Lethal Secretsby Pete Earley
It was thought that during the height of tensions between the Soviet Union and the United States, the KGB may have cleverly smuggled a nuclear bomb into the very heart of Washington D.C. In Pete Earley's new thriller, Lethal Secrets, this bomb is in the hands of a band of Chechen rebels, lead by an insane terrorist, Movladi 'the Viper' Islamov, who's threatening to… See more details below
It was thought that during the height of tensions between the Soviet Union and the United States, the KGB may have cleverly smuggled a nuclear bomb into the very heart of Washington D.C. In Pete Earley's new thriller, Lethal Secrets, this bomb is in the hands of a band of Chechen rebels, lead by an insane terrorist, Movladi 'the Viper' Islamov, who's threatening to detonate it unless his demands are met.
The fate of the city rests in the hands of a disgraced deputy U.S. Marshal, Wyatt Conway, who is reluctantly called into action by his FBI and CIA rivals because he was once a friend of Islamov's, before the freedom fighter turned into an international terrorist.
But to stop Islamov, Conway must trust Vladimir Khrenkov, a possibly corrupt Russian intelligence agent, and Kimberly Lodge, a skeptical CIA beauty. Conway suspects Khrenkov of being the man who executed a top Russian mobster that Conway was protecting in federal witness protection program. And the CIA's Lodge isn't all that certain Conway is capable of outwitting the terrorists and protecting the capital of the free world.
With time running out, Conway must find a way to manipulate and expose Khrenkov, keep Lodge and her bureaucratic cronies off his back, and prevent Islamov from igniting the spark for Armageddon.
"Lethal Secrets made my hair stand lethally on end and put my pulse at DefCon One. You'll be up all night with nitroglycerin tablets on the bedstand. You'll need them. Pete Earley proves he's a master of thrills and chills."Doug Preston, New York Times bestselling coauthor of Brimstone and Relic
"Pete Earley goes to Condition Red on page one, and never lets up in this absorbing thriller of nuclear terror! With rich characters, fast pace and exotic locale's, Lethal Secrets sweeps you on with one surprise after another."-Walter J. Boyne, New York Times bestselling of Operation Iraqi Freedom
"The ultimate 'sleeper agent.' Lethal-and beleivable-terror."Barbara D'Amato, Edgar Award-winning author of Death of a Thousand Cuts
"Pete Earley is a major talent."-Stephen Coonts
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By Pete Earley
Tom Doherty AssociatesCopyright © 2005 Pete Earley
All rights reserved.
50 YEARS LATER, NEW YORK CITY
"Er, uh, would you like to go for coffee?" he asked, lingering near the door of their college economics classroom.
"Not today," she said. "But maybe some other morning."
She stepped by him into the crowded hallway. He was an American, and although she had lived in Brooklyn for five years, she still felt uncomfortable whenever she socialized with non-Russians. Still, he was handsome and seemed polite. He sat behind her every Tuesday and Thursday morning in the lecture hall. It was an easy class for her. She'd always been good with numbers.
It had taken him several days to screw up his courage. There'd been clumsy attempts. Once, he'd rushed to open the lecture hall door but was too timid to speak. Another time, he'd borrowed a pencil. It was innocent. She was nineteen. He appeared to be about the same.
Perhaps she was making a mistake. What harm would there be in going for coffee? He wasn't a stranger. But her stepfather expected her earlier than usual today. Their restaurant hadn't been open for very long. Her parents and uncle had invested everything in it.
She left the building. The sun felt warm. There were no clouds. Blue sky. It was mid-October and the trees in the park across from the NYU library were dropping their leaves. Despite the sunshine, the air was crisp. She thought about Moscow. She missed her friends there. She missed her older brother. But she didn't miss the city. It reeked of decay, stagnation, the past. New York was electric. It was her future.
Because she was preoccupied, she didn't notice the U-Haul truck edging up the street behind her as she walked to the subway. But even if she had, it wouldn't have mattered. There was nothing odd about rental trucks in Manhattan. The driver hid behind sunglasses and a navy blue baseball cap with white stitching. New York Yankees.
"That her?" the driver asked.
"Da, da, da," snapped Victor Manakov, the passenger sitting beside him.
The truck eased by the girl and slipped into a no parking zone four car lengths ahead. The driver kept the engine running.
