and the thought of it made him overpoweringly aggressive. He charged forward, shoving the Ram-set up and away, and drove his adversary backwards against a stall. The abrupt movement caused one of the terrorist’s gloved hands to slip. The opposing force suddenly removed, the Ram-set pivoted up and back in a rapid arc that slammed the muzzle flat against the balaclava above the sunglasses; the impact depressed the safety shoe, and jammed a finger against the trigger, causing it to fire.
The sixteen-penny spike ripped through the terrorist’s brain, boring a path between the halves of the cortex and shattering the limbic system beneath. Then exiting, it blew a piece of skull out the back of the head, and pinned it and the balaclava to the stall.
Melanie flinched and screamed in fright at the sharp report.
Andrew was frozen by the suddenness with which it all happened. He stood watching the terrorist slide downward against the stall, looking in growing horror at the head that pulled slowly out of the balaclava, at the anguished expression, and the tiny puncture in the forehead that caused it—just above where the brows grew together. The massive exit wound left a long bloody smear on the stall, and there, at the bottom of it, like the period beneath an exclamation mark, was Dominica Maresca’s oval face.
A short distance away, the Arabians that had been galloping into the ring when the massive stone door unexpectedly closed trapping them were still spooked, and their hooves were still trampling Silvio Festa’s broken body.
In the stables, Andrew was staring in shock at Dominica’s face when Melanie screamed again.
“No! No, look out! Look out!” she shrieked at him.
He whirled to see Kovlek, handgun drawn, charging into the stable, a terrifying, fast-moving blur leveling the weapon at him.
The operation had gone wrong, and Andrew was the cause of it. Kovlek had decided
witnesses would best insure the KGB came out clean as Zeitzev had ordered.
Andrew’s reaction was a mixture of fear and confusion. The KGB agent who had abducted Raina Maiskaya was going to kill him. He didn’t know why, and didn’t have a chance of stopping him. He was thinking McKendrick would be furious when he found out he had gotten himself killed when a shot rang out.
Kovlek stiffened and rocked back and forth for a moment. Then the life went out of him, and he collapsed where he stood, revealing Gorodin crouched behind him in the doorway, both hands on his Kalishnikov.
Andrew was too stunned to be relieved, and had no idea what to expect next. Gorodin holstered his weapon, and gestured with his head for them to go. Andrew put an arm around Melanie as she came off the stairs, and they ran from the stables, Gorodin right behind them.
Fausto was hurrying down the road toward Borsa’s stables after making the call from the gatehouse. He heard the shots, pulled his pistol, and leveled it at Gorodin, who appeared to be chasing them.
“No, Fausto! No!” Andrew shouted.
“Who is he?” Fausto asked as he turned and ran with Melanie and Andrew toward the Maserati.
“The Frenchman! He saved my hide!”
“Terrorists! They crucified Minister Borsa in there,” he replied. “Literally.” He paused as they reached the Maserati, then with a weary nervousness added, “I killed one of ’em. Maybe two.”
“We must go,” Fausto said decisively.
Andrew nodded, yanked open the rear door, pushing Melanie in ahead of him. The surging scream of sirens began rising as Fausto started the engine. He slammed it in gear, and was starting to pull away when Gorodin yanked open the front passenger door and jumped in next to him. Fausto slammed his foot to the floor, and the big car ripped across the courtyard, past the gatehouse through the entrance, and accelerated down the street behind the amphitheater.
The sirens grew louder. Police vehicles, roof flashers strobing, came
through the turn up ahead and screeched to sideways stops, blocking the street. Uniformed officers leaped out drawing guns. Fausto slammed on the brakes as they advanced toward the Maserati. An officer pushed a gun through the open window into his face. Fausto shoved his police identification under his nose in reply.
“Set up a checkpoint at the gatehouse,” he barked in Italian to the chagrined officer, adding, “Question everyone who comes out!”
The officer replied with a crisp affirmative, and ordered the police vehicles moved aside, allowing the Maserati to continue through onto the streets.
Melanie sat in the backseat hunched beneath Andrew’s arm, shaking, shocked by all she had seen.
Andrew was numb and woozy, heart pumping his blood so rapidly it was blurring his vision.
“You okay?” he asked, blinking to clear it.
“I think so,” she whimpered, looking up confused. “Who are you?” she asked. “Who’s he?” she indicated Gorodin, who was turned sideways in the front seat.
“Please, allow me,” Gorodin said in slightly accented English before Andrew could reply. “Andrew Churcher—he sells horses for my country. Melanie Winslow—she’s looking for her father there,” he said, introducing them; then gesturing to himself, added, “Valery Gorodin—KGB.” He loathed saying it, but knew it would instantly communicate.
