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Based on a true story, this absorbing stand-alone thriller from bestseller Haig (Secret Sanction and five other books featuring army JAG lawyer Sean Drummond) charts the incredible rise and fall of a Russian multimillionaire. The brilliant, hard-working Alex Konevitch amasses a fortune in the building trades in the early 1990s only to have it stolen by a cabal of KGB men led by the KGB's deputy director, who not only takes Konevitch's money and control of his company but also frames him for assorted crimes. Pursued by assassins, Konevitch and his wife go on the run. The couple make their way to America, where they begin to prosper, then fall afoul of a venal FBI director out to enhance his own reputation. The reality aspect of the tale will remind readers of the repressive regime that Russia was and may be again-and of the perfidy of individuals in our own government when greed and ambition are put before democracy and justice. (Aug.)Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Shortly after the collapse of the Soviet Union, the brilliant young Alex Kanevich has become a mega-millionaire, but he's made a host of enemies along the way. As a result, he is kidnapped, tortured, and forced to sign over his wealth to ex-KGB thugs. The resourceful Alex and his wife escape and flee to the United States, where they find that the long arm of the old KGB stretches far, as Alex is framed for a host of crimes. VERDICT Based on a true story, this is a fast-paced and well-executed thriller. If there are flaws, it's that the Russian bad guys are so stupid and the American FBI director so venal. Whatever, it's great fun, and the many fans of Haig's Sean Drummond series will find this an exciting, entertaining, and well-written stand-alone diversion. [See Prepub Alert, LJ4/15/09.]—Robert Conroy, Warren, MI
In the final days of an empire that was wheezing and lurching toward death, the aide watched his boss stare out the window into the darkness. Time was running out. The fate of the entire nation hinged on the next move at this juncture; the entire planet, possibly.
Any minute, his boss was due to pop upstairs and see Mikhail Gorbachev to deliver either a path to salvation or a verdict of damnation.
But exactly what advice do you offer the doctor who has just poisoned his own patient?
Only three short miles away, he knew, Boris Yeltsin had just uncorked and was slurping down his third bottle of champagne. Totally looped, the man was getting even more utterly hammered. A celebration of some sort, or so it appeared, though the aide had not a clue what lay behind it. A KGB operative dressed as a waiter was hauling the hooch, keeping a watchful eye on ol’ Boris and, between refills, calling in the latest updates.
After seventy years of struggle and turmoil, it all came down to this; the fate of the world’s last great empire hinged on a titanic struggle between two men—one ordained to go down as the most pathetically naïve general secretary ever; the other an obnoxious, loudmouthed lush.
Gorbachev was frustrated and humiliated, both men knew. He had inherited a kingdom founded on a catechism of bad ideas and constructed on a mountain of corpses. What was supposed to be a worker’s paradise now looked with unrequited envy at third world countries and pondered how it had all gone so horribly wrong. How ironic.
For all its fearsome power—the world’s largest nuclear arsenal, the world’s biggest army, colonies and “client” nations sprinkled willy-nilly around the globe—the homeland itself was a festering pile of human misery and material junk.
Two floors above them in his expansive office, Gorbachev was racking his brain, wondering how to coax the genie back into the bottle. Little late for that, they both knew. He had unleashed his woolly-headed liberalizing ideas—first, that asinine glasnost, then the slam dunk of them all, perestroika—thinking a blitzkrieg of truth and fresh ideas would stave off a collapse that seemed all but inevitable; inevitable to him, anyway. What was he thinking?
The history of the Soviet Union was so thoroughly shameful—so pockmarked with murders, genocide, treachery, corruption, egomania—it needed to rest on a mattress of lies to be even moderately palatable. Fear, flummery, and fairy tales—the three F’s—those were the glue that held things together.
Now everything was coming apart at the seams: the Soviet republics were threatening to sprint from the union, the Eastern Bloc countries had already made tracks, and communism itself was teetering into a sad folly.
Way to go, Gorby.
On the streets below them a speaker with windmilling arms and megaphones for tonsils was working up a huge rabble that was growing rowdier and more rambunctious by the second. The bulletproof thickened windows smeared out his exact words; as if they needed to hear; as if they wanted to hear. Same thing street-corner preachers were howling and exhorting from Petersburg to Vladivostok: time for democracy; long past time for capitalism. Communism was an embarrassing failure that needed to be flushed down the toilet of history with all the other old faulty ideas. Just rally around Boris. Let’s send Gorby and the last of his wrinkly old apparatchiks packing.
