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KGB agent Arkady Kurshin is pitted against the CIA's top man, Kirk McGarvey, when Kurshin's hard-line commander--in ...
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KGB agent Arkady Kurshin is pitted against the CIA's top man, Kirk McGarvey, when Kurshin's hard-line commander--in order to fund his military campaigns--orders the Russian agent to assist in highjacking a vital U.S. shipment of gold bound for the Middle East. "Crackles with tension and imagination from the first scene."--New York Daily News.
"Very tense...Hagberg knows whats he's doing."—Kirkus Reviews
"Hagberg is one of the finest, if not the finest thriller writer of today."—R*A*V*E* Reviews
"Hagberg is a major find."—Dean Koontz
THE CROWDS, both pedestrian and vehicular, were thick at the Concorde end of the Champs-Élysées, slowed by the weather that had turned particularly nasty on this late afternoon. The temperature hovered around the freezing point, and a gusty wind drove frigid rain that sometimes turned to spits of snow in long plumes and swirls down the broad avenue. It was rush hour, and it seemed as if the entire city was tangled in one, large, snarled mess.
Nevertheless, a few Parisians were strolling hand in hand through the Tuilêries gardens, mindless of the weather, though none of the restaurants or vendors had their tables out.
The tall, well-dressed man with the briefcase left the gardens,crossed the street, and made his way up the broad walk to an old, ornately designed four-story building, the roof of which bristled not only with chimneys, but also with aerials and a variety of satellite communications dishes. A brass plaque announced: EMBASSY OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA.
"Good afternoon," the man said to the Marine guards just inside the main hall. He handed his briefcase to one of them and his American passport to the other. "I'd like to see a consular officer."
"Mr. McGarvey?" the one Marine, whose name tag identified him as Selkirk, said, studying the passport.
"Yes, that's right. Kirk McGarvey. I live here in Paris," the man said, smiling pleasantly. He was well built and almost handsome in a rugged, outdoorsy way. His eyes were a startling green, and were wide and very direct. His accent sounded definitely East Coast, possibly Boston.
"You know that your passport has expired, sir?" Selkirk jotted down the number.
The tall man nodded. "That's why I'm here. Silly of me, actually, that I didn't notice. I've been to Brussels on business for the past few days, and the border crossing people outside Valenciennes pointed it out. Thought I'd better come in and get it renewed or something."
The other Marine, Danberg, had put the briefcase through the scanner, then handed it back. "You can see someone who'll fix you up just down the corridor to the right, sir," he said. He glanced up at the clock above the door. "But you'd better hurry. It's nearly six, and most of them are probably gone or on their way out by now."
"I see," the imposter said, smiling. "But I suppose you boys will be here all night."
Danberg shook his head. "No, sir. We get off in a couple of minutes ourselves."
"Well, you'd better bundle up good. It's not very nice out there now."
The man turned and walked across the big hall, his shoes making no sound on the marble floor. No one was around. The building seemed deserted. Halfway down the long corridor on the right, he passed a flight of stairs, exactly where he knew it would be from the blueprints he'd studied. At the end of thecorridor, he knocked once at the door with a frosted glass window, and went in.
A counter ran the width of the room. Behind it was a large office with a half dozen desks, all but one of which were empty. An attractive woman in a red knit dress, a white scarf around her neck, her plastic security badge clipped beneath it, was speaking on the telephone. She looked up, did a double take, and then put a hand over the mouthpiece.
"Yes, sir, may I help you with something?" she asked. There was no one else in the office. Her red coat and her purse were lying on a chair in front of her desk.
"It's my passport," the imposter said carefully. Something was wrong here, but it was a calculated risk he'd had to take. "It's going to have to be renewed."
"Is it urgent?"
"Not yet," the man said. "I could come back tomorrow if it would be better."
"Very good," the man said. "See you then." He turned and left the office. No one was around to see him hurry to the stairs and go up. He pulled off his gloves and overcoat, and before he reached the first-floor landing, he had clipped a security badge just like the woman's in the consular office to the lapel of his brown jacket. The badge identified him as a special assistant to the ambassador.
The title and his name, of course, were not real. And had the woman known who he actually was, she would have run for her life.
Inside the consular office, Carley Webb put down the telephone, and gathered her coat and purse. Before she went out she scrawled a note about the man with the passport problem and left it on Cedric Evans's desk.
