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Russia is in chaos. The country, the government, the nation's infrastructure, the people, and its institutions have all failed to make the transition to a prosperous democracy. Many people are in favor of turning back the clock, to a time when life's choices were simpler. When powerful men ruled with an iron hand, you could count on them to keep starvation away. Yevgenni Anatolevich Tarankov, known as the tarantula, is such a man. So if Russia is to survive in the family of nations, and continue on the path to an...
Russia is in chaos. The country, the government, the nation's infrastructure, the people, and its institutions have all failed to make the transition to a prosperous democracy. Many people are in favor of turning back the clock, to a time when life's choices were simpler. When powerful men ruled with an iron hand, you could count on them to keep starvation away. Yevgenni Anatolevich Tarankov, known as the tarantula, is such a man. So if Russia is to survive in the family of nations, and continue on the path to an open and free society, then one man must be killed. The tarantula must die before he leads the second most powerful country on earth back into the dark ages. All that is needed is an assassin. Ex-CIA officer Kirk McGarvey may be the only man who can pull it off. But Tarankov's old KGB connections manage to ferret McGarvey out, and he soon finds himself running for his life amidst the turmoil of the new Russia. He knows that any chance for Russian democracy may rest on his shoulders - and on the bullet that has the tarantula's name written on it.
Russia's economic woes and foreign policy setbacks are making the country's electorate restive enough to give the presidency to Yevgenni Tarankov, a charismatic Stalinist who campaigns throughout the motherland in an armored train. Gravely concerned that the ultranationalist could reverse the halting progress the troubled country has made toward creating an open, democratic society, Kremlin moderates recruit McGarvey to liquidate him. Now living in Paris with Jacqueline Belleau, an intelligence operative detailed to keep an eye on his movements, the hired gun reluctantly accepts the assignment. With valuable assistance from an expatriate computer whiz, he finds a way to slip in and out of Russia via the Baltic republics. Meanwhile, McGarvey's erstwhile masters learn what he's about and make a determined effort to stop him to preclude the disclosure that Tarankov earned a small fortune as a CIA informant during the 1970s. The CIA callously brings McGarvey's young daughter Liz into the game. A low-level translator at the agency, she jumps at the chance to do fieldwork and help locate her father. Liz soon tracks down Jacqueline (who has been outsmarted by her lover), and the two women head East. They remain several steps behind McGarvey (who's deduced that his target intends staging a May Day coup), and, on their way to Moscow, Liz is abducted by Tarankov's minions. In the nick, however, the quiet American foils the would-be usurper's plot and pulls Liz off the private railcar moments before government planes blast it to kingdom come.
Another twisty thriller from the reliable Hagberg (High Flight, 1995, etc.)—and a welcome return for Cold War hardcase McGarvey, who's still a cunning devil when it comes to organizing solo operations across forbidden frontiers.
"On par with Clancy's best." —Midwest Book Review
"Grabs a reader by the lapels and refuses to relent." —Denver Post
"A gem of a chase story." —Minneapolis Star Tribune
Yevgenni Anatolevich Tarankov was called the Tarantula because of the gargantuan web he'd spun over all of Russia in the past five years. From friends in the Kremlin and inside the old KGB, through the peoples of the central Russian plains and wheat fields still dotted with intercontinental ballistic missile silos, and beyond, to the independent-minded residents of the wild far eastern regions of Siberia, he was feared and loved. He was a force to be reckoned with. A Russian force, campaigning for the leadership of his country the Russian way, with bullets and bread.
He was a man in his early fifties, whose most prominent features were his eyes, which were large, black and expressive. When he smiled his eyes lit up with a pleasant warmth like a crackling fire on a cold Siberian night. But when he was angry, the fire was replaced by a sharply bitter man-killing wind that, as a poet from St. Petersburg wrote, " ... chilled a man'ssoul so completely that he forgot there ever could be such a season as summer.
