Read Rockets' Red Glare Online

Authors: Greg Dinallo

Rockets' Red Glare (39 page)

Chapter Fifty

It was early morning in Moscow. A three-car KGB caravan raced at high speed along the M2 highway towards Zhukova village. Tvardovskiy’s Chaika was in the lead.

Melanie had fallen asleep in her clothes, and awoke after a few hours of fitful rest. The dacha was quiet, and the view from her window was much like the New Hampshire countryside. She undressed, showered, and put on some makeup. She was digging through her travel bag in search of fresh clothes when her hand came upon the sharp-edged package—the package of
Kira
drawings. And across the label Andrew had hastily scrawled:

U.S. EMBASSY
NO MATTER WHAT
!

She was standing there holding the package, shocked at the import of her discovery, when she heard cars roaring onto the grounds. She went to the window, pulled back the curtain slightly, and peered out.

Tvardovskiy’s Chaika and two Volgas came to fast stops on the gravel below. Men in fedoras and black raincoats began piling out of them and slamming the doors. Uzykin came from the dacha and ardently greeted Tvardovskiy, who led the stony entourage inside.

The scene struck Melanie like something out of Nazi Germany—like the Gestapo tipped off to the whereabouts of a resistance organizer.
They were there for her, she thought. They’d caught Andrew, and forced him to tell them what he’d done with the package.

She latched the door and began searching frantically for someplace to hide the package. Behind the dresser? No. They’d find it. And deny as she might, who’d believe her? The window. She could throw it out the window into the bushes. They’d think Andrew had ditched it if they found it there—but not if he’d told them she had it. She was darting back and forth across the room gripped by panic when it dawned on her that the dacha was still quiet. The KGB men weren’t clambering up the stairs. Their fists weren’t pounding on the door. If they knew she had the package, if they were there for her, they’d have broken it down and arrested her by now. She stared at the package for a long moment, listening, and thinking of a way to minimize the risks. She put the package on the dresser and picked at the corner of the incriminating label with a fingernail to remove it. But time had firmly affixed the adhesive, and the corner broke off in a little chip. She shuddered with dismay, her mind searching for a way to camouflage it.

Downstairs, Tvardovskiy and his KGB entourage had trooped into the study, joining Deschin and Gorodin.

“We have a hijacking in progress,” Tvardovskiy announced. “I think it’s Churcher.”

“Why?” Deschin asked.

“The plane’s destination was Estonia. You recall Madame Maiskaya?”

“His father’s woman, of course.”

“An Estonian. We picked her up at Yaroslavl Station after she gave Churcher her car, and have been interrogating her since. She insists she has no idea where he’s headed, now.”

“Out of the country. Where else?”

“Then why hijack a domestic flight?”

“Because it would be impossible to elude security at Sheremetyvo and board an international one, but he could get on a domestic flight at Vnukovo undetected and—”

“Yes, yes, and turn it into an international one,” Tvardovskiy interjected, understanding.

Deschin was nodding gravely when the phone rang. Tvardovskiy blocked his hand and snatched up the receiver. It was the chief of air security.

“It’s Churcher,” the embarrassed fellow reported.

“You’re sure?”

“Yes. His name’s on the manifest, and the passport control ledger, as well.”

“Destination?”

“The pilot radioed he’s being forced at gunpoint to divert to Helsinki. We had every international flight covered. We never thought he would—”

“Yes, I know,” Tvardovskiy interrupted angrily and, turning to the others, said, “It’s definitely him.”

Deschin leaned across the desk and turned on the speakerbox, so all could hear the conversation.

“Does the pilot still have his weapon?” Tvardovskiy asked.

“No, that was the first thing Churcher demanded.”

“What about the air marshall?”

“He was found unconscious in an airport men’s room. His weapon was taken.”

Deschin burned Tvardovskiy with a look, reached out, and picked up the extension.

“How many passengers aboard?” Deschin asked.

“Seventy-nine, sir.”

Deschin winced and let out a long breath. “That plane must be stopped,” he said.

Melanie had dressed, and was now hurriedly cutting a rectangle out of the paper sack that they’d given her at the hotel concession when she bought the stationery. An Intourist symbol, which she reasoned would give the package of drawings the appearance of having been purchased there, was centered in the rectangle. She put a dab of nail polish behind each corner, and glued it over the existing label, covering Andrew’s message as well as Boulton’s name and address, then put the package in her travel bag, atop the clothes, unhidden. She slipped out of the room wondering how she could leave the dacha without raising suspicion.