His boss cracked a wrinkled knuckle and asked softly, “So what do I tell Gorbachev?”
“Tell him he’s an idiot. Tell him he ruined everything.”
“He already knows that.”
Then tell him to eat a bullet, Ivan Yutskoi wanted to say. Better yet, do us all a big favor, shove him out the window and have that spot-headed idiot produce a big red splat in the middle of Red Square. Future historians would adore that punctuation point.
Sergei Golitsin, deputy director of the KGB, glowered and cracked another knuckle. He cared less for what this idiot thought. “Tell me you’ve finally found where Yeltsin’s money’s coming from.”
“Okay. We have.”
“About time. Where?”
“It’s a little hard to believe.”
“I’ll believe anything these days. Try me.”
The deputy director gave him a mean look. After a full year of shrugged shoulders, wasted effort, and lame excuses, the triumphant tone in his aide’s voice annoyed him. “And am I supposed to know this name?” he snapped.
“Well, no… you’re not… really.”
“Then tell me about… what’s this name?”
“Alex Konevitch.” Yutskoi stuffed his nose into the thick folder, shuffled a few papers, and withdrew and fixated on one typed sheet. “Young. Only twenty-two. Born and raised in an obscure village in the Ural Mountains you’ve never heard of. Both parents are educators, mother dead, father formerly the head of a small, unimportant college. Alex was a physics student at Moscow University.”
Yutskoi paused for the reaction he knew was coming. “Only twenty two,” his boss commented with a furious scowl. “He ran circles around you idiots.”
“I’ve got photographs,” said Yutskoi, ignoring that outburst. He withdrew a few blown-up eight-by-ten color photos from his thick file and splayed them like a deck of cards before his boss. Golitsin walked across the room, bent forward, adjusted his rimless glasses, and squinted.
The shots were taken, close up, by a breathtakingly attractive female agent who had entered Konevitch’s office only the day before on the pretext of looking for a job. Olga’s specialty was honeypot operations, the luring of victims into the sack for entrapment or the value of their pillow talk. She could do shy Japanese schoolgirls, a kittenish vixen, the frosty teacher in need of a role reversal, a doctor, a nurse, a wild cowgirl—whatever men lusted after in their most flamboyant yearnings, Olga could be it, and then some.
Olga had never been turned down. Not once, ever.
A top-to-bottom white blonde, she had gone in attired in an aggressively short skirt, low-cut blouse—not too low, though—and braless. Olga had pitch-perfect intuition about these things: no reason to doubt her instincts now. Demure, not slutty, she had artfully suggested. A few tactful hints, but sledgehammers were to be avoided.
Alex Konevitch was a successful businessman, after all; office games were the play of the day.
A miniature broadcasting device had been hidden in her purse, and every chance she had she snapped pictures of him with the miniature camera concealed inside her bracelet. Yutskoi reached into his folder and withdrew a tape recorder. The cassette was preloaded and ready to roll. “Olga,” he mentioned casually, requiring no further introduction. “She was instructed merely to get a job and learn more about him. If something else developed, well, all the better.”
Golitsin jerked his head in approval, and Yutskoi set the device down on the desk and pushed play.
Golitsin craned forward and strained to hear every word, every nuance.
First came the sounds of Alex Konevitch’s homely middle-aged secretary ushering Olga into his office, followed by the usual nice-to-meet-you, nice-to-meet-you-too claptrap before the game began.
Very businesslike, Konevitch: “Why do you want to work here?”
Olga: “Who wouldn’t? The old system’s rotten to its core and ready to collapse. The corpse just hasn’t yet recognized it’s dead. We all know that. This is the best of the new. I’ll learn a lot.”
“Previous work experience?”
“Secretarial and statistical work, mostly. There were the two years I spent working at the State Transportation Bureau, helping estimate how many bus axles we would need next year. Bus axles?… Can you believe it? I nearly died of boredom. Then the Farm Statistics Bureau, where I’m stuck now. Do you know what it’s like spending a whole month trying to project the demand for imported kumquats?”
“I can’t imagine.”
“Don’t even try.” She laughed and he joined her.
Back to business, Konevitch: “Okay, now why should I want you?”
A long and interesting pause. Stupid question—open your eyes, Alex, and use a little imagination.
Olga, sounding perfectly earnest: “I type eighty words a minute, take dictation, have good phone manners, and am very, very loyal to my boss.”
Another interesting pause.
Then, as if Konevitch missed the point: “I have a very capable secretary already.”
“Not like me, you don’t.”
“I will make you very happy.”
Apparently not, because Konevitch asked quite seriously, “What do you know about finance?”