Melanie looked at Andrew in stunned silence.
“I can help both of you get into Russia,” Gorodin concluded.
“I’m leaving for Moscow tonight,” Andrew said sharply. “I don’t need help.”
“Yes,” Gorodin said, matching Andrew’s tone. “Only because you’ve already had it.”
Andrew nodded pensively in acknowledgment. “Thank you,” he said in a subdued voice. Then he held Gorodin’s look, and asked, “Why?”
“Because it’s in the best interests of my country. Your business dealings are very high on the Politburo’s list of priorities.”
Indeed, choosing between Andrew and Kovlek was easy. Gorodin had no doubt whatsoever who was more valuable to the Soviet Union. At worst, Andrew would keep the hard currency coming. At best, he’d divert from business, and lead Gorodin to the source of the
“And me?” Melanie asked, having regained some degree of composure.
“Because you’re here, and it’s within my power. Unless you’d rather wait six months for a visa, maybe a year. After what happened today—maybe never.”
“He’s right,” Fausto chimed in. “You should both get out of Italy, immediately—before the Questura finds out you were involved and holds you as witnesses. In Italy, once the wheels of justice start grinding, they grind for all eternity.”
“Then, that’s your choice, Miss Winslow,” Gorodin said knowingly, “eternity or—tonight.”
Melanie studied him for a moment suspiciously.
“Are you saying you know my father?” she challenged softly. “That you’ll take me to him?”
“Impossible,” Gorodin lied, with finality. “He’s a very important man. A member of the Politburo. He doesn’t even know I exist.” Gorodin knew she’d have no chance of getting anywhere near Deschin. He also knew timing was the key to exerting biographic leverage for maximum gain. He wanted her in Moscow, stalled and desperate, so that when he was strongest and Deschin most vulnerable, he could play his card. “Besides,” he went on, burnishing the deception, “
is my post, Miss Winslow. Once in Moscow, you’re on your own.”
Melanie digested his comments for a moment, then glanced to Andrew.
“Why not?” he said reassuringly. “You have nothing to lose.”
She shifted her look to Gorodin and nodded.
The timing was perfect. Gorodin wouldn’t even have to deal with Zeitzev on the matter. The
would have his hands full trying to cover the shooting of Kovlek in Borsa’s stables, and the questions it would raise about Soviet involvement in the terrorist attack on Italy’s defense minister—just as disarmament talks were commencing.
In the few hours it took Gorodin to force march Melanie’s visa through the Embassy bureaucracy, Fausto drove Andrew and Melanie to their hotels to collect their things, then to the Embassy to pick up the documents, and lastly to the airport.
Inside the packed international terminal at Leonardo da Vinci, travelers clustered around newstands, snapping up the evening papers that had photos of the ghastly crucifixion splashed across the front pages. Others collected around television sets in the bars—watching the videotape of the stone door closing, revealing Giancarlo Borsa hanging on it. Commentators speculated on the affiliation of the terrorists,
their motives, and their objectives, and waited for word on the defense minister, who had been taken to a Rome hospital in critical condition.
And as purple shadows crept across the glittering domes of the eternal city, Aeroflot INT-237 to Moscow came down the runway in a light ground fog, and climbed into the Roman sky.
Andrew sat pensively staring out the window.
“You okay, Andrew?” Melanie asked, after watching him for a few moments. She found his thoughtful gentleness calming, and was attracted to him despite the difference in their ages.
“No,” he replied in a whisper. He couldn’t get Dominica’s face out of his mind. No matter where he looked, her almond-shaped death mask seemed to be looking back with haunting vulnerability.
“Sometimes it helps to talk,” Melanie said.
“Sometimes,” he said, thinking all the talk in the world wouldn’t change the fact that he’d killed two people. Then, realizing he was being insensitive, he turned to Melanie. “I’m sorry,” he said, feeling relieved as her face replaced Dominica’s. “You’ve been through a lot today, too. Tell me about this search for your father.”
“It’s—painfully simple,” she said, choosing the words, and forcing a smile out of him. “For forty-two years, I thought I was Melanie Winslow, daughter of a New Hampshire carpenter. Then, my mother died, and I found out my father is a
, a government official named Aleksei Deschin.”
