Authors: Greg Dinallo
Shops were closing, and the streets were desolate. There was little activity around the warehouses and piers when he arrived. An icy wind came off the water in noisy gusts that answered the moan of boat horns.
Dusk was falling.
Andrew walked between fog-shrouded buildings, ripe with the stench of urine and creosote, until he found Number 37. It was a weathered three-story hulk, made of brick and corrugated steel. He glanced at the entrance but kept walking in order to familiarize himself with the building and surrounding area.
A few miles away, refusenik Mordechai Stvinov came out of the Frunze Naval College on Liniya, where he worked as a math tutor. Several years ago, he had given up his position as a maritime engineer
with the Naval Ministry, distancing himself from so called state secrets in the hope of eventually being allowed to emigrate.
Mordechai went to a bicycle that leaned against the fence. It was an old three-speed model, with heavy frame and thick tires. He slipped a metal clip around his ankle to keep his trousers out of the chain, and was unlocking the bike when a colleague approached.
“Why do you lock what no one in their right mind would steal?” the fellow teased.
Mordechai chuckled, then rode off in the rain, heading west along the Neva as he did every night on his way home. His square, confident face had once been handsome; but now it was heavily lined and sagged, and his eyes were watery, and his hair had turned almost white, and he appeared older than his fifty-six years.
Twenty minutes later he was hauling the bike up the two flights of stairs to his flat, a dingy one-room affair with sleeping alcove and bath. Mordechai turned on the light and shut the door with a shoulder. The ceiling had leaked, and there was a small puddle on the floor. He leaned the bike against the wall and removed his raincoat, fetching a towel to mop up the water. That’s when he noticed the sheet of paper that had been slipped beneath the door. It bore the damp imprint of the bicycle tire. Mordechai unfolded it. The repeatedly typed call to action told him the note was from Raina.
A sharp tapping on the window directed Mordechai’s attention to a figure crouching on the fire escape in the darkness. Mordechai hurried to the rain-spattered window; but before opening it, he stared at Andrew, and put a finger to his mouth, warning him not to speak.
Andrew nodded he understood.
Mordechai let Andrew into the flat, then went directly to the kitchen table. A menorah that held a few burned-down candles stood on the chipped porcelain top. A tiny Israeli flag was stuck into one of the empty holders. Mordechai removed the utensil drawer, reached into the vacated space, and came out with a Magic Slate—a red-framed, gray letter-sized board covered with a clear plastic sheet. One writes with a wooden stylus on the sheet, which is then peeled up from the backing, to erase the words—instantly. Magic Slates are made for children, but in the Soviet Union they are used by those who know their apartments have been bugged, or might be raided, by the KGB.
Mordechai had more than one stylus.
“Who are you?” he wrote on the slate in Russian.
Andrew looked at it, shook his head from side to side, and wrote—“English?”
“Fine. Who are you?”
“Andrew Churcher. Theodor was my father.”
Mordechai studied him for a moment, and nodded knowingly, then wrote—“What do you want?”
“Drawings of the tanker.”
Mordechai’s eyes widened apprehensively. He brusquely peeled up the plastic sheet, clearing the slate. Then wrote—“Again? Why?!!”
“KGB killed my father and took the others.”
Mordechai became saddened, then concerned. “And Raina?”
“She’s okay. Says hello. She said you could get the drawings for me.”
Mordechai considered the request for a moment, nodded resolutely, and wrote—“You have a car?”
Mordechai wrote—“Tomorrow 5:15
exactly. Go to Service Station Number 3 on Novaya Drevnya. Ask for
Tell him your spare tire needs repair. He’ll put the drawings under the carpet in the trunk.”
Andrew studied the information, then nodded, indicating he had it memorized.
Mordechai peeled up the sheet slowly, listening to the chattering sound of the plastic and watching the words vanish, then wrote—“Be careful. One mistake, and I’ll never get out.”
Andrew nodded solemnly, shook Mordechai’s hand, and mouthed, “Thank you.” Then he zipped his slicker, went out the window, and started down the fire escape.
Mordechai closed the window behind Andrew and returned to the table. He concealed the Magic Slate, then sorted through the contents of the utensil drawer. It held the usual assortment of string, rubber bands, bottle caps, nails, and screws, loose among a few hand tools. He pinched a large carpet tack between thumb and forefinger and put it in the pocket of his raincoat.
Andrew came off the fire escape into an alley, and headed toward the rainy waterfront streets.
Patient men with faces of stone were watching from hiding places in the alley, atop the roofs, and on the piers, water dripping from the brims of their fedoras.