She had gone down the stairs and was crossing the entry hall when she heard voices at the far end of the corridor. One of the doors to the study was partially open when she arrived. She peered in.

Tvardovskiy noticed her immediately, and flicked a penetrating stare in her direction, then sent Uzykin to close the door. Uzykin’s approach alerted Gorodin to Melanie’s presence. “I’ll handle her,” he said. He stepped into the corridor, closing the door behind him.

“What do you want?” he asked tensely.

“I feel in the way,” she replied. “I mean, maybe I should go, and come back when he has time to see me.”

“That’s up to Minister Deschin,” he replied. “And he can’t be interrupted now.”

“Why not? What’s going on?”

He eyed her for a moment, deciding, then led her down the corridor away from the door. “Your friend Churcher hijacked a plane,” he replied.

“Oh, my God.”

“He’s a fool. He’ll never get away with it.”

“What are they going to do?”

“Intercept and destroy,” he replied coldly. “The decision was just made.”

Melanie recoiled, horrified. But the initial shock was nothing compared to the chilling realization that followed—the extreme action had been ordered because they believed Andrew had the package. The package in her travel bag. The dilemma was tearing her apart. Every bone in her body was prompting her to shout, “No! No, don’t! Andrew doesn’t have the package! I do! I have it!” But she heard Andrew’s words and saw what he’d written, and she knew what he wanted, and didn’t.

The hijacked Antonov-10 was a regularly scheduled flight from Moscow to Tallinn, the capital of Estonia, a major seaport on the Gulf of Finland. The turboprop had turned onto a new heading for Helsinki, barely fifty miles across the gulf, when two MiG-29 Fulcrums scrambled from Ptovshak Airbase on Hiiumaa Island, seventy-five miles due west in the Baltic. It wasn’t by chance that the Fulcrums had been selected. The tactical fighter was the newest and fastest in the Soviet arsenal, armed with six A-10 medium-range air-to-air missiles—three heat-seeking, three radar homing—on two pylons under each wing, and one AA-11 under each engine duct. Only one would be needed to blow the Antonov out of the sky.

“Target is twenty miles from international waters,” ground control reported. “It can’t be allowed to leave Soviet airspace. Rapid closure mandatory!”

“Damn!” Tvardovskiy said in response. The call from the chief of air security had come through the
Vertushka.
The Kremlin operator had patched the line into the radio transmission between the Fulcrum and ground control, and the group in the study was listening on the speaker-box.

“Projecting intercept in two minutes,” the pilot of the lead Fulcrum reported as he walled his throttles.

The afterburners on the Tumansky R-33D turbofans kicked in. The MiG rocketed forward at Mach 1.8, the rapid acceleration pinning the
pilot to his couch. In exactly one minute, the Fulcrum had covered thirty of the seventy-five miles to the Antonov-10.

“I have the target on High Lark,” the pilot reported, tracking the Antonov on his long distance radar. “Course two-seventy at fifty-five hundred. Distance to target forty-five.”

In the next minute and twenty seconds, the MiG-29 had closed to within five miles.

“I have visual contact,” the pilot reported. “Target is eighty degrees to starboard.”

The group in Deschin’s study smiled with relief.

“Target is five kilometers from international waters,” ground control reported. “Engage immediately. Repeat, engage immediately.”

The pilot reached to his console and flipped a row of switches. “Weapons systems on,” he reported.

“Three point five to international waters,” ground control prompted. “Fire when ready.”

The MiG’s radar maintained a continuously updated fix on the target. The pilot was watching the floating half circles on his fire control screen. They slowly moved together to form a glowing orange ring. A green dot suddenly popped on at its center.

“Missile systems aligned; Z.G indicator is lit, warheads locked on,” he reported when the dot appeared.

“One point five to international waters,” came the response in an urgent tone.

No one in the study moved.

“Fire dammit, fire,” Deschin prompted in a tense whisper.

The pilot positioned his thumb over the yellow button in the center of his joystick, and pressed it.

One of the AA-10 missiles dropped from the Fulcrum’s starboard pylon, came to life with a
whoosh,
and left an arrow-straight trail across the morning sky.