He was unremarkable in appearance, typically Russian of moderate height with a thick waist, a bull neck and a massive head that looked common beneath a fur hat. But if his eyes were windows into the soul of Russia, his intellect was the engine that drove his successes and earned a grudging respect from his enemies, and an adoration bordering on religious faith from his followers. With Tarankov you either felt safe, or you felt as if your life were teetering on the slippery edge of an ice-coated cliff that dropped five thousand meters into a black hole from which escape was impossible.
It was his vision for the future of Russia. The nation would either regain its greatness or it would fall into a bottomless pit of despair.
It was morning and sharply cold as he stood on the swaying platform on the last car of his twenty-car armored train headed west from Yekaterinburg. They'd passed through the industrial city of Perm a few hours ago, and soon they'd enter Kirov, their next target city, where the killing would continue.
He leaned against the rail, smoking a German cigarette, enjoying the calm before the storm. The sky was overcast, which seemed to be appropriate this morning, the air bitter with sulphur oxides from what few factories were still in operation. The people here, he mused, were like the air and countryside—gray, dull, used up, without hope.
His East German wife, Liesel, came out with his morning brandy. Like him she was dressed in combat fatigues, without insignia. "Radar is clear so far," she said. Her Russian was still heavily accented though she'd lived in Russia since she was a seventeen-year-old student at Moscow State University.
"Not a day for flying in any event."
"They'll wish they had," she replied. She hunched up her coat collar and shivered, then sniffed the air and smiled slyly. "It's come, Zhennia, can you smell it?"
He returned her smile. "I can smell air pollution. Is that what you mean?"
"Hope, Zhennia. That's what you're smelling, and nothing is sweeter than hope."
"You sound like a recruiting poster now."
"Maybe." She pursed her full lips. "Already a lot of young boys believe it. Believe in you."
"Better the factory workers and the farmers want to follow me."
"Them too," Liesel said. "But it's the young men who'll make it happen." Her eyes flashed. "There'll be a bronze statue in Dzerzhinsky Square of a young soldier, his rifle raised over his head, his face pointed up to the sky in hope." She smiled again, this time coyly. "Just like the Minuteman in Concord."
"With a pool of blood at his feet," Tarankov said. The brandy had made his stomach sour.
Liesel shot him a sharp look, her violet eyes flashing with passion, her angular face screwed up in a grimace. She was a direct woman who never took sarcasms well. She expected short, succinct answers. In school her double majors had been mathematical logic and analytical psychology. She understood what motivated people, though she most often didn't like it.
"It's better to lose a river of blood now, than the entire country later," she said.
"Da, Russian blood, but from traitors, Zhennia." She swept her hand outward. "Look what they've done. Look what they're doing. It's time for a clean sweep, even in the darkest corners. The filth has to be cleaned away before we all choke on the dust. And you're the only man in Russia capable of doing it."
Tarankov looked at his wife with warmth and affection. For a brief moment he could see them alone, away from the struggle, in a dacha by a lake somewhere in the far east. A part of him desperately wanted the peace and quiet away from the struggle, back to a past, easier life.
In the early days after the war, his father had been on the team of rocket scientists who'd built the Russian launch center at Baikonur. Tarankov had fond memories of evenings spent listening to his father and fellow Russians and captured German scientists passionately talk about a science that would not only take them to the moon and beyond, but would also be capable of launching nuclear weapons intercontinentally. The Soviet Union would become the dominant force on the planet, and these men, his father included, would be the means to achieving that goal.
By day, his mother who was a gifted mathematician in her own right, and his aunts and grandfather, who were poets and historians, educated him. Philosophy and psychology were equally important as mathematics and physics. Literature and poetry were on par with chemistry and astronomy. Those days were simple, and he missed them now.
He attended Moscow State University, joined the Young Pioneers, the Komsomol and the Communist Party, and when he graduated with masters degrees in mathematics, physics, philosophy and psychology, he enlisted in the newly formed Strategic Rocket Force as a captain.