“Not much. But I’m a fast study.”
“Do you have a university degree?”
“No, and neither do you.”
Another pause, this one long and unfortunate.
Konevitch, in a suddenly wary voice: “How do you know that?”
“I… your receptionist…” Long pause, then with uncharacteristic hesitance, “Yes, I believe she mentioned it.”
“He. His name is Dmetri.”
“All right… he. I misspoke. Who cares who told me?”
Konevitch, sounding surprisingly blasé: “What gave you the idea I’m looking to hire?”
“Maybe you’re not. I’m fishing. My mother is desperately ill. Throat and lung cancer. Soviet medicine will kill her, and I need money for private treatments. Her life depends on it.”
Nice touch, Yutskoi thought, admiring Olga’s spontaneous shift of tack. Among the few details they had gleaned about Alex Konevitch was that his mother had passed away, at the young age of thirty-two, of bone cancer in a state sanitarium. Like everything in this country, Soviet medicine was dreadful. Yutskoi pictured Mrs. Konevitch in a lumpy bed with filthy sheets, writhing and screaming as her bone sores oozed and burned and her young son looked on in helpless agony.
Surely that pathetic memory rushed into Alex’s head as he considered this poor girl and her ailing mother. Have a heart, Alex; you have the power to save her mama from an excruciating, all but certain death. She’ll twitch and suffer and cough her lungs out, and it will be all your fault.
“I’m sorry, I don’t think you’ll fit in.”
She had been instructed to get the job, whatever it took, and she had given it her best shot and then some. Olga’s perfect record was in ruins.
Yutskoi slid forward in his seat and flipped off the recorder. A low grunt escaped Golitsin’s lips, part disappointment, part awe. They leaned forward together and studied with greater intensity the top photograph of Alex Konevitch taken by Olga. The face in the photo was lean, dark-haired and dark-eyed, handsome but slightly babyfaced, and he was smiling, though it seemed distant and distinctly forced.
Nobody had to coerce a smile when Olga was in the room. Nobody. Golitsin growled, “Maybe you should’ve sent in a cute boy instead.”
“No evidence of that,” his aide countered. “We interviewed some of his former college classmates. He likes the ladies. Nothing against one-night stands, either.”
“Maybe he subsequently experienced an industrial accident. Maybe he was castrated,” Golitsin suggested, which really was the one explanation that made the most sense.
Or maybe he suspected Olga.
“Look at him, dressed like an American yuppie,” Golitsin snorted, thumping a derisive finger on a picture. It was true, Konevitch looked anything but Russian in his tan slacks and light blue, obviously imported cotton button-down dress shirt, without tie, and with his sleeves rolled up to the elbows. The picture was grainy and slightly off-center. He looked, though, like he just stepped out of one of those American catalogues: a young spoiled prototypical capitalist in the making. Golitsin instantly hated him.
He had been followed around the clock for the past three days. The observers were thoroughly impressed. A working animal, the trackers characterized him, plainly exhausted from trying to keep up with his pace. The man put in hundred-hour workweeks without pause. He seemed to sprint through every minute of it.
Broad-shouldered, with a flat stomach, he obviously worked hard to stay in tip-top shape. Olga had learned from the receptionist that he had a black belt, third degree, in some obscure Asian killing art. He did an hour of heavy conditioning in the gym every day. Before work, too. Since he arrived in the office at six sharp and usually kicked off after midnight, sleep was not a priority. Olga had also remarked on his height, about six and a half feet, that she found him ridiculously sexy, and for once, the target was one she would enjoy boinking.
Yutskoi quickly handed his boss a brief fact sheet that summarized everything known to date about Alex Konevitch. Not much.
“So he’s smart,” Golitsin said with a scowl after a cursory glance. That was all the paucity of information seemed to show.
“Very smart. Moscow University, physics major. Second highest score in the country his year on the university entrance exam.”
Alex had been uncovered only three days before, and so far only a sketchy bureaucratic background check had been possible. They would dig deeper and learn more later. A lot more.
But Moscow University was for the elite of the elite, and the best of those were bunched and prodded into the hard sciences, mathematics, chemistry, or physics. In the worker’s paradise, books, poetry, and art were useless tripe and frowned upon, barely worth wasting an ounce of IQ over. The real eggheads were drafted for more socially progressive purposes, like designing bigger atomic warheads and longer-range, more accurate missiles.