“Heat seeker launched,” the pilot reported coolly as he throttled back, putting the Fulcrum into a sharp turn to avoid the debris from the upcoming explosion.

Ten seconds later the missile darted into one of the Antonov’s port side turboprops, and exploded with a loud
whomp.
The plane went careening out of control across the sky until the fuel tanks blew. Then, it came apart like a smashed toy, and fell in a rain of bodies and debris into the Gulf of Finland.

“Target is destroyed,” the pilot reported.

The group in the dacha erupted with a cheer.

Melanie and Gorodin heard it in the corridor. Her shoulders sagged at the knowledge Andrew had been killed. The emptiness she felt was quickly replaced by determination—nothing was going to stop her from getting that package to the Embassy.

The doors to the study swung open, giving rise to a congratulatory rumble. Deschin, Tvardovskiy, and the KGB group, carrying their hats and raincoats, trooped out in an ebullient mood.

Tvardovskiy spotted Melanie and Gorodin, and leaned to Uzykin. “Who is that woman?”

“Her name’s Miss Winslow. She’s with an American dance company.”

Tvardovskiy glared at Deschin with alarm. “An American?” he asked in a sharp whisper.

“Yes, we’ve been discussing the possibility of—”

“She goes.
Now!”

“She’s here as my guest.
I

ll
be the one who decides when she leaves.”

“As you’ve so often reminded me,” Tvardovskiy said pointedly, “internal security is my responsibility. And as far as I’m concerned, there shouldn’t be an American in
Moscow,
let alone in the home of a Politburo member, until the premiership is decided. She goes.”

It wasn’t an accident that the KGB chief failed to mention “candidate,” Deschin thought as he nodded in compliance. Forcing the issue would be dangerous. A tug of war over Melanie chanced revealing her identity.

Deschin turned from Tvardovskiy and approached her. “I’m sorry, Miss Winslow,” he said with formality, “but circumstances are such that I’ll have to postpone our exchange. I think it would be best if you left.”

“I see,” Melanie replied, following his lead, and hiding her relief at the sudden ease of it. Gorodin and Pasha would drop her at the hotel, and she’d be at the Embassy in no time. “I know everyone in the company will be disappointed,” she went on. “They’ve been looking forward to dancing for your audiences.”

“I said postponed, not cancelled,” he replied, catching her eye. “We’ve started something here, and I feel very strongly about it. I’m sure we’ll find a way to continue.”

“I was hoping you’d say that,” she said with a smile, pleased at the hidden meaning. “I’ll do everything that I can to make certain we do.”

Deschin nodded knowingly.

“Thanks for everything. You’ve been a most gracious host,” she went on.

“Get Miss Winslow’s bag,” Deschin said to Uzykin.

“No,” she said too sharply, at the thought of him finding the package. “I’ll get it.”

She was turning to go when Deschin took her arm, stopping her. “It’s all right,” he said, dispatching Uzykin with a nod. Melanie shuddered with concern as the KGB guard hurried off. Deschin was still holding her arm. He felt the tremor run through her, then saw her hands tighten nervously into little fists. It was an odd reaction, he thought, abrupt and out of context. Something was terribly wrong. He questioned her with a look. She blinked nervously, and averted her eyes. And in that instant, in that fleeting display of vulnerability, Melanie unknowingly confirmed what Deschin suspected—
she
had the package of drawings.

Melanie forced a smile, and quickly regained her composure. Uzykin wouldn’t search her travel bag, she reasoned. Why would he suspect she had the package? It was blown up along with Andrew. She glanced back to Deschin, thinking, despite their intentions, she might never see him again. There were so many questions she didn’t get to ask. So much left unsaid between them. She longed to embrace him and whisper, “Goodbye, Father.” It was tearing her apart that she couldn’t. And after his veiled remarks, she expected to see the same longing in his eyes; but there was only distance now—a cold, ominous stare that told her he knew, told her she’d given herself away. Her heart pounded in her chest as she wondered what he’d do.

Deschin was doing the same. He had to find a way to get the package without revealing Melanie had it. To do otherwise would mean she would be caught spying red-handed, and charged with espionage. There’d be no explaining it away. Tvardovskiy would be ruthless. At best, she’d be sent to a KGB prison; at worst, she’d face a firing squad.

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