But then disaster struck. His father and mother had become too moderate and too vocal in their views. They were friends with Andrei Sakharov, but they did not have the physicist's importance so they were sentenced to a Siberian gulag for crimes against the State, where five years later they both died.
It was the beginning of Tarankov's real education, he once admitted to a friend. At that moment he became a realist. He embraced the Soviet Union and the Communist Party as he never had before, working equally as earnestly with Gorbachev's moderates as with Vladimir Zhirinovsky's ultra-nationalists. But when the Wall fell he shed no tears. Nor did he openlymourn the loss of the Baltic states and the disintegration of the Soviet Union. Instead, he began to consolidate his power base in the military, the Militia, the old KGB, the Kremlin and the Communists.
They passed a shack in the morning mist, a curl of smoke rising from the chimney. Then another shack, and two more, as they entered the outer suburbs of Kirov which was an industrial city on the Vyatka River.
"Just eight hundred kilometers to Moscow," Liesel said, straightening up. "Not so far. Maybe eight hours or less."
"More like eight light-years," Tarankov replied. He finished his brandy and handed the glass to his wife. "Have Leonid join me."
"Here," a dark figure said from within the shadows of the doorway behind them.
Liesel was startled, but Tarankov didn't bother to turn. Leonid Chernov was like an extension of his own personality, a brother, a kindred spirit. They understood each other.
"I'll see that Colonel Drankov is ready," Liesel said, and she left.
"There could be resistance in Kirov," Chernov said joining Tarankov. "It might be better if you remained aboard until we have Government Square secured."
"Do you think that's for the best, Leonid Ivanovich?"
"For your personal safety, yes." Chernov shrugged. "For the cause ... no."
Tarankov turned to look at his second in command who was ten years younger than him and stood a full head taller. Like everyone else aboard the train, including Colonel Drankov and his two hundred highly-trained commandoes, Chernov wore Russian battle fatigues with no insignia. They were a well-oiled team. Everyone knew everyone else, and all of their duties were clearly defined and perfectly understood. Everyone from the lowliest APC driver to Tarankov himself was equal, only their jobs and responsibilities differed.
"That's the whole point."
Chernov smiled humorlessly, but said nothing.
"Maybe I'll make you director of my KGB."
"Maybe I won't want it."
"There aren't many causes left worth your special talents," Tarankov said.
"Now it's you who are the idealist."
They passed the railroad siding for the Kirov Lumber Works complex, which looked all but deserted this morning. Where the yards should have been teeming with workmen, only a half-dozen men stood atop piles of lumber as the train roared by. A few of them waved, but most of them merely watched.
"They know we're coming," Tarankov said.
"It would seem that not everyone is thrilled by the prospect."
Tarankov studied his number two's eyes, but this morning he could discern nothing other than an amused indifference. They'd been together formore than five years, and in that time there'd been a few moments like these in which Chernov was unreadable. Stalin had once said the same thing about his secret service chief Lavrenti Beria, a killer whose cause and loyalty wasn't always so easy to determine. "What are you thinking?" Stalin asked. "You don't want to know," Beria replied. "Except that I'm yours."
So long as it suits me, Tarankov finished the thought as he was sure Stalin had.
They passed other factory complexes that like the lumber works were mostly deserted of workmen. The word had spread that Tarankov was coming. They would be gathering downtown to witness what a western journalist described as " ... a revolution so typically Russian that no one in the West has a chance of understanding it. The distance from apathy to passion is nowhere shorter than it is at this time and place in history."
They roared into the city at more than a hundred kilometers per hour, not slowing down until they'd passed through the central switching yards and entered the downtown section where the tracks made a huge loop to the north, passing over the river still choked with dirty ice floes. The main railway station was two blocks off the city square, and as they approached it Chernov ducked inside for a moment returning with Tarankov's Makarov pistol and his fatigue cap with a red star on the crown.
Tarankov put on his hat, strapped on his pistol and checked the gun's action. Carrying a sidearm was his only concession to his personal safety. But everyone from Liesel to his military commander insisted on it, and at the rallies the crowds seemed to expect it. This was war.