Golitsin backed away from the photo and moved to the window. He was rotund with short squatty legs and a massive bulge under a recessed chin that looked like he’d swallowed a million flies. He had a bald, glistening head and dark eyes that bulged whenever he was angry, which happened to be most of the time. “And where has Konevitch been getting all this money from?” he asked.
“Would you care to guess?”
“Okay, the CIA? The Americans always use money.”
Yutskoi shook his head.
Another knuckle cracked. “Stop wasting my time.”
“Right, well, it’s his. All of it.”
Golitsin’s thick eyebrows shot up. “Tell me about that.”
“Turned out he was already in our files. In 1986, Konevitch was caught running a private construction company out of his university dorm room. Quite remarkable. He employed six architects and over a hundred workers of assorted skills.”
“That would be impossible to hide, a criminal operation of such size and scale,” the general noted, accurately it turned out.
“You’re right,” his aide confirmed. “As usual, somebody snitched. A jealous classmate.”
“So this Konevitch was always a greedy criminal deviant.”
“So it seems. We reported this to the dean at Moscow University, with the usual directive that the capitalist thief Konevitch be marched across a stage in front of his fellow students, disgraced, and immediately booted out.”
“Turns out we did him a big favor. Konevitch dove full-time into construction work, expanded his workforce, and spread his projects all over Moscow. People are willing to pay under the table for quality, and Konevitch established a reputation for reliability and value. Word spread, and customers lined up at his door. When perestroika and free-market reforms were put in place, he cleaned up.”
“From construction work?”
“That was only the start. Do you know what arbitrage is?”
“No, tell me.”
“Well… it’s a tool capitalists employ. When there are price differences for similar goods, an arbitrager can buy low, sell it all off at a higher price, and pocket the difference. Like gambling, he more or less bets on the margins in between. Konevitch’s work gave him intimate familiarity with the market for construction materials, so this was the sector he first concentrated in.”
“And this is… successful?”
“Like you wouldn’t believe. A price vacuum was created when Gorbachev encouraged free-market economics. The perfect condition for an arbitrager, and Konevitch swooped in. There’s a lot of construction and no pricing mechanism for anything.”
That okay aside, Yutskoi suspected this was going over his boss’s head. “Say, for example, a factory manager in Moscow prices a ton of steel nails at a thousand rubles. A different factory manager in Irkutsk might charge ten thousand rubles. They were all pulling numbers out of thin air. Nobody had a clue what a nail was worth.”
“And our friend would buy the cheaper nails?” Golitsin suggested, maybe getting it after all.
“Yes, like that. By the truckload. He would pay one thousand rubles for a ton in Moscow, find a buyer in Irkutsk willing to pay five thousand, then pocket the difference.”
Golitsin scrunched his face with disgust. “So this is about nails?” He snorted.
“Nails, precut timber, steel beams, wall board, concrete, roofing tiles, heavy construction equipment… he gets a piece of everything. A big piece. His business swelled from piddling to gigantic in nothing flat.”
Sergei Golitsin had spent thirty years in the KGB, but not one of those outside the Soviet empire and the impoverishing embrace of communism. Domestic security was his bread and butter, an entire career spent crushing and torturing his fellow citizens. He had barely a clue what arbitrage was, didn’t really care to know, but he nodded anyway and concluded, “So the arbitrager is a cheat.”
“That’s a way of looking at it.”
“He produces nothing.”
“You’re right, absolutely nothing.”
“He sucks the cream from other people’s sweat and labor. A big fat leech.”
“Essentially, he exploits an opening in a free-market system. It’s a common practice in the West. Highly regarded, even. Nobody on Wall Street ever produced a thing. Most of the richest people in America couldn’t build a wheel, much less run a factory if their lives depended on it.”
Golitsin still wasn’t sure how it worked, but he was damned sure he didn’t like it. He asked, “And how much has he… this Konevitch character… how much has he given Yeltsin?”
“Who knows? A lot. In American currency, maybe ten million, maybe twenty million dollars.”
“He had that much?”
“And then some. Perhaps fifty million dollars altogether. But this is merely a rough estimate on our part. Could be more.”
Golitsin stared at Yutskoi in disbelief. “You’re saying at twenty-two, he’s the richest man in the Soviet Union.”
“No, probably not. A lot of people are making a ton of money right now.” Yutskoi looked down and toyed with his fingers a moment. “It would be fair to say, though, he’s in the top ten.”
