By Arnaldur Indriason
St. Martin's Press Copyright © 1999 Arnaldur Indriason
All rights reserved.
Control Room, Building 312, Washington DC, Wednesday 27 January
The building stood not far from the Capitol in Washington DC. Originally a warehouse, it had undergone an elaborate conversion to house one of the capital's many clandestine organisations. No cost had been spared in the conversion, either inside or out. Now, giant computers hummed day and night, receiving information relayed from space. Satellite photographs belonging to the US military intelligence service were collected in a database, and there the information was processed, analysed and catalogued, and the alert raised if anything irregular came to light.
In official documents the warehouse was known simply as Building 312, but the organisation it housed had played a fundamental role in the US army's defence programme during the Cold War. Established shortly after 1960 during the most intense period of mutual suspicion, its chief role had been to analyse spy photographs taken of the Soviet Union, China and Cuba, and any other nations classed as enemies of the United States. After the end of the Cold War, its role included monitoring terrorist bases in the Middle East and conflicts in the Balkans. The organisation controlled a total of eight satellites in orbits ranging from 800 to 1,500 kilometres above Earth.
The director of the organisation was General Vytautas Carr, who stood now in front of a monitor which filled an entire wall of the first-floor control room, staring intently at a batch of images that had been drawn to his attention. It was cool in the room on account of the fans for the twelve powerful computer units which hummed ceaselessly in a cordoned-off section. Two armed guards stood at the doors. The room was intersected by four long banks of flickering screens and control panels.
Carr was not far off his seventieth birthday and ought to have taken retirement but for a special dispensation by the organisation. He was almost six foot five, his back ramrod straight, unbowed with age. He had been a soldier all his life, had served in Korea, and directed and shaped the operations of the organisation as one of its most dynamic chiefs. He was dressed in civilian clothes, a double-breasted dark suit. The monitor on the wall in front of him was reflected in his glasses, behind which a pair of small, shrewd eyes were concentrating on the two screens at the top left.
On one of the screens were images called up from the organisation's archives; these held tens of millions of satellite photographs taken over the last four decades. The other showed new pictures. The images Vytautas Carr was scrutinising were of a small section of south-east Iceland's Vatnajökull glacier, one taken about a year ago, the other earlier that day. The older image revealed nothing remarkable, just the pristine white expanse of the ice cap interrupted by the odd belt of crevasses, but in the new picture, down in the left-hand corner, a small mark was visible. The images were coarse and grainy but once touched up they would be sharp and clear. Carr requested a blow-up of the detail and the image magnified, then resolved itself until the black mark filled the entire screen.
'Who do we have in Keflavík?' Carr asked the man at the control panel as he enlarged the images.
'We don't have anyone in Keflavík, sir,' he replied.
Carr considered this.
'Get Ratoff for me,' he said, adding: 'This had better not be another false alarm.'
'We have better satellite equipment these days, sir,' the other man said, holding the phone.
'We've never gotten such a clear picture of the glacier before. How many people know about the new images?'
'Only the rest of the eight watch, that's three people. Then you and me, of course.'
'Do they know the situation?'
'No, sir. They didn't show any interest in the pictures.'
'Keep it that way,' said Carr and left the room. He stalked down the long corridor to his office and shut the door behind him. A light was flashing on his telephone.
'Ratoff on line two,' said a disembodied voice. Carr frowned and punched the button.
'How long will it take for you to get to Keflavík?' Carr asked without preamble.
'What's Keflavík, sir?' queried the voice on the phone.
'Our base in Iceland,' answered Carr.
'Iceland? I could be there tomorrow evening. Why, what's going on?'
'We've received a clear image of the biggest glacier in the country. It seems to be returning an object to us which we lost there many years ago and we need a man in Keflavík to direct the operation. You will take two special forces squadrons and choose your own equipment. Call it a routine exercise. Direct the locals to the defense secretary if they're uncooperative. I'll talk to him. I'll also call a meeting with the Icelandic government to offer an explanation. The military base is a sensitive issue in Iceland. Immanuel Wesson will take over our embassy in Reykjavík and act as spokesman. You'll receive more detailed instructions on the way.'
'I presume this is a covert operation, sir?'
'I wouldn't have called you otherwise.'
'Keflavík. I remember now. Wasn't there some wild goose chase there in '67?'
'We have better satellites these days.'
'Are the coordinates the same?'
'No. This is a new location. That damn glacier keeps moving,' said Carr and cut short the conversation without saying goodbye. He did not like Ratoff. He stood up, walked over to a large glass cabinet and opened the door, taking out two small keys which he turned over in his palm. One was slightly larger than the other but both were finely scaled, clearly designed for small keyholes. He put them back in the cabinet.