Thousands of people lined the tracks, many of them waving the hammer and sickle flag of the Soviet Union. Others raised banners with Tarankov's name, and still others held posters with his picture. Most of them chanted his name, many of them held up their right fists in the sign of solidarity. There were no police or military in sight.
"It could be a trap," Chernov said.
"Then we die here," Tarankov replied, not taking his eyes off the crowds. His chest was swelling and blood pounded in his ears. He was more alive now than he'd ever been. Russia was his.
The train rumbled to an abrupt stop a hundred meters east of the big, iron latticework central depot, its iron wheels screeching on the tracks, throwing up sparks. Loading doors on twelve of the cars crashed open, and a dozen troop-carrying armored vehicles roared into life, their half-tracks clattered down steel ramps, and they quickly formed into a unit of a hundred commandoes, and four smaller squadrons of twenty-five men each.
Liesel, also wearing a sidearm, joined Chernov and her husband on the rear platform. They climbed down and boarded the lead APC in the main group from which Colonel Vasili Drankov would direct his forces. This was their tenth campaign in the past eighteen months, but Kirov, which was a city of 300,000, would be by far their largest conquest. Any number of things could go wrong, and they all knew it. By sheer weight of numbers the citizenscould stop them dead, just as Yeltsin's supporters had protected the White House during the Kremlin coup.
Drankov saluted. "Radar is still clear. Air traffic has even been diverted from the civilian airport. And all the military channels are dead between Moscow and the air base as well as the army post."
Thousands of people raced down to the train, but mindful that something was about to happen, kept clear of Gruzinskaya Boulevard that led from the station to the city square. The noise was deafening, a roar that began to coalesce into the single chant: "Tarankov! Tarankov! Tarankov!"
"The military would be stupid to interfere," Tarankov shouted.
Liesel at his side was beaming. Chernov stood in the gunner's turret surveying the crowds and watching the taller buildings for snipers.
"This won't be another Chechnya," Drankov said with assurance. "Not with all this support. These people don't like the apparatchiks any better than anyone else we've seen. But the Party is still timid of Moscow."
"Not for long," Tarankov said harshly. "This time we'll give them a message they won't soon forget."
"As you wish, Comrade," Drankov said tightly, and he began issuing orders by radio. The main body of their forces would head directly into the city square which was at the heart of the government and financial district. Units One and Two were to head directly to the television and radio stations and the biggest newspaper, and summarily execute not only the government censors, but the left-wing intellectuals and democratic reformers who'd been identified by Tarankov's people months ago.
Unit Three was to proceed to the Arbat Bank, which was a branch of the powerful government-directed Bank of Moscow, execute its president and chief officers and rob the vault. The money and gold, if any, was to be brought back to the square and distributed to the people after Tarankov's speech. The confusion it would cause would help cover their retreat should the local militia decide in the end to retaliate. Anything was possible.
Unit Four was to round up the mayor, the entire city council, the chief prosecutor and his staff, the directors of public works, housing, transportation and all six of the regional court judges, and bring them to the central square.
The four smaller units roared off in a cloud of diesel fumes, and as Drankov's main unit headed up Gruzinskaya Boulevard, Tarankov spoke into a lapel microphone that relayed his voice by radio to loudspeakers atop all their assault vehicles.
"COMRADES, MY NAME IS YEVGENNI TARANKOV, AND I HAVE COME TODAY TO OFFER MY HAND IN FRIENDSHIP AND HELP."
The crowds lining the boulevard fell silent as Tarankov's voice rolled over them like waves on a vast shoreline. As the column passed, the people pressed in behind and followed the armored vehicles up to the square.