The two men stared down at their shoes and shared the same depressing thought neither felt the slightest desire to verbalize. If communism went up in flames, their beloved KGB would be the first thing tossed onto the bonfire. In a vast nation with more than forty languages and dialects, and nearly as many different ethnic groups, there was only one unifying factor, one common thread—nearly every citizen in the Soviet Union had been scorched by their bureau in one way or another. Not directly, perhaps. But somebody dear, or at least close: grandfathers purged by Stalin; fathers who had disappeared and rotted in the camps under Brezhnev; aunts and uncles brought in for a little rough questioning under Andropov. Something. Nearly every family tree had at least one branch crippled or lopped off by the boys from the Lubyanka. The list of grudges was endless and bitter.
Yutskoi was tempted to smile at his boss and say: I hope it all does fall apart. Five years being your bootlicker, I’ve hated every minute of it. You’ll be totally screwed, you nasty old relic.
Golitsin knew exactly what the younger man was thinking, and was ready to reply: You’re a replaceable, third-rate lackey today, and you’ll be a starving lackey tomorrow. Only in this system could a suck-up loser like you survive. The only thing you’re good at is plucking fingernails from helpless victims. And you’re not even that good at that.
Yutskoi: I’m young and frisky; I’ll adapt. You’re a starched lizard, a wrinkled old toad, an icy anachronism. Your own grandchildren fill their diapers at the sight of you. I’ll hire you to shine my shoes.
Golitsin: I cheated and backstabbed and ass-kissed my way up to three-star general in this system, and I’ll find a way in the next one, whatever that turns out to be. You, on the other hand, will always be a suck-up loser.
“Why?” asked Golitsin. As in, why would Alex Konevitch give Yeltsin that much money?
“Revenge could be a factor, I suppose.”
“To get back at the system that tried to ruin him. How pedestrian.”
“But, I think,” Yutskoi continued, trying to look thoughtful, “mostly influence. If the union disintegrates, Yeltsin will wind up president of the newly independent Russia. He’ll owe this guy a boatload of favors. A lot of state enterprises are going to be privatized and put on the auction block. Konevitch will have his pick—oil, gas, airlines, banks, car companies—whatever his greedy heart desires. He could end up as rich as Bill Gates. Probably richer.”
Golitsin leaned back and stared up at the ceiling. It was too horrible to contemplate. Seventy years of blood, strain, and sweat was about to be ladled out, first come, first served—the biggest estate sale the world had ever witnessed. The carcass of the world’s largest empire carved up and bitterly fought over. The winners would end up rich beyond all imagination. What an ugly, chaotic scramble that was going to be.
“So why didn’t we find out about this Alex Konevitch sooner?” Golitsin snapped. Good question. When, three years before, Boris Yeltsin first began openly shooting the bird at Gorbachev and the Communist Party, the KGB hadn’t worried overly much. Yeltsin was back then just another windbag malcontent: enough of those around to be sure.
But Yeltsin was a whiner with a big difference; he had once been a Politburo member, so he understood firsthand exactly how decrepit, dim-witted, incompetent, and scared the old boys at the top were.
That alone made him more dangerous than the typical blowhard.
And when he announced he was running for the presidency of Russia—the largest, most powerful republic in the union—the KGB instantly changed its mind and decided to take him dreadfully seriously indeed.
His offices and home were watched by an elite squad of nosy agents 24/7. His phones were tapped, his offices and home stuffed with enough bugs and listening gadgets to hear a fly fart. Several agents insinuated themselves inside his campaign organization and kept the boys at the center up to date on every scrap and rumor they overheard. Anybody who entered or left Yeltsin’s offices was shadowed and, later, approached by a team of thugs who looked fierce and talked even fiercer. Give Boris a single ruble, they were warned, and you’ll win the national lotto—a one-way ticket to the most barren, isolated, ice-laden camp in Siberia.
Concern, not worry, was the prevailing mood among the big boys in the KGB. This was their game. After seventy years of undermining democracy around the world, they knew exactly how to squeeze and strangle Yeltsin. An election takes money, lots of it; cash for travel and aides and people to carry and spread the message across the bulging, diverse breadth of a nation nearly three times the size of America.
Boris wasn’t getting a ruble. Not a single ruble. He would rail and flail to his heart’s content in empty halls and be roundly ignored. After being thoroughly shellacked in the polls, he would crawl under a rock and drink himself into the grave. So long, Boris, you idiot.
It was the inside boys who first raised the alarm. Hard cash was being ladled out by the fistful to campaign employees, to travel agencies, to advertisers, to political organizers. The conclusion was disquieting and inescapable: somewhere in the shadows a white knight was shoveling money at Yeltsin, gobs of it. Boris was spending a fortune flying across Russia in a rented jet, staying in high-class hotels, and to be taken more seriously, he had even traveled overseas to America, to introduce himself to the American president; Gorby was forced to call in a big favor, but he got Boris stiffed by a low-level White House flunky before he got within sniffing distance of the Oval Office. Boris’s liquor bills alone were staggering.
