Read Rockets' Red Glare Online

Authors: Greg Dinallo

Rockets' Red Glare (5 page)

Chapter Five

Each week the airports that serve the Washington, D.C., area handle a revolving door blur of traffic as over three hundred thousand people arrive and depart the nation’s capital.

On this morning, the continuing arrival of representatives from fifteen NATO countries and their retinues packed the terminals, along with welcoming committees, security personnel, and ubiquitous media correspondents.

In the Lufthansa section of Dulles International, West Germany’s Deputy Minister for Strategic Deployment Gisela Pomerantz, fashionably attired in a long raccoon coat, and carrying an alligator attaché, strode through the arrival gate.

Her aquiline face, the impact heightened by the blond hair pulled back severely, remained composed and assured despite the microphones, tape recorders, and camera lenses that thrust toward her.

The questions came rapid-fire, in an overlap of English and German: “Do you think the Russians really mean business this time?” “What
are
the chances for disarmament?” “As an avowed hard-liner, can you support a nuclear pullback of the magnitude suggested?” “Do you have specific concerns with regard to negotiating points?”

Pomerantz held up her hands defensively.

“Please,” she pleaded, “we hawks can’t handle more than four
questions at once. It ruffles our feathers,” she added with a disarming smile.

Laughter rippled through the crowd of reporters, who appreciated the self-deprecating inference.

“I hope so. —Better than even.—That’s what I’m here to decide.—Definite concerns,” she said, placing crisp pauses between answers and pointing to the reporter who had asked the question to which she was replying.

Her entourage closed around her and began walking through the terminal. The reporters surged after them. One of the more tenacious correspondents thrust her microphone between the jostling bodies.

“Can you be specific about your concerns?” the young woman prodded.

Pomerantz eyed her coolly, and continued walking.

“No,” she replied with finality. “I can’t discuss them at this time, I’m sorry.”

The group pushed through the automatic doors. A protocol officer came forward and directed Pomerantz to a limousine. She took one step into the rear of the vehicle, and paused suddenly.

“Hello, Gisela,” Phil Keating said with a warm smile. The chief U.S. disarmament negotiator was tucked into the far corner of the backseat, smoking a cigarette.

“Philip?” Pomerantz mouthed with momentary uncertainty. Keating still had the craggy good looks; but his hair had grayed, and gold-rimmed bifocals bridged his nose. She settled next to him and kissed his cheek. “Good to see you, Philip,” she said brightly. “Thanks for coming.”

“Good to see you, too,” Keating replied, studying her face. He was thinking it was as beautiful as he’d remembered when she flared the fur onto the seat, revealing a black knit dress that hugged her long, shapely torso. His eyes swept over it appreciatively.

Pomerantz noticed and broke into a comely smile. “The last time you looked at me like that Keating, I recall you disappointed me—terribly.”

“It was the gelati,” he said with the boyish charm that first attracted her to him. “I mean, there’s just something about chocolate gelati—no woman has ever been able to compete with it.”

“Oh, I know,” she said, pausing for effect before adding, “that’s why I voted against holding this conference in Italy.”

They were both laughing as the big car left the Dulles access road and swung onto the Beltway heading for Camp David in the bare-treed forests of the Appalachian foothills.

Snow started to fall.

“You know,” Pomerantz said with a mischievous twinkle, “a spicy sex scandal might give the media something to pick on besides my ‘political baggage filled with hawk droppings,’ as they refer to my policies.”

“Don’t count on it,” Keating replied. “Indiscretions outnumber lobbyists in Washington these days.” He grinned, took a drag of his cigarette, then pressed it into an ashtray, and snapped the lid closed. “To tell you the truth,” he resumed more seriously, “I was hoping you’d brought other bags on this trip.”

“I brought the only ones I have, Philip. Whether or not I unpack them is up to you,” she replied softly, taking his hand much more gently than on that day nine years ago.

“I’ll do everything in my power to stop you,” he countered, leaving his hand in hers.

They studied each other’s face for a moment before their eyes met in silent confirmation of their intense attraction.

On the rear window of their limousine, large flakes of snow were sticking, then slowly fading away, melted by the radiating heat of the electric defroster.

* * * * * *

Chapter Six

The drive to the Churchco Tower on Fannin Street took less than the usual twenty-five minutes.

Theodor Churcher rode one of the glass elevators high into the open core of the building to the tower-level executive suites.

Elspeth, his longtime administrative assistant, saw his preoccupation and sensed what was coming.

