Australian Yvonne Bornstein-who was abducted along with her husband by Chechen terrorists in Russia in 1992 and wrote a memoir of her experience, Eleven Days of Hell-serves as the model for Patti Monroe, the heroine of this run-of-the-mill thriller from Hagberg (Allah's Scorpion), who's updated the story to the post-9/11 world. Patti, an American businesswoman, and her husband, David, fly to Moscow to settle a dispute with their unsavory Russian partners. On the ride from the airport, their hosts stop the car, shoot David in the head and threaten to kill Patti as well. The thugs hold Patti for a $20 million ransom, which is to be used to help al-Qaeda get a nuclear weapon into the U.S. During Patti's brutal ordeal, the FBI works with the MVD, a KGB successor, just as the U.S. and Russian agencies cooperated on the Bornstein kidnap case. Patti's transformation into an action heroine may strike some readers as improbable, despite her training in self-defense years before. (June)Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Burnedby David Hagberg
David Hagberg’s new novel, Burned, is inspired by the true story of Yvonne Weinstock. Kidnapped in Russia in the 1990s by Islamic terrorists, she and her husband were held for ransom. During her captivity she was beaten, starved and raped.
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By David Hagberg
Tom Doherty AssociatesCopyright © 2009 David Hagberg
All rights reserved.
The landing at Moscow's Sheremetyevo Airport in blowing snow on an icy runway had been rough. Patti Monroe was on edge, in part because of the dull knot of fear that had formed in her gut the moment they'd boarded the aging Aeroflot jet in Frankfurt, which she worried would crash. But mostly it was David. She was at her wit's end, and she didn't know what to do to save her marriage.
She was a slender, small boned woman, just thirty-two in five days, with long dark hair up in a bun, frazzled now after nearly eighteen hours in the air. She was dressed in plain designer jeans, soft Italian boots, a vibrant pink short-sleeved turtleneck cashmere sweater, and a Gucci leather jacket. A large Louis Vuitton bag was slung over a narrow shoulder.
A nasty weather system had stalled over most of Eastern Europe, and here in Moscow snow fell vertically in sheets, temperatures hovering around the zero mark, the late afternoon already getting dark. Everyone in the terminal seemed to be in a nasty mood.
David was a few steps ahead of her, as usual, with his long-legged stride, bulling people out of his way. At just over six feet he towered over her. Three years ago, when they'd married, his height and bulk had been reassuring; he was her Rock of Gibraltar. Somehow his size and rotten attitude had become intimidating; he was still a rock, but now it was around her neck, dragging her down.
Maybe her father and Uncle Tobias had been right about him, but she didn't want to believe it even now. David had fallen in love with her for herself, not for her family's money. If that had made her a romantic in the beginning, she was becoming a realist finally, a role she didn't know if she could play. Or if she would be very happy playing it.
They turned left along a filthy corridor to the customs hall where they were among the first off the flight. Men in shabby uniforms waited behind battered desks. The terminal was incredibly hot.
David was a handsome man, in Patti's eyes. Narrow face, nice lips, expressive eyes, and when he was in a good mood, or when he was trying to con something out of somebody, especially a woman, a devastating smile. He handed their passports to the officer without a word.
This was their fourth trip to Moscow, and they'd come to expect delays at this point, sometimes more than an hour, while everything in their two hanging bags was unpacked and handled, and dozens of questions asked. Once, three customs inspectors had become involved. Patti suspected it was a national sport, and she prayed that David would hold his sharp temper in check. They were in enough trouble as it was.
"Business, Mr. Monroe?" the agent asked, his English thick. He opened the passports and glanced at the photographs, but he didn't look up.
"Yes," David said.
The agent stamped both passports and handed them back.
"What the fuck?" David muttered.
They headed across the hall to the rusty carousel where their bags had already arrived. On the other side of a wire fence was the terminal, packed with people waiting for passengers off the Frankfurt flight. Some of them held up small hand-lettered signs.