Millions were being spent, tens of millions. Where was the mysterious cash coming from?
A task force was hastily formed, experts in finance and banking who peeked and prodded under all the usual rocks.
A team of computer forensics experts burgled Boris’s campaign offices and combed the deepest crevices of every hard drive.
Not a trace.
Long, raucous meetings were held about what to do, with the usual backbiting, finger-pointing, and evasion of responsibility. This sneaky white knight, whoever he was, knew how to hide his fingerprints. Whatever he was doing to evade their most advanced techniques of snooping and detection had to be enormously clever. That level of sophistication raised interesting questions and dark misgivings. After much heated discussion, inevitably the preponderance of suspicion fell on foreign intelligence agencies. Surveillance of selected foreign embassies and known intelligence operatives was kicked up a notch and the squad of watchers increased threefold. Most of the foreign embassies were wired for sound anyway. And after seventy years of foreign spies lurking and sneaking around its capital, the KGB had a tight grip on every drop site and clandestine meeting place in Moscow.
As Yeltsin’s poll numbers climbed, frustration grew. The KGB was averse to mysteries—unsolved too long they turned into career problems. So the KGB chief of residency in Washington was ordered to kick the tires of his vast web of moles, leakers, and traitors in the CIA, DIA, FBI, NSA, and any other alphabet-soup agency he had his devious fingers in. Money, cash, lucre—that was America’s preferred weapon. And even if America wasn’t the culprit, the CIA or NSA, with their massive, sophisticated arsenals of electronic snoops, probably knew who was.
More nada, nada, nada. More wasted time, more wasted effort, more millions of dollars flooding out of nowhere, with more supporters flocking to Yeltsin’s banner.
Yutskoi observed, “Actually, it’s a miracle we found out at all. Konevitch is very, very clever.”
“In the private construction business, nearly everything’s done in cash. And nearly all of it under the table. Compounding matters, right now, we’re a mix of two economies: communist and free-market. The free-market guys know we don’t have a good handle on them. They’re inventing all kinds of fancy new games we don’t know how to play yet. It’s—”
“And what game did he play?” Golitsin interrupted in a nasty tone, tired of excuses.
“Everything was done offshore. It was smuggled out in cash, laundered under phony names at Caribbean banks, and from there turned electronic. He moved it around through a lot of banks—Swiss, African, American—divided it up, brought it back together, and just kept it moving until it became untraceable and impossible to follow.”
“And how did he hand it over to Yeltsin’s people?”
“That’s the beauty of it. Not a single ruble ever touched the Soviet banking system. That’s why we never saw it.” He smiled and tried to appear confident. “What we now hypothesize was that he smuggled it back in as cash and handed it over in large suitcases.” The truth was, they still had no idea, though he wasn’t about to confess to that.
“Then who helped him?” Golitsin immediately barked, with a sizzling stare. Another good, unanswerable question. Soviet citizens knew zilch about international banking, money laundering, electronic transactions, or how to elude detection. The Soviet banking system was backward and shockingly unsophisticated. Besides, nobody had enough money to dream of getting fancy.
Or almost nobody—the Mafiya had money by the boatload. And they were masterminds at financial shenanigans; they had tried and perfected all kinds of underhanded tricks and scams. In the most oppressive state on earth, their survival depended on keeping their cash invisible. Golitsin waved a finger at his aide’s folder. “Any evidence of that?”
“None. Not yet, anyway. It doesn’t mean their crooked fingers aren’t in it, just that we haven’t found it.”
“Keep looking. It has to be there.”
After a moment, and totally out of the blue, Yutskoi mentioned, “I read a term paper he wrote as a freshman, something to do with Einstein’s theory of relativity.”
His boss had moved back to the window, restlessly watching the loud, angry crowd down on the street. Only a few years before the whole lot would already be in windowless wagons, trembling with fear on their way to Dzerzhinsky Square. They’d be worked over for a while, then shipped off to a uranium mine in the Urals where their hair and teeth would fall out.
The old days: he missed them already.
Yutskoi interrupted the pleasant reverie. “At least I tried to read his paper, I should say. I barely understood a word,” he mumbled. “And all those complicated equations…” He trailed off, sounding a little stunned.
“What about it?” Golitsin asked absently. The crowd below was now dancing and chanting and growing larger by the minute. He felt weary.
