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Krasnoyarsk Nuclear Power Plant
Ten days earlier
At first light, as agreed, the pilot was waiting, alone, at the bottom of the rolling stairs. It was an undeclared flight with a plane that didn't officially exist and no copilot would be welcome. The fewer people involved, the better.
They were on a runway on the far side of the military airport, which had been decommissioned when the Soviets lost power. A pilot and a nuclear engineer.
They had only been told first names, Lyosha and Edik. Both names were false, but it didn't matter.
The nuclear engineer, whose real name was Arkady Sergeyevitch Andreyev, knew the only thing about the pilot that was necessary...that he was a zek, a former guest of the Russian Gulag. They were members of that very exclusive club...men who didn't die in the Russian Bear's cruel embrace.
The two men didn't shake hands. But when the pilot stretched out his hand to help Arkady maneuver the hand truck to shift the heavy container from the van to a loading pallet, Arkady saw what he expected to see...a barbed-wire tattoo around the pilot's wrist.
Former prisoners had their experience in hell etched into their skins, not just their souls. Arkady was covered in tattoos, from the stars on his knees that meant he bowed to no man, to the crosses that were a symbol of the years in the Gulag. He wore them proudly.
The only part of his skin that was clear was a large, shiny scarred patch over his heart where once had been the tattoo of the distinctive, goateed Tatar features of Lenin. Soviet prison guards were a superstitious lotand would never shoot the holy image of Lenin.
The day the camp fell, he'd stolen a soldering iron from the deserted guards' barracks and burned the head of Lenin off himself. He hadn't even felt the pain, he had been so happy to rid his body of that monstrous image.
The two men, Arkady and the pilot, silently noted each other's tattoos. Nothing more had to be said. They were members of the Bratva, the Brotherhood. That was all they had to know.
The heavy lead container was lifted into the cargo bay of the Tupolev Tu-154 aircraft, where the pilot carefully strapped it to the bulkhead. Inside the lead container was a large lead-lined canister filled with cesium 137, enough for a very powerful dirty bomb. Enough material to close down the city center of London, or New York, or Paris, or Rome, or Berlin, or Washington, D.C. Wipe it off the face of the earth as a viable city, turn it into deserted concrete canyons forbidden to humans or any other life-form for ten thousand years.
The pilot closed the cargo bay door and entered the small cabin where Arkady had observed the stowage of the container.
"Is everything all right?" the pilot asked quietly.Arkady knew exactly what he meant. He wasn't offended. This was a dangerous business.
Though he was a superbly well-trained and careful nuclear engineer, and had taken all the necessary precautions, the pilot couldn't know that.
Instead of answering, Arkady opened his briefcase and extracted a small Geiger counter. He switched it on, walked to the cargo bay, and waved it over the container. They both listened to the welcome sound of soft, gentle ticking. The Geiger counter was picking up on the ambient radiation, higher than normal in the area surrounding a nuclear power plant, but nothing more than that.
The pilot nodded, satisfied, and without a word made his way to the cockpit. Arkady walked down the steps onto the tarmac. There was one thing more to take care of before takeoff.
Telling the Vor that the first stage was successful.
If this trip proved successful, there were many more such trips in the future. His Vor, an already powerful and rich man, would become one of the most powerful men in the history of the world.
Arkady opened the green cell phone. He had three of them, one for each stage of his long journey. Three brand-new cell phones, onetime use only. He dialed a long number, connecting to a remote mansion in the northern state of Vermont, in the United States.
The cell phone was unencrypted. If there was one thing guaranteed to catch the attention of America's frighteningly powerful electronic surveillance agency, the NSA, it was an encrypted cell phone message to the United States. So there was no encryption and no nonsense about packages on their way or delivery times.
The NSA's endless banks of supercomputers, trolling daily and tirelessly through a terabyte of data spanning the globe, was trip wired with a number of key words, package and delivery being two of them, that would have immediately picked up on those words.
The Vor's money had bought the services of one of the junior NSA officers and the Vor had the list of words. The Vor thought of everything.
No packages, no deliveries. Their code was the weather.
The cell phone at the other end was picked up immediately. It, too, was a one-off, to be destroyed after the message. Arkady had memorized each of the Vor's one-off cell phone numbers, though they were twelve digits each.
A laughable exercise. Child's play. In Kolyma, numbers had kept him sane. He'd memorized pi to the thirteenth decimal, prime numbers up to the first five hundred, and had perfected in his head a risk calculation method the Vor used to this day.
The Vor himself, a literary genius, had memorized every word of Pushkin's Queen of Spades. Vassily Worontzoff, the greatest man in the world. The man who'd saved his life and, perhaps more important, his sanity in Kolyma. His Vor.Dangerous Secrets. Copyright © by Lisa Rice. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.