An anxious ripple went through Andrew, though he concealed it, and was certain she didn’t notice. Three weeks ago, his jaw would have dropped to his chest, and he would have said something like, “My father knew him. Your father is the
who probably had him killed.” But he had become immune to surprises, and was more calculating now. He knew Gorodin had been assigned to him because he was Theodor Churcher’s son, and had no doubt Deschin had ordered the surveillance. So he knew Gorodin had lied to Melanie, and was up to something. He decided to say nothing—for the time being, anyway.
“It’s such a strange feeling,” Melanie went on. “I mean, this man, Zachary Winslow, gave me his name, read me bedtime stories, and held me when I had nightmares. He taught me to ride horses, paid for my dance lessons, and—I mean, this wonderful man I called daddy”—she shrugged uncomprehendingly—“isn’t my father. And the man who really is—who’s my flesh and blood, my genes, my roots, my traditions,
—turns out to be somebody I never knew. And it’s—” she paused, sensing Andrew’s distance. “I’m sorry,” she said. “I didn’t mean to run on like that. It’s just sort of overwhelming to find out your father is someone other than you thought.”
Andrew nodded slightly, a sad irony in his eyes, and said, “I know.”
* * * * * *
“Life does not give itself to one who tries to keep all its advantages at once. I have often thought morality may perhaps consist solely in the courage of making a choice.”
Weeks had passed since a cold, harsh rain blasted over the Urals from Siberia, and scrubbed the grime from Moscow streets, heralding an early spring.
Aleksei Deschin was sitting in his study in the once grand building on Proyzed Serova Street in his robe and pajamas, angrily reading KGB reports on the day’s events in Rome, when the door buzzer rang.
It was 10:17
He peered through the security peephole, then opened the door, letting a young woman into the apartment.
He led the way to the bedroom. Then he sat on the carved walnut bed, watching her undress.
She was young, maybe twenty, twenty-two, Deschin calculated, with a taut robustness, white flesh, and pink up-turned nipples that aroused him. She was state-supplied. And like the countless others who had been dispatched into the night whenever he made the call, he’d never seen her before and would never see her again.
When she was naked, she bounded across the room, climbed onto the bed, and, kneeling between his legs, put her face close to his and tried to kiss him.
He leaned away, and, gently pushing her head down into his lap, said, “My needs are simple, and I prefer them quickly satisfied.”
She hid her disappointment. She’d expected to spend the night. It was her profession, and proud of her specialties, she was anxious to perform fully for a member of the Politburo who might recommend her.
But this was all Deschin ever wanted from any of them. Sex had long ceased to be more than a mechanical release. He couldn’t remember the last time he’d been an active participant, or made love to a woman, or been with one in a way that might resemble a procreative act.
The rhythm of the blond head bobbing between his knees quickened. There was a dressing mirror opposite the bed; but with each of these young women, Deschin couldn’t help thinking,
She’s somebody’s daughter
, and he never watched. The surge was rising now. He began arching his back against the headboard, and as she brought him to the moment, he grabbed two handfuls of her hair, keeping her head just where he wanted it. His body was sagging back against the pillows when he thought he heard the phone ring, and when she looked up at him to ascertain if she had pleased him, it rang again. He closed his robe, and nodded wearily, and she understood and handed him the phone.
It was the Premier’s aide, Vasily. The call Deschin long dreaded had come.
Twenty minutes later he was fully dressed and hurrying in the darkness to a waiting sedan. The cultural minister rarely went out at such a late hour. When Uzykin saw Deschin’s grave expression he knew his destination was the Kremlin.
The black Chaika crossed Dzerzhinsky Square, accelerating beneath a latticework of cottonwoods into Karl Marx Prospekt, and headed west in the center lane reserved for vehicles of government officials.
The mature one-hundred-foot trees, planted by Stalin at Franklin D. Roosevelt’s suggestion, were already budding. Moscow’s streets would soon be dusted with snowy pookh, the tufts of silky fiber released by the female cottonwood.
Deschin sat glumly in the Chaika, wishing the problem he’d be facing could be eliminated as easily as the flammable pookh which, as every Moscow schoolchild knows, ignites at the touch of a match, and vanishes instantly in a brilliant flash.
The Chaika came out of Karl Marx Prospekt, crossed Gorkovo, and approached the Kremlin.
The bureaucratic citadel is a sixteenth-century walled fortress. Dark red brick, twenty feet thick in some places, stretches almost eight hundred meters between corners of an inverted trapezoid. Golden onion-shaped domes of four cathedrals swell above the crenellated walls, and
countless towers spike skyward, the five tallest thrusting illuminated red stars aloft—into a heavy mist that diffused them.