There had been something oddly familiar about the man's face that had startled her for just a moment. So much so that she'd forgotten to get his name, but he'd be returning in the morning, so it didn't matter. In any event, it wasn't her job. Her work in the consular section was merely a cover for her assignment with the Central Intelligence Agency's Paris station,a position she had fought hard to get, and one she relished.
There were many women on the staff, but no others were full-fledged case officers. Most of them worked as secretaries, or cipher clerks, or in a few instances as translators. The Paris station was the Company's largest operation in Europe, even bigger than Bonn, because this was the central clearinghouse for all information funneling back to Langley. She was resented by some of the women because of what she did, and partly because of her looks. At thirty-three she had lost her innocent little-girlishness and had developed into a sophisticated, even beautiful woman. In the right light she could have been mistaken for a young Audrey Hepburn, with her long delicate neck, small angular face, wide dark eyes, and slender frame.
Just now she was finishing the developmental stages of new network that had been code-named SPARKLE. Contact had been made and was firmly established with two high-ranking officers in the Soviet embassy, one of them the third assistant to the KGB's Paris rezident, and the other the second assistant to the Soviet's military attache. Both of them were men, both of them had a crush on her, which of course she encouraged, but neither of them knew about the other. Each man thought he was working alone with her. The value of this particular network, aside from the obvious benefits of having such assets in the Soviet embassy, was that by working them both, she had a continual check on the veracity of the information they were providing her.
"The day will come, Carley, when they will want to make love to you," Thomas Lord, chief of station, had warned her.
It hadn't happened yet, but with Vladimir Rudichev, the KGB officer, the moment was fast approaching.
"I'll deal with it when the time comes," she'd told Lord.
"Perhaps we should begin weaning you out. Stewart can gradually begin to take over."
"Not yet, Tom. Please. Just give me a little longer."
Lord had been like a brother, or even a father, to her from the moment she'd been transferred from Langley. He smiled. "Just be careful, kid. Will you at least do that much for me?"
"Sure," she'd promised. It was pride, of course. She'd come this far on her own; she didn't want to drop out just as the gold seam of information was beginning to produce results.
Besides, she told herself, pulling on her coat as she headed down the corridor, Rudichev and Guryanov were not her only problem. She was going to have to make another decision, and in some respects an even larger one, very soon. Maybe even tonight.
Nearly everyone had left early that afternoon because of the weather, though she supposed Lord would still be upstairs in his office. The afternoon summaries went out via encrypted burst transmission at seven, and he almost always stuck around to make last-minute additions or deletions. Fine tuning, he called it.
She crossed the main hall and turned in her security badge to the Marines.
"Good night, Miss Webb," they said.
"'Night," she replied, starting for the door, but then she changed her mind and came back. "There was a tall, good-looking man in to see me about renewing his passport a few minutes ago. Did you get his name?" Because of terrorist attacks, U.S. embassies worldwide logged in visitors, carefully scrutinizing their parcels and papers.
"We just came on duty ourselves, ma'am," one of the Marines said. "Must have missed him."
The other Marine had turned the registration book around so that he could read the last entries. "Here he is, last one in. Name is Kirk McGarvey."
"Kirk, here?" she said. "I didn't see him."
The young man shrugged. "That's what it says, Miss Webb. Logged in for the Consular Section at 1758 hours, briefcase checked."
"That was only a few minutes ago," Carley said, her mind going to a dozen different possibilities but rejecting them all. "Who else came in, just before McGarvey?"
"Henri Perigord, also for the Consular Section. But that was much earlier, ma'am, 1527 hours."
Carley remembered him. "No one else in between?"
"No, ma'am. Is something wrong?"
"I don't know," Carley said. "But the man who logged in at six wasn't the Kirk McGarvey I know."
"Someone impersonating him?"
"Possibly," she said, glancing toward the elevators. "He said he'd be back in the morning. I'll check it out myself."
"Anything else we can do in the meantime?"
Carley had glanced at the registration book. Beside McGarvey's name, the Marine had written his passport number. It was something. She looked up. "If he returns tonight, give me a call. I'll be on my beeper."
"Will do," the Marine said, and Carley turned and left the embassy. It was possible that the Marine who had logged the man in had made a mistake about his name. But she couldn't see how.
It nagged at her as she hurried, head bent low against the wind, to catch a cab on the avenue Gabriel. But the man was gone. There was nothing to be done about it until morning.