"OUR COUNTRY IS FALLING INTO A BOTTOMLESS PIT OF DESPAIR. OUR FORESTS ARE DYING. OUR GREAT RIVERS AND LAKES HAVE BECOME CESSPOOLSOF WASTE. THE AIR IS UNFIT TO BREATHE. THE ONLY FOOD WORTH EATING FILLS THE BELLIES OF THE APPARATCHIKS AND FOREIGNERS. OUR CHILDREN ARE DYING AND OUR WOMEN ARE CRYING, BUT NO ONE IN MOSCOW CAN HEAR THEM. NO ONE IN MOSCOW WANTS TO HEAR THEM."
The column moved at a steady four kilometers per hour, which made it easy for the crowds on foot to keep up with it, and which would give the four outriding assault units a chance to complete their assignments by the time the main force reached the square. The plans had been orchestrated by Chernov, and no one questioned his brilliance. Every town they'd entered had become theirs within thirty minutes, without exception. Kirov, though larger, more sophisticated and much closer to Moscow, was proving to be no different than the much smaller, rural towns.
"OUR HEALTH CARE SYSTEM IS BANKRUPT. OUR MILITARY HAS BECOME LEADERLESS AND USELESS. HOOLIGANS AND PROFITEERS ERODE OUR LIVELIHOODS LIKE CANCER. THE MAFIA EATS BEEFSTEAKS AND CAVIAR, DRINKS SWEET CHAMPAGNE AND DRIVES CADILLAC AND MERCEDES CARS WHILE RAPING OUR DAUGHTERS, WHO HAVE NO HOPE FOR A FUTURE."
Bankrupt, cancer, rape, were what Chernov called "buzzwords." He'd spent three years working out of the Russian embassy in Washington.
"AIDS AND DRUGS AND MINDLESS MUSIC ARE ROTTING THE BRAINS OF OUR CHILDREN. THE WEST HAS IMPOSED ITS FILTH UPON US BECAUSE WE ARE THEIR ENEMY AND THEY WANT TO BURY US."
Tarankov could look out the slit windows and see the people walking beside his lead APC. Many of them were crying, tears streaming down their weathered faces. Some of them smiled, while others walked with hands touching the side of his armored truck. Many of them were military men in shabby uniforms.
They were his people. They were the soul of Russia, and by their tears and their smiles, by their touching his truck, they were crying out to him for salvation.
Still talking, Tarankov pushed open the side door, scrambled out of his seat and jumped down onto the street with the people before Drankov or anyone else could stop him. He was still connected by radio link to the loudspeakers on his units all across the city by now.
"MOSCOW ... HOW MANY STRAINS ARE FUSING IN THAT ONE SOUND FOR RUSSIAN HEARTS!" he quoted Pushkin.
The crowd roared its approval.
"WHAT STORE OF RICHES IT IMPARTS!"
Women and men and old babushkas crowded around in an effort to touch him. His voice seemed to be everywhere, it seemed to be coming from heaven itself.
"I WILL RETURN YOUR PRIDE, YOUR HOPE, YOUR DIGNITY. I WILL RETURN THE UNION!"
Chernov climbed down from the APC, and he and Liesel joined Tarankov for the last half-block into the square. Unit Four had pulled up and washerding its prisoners from the city and federal buildings into a clear area in front of the frozen fountain. The square was jammed with people, tens of thousands of them, possibly more than one hundred thousand, one third of the entire population.
A broad path opened automatically for Tarankov and his column as if he were Moses parting the Red Sea.
"IT IS BETTER TO LOSE A RIVER OF BLOOD NOW, THAN THE ENTIRE COUNTRY LATER, EVEN IF IT IS RUSSIAN BLOOD. BECAUSE WE WILL ONLY SPILL THE BLOOD OF TRAITORS."
A lot of the people in Kirov knew what had happened in other cities that Tarankov had visited, and now that the prisoners were in plain view an odd, ugly mood began to sweep over the crowd. Liesel called it the "blood lust," when a crowd suddenly began to act as a single entity. A wild animal that wanted to kill.
"LOOK AROUND AND YOU WILL SEE WHAT THEY HAVE DONE," Tarankov's voice boomed across the square, now ringed with his mobile units.
"Units One and Two are completing their mission," Chernov said at his ear. "Radar is still clear."