The Chaika drove the length of the wall to the southwest corner, and entered the Kremlin through a gate at the base of the Borovitsky Tower. It continued up the steep hill, past the Great Kremlin Palace, and beneath the arch of the Council of Ministers Building, stopping inside the triangular courtyard.
Deschin entered via an ornate bronze door, walked beneath the gilded dome, and hurried down a long corridor to Premier Dmitri Kaparov’s apartment.
The Premier’s wife; aide, Vasily; and personal physician, along with Anatoly Chagin, head of GRU; and KGB Chief Sergei Tvardovskiy were gathered in the bedroom where the Soviet Premier lay near death.
A tangle of tubes and wires snaked from beneath the bedding to vital signs’ monitors and life-support systems. The ping of the EKG monitor alternated with the asthmatic hiss of the dialysis machine.
“When?” Deschin asked softly as he entered, his nostrils filling with the suffocating smell of illness.
The doctor turned from the equipment and shrugged.
“Morning, midday at the latest, Comrade Minister,” she said.
“Poor Dmitri,” his wife whispered sadly, adding almost apologetically, “he thought he had more time.”
“We all did,” Chagin said, his lips barely moving.
“Yes, you said three months,” Tvardovskiy growled, challenging the doctor.
“I know,” she replied. “I’m afraid the recent stress accelerated his deterioration.”
Deschin stepped to the bed and studied Kaparov’s ashen face, knowing his friend would not live to see SLOW BURN realized. He took the Premier’s hand and squeezed it gently. He was about to let go when Kaparov squeezed back—hard, as if he knew who it was. Deschin’s lips tightened in a thin smile. He turned to the Premier’s wife and hugged her. Then he crossed the room and led Vasily, Chagin, and Tvardovskiy down the corridor to the Premier’s office.
Vasily entered the ornate chamber last, closing the door. As the Premier’s longtime aide, matters of protocol, such as the arrangements for a state funeral, were his responsibility. “How shall I proceed?” he asked, careful not to direct the question to one man over the others.
“The procedures are clearly outlined in Article Twenty-seven, comrade,” Tvardovskiy snapped. “I suggest you follow them.”
“No,” said Deschin decisively. His title was minister of culture; but when it came to SLOW BURN, his power was second only to the Premier’s. “Things are going too well in Geneva. We can’t appear to be without leadership, now. We can’t lose our momentum.”
“I agree,” Tvardovskiy said. “But the Americans know of the Premier’s condition. They—”
“How? How do they know?” Deschin interrupted rhetorically. “Not by what they see.”
“Of course not,” Tvardovskiy replied impatiently. “The opposite has always been their only gauge.”
“Exactly,” Deschin said. “When they don’t see the Soviet Premier, they conclude he’s ill. But they have no way of determining degree. Tomorrow, he will have recovered sufficiently to leave the Kremlin. Find a military pensioner, preferably a senile one. Dress him in the Premier’s greatcoat and hat. Put the old fellow in his limousine and get it out in the streets—where their press people can see it.”
“Fine, Aleksei,” Tvardovskiy said. “But how long do you think we can—”
“—A day, two, ten,” Deschin snapped. “Every
we give Pykonen before making the announcement brings the unchallenged nuclear superiority Comrade Dmitrievitch wanted for his people that much closer.”
“I’ll do it,” Chagin said. He turned and left before either of them could reply.
Tvardovskiy started after him.
“Sergei?” Deschin said sharply, waiting until he had paused and turned to face him before continuing. “You spoke to Zeitzev?”
Tvardovskiy winced, revealing the gold edges atop his incisors. He’d been hoping the subject wouldn’t come up.
“Giancarlo Borsa is an old friend. And heavily involved in Geneva,” Deschin went on tautly. He paused, then, with quiet outrage, asked, “How? How the hell did that happen?”
Tvardovskiy stared at him for a long moment while he brought his temper under control.
“It will be taken care of,” he said gravely. He was about to warn Deschin not to use that tone when it occurred to him, he might just be addressing the next Soviet Premier.
* * * * * *
Aeroflot INT-237 from Rome had flown a northeasterly course across the Adriatic, Yugoslavia, Hungary, the eastern tip of Czechoslovakia
into western Russia, and was on final approach to Sheremetyvo International Airport, in the desolate flatlands twenty-six miles northwest of Moscow.
“By the way,” Andrew said, taking Melanie’s hand, “in case you’ve heard those stories about Russian air traffic controllers looking at their screens through glasses of vodka—”
“I was just wondering about that,” she replied, amused rather than alarmed.
“No problem,” he concluded. “The ATC system here was manufactured by Churchco Electronics. It’s the best in the world.”