It was many years since Carr had examined the wheel. He took it out now and weighed it in his hands. He reread the inscription: Kruppstahl. It, alone, had confirmed the crash-landing. Its make correlated with the type and size of the plane, its year of manufacture and capacity. This wheel was proof that it was up there on the glacier. After all these years it had at last been found.
Foreign Ministry, Reykjavík, Thursday 28 January, Afternoon
Kristín closed her eyes. She felt the headache throbbing in her forehead. This was the third time the man had come to her office and launched into a diatribe against the ministry, blaming them for the fact that he had been cheated. On the first two occasions he had attempted to browbeat her, threatening that if he did not receive compensation for what he regarded as the ministry's mistake he would take the matter to court. Twice now she had listened to his tirade and twice struggled to keep herself under control, answering him clearly and objectively, but he did not seem to hear a word she said. Now he was sitting in her office once again, embarking on the same cycle of recriminations.
She guessed he was around forty, ten years or so older than her, and this age difference apparently licensed him to throw his weight about in her office, making threats and referring to her as 'a girl like you'. He made no attempt to hide his contempt for her, though whether for the sin of being a woman or a lawyer she could not tell. His name was Runólfur Zóphaníasson. He had a carefully cultivated three-day beard and thick, black hair, slicked back with gel. He wore a dark suit with a waistcoat, and a small silver chain attached to a watch. This he extracted from his waistcoat pocket every now and then with long, thin fingers, flicking it open self-importantly as if he did not have time to waste on 'this crap' – as he put it himself.
He's right about the crap, she thought. He sold mobile freezing plants to Russia, and both the ministry and the Icelandic Trade Council had assisted him in making business contacts. He had sent four units to Murmansk and Kamchatka, but had not received so much as a rouble in return and now claimed that the ministry's lawyer, who no longer worked there, had suggested he dispatch the units and charge for them later, in order to smooth the way for further contracts. He had done so, with the result that goods belonging to him to the tune of more than thirty million krónur had disappeared in Russia. He had tried in vain to trace them, and now looked to the Trade Council and trade department of the Foreign Ministry for support and compensation, if nothing else. 'What kind of idiot consultants does this ministry employ?' he asked repeatedly at his meetings with Kristín. She had contacted the lawyer who could not remember giving him any advice but warned her that the man had once threatened him.
'You must have realised that doing business with Russia these days is very risky,' she had said to him at their first meeting, and pointed out that although the ministry endeavoured to help Icelandic companies set up deals, the risk always lay with the companies themselves. The ministry regretted what had happened and would happily help him make contact with Russian buyers through the embassy in Moscow, but if he could not extract payment, there was little the ministry could do. She had repeated this message in different words at their next meeting and for a third time, now, as he sat before her with an expression of petulance and ill temper and that pretentious silver chain in his waistcoat pocket. The meeting was dragging on. It was late and she wanted to go home.
'You won't get off so easily,' he said. 'You trick people into doing business with the Russian mafia. You probably even take backhanders from them. What do I know? One hears things. I want my money back and if I don't get it ...'
She knew his diatribe off by heart and decided to cut it short. She did not have time for this.
'We're sorry, naturally, that you've lost money in your dealings with Russia but it's not our problem,' she said coolly. 'We don't make decisions for people. It's up to them to evaluate the situation for themselves. If you're so stupid as to export goods worth tens of millions without any securities, you're even more of a fool than you look. I'm now asking you, please, to leave my office and not to bother me in future with any more rubbish about what you imagine to be the ministry's responsibilities.'
He gawped at her, the words 'stupid' and 'fool' echoing in his head. He opened his mouth to say something but she got in first.
'Out, now, if you please.'
She saw his face swell with rage.
He stood up slowly without taking his eyes off her, then suddenly seemed to lose control. Picking up the chair he had been sitting on, he hurled it at the wall behind him.
'This isn't finished!' he yelled. 'We'll meet again and then we'll see which of us is the fool. It's a conspiracy. A conspiracy, I tell you! And you'll suffer for it.'
'Yes, yes, dear, off you go now,' she said as if to a six-year-old. She knew she was goading him but could not resist it.
'You watch yourself! Don't think you can talk to me like that and get away with it!' he shouted and swept to the door, slamming it behind him so the walls shook.
Ministry employees had collected outside her office, drawn by the sound of the chair hitting the wall and the man shouting. They saw him emerge, purple in the face, and storm away. Kristín appeared in the doorway.
'It's all right,' she told her colleagues calmly, adding: 'he's got problems,' then shut the door carefully. Sitting down at her desk, she began to tremble and sat quietly until she had regained her composure. They did not teach you how to deal with this at law school.