“I sent it off to the director of the thermonuclear laboratory at the Kurchatov Institute. He said it was one of the most brilliant treatises he had read in years. Wanted to get it published in a few very prestigious international journals. You know, show the international community Soviet science still has what it takes. When I told him an eighteen-year-old college sophomore wrote it, he called me a liar.”
His boss glanced back over his shoulder. “You already told me he’s smart.”
“I know I did. Now I’m saying he’s more than smart.”
They stared at each other a moment. Golitsin said, “He’s only twenty-two.”
“Yes, and that’s the whole point. He’s not hamstrung by old ideas. Nor has he lived long enough to have his brains and ambitions squeezed into radish pulp like everybody over thirty in this country.”
Lost on neither of them was the ugly irony that they and their thuggish organ had done that squeezing. The average Russian could barely haul himself out of bed in the morning. The only social superlatives their nation boasted were the world’s highest rate of alcoholism and the shortest life span of any developed nation. What a fitting tribute.
Yutskoi cleared his throat and asked, “So what will you advise Gorbachev?” He began stuffing documents and photos back into his expandable file.
Golitsin acted preoccupied and pretended he didn’t hear that question. Yutskoi was an inveterate snoop and world-class gossip; if he let the cat out of the bag now, the news would be roaring around Moscow by midnight. Then again, Golitsin thought, so what? This news was too big to contain anyway. One way or another, it would be on the tip of every tongue in the world by morning. What difference would a few hours make?
He moved away from the window and ambled back in the direction of his aide. “On Gorbachev’s desk is a document abolishing the Soviet Union. That jerk Yeltsin had the Congress vote on it this afternoon.”
“And it passed?”
“By a landslide. If Gorbachev signs it, the Soviet Union is toast. History. Kaput.”
“And if he doesn’t?” asked Yutskoi, fully enlightened now about the cause of Yeltsin’s drunken celebration that night: this was bound to be a bender of historic proportions. His tenders would have to pour Boris into bed. “What then?” he asked.
“What do you think will happen, idiot? We’ll disband the mutinous Congress and crack down.” He pointed a crooked, veiny finger through the window in the direction of the unruly crowd below. “We’ll collect a few million malcontents and dissidents. Throw a million or so into the gulags. Shoot or hang a hundred or two hundred thousand to get everybody’s attention.”
“Won’t that be fun,” the aide blurted.
Golitsin shrugged. “Leave that file on Konevitch. I’ll want to study him further.”
Yutskoi stood and started to leave when he felt the old man’s grip on his arm. “And keep me informed of what you learn about Konevitch. Spare no resources. I want to know everything about this young wunderkind. Everything.”
Excerpted from The Hunted by Haig, Brian Copyright © 2010 by Haig, Brian. Excerpted by permission.
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Posted October 2, 2009
This is the story of a couple who is brutally punished in early post-Soviet Union and in the United States. The protagonist's only sin was being extremely bright. He was able to earn an extraordinary amount of money during the transition if Russia from Communism. He attracted people who wanted and took his money. I had a lot of trouble reading the story of the couple's kidnapping and torture. It is really graphic. The couple escaped from the abductors and made their way to the United States, minus most of their money. Here they attracted the attention of an ambitious federal employee. Her ministrations, while not as physically brutal as the "ex" KGB officers in Russia.
This is an extraordinary tale of a truly heroic man facing and ultimately beating the might of powerful, dark forces in Russia and the US. It is absolutely a gripping tale of toughness, brilliance, and resolve. Don't miss it.
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Posted September 1, 2009
If international intrigue keeps you turning pages you'll find yourself completely absorbed in The Hunted, a tension propelled thriller that takes place at the time of communism's fall in Russia. Peopled with some of the most savage characters to imaginable the gritty dialogue sparks as the fast paced narrative shuttles between countries.
He may be only 22 but Alex Konevitch is brilliant, blessed with an unflagging entrepreneurial spirit and a beautiful wife, Elena. Furthermore he's worth over 300 million, the richest man in Moscow. Of course, at that point in time wealth meant you were an enemy of the state, even worse he was detested hated by former KGB chief Golitsin, a man filled with hatred and greed, one who relished the sound of another's physical suffering.
Konevitch secretly poured his money into backing Boris Yeltsin in hopes of establishing free enterprise in his native country. Golitsin wants to know where this bounty is coming from, and is enraged when he finds that it is Konevitch. Nonetheless, life seems perfect for Alex and Elena, a golden couple.