“Clear the deck, Els,” Churcher said without breaking stride. And that was all he had to say. They had their own special shorthand, and this meant he’d be unavailable and incommunicado for the rest of the day.

“Jake called,” Elspeth said, knowing that despite Churcher’s order he’d want to be told.

Churcher paused thoughtfully, lips tightening as he decided, then nodded. “But nobody else,” he said. He crossed to his office, inserted his card key into the electronic reader, and entered. The Van Gogh was waiting on the glass desk.

The intercom buzzed.

Churcher flicked a look to the painting, then pressed the blinking light on the phone and scooped up the receiver. “Jake!” Churcher said, forcing it. “What’s going on in Foggy Bottom?”

“Geneva. Current scenario has genuine potential,” Boulton replied rapid-fire. At five-six, and a hundred-thirty-two pounds, the director of
Central Intelligence had the metabolism of a hummingbird. “Nature of my call is related. Specific interest—your ETA Rome.”

“I’m not going,” Churcher replied. “Andrew’s handling the auctions alone this year. Churchco Equestrian’s his division now.”

Boulton’s eyes widened pleasantly in surprise. “Celebration definitely in order.”

“You know it. I never thought I’d see the day. What did you have in mind anyway? The Italians getting out of hand?”

“Negative. Italian Defense Ministry has displayed exemplary toughness despite severe internal pressures. Advent of arms control negotiations prompts Company to ascertain IDM’s needs, and affirm our support. Informal conduit to Minister Borsa deemed appropriate.”

“Hell, I’d have been tickled to pull things together with Giancarlo for you. Can I help out with anything else?”

“Affirmative. Evaluate capability of newly appointed chief Churchco Equestrian to assume role.”

“Sorry. I can’t recommend that, Jake. The boy’s got the smarts, but he’s going to have his hands full trading horses over there. This is his first crack out of the box. I’d hate to see him screw it up.”

“Agreed.”

“I’ve got some offshore problems snapping at my heels,” Churcher said, glancing anxiously to the Van Gogh. “I’m going to have to drop off.”

“Seven-fifteen tee-off, opening day, Eagle Rock?”

“I’ll be there.”

Churcher hung up. He slipped the fraudulent painting into the portfolio, and zipped it closed with an angry motion. There was an element of danger in what he was about to do. It gave him pause. Not for his own safety, but that of someone for whom he cared deeply. He scooped up the phone again, called Moscow, and alerted her. Then he crossed to a door in the wall of arched windows and exited to an expanse of roof where a helicopter waited.

The high-speed amphibious craft was painted Churchco’s corporate black and silver. It was a customized version of the CC-65 Viper, the two-seat attack helicopter Churchco Aero-Space manufactured for the military. The weapons and munitions bays had been gutted, and fitted with auxiliary fuel tanks that greatly extended its range.

Churcher set the portfolio on the vacant copilot’s seat, donned safety harness and headphones, and threw a number of switches on the console.

The turbine whined to life, the slack rotors quickly becoming a whirling blur.

Churcher gently pulled back on the joystick.

The chopper lifted off in the familiar forward tilt, revealing the concentric rings of a huge Churchco logotype painted on the roof as a landing target.

In seconds, Churcher was gliding above the Republic Bank Center, and on over One Shell Plaza, Penzoil Place, and the other curtain-walled shafts that stabbed into the morning sun.

Churcher clicked on the radio.

“This is Churchco N653WD to Hobby Field. Request clearance to heading three five zero.”

“Cleared to three five zero. Fifteen hundred.”

“Fifteen hundred,” Churcher echoed.

“Roger,” the controller said, then shifting to familiar tone, “This here’s Jordy Banks. That you, Mr. Churcher?”

“Sure is. How’re you doing, son?”

“Just fine, sir,” he drawled. “Churchco’s already up three and a half.”

Churcher had been so preoccupied that morning he hadn’t checked the stock activity as he always did.

“Three and
five-eighths
,”
he bluffed. “And don’t sound so surprised.”

Churcher clicked off, punched the throttle, and headed southeast toward the Gulf of Mexico. In twenty minutes he’d covered the distance to a cluster of oil drilling platforms. Each sported the concentric
C
s of the Churchco logotype.

Below, on Churchco 47, bare-chested men in hard hats wrestled with the drilling pipe.

The whomp of spinning rotors signaled the helicopter’s approach. It came at an angle toward a landing pad that cantilevered over the sea.

Churcher hovered momentarily, as if he was going to land, then punched the throttle, lifting off again.