Speaking into his cell phone, Manakov said, "She's the skinny one wearing a white blouse, black pants, carrying textbooks." The description was hardly necessary. The only other people on the sidewalk were a black youngster riding a skateboard and an elderly Hispanic woman walking with the aid of a cane.
Manakov climbed out of the truck's cab. It's rear cargo door jerked upward. Three men crawled out. Each was wearing blue overalls. They appeared to be moving men about to deliver furniture.
"Olga! Can that be you?" Manakov exclaimed in Russian.
She stopped, examined his face, but didn't recognize him.
Stepping closer, he said, "I'm a friend of your brother, Vladimir! We were fighters together in Afghanistan!"
The other men quietly encircled her, yet she didn't sense any danger. She was trying to match his face to a memory. He opened his arms, as if he were about to embrace her. That's when the others sprang into action.
One grabbed her left arm, the other her right, while the third reached around her waist and easily lifted her from the sidewalk. Manakov snatched her legs. Caught completely by surprise, she dropped her books and tried to struggle. But her reaction came too late. They tossed her into the truck. The door slammed down. The vehicle lurched from the curb.
"Shut up! Bitch!" Manakov yelled. He slapped her hard across the cheek. Olga was shoved onto her chest. Her hands and feet were pushed together and bound with gray duct tape. A torn strip was slapped across her lips. It all happened in a matter of seconds. One moment she had been recalling Moscow and daydreaming about the friendly American boy in her class. Now she was being abducted in the darkened rear of a rental truck.
Her body began to tremble. She couldn't control the shaking. Her face burned.
How had they known her brother's name? What did they want?
Most of all: Why me?CHAPTER 2
"This is stupid," I said.
William Jackson sighed. He'd come from the U.S. Army's Criminal Investigation Division and missed those days when all he had to do was issue a command.
"I knew you'd find something to bitch about," he grunted.
"The White House is doing this to help Parrish Farthington get reelected."
"Yeah, so? You got a point?"
"Someone could get killed."
"Not if you do your job. Stop being naive. Everything in Washington is about politics. If Farthington is defeated, the Republicans lose their majority in the Senate, and the White House doesn't want that to happen. Neither does our director, who, may I remind you, is a political appointee."
I pictured myself flinging my shield onto Jackson's desk just like in an old Dirty Harry movie. Telling him to take this job and shove it. Lately, I've been having that fantasy a lot. But if I did, Jackson would put one of my younger team members in charge. Then I'd feel guilty, especially if something bad happened. Besides, I'd already developed a warm working relationship with Sergey Pudin. Okay, that's an exaggeration. I don't especially like the fat Russian fuck. But that doesn't mean I wanted to see him bleeding on a sidewalk somewhere.
"I'll do it," I declared, as if I'd really had any choice. "But, Bill, you tell the suits upstairs, they should care more about their own people than kissing ass at the White House."
Jackson smirked. "I'll be sure to do exactly that!"
Six hours later, my United Airlines flight began its descent into Denver International Airport. I hate this airport. The terminal is supposed to be a gigantic sculpture. That's why the roof isn't covered with traditional materials. Instead, it's made of fifteen acres of Teflon-coated, woven fiberglass that looks a lot like shiny white plastic. The building cost taxpayers a whopping $37 million. What really bugs me is the building is butt ugly. The architects divided the roof into thirty-four individual tepees. All of them are different sizes. Each is propped up on a pole and joined to another tent by steel cables. This is supposed to create the illusion of snow-capped, floating mountains. Except the white cones don't look like any ranges anyone has ever seen.
Thankfully, I got through the gates quickly. I hadn't bothered to bring luggage. Just a bottle of pills. There was a Chevy Blazer waiting for me in an Avis preferred customer spot. I drove west, following a bypass around the Mile High City, and entered the Rockies via State Highway 160. I was heading to Central City, which is about a forty-minute ride away.
I'm a bit of a history buff, mainly because I like to learn how people before me screwed things up. Central City is a former gold-mining town founded in 1859 after a prospector named John Gregory literally stumbled upon several nuggets in a gulch. I think about money sometimes. And blind luck. And how both influence our lives. I've never expected to stub my toe on a rock and discover gold. But I wouldn't mind claiming one of those $200 million lottery jackpots. Who wouldn't? It's like my uncle used to say: "If you didn't like me poor, you're really going to hate me rich."