Without breaking his stride Tarankov led his column into the square down the long path to where the two dozen city and district officials were lined up. They hadn't been allowed to get their hats and coats, and they stood shivering in the bitter northwest wind that gusted across the square. It would probably snow later today, but most of them understood that they wouldn't be alive to see it.
"IT IS TIME FOR A CLEAN SWEEP. THE FILTH MUST BE RUTHLESSLY CLEANED AWAY BEFORE WE ALL CHOKE ON THE DUST."
A low, guttural murmur spread across the square.
"WHEN OUR STRUGGLE IS COMPLETED, I WILL RAISE A BRONZE STATUE IN MOSCOW'S DZERZHINSKY SQUARE WITH MY OWN TWO HANDS. IT WILL BE OF A YOUNG SOLDIER, HIS RIFLE RAISED OVER HIS HEAD, AND HIS FACE POINTED UP TO HEAVEN IN HOPE."
"Unit Three has completed its mission," Chernov said. "All units are on the way back. ETA under five minutes."
Tarankov held a hand over his lapel mike. "Was Unit Three successful?"
Chernov spoke briefly into his lapel mike. He nodded. "No gold this time but they got millions in roubles, and a very large amount of hard currencies. Mostly Swiss francs."
"Distribute the roubles, we'll keep the francs for our expenses," Liesel said.
Chernov waited for Tarankov to respond.
"It's expensive running a revolution, Zhennia," Liesel prompted. Tarankov looked at his wife, then nodded after a moment, and Chernov relayed the order. Reality was sometimes a bitter pill, something his countrymen for all their tribulations under Stalin had never learned. He would have to teach them.
The armored column stopped fifty meters from the fountain. Drankov's commandoes piled out of the transports to take up defensive positions in case they had to retreat under the press of the crowds, or under fire by an organized force.
Tarankov continued up the broad path, his stride long and purposeful. Ten meters from the prisoners he unbuttoned the flap on his holster.
Kirov's Mayor Eduard Bakursky, a democratic reformer who'd been trying unsuccessfully to jumpstart the city's flagging economy, stepped to one side and pulled out a pistol that one of the commandoes had slipped him.
The prisoners nearest him reared back.
"You bastard!" Bakursky shouted. He raised the pistol and started shooting, the bullets apparently going wild. They were blanks. He'd been set up.
Tarankov stood his ground and calmly drew his pistol, switched off the safety and fired two shots, one hitting Bakursky in his chest, and the other catching the portly man in his thick neck just below his chin. He was driven backward into the frozen fountain, his blood splashing across the ice and snow.
"TRAITOR," Tarankov shouted, his voice thundering across the square. "TRAITORS TO THE PEOPLE, ALL OF YOU."
He shot the man who'd been standing next to the mayor, and as the prisoners tried desperately to get away, Tarankov followed them, emptying his pistol into the group.
The Unit Four commandoes opened fire with their Kalashnikovs on full automatic, killing the remaining prisoners within seconds.
As the sounds of the final shots echoed off the buildings and faded, the huge crowd suddenly erupted in a frenzy of cheering and clapping and whistling. They began to sing the old Communist Party anthem, The Internationale, though probably not one in a thousand knew that the song originated in France in the last century. But it didn't matter. The people were happy. Blood had been shed, but it was a just killing. The revolution had finally come to Kirov and the crowd was drunk with the thrill of it.
And Tarankov too was drunk on their passion, as he turned to address his people.
Russian President Boris Yeltsin, red faced and sweating, stumbled on the stairs into the old Soviet Presidium building, and one of his bodyguards had to reach out to stop him from falling. Lunch with Prime Minister Yuri Kabatov and his staff of old women had been nothing short of grueling. Only with vodka could he keep his sanity, although on days like this he wondered why he bothered.
His chief of staff, Alexi Zhigalin, and his military liaison, Colonel Igor Lykov, were waiting for him upstairs in his outer office, and their faces fell when they saw what condition he was in.