* * * * * *
Earlier that day, a U.S. Air Force 707 arrived at Geneva’s Cointrin Airport at 11:05
Phil Keating bounded down the ramp to a waiting limousine, thinking about how he was going to stall the Russians.
Twenty minutes later, the stretched Lincoln—Stars and Stripes fluttering on either side of the distinctive grille—was speeding along Quai Mont Blanc on the western shore of Lake Geneva. It turned into the drive of the Beau Rivage Hotel, and stopped at the canopied entrance.
Gisela Pomerantz came from the lobby on the arm of a uniformed doorman, who escorted her to the car. She got in and the limousine pulled away, heading for United Nations Plaza.
“Sorry I wasn’t here when you called,” Pomerantz said as she settled next to Keating.
“No problem. Something important I wanted to cover in regard to our conversation the other evening.”
“Indeed, we had several, Philip,” she replied demurely. “So, I’m not sure how I should take that.”
“As Germany’s minister for strategic deployment,” he replied forth-rightly, taking a long drag on his cigarette before softening his tone, and adding, “though there’s a part of me that wishes it could be otherwise.”
“A part of me, too,” she replied wistfully. “What’s on your mind?”
“Your position on disarmament. You see, in light of recent developments, I’ve suggested to the President that a more forceful presentation
of your policies would be in the best interests of the United States. And despite his earlier reservations, I’m pleased to report, he was in full accord.”
Pomerantz looked at him like he’d gone south.
“Gisela,” he went on, “I need to buy some time to close the loop on this
thing. The problem is, the President can’t stall at this juncture without losing face, especially if it turns out to be nothing.”
“But a hard-liner can.”
“Precisely. I hasten to add, this afternoon’s session would be a perfect time to unpack some of that baggage—”
“—And sprinkle a little hawk guano on the bargaining table,” she said, understanding.
he said in a friendly warning. “I’ve worked out a scenario I think you’ll find acceptable.”
Pomerantz raised a brow and thought about it for a moment, then broke into an intrigued smile.
Less than a mile away, a gray Mercedes 600 came down Avenue de la Paix, and drove through Ariana Park to the United Nations Palace.
A horde of reporters and TV camera crews descended on the Mercedes as it came to a stop at the entrance. Soviet Disarmament Negotiator Mikhail Pykonen got out, clearly pleased by their presence. He knew what was on their minds, and he wanted to talk about it.
“Is Moscow upset that Minister Deschin’s letter to President Hilliard was leaked to the press?”
“It was a private communiqué,” he replied in Russian, an aide translating. “My government assumed it would remain so.”
“Are you suggesting Washington is responsible?”
“I suggest you draw your own conclusions.”
do so, when it puts them under additional pressure?”
“It puts us all under pressure.”
“Have you received a response?”
“When do you think one will be forthcoming?”
“I believe my American counterpart is more qualified to answer that than I,” Pykonen replied, nodding to an approaching limousine.
The heads and cameras turned to see the stretched Lincoln pulling to a stop. The correspondents ran toward it, leaving Pykonen and his group behind.
The wily Russian smiled and went inside.
Phil Keating scowled when he saw the faces and cameras peering through the windows of the limousine.
“Not a word,” he said to Pomerantz as they stepped out of the limousine into a barrage of questions about Deschin’s communiqué and President Hilliard’s response.
“No comment,” Keating said tersely. He repeated it several times and ushered Pomerantz through the crush of reporters into the United Nations Palace.
Inside, the delegates took their places at the long table beneath the crystal chandeliers.
Pykonen stood and held up a briefing paper which he’d distributed previously.
“Due to recent interludes, I’m sure you’ve had ample time to evaluate my government’s proposal,” he said. “On resumption, I officially confirm the Supreme Soviet’s commitment to the points outlined herein, and to the spirit of our communiqué to President Hilliard. I eagerly await the President’s response.” He nodded to Keating and took his seat.
“I have a response for you, sir,” Keating said, removing some papers from his attaché. “One which I’m sure you’ll find in that same spirit. One which—”
“Pardon me, Mr. Keating,” Pomerantz interrupted. “Though my government is in accord on objectives, I’m forced to remind the delegates that we differ strongly on how to achieve them. Chancellor Liebler is quite concerned that sudden withdrawal of the nuclear security blanket which has swaddled western Europe for so long might create a climate of mistrust. We believe a weaning, if you will, would better insure adherence to disarmament once achieved. To that end, the Republic of Germany proposes a five-part pullback. Phase one—a global limit of four hundred warheads be placed on intermediate range weapons systems.”
Keating played along, squirming impatiently in his chair as she enumerated.
