Read Rockets' Red Glare Online

Authors: Greg Dinallo

Rockets' Red Glare (41 page)

Chapter Fifty-two

The front-page headline of the International Tribune read:

SOVIET MISSILES IN GULF OF MEXICO

Beneath it was a series of underwater photographs, that had been released by the Pentagon, of the
VLCC Kira
deploying the
Heron.

The Soviet delegation had stormed out of the talks in protest the previous afternoon. Pykonen immediately called Moscow to report the devastating news. But the Politburo was in session, debating the merits of various candidates for the premiership and it took him longer than anticipated to get through the
Vertushka.
He spent the evening on the phone with Gromyko and Dobrynin, working out the official Soviet position.

The arms control talks had been indefinitely suspended in the interim, and the following morning, Pykonen faced a swarm of reporters at Cointrin Airport, prior to his boarding a flight to Moscow.

“The Soviet Union officially and categorically denies the false accusations brought by the American delegation,” Pykonen said through his interpreter.

“The evidence seems irrefutable, sir,” one of the reporters prodded. “How do you account for it?”

The interpreter was still translating the question when Pykonen interrupted in English. “Soviet film experts are in agreement that state of the
art special effects techniques and electronic trickery were used to create this underhanded deception,” he replied angrily. “Be advised, my government has no doubt this is but another example of Washington involving Hollywood in foreign policy matters. Evidently, Mr. Keating, and those he represents, never believed that the Soviet Union would negotiate in good faith, and when suddenly faced with our sincerity and openness, they employed these purveyors of smut and violence to undermine the talks. We note this was accomplished with the assistance of the Republic of Germany, and we condemn this despicable attempt to embarrass our nation. It is most deplorable, especially at this time when the Soviet people are still mourning the tragic loss of a beloved leader.”

The Aeroflot Ilyushin 62M with Pykonen aboard had just taken off when the Politburo—stung by the loss of the nuclear superiority SLOW BURN had promised, and freed from the political constraints it had imposed—bypassed Aleksei Deschin and selected Nikolai Tikhonov as the new Premier.

* * * * * *

A short time later, in another section of the terminal, Phil Keating entered a Lufthansa VIP lounge, carrying a bouquet of flowers.

“Good morning,” he said, approaching Pomerantz, who was standing thoughtfully at one of the huge windows.

“Good morning, Philip. What beautiful flowers,” she replied as she turned, and he set them in her arms.

“It’s the least I can do,” he replied. “We’d have never gotten onto the trail of the
Heron
if it weren’t for you. You more than earned them.”

“You never gave me the chance,” she teased, eyeing him flirtatiously.

“I came close.”

“Well, I haven’t given up on you, Keating,” she said spiritedly. “Though, we’ll probably both be in rocking chairs by the time I pull it off.”

“Don’t knock it till you’ve tried it,” Keating said with a grin. “I spent an entire weekend in a rocker once.”

“And?” she asked intrigued.

“Beth got pregnant, and I spent a month in traction.”

Pomerantz was laughing when the last call for her flight was announced. “That’s me, Philip.”

“We stung ’em pretty good, didn’t we?” he said as he escorted her to the gate.

“Yes, but they always come back for more.”

“I sure hope so.”

“Oh, they will—and I’ll be here.”

“So will I.”

“I have a wonderful antique rocker at home. I’ll make sure I bring it along.” She kissed his cheek, then turned and hurried down the boarding ramp.

* * * * * *

All three network news programs opened with the story of Nikolai Tikhonov’s ascendancy. President Hilliard leaned back in his chair thinking chances for an arms control agreement before the end of his term were nonexistent now. In light of the humiliating events in Geneva, the elderly Soviet Premier, and the older oligarchies who advised him, would undoubtedly revert to cold war paranoia, and back away from disarmament. The President was in a morose mood when Boulton entered the Oval Office.

“Tikhonov—very unsteady at swearing in ceremonies,” the DCI reported. “Advanced emphysema.”

“Prognosis?” Hilliard asked in a hopeful tone.

“He’ll be gone within a year.”

“So will I,” Hilliard said glumly, referring to his term. He was thinking a quick change in regimes might give him another chance for an arms control agreement.