“Churchco—” she said, connecting his name to the conglomerate. “You’re—”
“Theodor Churcher’s my father,” he said, nodding. “As they say, I made my money the old-fashioned way—” he cut off the sentence, leaving the joke unfinished. It was the first time he had actually thought about inheriting the billion-dollar empire.
Sheremetyvo was a modern, efficiently run airport, and in minutes they had landed, deplaned, and cued for passport control. A young inspector with a sullen face and brown uniform processed Andrew’s travel documents, then began digging through his bag. He unzipped one of the pouches, removed an electric razor, and held it up.
“Is for what?”
“Shaving?” Andrew replied, making the motion over his face with his hand.
The inspector eyed him suspiciously, then shifted his eyes to the shaver, looking for a way to open it; finally he took a penknife from a pocket.
“Hold it,” Andrew said, concerned he would damage it. “I’ll do it, okay?” He took the shaver and popped off the rotary heads.
The inspector shook his head no, unsatisfied. “Where is cord?” he challenged.
Andrew understood, now. The shaver was a battery-operated model, and had multicolor indicator lights, nine shaving modes with calibrated selector, and sleek packaging. To the inspector it looked suspiciously high tech and electronic, as its designers intended.
Andrew turned it on and ran it across his face, trying not to appear smug about it.
The inspector eyed him coldly, and shoved his bag aside, dismissing him. Melanie was next. He swept his steely eyes over her. “Papers please.”
He’s probably going to take it out on me,
she thought, as she handed them to him.
The inspector examined and stamped her passport, then brusquely unfolded her visa. His eyes widened, his expression softened, and he handed it back, waving her on without checking her bags.
“Mr. Warmth must have a thing for older women,” Melanie said as they walked off.
“Does your visa have a small green crest stamped across the signature?” Andrew asked.
“Yes, it does—”
“It’s a special clearance. My father’s visa had one. It took him years to get it.”
“Now we know what Gorodin meant when he said it was within his power.”
Andrew nodded, reflecting on his suspicions.
“So much for middle-age charm,” Melanie concluded.
The Tupolev 134 had taken three hours and twenty minutes to cover the fifteen hundred miles between Rome and Moscow. With the two-hour loss of time, it was well after midnight when they arrived at the Hotel Berlin on Zhadanova Street in the theater district.
The Berlin’s lobby was deserted and quiet.
They were both too exhausted to appreciate the plush Victorian decor as they trudged to the check-in desk. The clerk was off to one side doing paperwork, and didn’t notice them. Andrew lightly tapped the bell.
the clerk said as he looked up and approached them.
“We’d like to check in, please,” Andrew replied. “Mr. Churcher, Miss Winslow.”
“Oh, yes, Mr. Churcher,” the clerk said.
He took their passports, slipped a card from a file box, and gave it to Andrew to fill out. Then he prepared a
—a hotel pass that contains one’s name, length of stay, and room number—and pushed it across the mahogany counter to Andrew.
“Give this to the hall attendant on your floor,” he said. “She’ll give you your key. Reverse the procedure when you leave. The propoosk must be given to the doorman to be allowed to leave the hotel.”
“Yes, thanks, I know,” Andrew replied.
“I’ll have someone bring your bags,” the clerk said. He smiled, and returned to his work, assuming Andrew and Melanie were together.
Melanie saw Andrew was about to say something, and touched his arm, stopping him.
“Don’t,” she said warmly.
Andrew studied her for a moment, then smiled wistfully and turned back to the desk.
“Excuse me, but the lady’s checking in as well.”
The clerk reddened, apologized profusely, and went through the check-in procedure with Melanie. In a few minutes, she and Andrew, propoosks in hand, were walking a long empty corridor to the elevator.
“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to embarrass you,” she said.
“You didn’t. I was just being cautious.”
“I don’t understand.”
“They tapped my phone in Rome.”
“That’s how they do business,” Andrew said with a shrug, not mentioning that he suspected his father’s collaboration with the Russians was the cause. “The guidebooks say, ‘Hotel Berlin, cozy, Victorian elegance, favorite of businessmen,’ ” he went on. “The truth is, they favor it because they have no choice. The government wanted me here, and that’s where Intourist put me. And why does the government want me here?”
“To watch you—”
“But we would just be lovers.”
“I know,” he said softly, letting his eyes catch hers before adding, “And I’d like that—”
Melanie returned his look and smiled.
““—but they’re always looking for an edge. For something they can use against you.”
“Well,” she said, teasing, “I wouldn’t want them to destroy your reputation by revealing you’re sleeping with an older woman.”