Kristín was petite and dark, with short, black hair, strong features in a thin face and sharp brown eyes that shone with decisiveness and self-confidence. She had a reputation for firmness and obstinacy, and was known within the ministry for not suffering fools gladly.
The phone rang. It was her brother. He immediately felt her tension.
'Is everything okay?' he asked.
'Oh, it's nothing. There was a man in here just now. I thought he was going to throw a chair at me. Apart from that, everything's fine.'
'Throw a chair! What sort of lunatics are you dealing with?'
'The Russian mafia, or so I'm told. It's some kind of conspiracy, apparently. How are things with you?'
'Everything's great. I just bought this phone. Do I sound clear?'
'No different from usual.'
'No different from usual!' he mimicked. 'Do you know where I am?'
'Just outside Akureyri. The team's on its way to Vatnajökull.'
'Vatnajökull? In the middle of winter?'
'It's a winter exercise. I've already told you. We reach the glacier tomorrow and I'll call you again then. But you must tell me how the phone sounds. It's clear, isn't it?' he repeated.
'Great. You stick with the others. You hear me? Don't attempt anything by yourself.'
'Sure. It cost seventy thousand krónur, you know.'
'The phone. It's got NMT's long-distance communication system.'
'NMT? What are you on about? Over and out.'
'You don't need to say over ...'
She put down the receiver. Her brother Elías was ten years younger than her, forever immersed in one new hobby or another, mostly outdoor activities which involved travelling in the uninhabited interior. One year it had been hunting, when he filled her freezer with goose and reindeer meat. Another year it was skydiving, and he pestered her to jump with him, without success. The third year it was river rafting in rubber dinghies, then jeep trips across the highlands, glacier trips, skiing trips, snowmobiling – you name it. He was a member of the Reykjavík Air Ground Rescue Team. And it was just like him to buy a mobile phone for seventy thousand krónur. He was a technology junkie. His jeep looked like the flight deck of an aircraft.
In this respect brother and sister could not be more different. When winter arrived, her instinct was to crawl into hibernation and not emerge until spring. She never ventured into the highlands, and avoided travelling in Iceland altogether during winter. If she went for a summer holiday, she kept to the country's ring road and stayed at hotels. But generally she went abroad; to the US, where she had studied, or London, where she had friends. Sometimes, during the darkest period of the Icelandic winter, she would book a week's escape somewhere hot. She hated the cold and dark and had a tendency to suffer from depression during the blackest months when the sun rose at eleven and crawled along the horizon, to set after only five meagre hours of twilight. At this time of year she was overwhelmed by the realisation that she was trapped on a small island in the far north of the Atlantic, in cold, dark isolation.
But regardless of their differences, brother and sister got on very well. They were their parents' only children, and despite the ten-year age gap, or perhaps because of it, had always been extremely close. He worked for a large garage in Reykjavík, converting jeeps into customised off-roaders; she was a lawyer with a degree in international law from the University of California, had been working at the ministry for two years and was very happy to be doing a job which made use of her education. Fortunately, encounters like today's were the exception.
As long as he takes care up on the glacier, thought Kristín as she made her way home. The memory of her meeting with Runólfur would not go away. As she walked down Laugavegur shopping street, through the centre of Reykjavík and home to Tómasarhagi in the west of town, she had a prickling sensation of being watched. She had never experienced this before and told herself it was because she was still on edge. Looking around, she saw nothing to be concerned about and mocked herself for being so neurotic. But the feeling persisted. Come to think of it, she had never been accused of accepting bribes from the Russian mafia before either.
Keflavík Airport, Iceland, Thursday 28 January, 2000 GMT
The giant C-17 US army transport plane landed at Keflavík Airport at around 8 p.m., local time. It was cold, several degrees below zero, but the forecast was for rising temperatures and snow. The massive bulk of the jet taxied through the winter darkness to the end of runway seven, which was reserved for the exclusive use of the NATO base on Midnesheidi moor. It was a remote, bleak location amidst the lava fields on the westernmost tip of the Reykjanes peninsula, lashed by constant gale-force winds, devoid of vegetation, barely fit for human habitation. Hangars large and small dotted the landscape, along with barracks, shops, a cinema and administration blocks. The naval air station had been a centre for reconnaissance flights at the height of the Cold War but these days the base's activities had been greatly curtailed.
Once the aircraft had come to a standstill, the aft door opened, releasing a stream of personnel who immediately began the task of unloading: powerful snowmobiles, tracked vehicles, skiing equipment, all the gear necessary for tackling the glacier. Fifteen minutes after the plane had touched down, the first transporter departed from Keflavík Airport with its cargo, bound for the Reykjanes highway and the south Iceland route to Vatnajökull. (Continues...)
Excerpted from Operation Napoleon by Arnaldur Indriason. Copyright © 1999 Arnaldur Indriason. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.