“NATO wanted a draw,” Boulton said encouragingly, seeing his disappointment. “You gave it to them.”

“Not the one I wanted, Jake.”

“Can’t win them all, sir.”

“I can try,” the President said firmly.

There’d be no presidential library fund-raisers, no rush to publish memoirs after his term in office, he vowed. Not until the job was done. Not until nuclear disarmament was achieved. He’d be out of the White House, but he’d still be in the thick of it. The political wags on the Hill wouldn’t have to wonder how private citizen Jim Hilliard was spending his time. Jennings would tell them on the evening news.

That afternoon, he went for a walk in Arlington. He placed some fresh flowers at the base of his wife’s headstone, and straightened them just so.

“I’ll be back,” he said.

* * * * * *

Lieutenant Jon Lowell was brought directly to CIA headquarters at Langley for further debriefing. Boulton offered him a job during the course of it, and Lowell accepted. It wasn’t a difficult decision; flying
ASW would never be the same without Arnsbarger. Before leaving, Lowell requested a moment alone with the DCI. Boulton knew what was on his mind. He’d been thinking about it, too, and agreed when Lowell proposed it.

Cissy and her son were out back picking oranges when Lowell arrived. Cissy rushed right into his arms, her eyes brimming with tears. The kid kept a few steps distance, taking it all in with a forlorn sadness.

“He died in the service of his country,” Lowell said softly, hugging her.

“I never believed he didn’t,” Cissy said, her face brightening. “I miss him so much.”

“So do I, Cissy,” Lowell replied solemnly. “He gave his life to save mine. They would have killed us both if he hadn’t.”

She leaned back from Lowell and stared at him for a moment, the impact of his words registering. “He thought the world of you, Jon.”

“I’ll never have another friend like him.”

“You know,” she began, her voice cracking with emotion, “there’s something about him just being gone like that, lost at sea. It’s so much harder to accept. I mean, every time the phone rings I get this feeling that maybe, just maybe—” She paused, choking up, a steady stream of tears rolling down her face.

“I know,” Lowell said compassionately, running his hand over her hair to calm her. “We talked that night. He told me he was going to marry you,” he went on, bending the truth for her sake.

An appreciative smile brightened Cissy’s sad face. She rubbed some tears from her eyes, then looked to her son sympathetically, and put a hand on his shoulder. He lunged forward, wrapping his arms around her waist, and hugged her.

Lowell mussed his hair.

“How’re you doing, tiger?”

The kid shrugged. Then, his face sort of peered out from behind Cissy’s skirt and screwed up with a question, the way children’s faces do before they ask them. “This mean he was a hero?”

“Yes,” Lowell replied softly, crouching down so that they were eye to eye. “He was a hero.”

* * * * * *

Valery Gorodin’s membership in
nomenklatura
was not to be. Instead, he was assigned to Military Department 35576—the GRU’s spy school on Militia Street in Moscow. For several weeks now, he’d been teaching the Soviet Union’s best and brightest what he knew how to do better
than most—screw the KGB. He and Pasha met at Lastochka for dinner once a week.

“How’s it going?” Pasha asked.

“Boring. What makes you think this week would be any better than last?”

“Well,” Pasha replied in a tantalizing tone, “a GRU courier handles many sensitive documents.”

“And?”

“Tell me, does your first name end in
IE
or
Y
?”

“Very funny.
Y,
you know that. Why do you ask?”

“If my memory serves me correctly, I recall seeing a document this morning mentioning that the GRU rezident at our UN Mission is being called back. It seems the poor fellow is unable to cope with his KGB counterpart.”

Gorodin leaned across the table, burning with curiosity. “You saw the official list of candidates?”

“Of course not,” Pasha replied, as if it was beneath him. Then, eyes twinkling mischievously, he added, “I saw the official
recommendation.
’’

* * * * * *

Aleksei Deschin’s dream of becoming Premier ended with SLOW BURN. He took comfort in the knowledge that it was Tvardovskiy who drove Melanie to the U.S. Embassy that morning, and every time since then, whenever Deschin saw the KGB chief, he smiled, savoring the irony of it.

Tvardovskiy had no inkling as to why, and always felt a perplexing uneasiness.

A few weeks had passed when Tvardovskiy arrived at the Cultural Ministry to discuss security for an exhibition of works from the Hermitage and Pushkin museums, scheduled to tour the United States.