But contentment turns to disquiet when several of Alex's top men are murdered. Fearing for the safety of Elena and himself, Alex hires a coterie of bodyguards, and employs Golitsin as his chief of security. That was a bit like inviting a crazed killer into your home.
Despite being surrounded by protection the couple are kidnaped, and Alex is tortured mercilessly until he signs over his companies to an unknown person. He feels somewhat secure as his account and security numbers are needed before a dollar can be accessed. But even more important than the money - how can Alex save Elena and himself? His captors would take pleasure in killing them as slowly and painfully as possible.
Thus begins a cross world odyssey that pits Alex not only against his Russian enemies but also against officials of the United States when Golitsin is clever enough to have Alex declared a criminal for stealing from his own company, the very crime of which Golitsin is guilty.
Haig based his incredible story on the life of Alex Konanykhin, a once wealthy man victimized by the Russian government. The Hunted is a thrill packed tale, and a frightening one.
- Gail Cooke
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Posted June 3, 2009
When the Wall came down, Russian Alex "Kid Midas" Konevitch charged into the economic chaos to make millions in the void by backing with money Yeltsin. He hires former KGB deputy Sergei Golitsin, who learned of Alex during the fall of Communism two years ago, as his security chief. However, as brilliant as Alex is in business, he fails to understand his diabolical former agent. Sergei hires his former associates and soon steal the money and the firm; they set up Alex for arrest, but plan to kill him before the cops can fully investigate.
Konevitch and his wife Elena flee as hitmen come for them. They make it to America, but instead of asylum, the Director of the FBI sees the Russians as pawns to further his career. Even in the USA they are not safe as the Russian Mafia is coming for them while the Feds don't care what happens as long as the boss does not have his credibility damaged.
Exciting and fast-paced THE HUNTED is based on a true story from the early 1990s. The cast is strong but ironically the audience will admire Alex for his business acumen and Sergei for his adaptation to the new world order as he proves "Looks like nothing's gonna change; everything remains the same" (Dock of the Bay). Readers who relish a character driven tale based on recent history will want to peruse Brian Haig's super thriller.
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Posted December 16, 2012
Brian Haig is a great story teller, I have liked every book he wrote, but I enjoy the Sean Drummond books the best. In his bookds he will have the character, Sean Drummond, say “I know I am missing something” I always try to think of what it is. And Mr. Haig always throws me for a loop. I like that. It keeps me guessing and turning pages. His last book Capitol game is very good; a page turner. In “The Hunted” he talks about prison and the things that go on and how the system works. In my twenty three years of being locked up I find that he hit the mark on some points and not on others. But the book was never the less very good. And most people, unless they have been in prison, only know about it from what they read. And of course every prison is different as are the people in them. And the state and fed prisons are very different from each other also. Things that would be acceptable in federal prison would not be acceptable in most states. And then there is the difference in the lower and higher custody prisons. All in all very good books. I look forward to his next Sean Drummond book.
Posted January 28, 2012
Posted December 24, 2009
I enjoyed this book immensely. As a trial lawyer myself, retired, I did note many things that just weren't likely to have happened as stated. So what? Haig does a nice job of conveying the terror involved when the government goes bad. He writes with an author's eye to his story, rather than a lawyer's eye to exactitude, and when the result is a good book like this, I'm a happy reader.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted November 21, 2009
I enjoyed this book, but not as much as all of Brian Haig's other books. I would assume that while this is fiction, much of the story is based on fact. Brian Haig gave great insight into the political environment of Russia/Soviet Union.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted October 29, 2009
"The Hunted" is a monder day western, where the heroes have white hats and the end justifies the end. To avenge miss deeds and save a ship yard from closing our two heroes set out to assassinate a Frenchman seeking to head the French government. Once the reader passed over the violations of International Law not to mention the U S Constitution and laws, it is a fun story that ends as all good westerns with the good guys on top, but not without some mishaps along the way. This book will appeal to all the hawks, who feel that we can do no wrong when avenging the darkness in the world.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted October 12, 2009
Posted October 10, 2009
I Also Recommend:
First off, I have read all of Brian Haig's previous books and believe he is one of today's most under-appreciated writers. And so, I was really looking forward to this book, as it had been a while since his last. While I enjoyed his writing style and the plot of the book, there were too many holes in the story, and one too many key (or so I thought) characters who simply disappeared and were not 'recapped' at the end. So, while I would love to give this book 5 stars, as I have given all of his previous books, I simply cannot. Frankly, I was a little disappointed, but still hope that we don't have to wait a coupe of years for Brian Haig's next book.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
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