“One hundred per side deployed within range of Europe; the remainder on home territory—one hundred on Soviet soil, a like number in the continental United States. Phase two—”
“—If I may, Minister Pomerantz,” Pykonen interrupted. “I find your lack of faith disturbing and unfounded, and would like to know if the other delegates share it?”
“I have no objection to that,” Pomerantz replied as she and Keating
had planned. They knew what she would be advocating was sane policy, but they had no delusions Pykonen would accept it.
“Good,” Pykonen said. “I suggest we vote on my government’s proposal
as a way of making that determination.”
A favorable rumble rose from the delegates.
Keating anticipated the move. He would have done the same if their positions had been reversed. Now, if the rest of the hand played out as he expected, he was quite certain Pomerantz had just bought him a day.
“In that case, gentlemen,” Pomerantz said, “I ask that the vote be held off until tomorrow. That will allow me to finish my presentation, thereby giving you a valuable basis of comparison.”
“I’m not at all pleased at the prospect of a delay,” Keating said, feigning he was upset.
“Nor am I, but it
a reasonable request,” one of the delegates chimed in, going on to solicit agreement from the others.
“All right,” Pykonen said wearily. “But I propose that we vote without discussion tomorrow, to avoid any further delays. Agreed?”
“Agreed,” Pomerantz said.
“Agreed,” Keating echoed grudgingly, supressing a smile.
* * * * * *
It was 4:30
Monday, in Leningrad. The rain had stopped, but the fog still hung between the piers and warehouses. Mordechai Stvinov wheeled his bike from the vestibule of the rundown building where he lived. He pedaled to the corner and turned north on Sredniy.
When he was out of sight, three men came from the doorways and darkness where they’d been waiting. One fetched a Volga from an abandoned warehouse across the street. The others got in, and headlights out, the black sedan cruised slowly after the bicycle.
On leaving Mordechai’s flat the prior evening, Andrew took the Metro back to Dobrisky, the secluded street in the southeastern quarter where he’d parked the Zhiguli. He slept uneasily in the backseat for about five hours. On waking, he walked to the Mir Hotel and had a cup of coffee in the snack bar. Then he returned to the car and headed for Service Station Number 3 on Novaya Drevnya Street.
Mordechai left Vasil’yevskiy Island, crossing the Tuchkov Bridge to the Kirov Islands, which make up the northwestern section of the city. He pedaled the length of Bolshoy Prospekt and onto the arched bridge at the end of Kirovskiy. He coasted down the far side to Novaya Drevnya, and was about two blocks from the service station, when he pulled the bike to the curb and dismounted. He reached into his pocket, then winced and withdrew his hand suddenly. The carpet tack he sought was sticking into the tip of his finger. He removed it, and sucked the dot of
blood, then bent to the rear tire of the bicycle and pushed the tack into the rubber. The air rushed from the puncture with a rapid hiss.
Mordechai was crouching to the tire when the black Volga cruised past behind him and turned right at the corner. He didn’t notice it. As soon as the tire was flat, he began walking the bike along the curb.
Like all service stations in Russia, Leningrad Number 3 is state-operated, and open round-the-clock. Things were quiet at this hour, but drivers would soon be tanking up for the workweek. Four attendants were readying the pumps. A fifth stood beneath a hydraulic lift, draining the oil from an old Moskvitch.
Lev Abelson, a diminutive birdlike man of fifty, was the boss. He was sitting at a desk in the office next to the service bays reviewing repair orders. It was 5:02
and still dark when he glanced out the window to see Mordechai walking the bike toward the office.
“Mordechai,” Lev said as he came out the door. “The only time you come to see me is when you have a flat.” He crouched to the bike and spun the rear tire until he found the tack, then circled it with yellow chalk. He pulled it from the tread, caught Mordechai’s eye, and asked, “Same tire as last time, isn’t it?”
“Yes,” Mordechai replied, and holding Lev’s look, added, “and the seat’s come loose again too. Maybe you can tighten it for me while you’re at it.”
Lev nodded knowingly. “Sure. You want to wait?”
“I can’t. I have to get to work.” Mordechai said. “A friend will pick it up soon. His car has a spare tire that needs to be fixed.”
“He can come anytime” Lev said with a little smile. “I’ll have it ready.”
Mordechai waved and headed off.
Lev rolled the bike through the office into a back room where auto parts were stored, and latched the door. He took a wrench from a pocket in the leg of his coveralls, loosened the nut beneath the bicycle’s seat, and started twisting and pulling upward to remove it.
Mordechai was crossing Novaya Drevnya when he saw two black Volgas and a police van come out of the darkness at high-speed and converge on the service station. One of the Volgas veered in his direction. Mordechai started to run, cutting between two apartment buildings toward a footpath that paralleled the river.