Back to Central City. For a while, it was "the richest square mile on earth." But the ore didn't last and neither did much of the town. Those who got stuck behind lived off tourists who'd come to go horseback riding, tour the closed mines, or to see the Teller Hotel, where a drawing on the floor inspired the Western poem "The Face on the Barroom Floor." Central City was on the verge of becoming Ghost City when the Colorado legislature decided in 1991 to allow casino gambling there. Now the streets are paved with dreams once again — only this time it's fool's gold.
I'd hidden Sergey Pudin in Central City a couple of weeks earlier, and he loved it. He reveled in the chilly weather, and I liked the fact that strangers came and went without attracting much attention. The odds of Pudin bumping into someone from his past were slim. He had a better chance of meeting a retired couple from Wichita, Kansas, who'd driven out in their RV to bet five bucks at blackjack, than to encounter one of his former high-rolling, organized-crime pals. I also liked the fact that Denver was close by. That way, Pudin could slip down and buy some female companionship whenever he got the itch. The suits in Washington, D.C., don't like to talk about sex. But getting laid has been a priority of every federal witness I've ever hidden. And I've protected a lot. Crime and sex seem to go together.
From the beginning, Sergey Pudin proved to be a demanding man of much excess. He weighed four hundred pounds, oftentimes drank a half bottle of vodka per day, and once bragged that he'd satisfied four women before his pocket rocket had spent its fuel. In Brooklyn, he'd been used to carrying wads of Ben Franklins in his pocket and banging a different broad each night. I thought he might object to Central City, because it was small potatoes, but when he learned he'd be able to gamble and occasionally see a hooker, his interest peaked. He got genuinely giddy when I told him the alternative was Salt Lake City.
I'd stashed Pudin in Harvey's Wagon Wheel Hotel and Casino under the alias Sasha Petrovich. He'd immediately complained that Petrovich was a Serbian name. Then he told me that he wanted to use his name: Pudin. "It's a derivative from the word pud, which is an ancient Russian measure of weight and is usually used only when describing really heavy stuff. We have a proverb in my country," he explained. "We say, 'We've eaten a pud of salt together,' which means that we've been through some really hard times together but have still remained close friends."
I'd politely thanked him for his little linguistic lesson, and then told him that I didn't really give a damn whether or not he liked Petrovich as a last name. All I cared about was keeping him alive.
There are different threat levels when it comes to protecting federal witnesses. Obviously, Pudin was in the most danger before he was scheduled to testify. Once witnesses spill their guts on the stand and the bad guys have been shipped up the river, the peril to them decreases. But in this case I had a hunch the Russian mob wasn't going to be so forgiving. Sergey Pudin was classified by the Justice Department as a "hot" target, which is bureaucratic shorthand for "in imminent danger." Put simply, the mob wanted him dead. Right now. No matter the cost.
My bosses at first had suggested hiding Pudin inside a federal prison. We've got an isolated cell in the pen in LaTuna, Texas, that's called the Valachi Suite because it was built specifically to house Joe Valachi, one of the most famous Mafia stool pigeons of all time. But even though it's been used to protect scores of other witnesses, things have been known to happen to snitches even in special cells. I'd rejected that solution.
The suits then had come up with the idea of holding Pudin in a hotel with round-the-clock bodyguards. That was an even dumber idea. Too many people would've known where he was being hidden.
At that point I'd announced that I was personally going to make Pudin vanish. I added that I'd be the only person who'd know his whereabouts. Of course, the suits had objected, but then they realized that if something unfortunate happened to him, they'd have me to blame. My neck was again on the chopping block. Suddenly, everyone jumped on board my idea.
Pudin had always preferred dealing only with me. Before we'd met, he'd developed a weird respect for what I do. At one point, he'd plotted to execute a former gang member who'd agreed to testify for the government. I'd kept that witness healthy and safe despite repeated attempts by Pudin and others to kill him. So I hadn't been that surprised when I learned that Pudin had switched sides and specifically asked for me.