Patti tried to spot their business rep, Aleksei Voronin, but he wasn't in the front rows, and the terminal was dimly lit, unlike airport terminals in the West. And she had forgotten how bad it stank — cigarette smoke, unwashed bodies, and stale vodka.
She was sorry they had come, but for the past couple of weeks she'd kept telling herself the trip was necessary. David was in trouble to the tune of l.5 million dollars U.S. They'd been making barter deals through a company called SovAustralTech. They'd acquired a million and a half dollars' worth of Chinese cell phones in Hong Kong for one million, which they traded for 1.5 million dollars' worth of Russian fertilizer that they'd planned to sell in Taiwan for two million, making them a nice profit of one million.
But David hadn't paid attention this time. The fertilizer was half sand and was rejected by the buyers. Most of the cell phones were reconditioned units and didn't work. Aleksei said his backers wanted their money back. All of it, and an explanation if they were going to keep doing business.
And it had to be in person, which worried Patti, because Aleksei was almost certainly connected with the Russian Mafia and they killed people who got in their way.
David laid their bags on a low counter in front of one of the agents and handed over their luggage receipts, customs declarations, and passports. The Russian seemed tired and bored.
"What is the purpose of your trip to the Russian Federated States?" he asked.
"Business," David replied.
"What is the nature of your business?" The agent glanced at David's customs declaration, which showed nothing. "Mr. Monroe."
"We're partners in an import/export firm."
"And what do you import to Russia?"
"Stuff," David shot back. "Shit that you people can't produce for yourself."
Christ, Patti said to herself.
"What do you export?"
"Shit you people can't use."
The agent flipped through the passport, stamped with Russian entry and exit permits. He looked up again. "You have been here many times."
Patti stepped forward before David could say anything else.
"We have friends and business partners here in Moscow." She smiled, as warmly as she could, although her stomach had tightened into a knot again. "But maybe we're not prepared for a Moscow January."
The agent hesitated for just a beat, glancing again at David, but then he managed a slight grin. "Moscow is best for Muscovites in the winter," he told her shyly. "We know how to live with it." He stamped their passports and handed them to Patti. "Have a pleasant visit, Mrs. Monroe. Be sure to keep warm. Perhaps a good fur hat would be wise."
"Pazhaloostah," you're welcome, the agent said.
Hefting their bags, David and Patti passed through the barrier and headed into the terminal, the first passengers from the flight. Welcome to Moscow.CHAPTER 2
Patti had always thought that the toughest parts of a trip to Russia were getting into the country, and then getting back out. But this time they had to face Aleksei and solve the problem so that everybody would be happy. And she didn't know if it was possible. Not now. Their bank accounts in Hong Kong and Sydney had less than three hundred dollars between them, and after paying for their air tickets they were just about maxed out on their credit cards.
"Stop brooding," David told her sharply.
"Maybe you should be worried," she said. "We don't have the money to pay them."
He stopped in midstride and turned on her. "I wouldn't pay the bastards even if we did have it. They fucked us. The fertilizer wasn't worth the shipping costs. On top of that we've screwed at least three of our Taiwanese contacts. I've been trying to explain it to you ever since we got out of there. We've got bigger troubles than the mil five."
The situation in Taipei had been tense. Chris Liu, their trading partner for all of southeast Asia, had tossed a handful of the bad fertilizer in David's face. If three of Liu's gunmen hadn't been standing right there, Patti was sure David would have started a fight, which would have landed them both in a Taiwanese jail.
"You will fix this problem, Monroe," the man had shouted. "You will go to Moscow and straighten those bastards out. Otherwise you will never do business in Asia again." He'd stepped closer, his face inches away from David's. "If you come back with empty hands I will personally kill you."
Passengers coming out of customs flowed past them, no one paying them the slightest bit of attention, but Patti could feel heat rising to her cheeks. She hated when she got like this. Her father had taught her to stand on her own two feet, take responsibility for her own actions, and not to cry, while her mother had simply shaken her head at their tomboy daughter. She never cried, but lately David could embarrass her; and when that happened she wanted to strike out at something.