Zhigalin handed him a glass of tea. "Generals Yuryn and Mazayev are on their way over, Mr. President. Are you up to seeing them?"
Yeltsin flung the glass across the room, and brushed the impertinent pissant aside. "Unless NATO's tanks are knocking at our back door, the generals will have to wait. Two hours," he thundered as he entered his office.
Zhigalin and Lykov exchanged a glance. "It's the Tarantula. He's struck again, this time in Kirov," Zhigalin said, his long, narrow face even more pale than usual.
Yeltsin pulled up short and turned back, shooting the two men an ugly glance. "The madman's name is Yevgenni Tarankov. You will not utter that other name in my presence again."
"There was a massacre in the city square," Lykov said, the heels of his highly polished boots firmly together.
Yeltsin thought he looked like a drugstore cowboy. A fairy. But what he was saying was finally beginning to penetrate the fog. "In Kirov?"
"Yes, Mr. President," Lykov said. "The mayor and his staff along with all the district judges, and some others were gunned down. Tarankov himself apparently shot Mayor Bakursky and a couple of others to death."
"Where was the Militia, the army?"
"General Kirpichko was apparently on joint army—air force maneuvers a hundred kilometers north of the city. By the time he could return, Tarankov was gone."
"But they didn't chase after his train?"
Zhigalin shook his head. "It wouldn't have done much good, Mr. President. The people of Kirov support him. Now that our officials are dead it would take a full military intervention to bring order—"
"Do it," Yeltsin said.
"Sir?" Lykov asked.
"Find out where he's going, get there before him, and either arrest him or kill him."
"It wouldn't be so easy as that, Mr. President," Lykov said. "He has many supporters in the military and the Militia. Even in the Security Service. And his commandoes are better than the best of our troops."
Yeltsin walked back to Lykov and looked him up and down as if he were a raw recruit at parade inspection. "He has two hundred men with him. The best troops in all of Russia. Each one better than any ten of ours."
"Then send ten thousand soldiers to arrest him. Send tanks, rocket launchers. Send helicopter gun ships. If he's near water, send ballistic missile submarines. But arrest him!"
"The people are with him," Zhigalin said.
Yeltsin turned his now steady gaze to his chief of staff.
"Then arrest them as well—"
"Quite impossible, Mr. President," FSK Director General Nikolai Yuryn said coming in. "We would have the healthy beginnings of a full scale armedinsurrection. It's exactly what he wants." The FSK, or Federal Service for Counterintelligence, with its headquarters at the Lubyanka, was the internal security arm of the old KGB.
Militia Director Captain-General Mikhail Mazayev came in behind him. Both men were in uniform.
"Nikolai is correct, of course, Mr. President," Mazayev said. "By playing into his hand we'd be making matters worse."
"What do you suggest?" Yeltsin asked. He was at a slow boil and his generals knew it. The tension in the room was electric.
"I suggest that we bide our time," Yuryn answered. "He will make a mistake sooner or later. He will go to excess—all men of his ilk do at some point. It's inevitable. When that happens the people he claims to champion will desert him. Probably his own people will kill him."
"Are all of you agreed on this course of action?" Yeltsin asked reasonably.
"Da," Yuryn said. He was a large man, even bigger than Yeltsin, and he towered over everyone else in the room, especially the diminutive Zhigalin.
The others nodded.
Yeltsin let his shoulders sag as if he were defeated, started to turn back to his office, but then stopped, his face even redder than before. "Find out where Tarankov is going. Get there before him with as many troops and as much equipment and ordinance as you think you'll need ... no, twice that much ... and either arrest him or kill him. Have I made myself clear, Comrades?"
"Perfectly," General Yuryn said indifferently. "I'll have the order drawn up and on your desk for signature by morning."
"Do you feel you need such a document?"
"Yes, Mr. President, respectfully I do."
"Then have it here within the hour," Yeltsin said, and he went into his office and slammed the door.
Copyright © 1997 by David Hagberg