I wasn't worried about leaving him unsupervised in Central City. Where was he going to run? He already had the Russian Cosa Nostra hunting for him. And I knew he didn't want the U.S. government searching for him, too. Besides, Pudin had plenty of reasons to behave. His high-priced criminal attorneys had struck a helluva plea bargain. Like the perpetrators behind the Denver cone-headed airport, Pudin had pulled off a nifty scam. All of his past crimes were being forgiven. Plus, American taxpayers were going to be paying him a hefty reward for years to come. In exchange, Pudin had promised to testify against his oldest, dearest, and most trusted pal — a fellow compatriot even higher up on the Organized Crime most-wanted list.
All Pudin had to do was stay alive long enough to collect his little personalized lottery jackpot. Unfortunately, I was now on my way to Central City to inform him that Washington politics were about to complicate both his life and mine.CHAPTER 3
Vladimir Mikhailovich Khrenkov ignored the withered woman whose dirt-caked hand was thrusting fresh-cut red roses into his face. He wove through the crowd of commuters at the Alexeevskaya subway station and slipped outside into the evening dusk. A drunk was peeing on a pile of discarded newspapers and broken glass in the back of the station. Khrenkov hurried past him and made his way along a worn footpath that led through a patch of trees and down a slight embankment into a parking lot. There were two apartment buildings here, one on either side of the lot, and like much of the housing in Moscow built during the Khrushchev era of the 1950s and 1960s, they had no exterior ornamentation. The drab brown-brick buildings were designed for function, not vanity. It had been the Communist way.
Khrenkov dodged the potholes in the corroded asphalt that was wide enough only for one row of parked cars. Every space was claimed, but it was obvious from the flat tires and rear axles supported by wooden blocks that many of these vehicles had not been driven in a long while. Russian automobiles during the Soviet era were identified by the initials of the nation's four car manufacturers. ZAZ (Zaporozhskii Avtomobilnyi Zavod — Ukraine) made the smallest and least expensive cars, commonly called Zaporozhets; AZLK (Avtomobilnyi Zavod Imeni Leninskogo Komsomola — Lenin Youth Communist League Auto Works) built the Moskvich, which was better than the Zaporozhets, but not by much; VAZ (Volzhskii Avtomobilnyi Zavod — Volzhskii Auto Works) made the most popular car models — the Lada, Niva, or Zhiguli — and finally GAZ (Gorkovskii Avto Zavod — Gorkovskii Auto Works), which made the most expensive car, the Volga, which was primarily used by party officials.
Khrenkov moved briskly down the line of Zaporozhets, Moskvich, and Lada models. Most of his neighbors had been able to afford them before the breakup of the Soviet Union in 1991, but now they were hard pressed to keep them running or even pay for a liter of petrol. The few cars that were drivable had been patched together with makeshift parts lifted from junked vehicles. Khrenkov's own Lada had a driver's door that once was salvage.
As he approached the apartment building on his left, Khrenkov spotted Zina Kovtun perched inside her wooden guard station and quickly glanced down at the ground to avoid making eye contact with the old sentinel. Her booth had been built decades ago directly in front of the metal door that served as the only entrance and exit to his apartment house. He had known Babushka Kovtun — which is what she insisted on being called — all of his life. She had always seemed ancient to him, a rotund, smelly hag who wore unchanged layers of sweaters and kept her legs wrapped with wool strips even in the summer. She had a Russian peasant's round face and was missing most of her teeth. The few that remained were dingy yellow. Her breath reeked of raw onions. Every morning at exactly nine o'clock, Babushka Kovtun arrived at her post. She stayed there without bathroom breaks until six o'clock.
Excerpted from Lethal Secrets by Pete Earley. Copyright © 2005 Pete Earley. 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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Meet the Author
Pete Earley is a former Washington Post reporter and winner of the Mystery Writers of America's Edgar for Best Fact Crime Book in 1996 for Circumstantial Evidence: Death, Life, and Justice in a Southern Town. His book, which also won the Robert F. Kennedy Book Award, helped free an innocent man from Alabama's death row. Earley's account of the John Walker spy ring, Family of Spies, was a New York Times bestseller and CBS mini-series. The Hot House: Life Inside Leavenworth Prison was a national bestseller and was based on a year that Earley spent inside a maximum security federal prison as an author.
Born in Arizona, Earley was reared in Colorado and worked for newspapers in Kansas and Oklahoma before moving to the Virginia suburbs of Washington D.C., where he lives with his wife, Patti. They have seven children.
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