“Good morning, Sergei,” Deschin said with the unnerving little smile.

“Aleksei,” the KGB chief replied, checking his fly.

Deschin handed him a list of personnel who would travel with the exhibit, and required clearances.

Tvardovskiy perused it for a moment. “There don’t seem to be any problems,” he said, pausing briefly before adding, “I see you’ve decided to make the trip.”

“Yes, the Metropolitan was adamant that I supervise the installation,” Deschin replied.

“Aghhh, New York is a horrid city.”

“True,” Deschin said philosophically, “but once you give life to something, Sergei—Well, you know how it is—” He splayed his hands, letting the sentence trail off.

* * * * * *

In the weeks since she’d returned from Moscow, Melanie Winslow had gone back to the dance company and thrown herself into choreographing routines with renewed vigor. Indeed, the parcel Deschin had given her contained the old photo album, and the snapshots of her grandmother dancing were the source of Melanie’s inspiration.

It was a warm Saturday afternoon as she got out of a taxi in front of her building. Gramercy Park was alive with children and nannies pushing carriages. A few joggers were running laps outside the fence.

Melanie had spent the morning at the theater and the afternoon at Bloomingdale’s. She entered her lobby carrying a shopping bag, and paused to check for mail. There were a few pieces in her box. She shuffled through them and came upon a folded note.

Her heart pounded at the handwritten message.

She dashed from the building, crossing the street toward the gate at the north end of the Park. Her eyes searched for him in the spaces between the cast iron pickets as she ran. Her hand was shaking, and she could hardly get the key into the lock. She swung the gate open and, not taking the time to close it, dashed down the gravel path. He was talking to a scruffy six-year-old when she saw him. She froze in her tracks. Then she let out a joyful cry, and started running toward him.

Andrew heard the shout, and turned just as she ran into his arms. They clung to each other with crushing force. Finally, Melanie leaned back, staring at his face, as if making sure she hadn’t accosted a stranger.

“It was my father,” Andrew replied to the question in her eyes. “He’s the one who hijacked that plane.” Andrew took a deep breath, reflecting on the day he’d returned to Houston and discovered his father wasn’t at Chappell Hill, as he’d expected. When McKendrick told him about Churcher leaving the train, Andrew pieced it together.

“I’m real sorry, Drew,” McKendrick had said.

“Me, too,” Andrew replied sadly. “But it’s fitting, in its way. He would have been devastated by the disgrace—” He let the sentence trail off, and lifted a shoulder in a halfhearted shrug.

“He paid his debt, son,” McKendrick said spiritedly, and, forcing past it, added, “now, as he’d say, let’s get to business. Churchco’s got
eleven companies, seventy-two thousand employees, and no boss. You think you’re up to it?”

Andrew thought for a moment and nodded. “Yes, I am,” he said with a quiet determination that confirmed it. “But there’s someone I have to see first.”

“Ahhh,” McKendrick said knowingly. “You slipped into one of those flesh-crazed madonnas after all.”

Andrew smiled shyly, and shook no.

“A special one?”

“That’s what I’m thinking,” Andrew replied.

Melanie stood in the park, hugging the breath out of him now. “I still can’t believe it,” she said, tears running down her cheeks.

“Neither can I,” Andrew replied. “I mean, I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for my father. He really outsmarted them,” Andrew went on with a reflective smile. “He knew the Russians were certain they’d killed him, and would assume I had hijacked that plane.”

“How’d you get out of the country?”

“I drove to Helsinki. Once they thought I was dead, they stopped looking for me. Funny,” he went on reflectively, “the last thing my father said to me was, ‘Good luck, son. I’m with you.’ I didn’t know what he meant at the time, but now I—” Andrew paused and shrugged, his eyes filling at the recollection. “You know,” he resumed, trying to maintain his composure, “he wasn’t the type who could let his emotions show. I mean, I don’t think he ever said—ever said that he loved me. But—” Andrew bit a lip and gently leaned his forehead against hers as the feelings welled up from deep inside.

Melanie kissed his cheek and embraced him comfortingly.

They stood in silence for a long moment, the sun dropping behind the buildings, sending long shadows across the grass.

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