Her instructor at the Chicago dojo where she'd began her martial arts training had told her to channel her feelings of aggression.
"It is a useful energy; direct your anger where it will do the most good."
At first she hadn't even been aware that she was angry, or why. But three months into her training, her instructor had paired her with a third-year student against whom she had no chance. It was to be a test. The instructor had planned on kicking her out of the dojo because of the chip on her shoulder unless she learned to handle her attitude.
Thirty seconds into the bout she'd realized that she was fighting her father for trivializing her all of her life. He'd wanted a son, and he'd been disappointed that Patti was a girl.
The boy's name was Paul, and he was a senior at her high school. After the fight, in which she had coldly and efficiently taken him apart, her instructor never questioned her anger again. In fact he'd taken her under his wing, grooming her for international competition, she'd been that good. Paul dropped out of the dojo and avoided her the rest of his senior year.
But that seemed like five lifetimes ago.
"Let's save this until later, okay?" she asked. "Let's talk to Aleksei, then get to the hotel. It's been a long day, and I'm tired."
"I'm going to do a hell of a lot more than talk to him," David shot back. "But I want you to keep quiet this time. If he wants to think that you're still connected to your dad's money, we're not going to tell him anything different. He owes us a mil-five worth of good fertilizer, and I'm going to get it from the bastard."
"What about the cell phones?" Patti asked. Supposedly they were in a warehouse somewhere in Moscow. "These people don't screw around."
"When we get the fertilizer, I'll replace the phones," David told her. He started to walk away, but then stopped suddenly and turned back. He was smiling. "Look, sweetheart, I want to get us out of this mess as badly as you do. But we've made some good money here, and I don't want us to screw the pooch over some small shit like this. I'll get Aleksei straightened out, we'll go back to Liu and make him a happy camper, and when we get home we'll take a cruise. Someplace warm. Maybe Rio. Maybe St. Kitts. Maybe the Riviera." His smile widened, and he suddenly was the old David, the man she'd fallen in love with the first time she'd laid eyes on him. "How about Monaco? Give you a chance to spend some of our money."
"You'll have to take it slow," Patti warned. Aleksei had visited them at their home in Baltimore last year, when business was good. They had just signed a million-dollar mortgage for the big house, and he'd been impressed.
"Very nice," he'd kept saying the whole five days he'd been with them. "In Russia we have to kill someone for something this nice." He smiled in his diffident, almost effeminate manner, as if he'd never had any need to lie about anything, or brag.
"Just let me handle it, okay?" David said angrily.
Patti could feel her temper flare, but she held herself in check. Lately David had been doing and saying things that she was sure were meant to hurt her, and she didn't know why. Sometimes she felt lost.
The one lesson her father, who had almost never been there for her had taught her was never give up. "Don't let the bastards get to you. Fire away and keep firing until they back off and give you a little respect. Just because you're a woman doesn't mean you have to take shit from anyone." Like her mother had taken it; the thought came to her often.
"Let's not argue, okay?" she said. "I'm a part of this business, too."
A pained expression came over his face, the same as always when he thought that she was reminding him whose money paid the bills. It was a look she'd never forget.
"Fuck it," he said, and walked away.
Patti hurried to catch up with him, but when she reached his side he wouldn't look at her. "I'm sorry," she said. "I didn't mean it the way it sounded."
"Right," he said tight-lipped.
Patti groaned inwardly. He was in one of his martyr moods, and she knew exactly what he would say next. I'm just trying my best here. It may be your money but they're my contacts.
"Look, Patti, I know that it's been your money from the start, but goddamnit I've been cultivating these people since Chicago, since before I ever met you."
"I didn't mean to bring up old wounds, sweetheart. Honestly. But right now it's just as much my problem as it is yours. We're in this together. We'll work it out, you'll see."
"That old man of yours is a son of a bitch. I should have told him that to his face from day one."