The men below shouted and waved as Churcher headed out toward open sea. One of the youngsters turned to the leather-skinned crew chief next to him. “What’s that all about?” he shouted.

“That was the boss,” the chief hooted. He whipped chain around pipe and pulled hard. “Just his way of letting us know he’s out there. Buzzes us all the time.”

The new fellow looked after the helicopter, now a distant gull on the
horizon. “Son of a bitch—” he said admiringly, punching the air with a gloved fist.

Churcher knew his employees. And he knew they got a kick out of the chairman of the board piloting his own helicopter. And, so did he.

Aircraft had always captivated him. At age twelve, to the consternation of his parents, he skipped farm chores to catch rides in a rickety crop duster. The old bi-wing’s pilot was a former World War I flier who filled the teenager’s mind with tales of bravery and derring-do. And each time they soared above the endless acres of blight-ravaged crops, Churcher fantasized that they would land in another world far from the dust-bowl poverty in which he lived. And each time the plane touched down on the drought-hardened field behind his family’s tiny farm house, he cursed the bitter reality and vowed that no matter what it took, he would one day have unlimited wealth—and he soon realized that the symbol could become the means. Obsessed with learning to fly, but not having the money for formal instruction, he talked the crop duster into giving him lessons in exchange for gasoline—siphoned from the family’s farm vehicles. He soloed at sixteen and, a year later, won a scholarship to Houston’s Rice University, where he majored in engineering and designed his first airframes. As an OSS operative during World War II, he flew gliders to night landings behind enemy lines and discovered that he thrived on the risks; and now, he was not only a pilot but also a manufacturer of aircraft, including assemblies of the Space Shuttle, and Apollo moon rocket before that; and a lifetime of risk-taking had paid off.

The helicopter left the last drilling rig behind.

Churcher engaged the computerized navigation system, locking the chopper onto a preprogrammed heading—the precise intersection of latitude and longitude which he had passed on during his call to the Soviet Embassy in Washington the night before.

The data transfer had been accomplished by concealing the numerical coordinates in Churchco contract numbers. Churcher’s extensive business dealings in the Soviet Union generated many bona fide calls during which contracts were discussed. And for years, both sides had used this method to arrange meetings and specify locations without raising the suspicion of national security eavesdroppers.

The chopper was below any radar now, skimming the surface of the Gulf. Anyone monitoring it would have assumed Churcher had landed on the drilling platform; and of course, the roughnecks assumed its destination another of the Churchco platforms sprinkled over the thousands
of square miles of ocean. Churcher counted on that whenever he made this run.

* * * * * *

The previous afternoon in Moscow, a TU-144 supersonic jetliner—a civilian version of the Soviet mach 2.3, 9,600-mile-range Blackjack bomber—left Ogarkhov Air Force Base. Six hours later, at 3:35
A.M.
EST, it touched down at Castro International in Havana, and taxied to a secured area away from the terminal.

Soviet Minister of Culture Aleksei Deschin and Vladimir Uzykin, his KGB bodyguard, were the only passengers. They hurried down a mobile boarding ramp to a Russian-made limousine parked on the tarmac.

The chauffeur-driven Chaika took the two men to the Soviet Naval Base at Cienfuegos on Cuba’s southern shore. They boarded a Soviet Foxtrot class submarine, and went directly to the officer’s mess, where Gorodin and Beyalev were waiting.

At precisely 5
A.M.,
as scheduled, while the four men breakfasted, the Foxtrot slipped from its berth into the main ship channel.

The captain ordered his executive officer to set a southwest course into the Caribbean.

Almost immediately, two hundred and fifty miles out in space, a United States intelligence gathering satellite detected the sub’s movement. The KH-11
Ferret
was the cutting edge of surveillance technology. Circling the planet in Polar orbit, the Ferret took advantage of the earth’s rotation, and scrutinized the surface
twice
every twenty-four hours, performing heretofore unimaginable feats of surveillance; its sensitive electronic interceptors monitored up to a hundred telephone conversations simultaneously; its high-resolution camera read the numbers on the license plates of moving vehicles; and its lightning-fast central processor recorded and/or transmited the ferreted data to ground stations—the top-secret, mission-control-like rooms where technicians and analysts sat at consoles monitoring space-, land-, and sea-based surveillance devices.

The photographic data on the Soviet submarine was instantly transmitted to Anti-Submarine Warfare Headquarters at the Naval Air Station in Pensacola, Florida. ASW intelligence personnel evaluated the information, identified the ship as an enemy vessel, and initiated an alert.

* * * * * *

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