The Volga screeched to a stop. Three KGB men got out. Two went after Mordechai. The third ran to the station, joining four uniformed policemen who piled out of the van. They began rounding up the attendants, using truncheons to subdue those who protested.
Gorodin and another KGB agent got out of the second Volga, and strode quickly toward the office.
In the storeroom, Lev had just removed the bicycle seat. The end of a plastic bag—that had been twisted and wrapped with clear tape, causing it to resemble the wick of a huge candle—was sticking up out of the tubular frame. Lev grasped it, and pulled slowly upward.
The plastic bag contained drawings of the tanker
—the ones that delineated the modifications in the bow area. They had been duplicated on 2.5 mil tracing mylar, tightly rolled, wrapped in protective plastic, and slipped down into the section of tubular frame beneath the seat. They’d been there for years.
Lev was pulling the long, thin cylinder of drawings from the frame when Gorodin tried the knob, then kicked open the door to the storeroom. Lev bolted for another door that led to the work bays.
Gorodin lunged and got a handful of his coveralls. He spun Lev around, and backhanded him a shot that sent him reeling toward the KGB agent who was standing in the doorway. The agent sidestepped, drove a fist into Lev’s midsection, doubling him over, then put a foot into his rump and booted him out the door.
Gorodin crossed to the bike, pulled the roll of
drawings from the frame, and smiled.
It was exactly 5:14
when the Zhiguli turned into Novaya Drevnya and approached Service Station Number 3. Andrew saw the attendants being herded into the police van by the uniformed officers. He fought the impulse to hit the brakes and make a screeching U-turn and, instead, drove past the service station inconspicuously.
The doors of the crowded Metro car were just closing as Mordechai slipped between them. Despite his appearance, decades of bike riding had kept him fit. He had sprinted along the river, through a grove of trees, and down a staircase to the Metro station on Vyborgskaya, losing his KGB pursuers in the morning rush hour crowds. But he had no doubt he’d be arrested before the day was out. He knew he’d never be allowed to leave Russia now, and would soon be suffering the frigid inhumanities of the Gulag. He decided there was one thing he had to do before the KGB tracked him down.
Andrew hadn’t seen Mordechai, and didn’t know he’d almost been captured—how the drawings would get to the service station wasn’t something they’d discussed. Andrew’s first thought was to warn Mordechai the KGB was onto him. He headed for his flat in the Zhiguli.
About five minutes later, Gorodin and two of the KGB agents left Service Station Number 3 for the same destination—a frustrating drive
through Leningrad’s interwoven maze of streets and canals where traffic is funneled across countless bridges, and is often snarled. It took Andrew an hour in the Zhiguli to make the same trip that took Mordechai fifteen minutes on the Metro.
Andrew parked right in front of the waterfront building and went in the main entrance. There was no need to climb fire escapes, and enter through windows now; the KGB knew everything. There was nothing to hide. Andrew dashed up the stairs, ran down the corridor to Mordechai’s flat, and rapped on the door.
“Mordechai? Mordechai, you in there?”
He tried the knob. The door opened, and he entered the darkened flat, not closing it.
Light spilled into the sleeping alcove through the bathroom door, which was slightly ajar.
Andrew crossed the room and pushed through the door.
“Hey, Morde—” he bit off the sentence and looked away repulsed. Mordechai was slumped in the bathtub. His left arm hung over the side, hand resting on the floor, fingers splayed lifelessly in a massive pool of blood. Andrew backed away and closed the door. He was swallowing hard to keep from retching when he heard footsteps coming down the corridor toward the flat. The KGB hadn’t wasted a minute, he thought. He started for the window on the far side of the room.
A shadow darted into the flat from the corridor.
Andrew realized he’d never make the window, and ducked behind the half open door.
A large man in a raincoat entered.
Andrew moved swiftly in the darkness, grasped the back of his neck, and spun him hard, face first, into the wall behind the door. The man bounced off the plaster. Andrew grasped his throat, and was about to bash a fist into his face when the lights came on.
Andrew flinched and pulled the punch, startled to discover he was face-to-face with McKendrick.
“Ed!” Andrew exclaimed.
“Drew!” McKendrick growled, tugging on Andrew’s hand that was still clutching his throat.
“Are you all right?” Andrew asked, removing it and backing off a step.
McKendrick nodded, rubbing his neck.
“I’m sorry,” Andrew went on. “I thought you were the KGB. I just had a—” Andrew let it trail off, suddenly struck by the fact that the
lights had come on. He swung a curious glance to the fixture overhead, then to the switch next to the door behind him. His head snapped around, and he gasped, recoiling in shock at what he saw in the doorway.