The embassy's second-floor corridor was empty, but the imposter could hear the high-pitched whining sounds of a computer printer coming from somewhere above. He held up for a second or two just within the landing.
Most of the diplomats and other embassy personnel would be gone already. But the CIA's communications center on the third floor would be fully manned, and some of the Agency's high-ranking officers would probably still be there, getting their seven o'clock summaries ready for transmission to the States.
It was a bit of insider information that not many people knew; not secret, just not publicly known.
"What we need, Arkasha, is a diversion," the general had told him at their last meeting in Tripoli. "You are to be my chosen one for this work. I'm putting your skills to use again. Just like the old days. Only this time no one will know that it is you. It's rich—they all believe you to be dead."
General Didenko was a tall bear of a Russian, with thick black hair, Brezhnev-like eyebrows, a broad Siberian forehead, and a swarthy complexion. He continued, "Paris, I should think, would be a good start. Then Rome, perhaps Bonn. Lisbon, then Brussels." The general smiled, but not in friendship. "But I will leave the exact details up to you. As and when you need information, your contact will be standing by in each city. Paris to begin with."
They were walking along a beach east of the city, Didenko's bodyguards trailing out of earshot behind them. The breeze off the Mediterranean was cool but not unpleasant.
"Are you up to this assignment?" the general asked. Therewas a rumor that his position in Moscow was in serious trouble. If it was, however, the trouble was not reflected in his face or in his manner, which was confident.
"A diversion for what?" the man who was posing as McGarvey asked, his voice soft, even gentle.
"Are you capable of this?" the general demanded, ignoring the question for the moment.
The imposter nodded. "Yes, I am capable, but first you will tell me what your real plans are, Comrade General. You are no Baranov."
"No," Didenko said. "Nor are you his tool any longer. Now you belong to me." He smiled again and took the man's arm. "But come, Arkasha, and I will tell you everything you wish to know. Simply everything. Then you will see why I have picked you."
The imposter stepped out of the stairwell, hurried across the corridor, and let himself into one of the offices, closing and locking the door behind him.
CIA operations were, for the most part, conducted one floor above, where security, both electronic and physical, was tight. There would be Agency people in the corridor at the stairwell doors and elevator. Armed. In the early planning stages it had been a bothersome detail. It would do him no good to simply shoot his way onto the floor. Even if he successfully penetrated the station, he'd probably not get out of the building alive, and certainly not without being spotted and followed.
Laying his coat and gloves on the desk in the tiny office, he took off his suit jacket and tie, putting them aside as well. Next he took his pistol, a Walther PPK, out of his shoulder holster, screwed the silencer tube on the end of the barrel, set it on the desk, and then took off the holster and began unbuttoning his shirt.
The communications center was directly above this office. At this moment there would be at least a dozen technicians and operators up there, perhaps more, as well as a few million dollars' worth of sensitive communications and cryptographic equipment.
On the far side of the building, but still one floor above, were the secure briefing rooms and the offices of Chief of Station Thomas Lord and Assistant Chief of Station Bob Graves. Both were highly capable men, absolutely vital to the Paris operation.Without them, CIA operations would suffer in all of Europe for a long time to come.
Someone was at the door, trying the knob. The imposter snatched his pistol and switched the safety off as he stepped into the deep shadows in the corner. The only light in the room came from outside.
Moments later a key grated in the lock, and the door opened. An old man, stoop-shouldered with a heavy paunch and white hair, came in and flipped on the light. He was alone.
For a moment the old man didn't understand what he was seeing: the clothing on the desk, the man in the corner. But then he started to step back, his left hand coming up as if to ward off a blow, and the Russian shot him in the face, the bullet destroying his left eye, flinging him backward, half out into the corridor.
No one was supposed to come down here. The man had had no business being on the second floor at this hour.
The imposter rushed to the doorway and looked out into the corridor. No one was there. Apparently no one had heard a thing. No alarms were sounding.
Hurriedly he dragged the man's body back into the office. Using his handkerchief, he wiped up the blood and cranial fluid that had leaked from the wound in case someone else came this way in the next minute or two.
He closed and relocked the door, flipped off the light, and took a deep breath to ease the tension in his chest.
It had been a stupid mistake, one that might well cost him the mission. Now someone would come looking for the man. It was time to hurry.
The Russian smiled grimly to himself as he took off his shirt and peeled the tape away from the eleven pounds of C4 plastique around his chest and flanks.
Copyright © 1991 by David Hagberg