David was her third marriage, and he'd been the straw that broke the camel's back as far as her father was concerned. He'd given her a $500,000 check for her wedding present and that was that. He was washing his hands of her until she came to her senses. "Divorce the bastard and everything's yours," he'd told her flat out.
She had no sisters or brothers, and her father's hundred-million-plus fortune would be hers if she jumped through the hoops.
At the time it was a no-brainer. David didn't know just how rich her dad was, or so she thought. And with his plans and her half mil they couldn't fail.
But that had been three years and a lot of very bad, stupid deals ago. Now they were here.
Aleksei Voronin's familiar pale round face appeared out of the crowd, a serious, patient look in his eyes behind the wide glasses. He was dressed in a nice pale gray overcoat and Russian sable hat.
"Finally," he said, his voice soft, his English heavily accented but educated. He'd graduated from Frunze, the Soviet Union's most prestigious military academy, akin to West Point and Annapolis rolled into one. He embraced Patti and put out his hand to David, who ignored it.
"We've got some shit to work out," David said harshly.
"Yes, I understand. But you must understand our position, too."
"Bullshit," David said, stepping closer. "Fertilizer laced with sand? I even had to pay to have it unloaded from the ship, trucked out into the mountains, and dumped. Where the fuck was your head?"
"You inspected the sample before the deal was made," Voronin reminded him, reasonably.
The fact of the matter, Patti thought, was that David hadn't bothered. Nor had he bothered to check the cell phones.
"The sample I had tested was fine," David said. "Someone must have added the sand later to make the weight."
"It was up to you to have the shipment inspected before you attempted to deliver it," Voronin said. "Standard business practice. I inspected the cell phones and rejected them before they were sent east. If you had done the same with the fertilizer our deal could have been adjusted."
"That's why I'm here. To get it adjusted."
Suddenly, Patti had an awful feeling, almost overwhelming, that they were heading into a very bad place from which there would be no escape. Considering the deal gone bad, Aleksei was being far too pleasant. His mood versus David's was ominous.CHAPTER 3
Patti followed David and Voronin through the terminal to the departing passengers' doors and outside to the three-lane driveway where cars, taxis, and buses waited. When they stepped outside, the cold took her breath, and she had to turn away, her eyes instantly watering. She wasn't dressed for this kind of weather, not after Baltimore, but she had forgotten all about Moscow winters.
"Everything is fine with operations," Voronin said. The cold didn't seem to affect him. "I don't want you to worry about the other deals on the table, just this one needs to be straightened out." He raised his hand.
A lot of traffic clogged the driveway, but there were very few cops. The air stank of diesel and gas fumes, and something else, something foul that Patti couldn't identify.
A long, black Zil limousine pulled away from where it was parked, twenty meters away, and glided up to them.
"What the fuck is this?" David demanded. "Did we buy a new car?"
"It belongs to a friend of mine," Voronin said calmly. "It's more comfortable than the Benz. Trust me."
A heavyset man with a thick dark beard was behind the wheel, while another man, craggy with short-cropped hair, wearing a thick fisherman's turtleneck sweater, riding shotgun, got out and opened the rear door.
Patti got the impression that he was a soldier because of his close-cropped hair and crisp bearing. She thought he was handsome in a dark, dangerous way, and she smiled.
"Good afternoon," he said. His English sounded British and cultured.
"This is my friend, Sergey Lysenko, who's come from London to meet you and perhaps arrange a few deals," Voronin said. "If we can work out our little problem."
"We'll definitely resolve the problem," Lysenko said, smiling.
"I'd like you to meet David and Patti Monroe," Voronin said.
"Of course I've heard so much about you," Lysenko said smoothly. He took Patti's hand and kissed it, then turned to David. "Mr. Monroe. Or may I call you David?"
David ignored Lysenko's outstretched hand and turned instead to Voronin. "I just spent half the day in a sardine can," he said. "Let's get going."
Patti touched her husband's arm, and he turned on her. He was pissed off, and it worried her.
Excerpted from Burned by David Hagberg. Copyright © 2009 David Hagberg. Excerpted by permission of Tom Doherty Associates.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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