“Hello, son,” Theodor Churcher said with a weary smile. His left arm had been amputated below the elbow, and the sleeve of his coat hung limply and flat against his side. He looked gaunt and tired; but his eyes still sparkled, and he was very much alive.
Andrew was traumatized. In the last hour, his emotions had been battered and wrenched beyond words. He stared at his father, feeling ecstatic that he was alive and angered at the agony he’d been through unnecessarily. He had no thought of embracing him.
“God,” Andrew finally rasped in a whisper. “What happened to you? How’d you get here?”
“Getting here was the easiest part,” Churcher replied. “We flew into Helsinki, and trained in this morning. The rest is a little more complicated.”
“I’ll bet it is,” Andrew said sharply, working to control the anger and hurt that had been building since Raina had confirmed his father’s collaboration with the Soviets.
“What’s that mean?” Churcher challenged.
“It means I know what you did,” Andrew replied evenly. “And I want to know why?”
Churcher’s face reddened at the remark.
“Hold on,” McKendrick said, reaching out to calm him and prevent the confrontation from escalating. Then, shifting his look to Andrew, he asked, “Didn’t you just come at me thinking I was KGB?”
“That’s right,” Andrew replied, realizing he’d been so stunned by his father’s appearance he’d lost his edge. “We’ll have to talk someplace else,” he concluded in a commanding tone to signify he intended to pursue the matter. He led the way as they hurried from the flat, got into the Zhiguli, and drove off.
Moments later, Gorodin and the KGB agents arrived. Gorodin stared at Mordechai’s body in the bathtub, and smiled. He had the
drawings, their source was dead, and SLOW BURN had been preserved. He went to KGB headquarters and called Deschin. When informed he wasn’t available, Gorodin left a top secret message for immediate dispatch, then headed for the airport.
* * * * * *
Andrew had driven several miles along the waterfront and pulled the Zhiguli into an abandoned pier. It was a vast structure of rotting timbers
and rusting steel sheet. McKendrick remained at the car, keeping watch on the entrance, while father and son walked amidst the discarded packing crates and litter, Churcher telling of his confrontation with Deschin in the submarine, and explaining how he’d survived.
“You still didn’t answer my question,” Andrew replied when he’d finished.
“No time for that,” Churcher said with finality, expecting his tone would dismiss Andrew, as it always had. “If we’re going to beat these Russian sons of bitches, we’ve got to get our hands on that package of drawings, fast. Ed tells me you’ve been chasing it.”
“That’s right—” Andrew replied, fighting to overcome a lifetime of conditioning that was now prompting him to back away from the matter of his father’s treason.
“The KGB showed up.”
“Damn. What about Mordechai? I was counting on him to get us another set.”
“He’s dead,” Andrew said flatly. Then getting back to what was on his mind, but no longer able to confront his father directly, he prodded, “The only way you’ll beat the Russians now, Dad, is by coming forward with the truth.”
Churcher’s eyes narrowed.
“What are you talking about?” he asked warily.
“Your deal with Aleksei Deschin. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out it’s connected to what’s going on in Geneva. But you’re the only one who knows the details.”
“Right—on both counts,” Churcher said. “The Russians could come away with all the marbles. And I’m the only one who knows how.”
“Then, call Jake Boulton and fill him in.”
“You and I have our wires crossed, boy. I’m not out to even the score in Geneva. I’m out to settle one with Aleksei. He got what he wanted, but
didn’t. Like I said, I called him on it, and he tried to kill me. Those drawings are the only way to tighten the screws and force him to pay what he owes.”
“The paintings—” Andrew said incredulously.
“Right,” Churcher went on. “And once I have them, and his people have things in Geneva right where they want them—” he paused, and brightened savoring the thought “—
I’ll send Jake the drawings to make Aleksei pay for
He raised his left arm and shook the stump angrily.
“But not otherwise.”
Andrew couldn’t believe that his father had no intention of righting the wrong.
“It really bothers you, doesn’t it?” Churcher asked.
“Yes. It bothers me a lot,” Andrew replied, the feelings of anger and betrayal intensifying, supplying the courage that had deserted him earlier. He looked his father square in the eye and asked, “How would
feel if you found out your father was a traitor?”
Churcher’s eyes flared. “Don’t you dare stand in judgment of me!” he exploded. His voice echoed in the empty structure as he whirled and began walking away.
“Why not?” Andrew challenged, pursuing him, no longer able to contain his outrage. “I don’t hear you denying it! How could you do it? How?”