by Walter Wager


by Walter Wager

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An edgy Cold War thriller, perfect for fans of The Manchurian Candidate and other terrifying conspiracy novels.
The Russians called the project TELEFON.
Collect 430 first-class English speakers who’d never left the country. Drill them in every detail of American life and then hand-pick the top students for drug-assisted hypnosis. Every one of them believes he is the American whose papers he carried, and every one of them has been programmed to destroy a target in the United States. The trigger is a coded phone message. It was a brilliant plan. But now, at the wrong time, it was being executed by the wrong man and the Russians must stop TELEFON by dispatching their own special agents to the United States. This “doozy of a thriller,” which was made into a classic film starring Charles Bronson, is now available in eBook format for the first time (The New York Times).

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781626816435
Publisher: Diversion Books
Publication date: 02/06/2019
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: eBook
Pages: 220
File size: 2 MB

Read an Excerpt


They had the whole house surrounded.

In fact, they had the entire block surrounded.

Gorki Street.

Borisov Street.

Nostamkin Boulevard, known for the excellent puppet theatre.

Tashinevo Street, still adorned with some of the gracious buildings erected before the Revolution.

There were armed men on all four, and on the nearby roofs. Certain units attached to the Committee for State Security — such as those twelve divisions of gray-clad frontier guards — wear uniforms, but the thirty-one agents in this K.G.B. raiding party were in civilian clothes. They carried an assortment of weapons under their overcoats — Stechkin machine pistols, Kalashnikov assault rifles (with the stocks folded down) and gas guns — and they were all fine shots. These were experienced professionals, hand-picked by Colonel Malchenko himself. They were his men from his section, the only ones he could trust for this delicate operation. As Deputy Director for Internal Security at K.G.B.-Moscow, it was Aleksei Malchenko's patriotic duty to be paranoid and he did his job well.

Malchenko, a dark bulky man whose face looked older than his fifty- two years, peered down at his agents and saw that every man was in position. Polkovnik Malchenko was at his usual command post for such raids, a room on the top floor of the building across the street. In knowledgeable K.G.B. circles, this was as much Malchenko's trademark as the opening salvo of concussion grenades was Strelski's. Malchenko sometimes utilized the shock grenades himself, but he always attacked from the high ground like the ex-infantryman he was.

He put down the binoculars, glanced at his watch and saw that it was nearly 7 A.M. It was a chilly sunless morning and he'd been up half the night, but he wasn't the least bit tired. He was much too tense for that.

"Time to move," he said to the curly-haired young man beside him. "The children will be out on their way to school soon."

Lieutenant Bogdanovich wasn't surprised. He knew all the scores of Moscow's "Dynamo" soccer team for the past five years, the complete table of organization of Chinese military intelligence and the fact that his superior was very fond of children. It was logical that Malchenko, whose desk mounted large photos of his seven grandchildren, wouldn't risk exposing school kids to a stray bullet.

"Now, Colonel?"

The older man nodded.

Bogdanovich spoke into the walkie-talkie confidentially, almost as if he were afraid that someone in the next room might be eavesdropping.

"Blue Control to all units. Blue Control to all units. Move in. All Blue units move in immediately."

Malchenko saw two assault squads enter the drab apartment house that was Number 108, and even after they were out of sight he knew exactly what they were doing. Three men would be checking out the cellar, two covering the small lobby with machine pistols and seven others on their way up the stairs to Apartment 9. Another team would be blocking the rear exit. He could see it all in his mind's eye quite clearly.

"Alive. I want him alive," he thought aloud.

"That's been made clear to everyone, Colonel," assured the thin-faced aide.

Malchenko shook his large head.

"There's always some — what do the Americans say? Yes, some dumb mother. Lieutenant, there's always some dumb mother who —"

Two short bursts of gunfire amputated the sentence.

"Some dumb mother!"

Before Bogdanovich could answer, the beefy colonel was out of the room and pounding heavily down the stairs towards Gorki Street. Shouting. More firing. Malchenko was panting as he charged across to Number 108, and it was mainly rage that helped him bull his way up the three flights of steps. The door to the raided apartment hung askew on one hinge. A dazed K.G.B. corporal with a bright red stain blossoming above his belt buckle sprawled across the threshold. Malchenko leaped over the wounded man with an odd ponderous grace, scanned the drearily furnished room in a single sweep.

"In here, Colonel," said someone with a thick Ukrainian accent.

"Is he alive?"

The crew-cut captain in the bedroom doorway nodded twice.

"Oh yes, I saved his life, Colonel."

Malchenko hurried into the bedroom, eyed the doubled-up figure on the linoleum. The man on the floor — the target of the entire operation — didn't move.

"He's all right, Colonel," assured the Ukrainian. "I just gave him a knee in the nuts — that's all. No real harm in it."

Now the man on the floor moaned, made a gagging noise.

"A knee in the nuts hurts less than an ungrateful child, Colonel. That's an old Ukrainian proverb, you know."

"I doubt that," Malchenko replied, and the husky captain's grin showed three stainless-steel teeth.

"Like I said, Colonel, I saved his life. Just before I gave him that little knee in the nuts, I sort of jammed my machine pistol into his belly — and this is what he spit out."

Malchenko stared at the capsule in the captain's seamed palm. It wasn't the blue one used by American and British agents. It wasn't the gray pill the Chinese issued. It was green and very familiar and quite lethal. At that moment Lieutenant Bogdanovich entered the room with his walkie-talkie and looked at the suicide capsule that was fascinating his superior.

"That's ours, Colonel," he identified briskly.

He was quite right, which meant that something was very wrong.

None of this bothered Harry Bascomb, of course. He was more than six thousand miles away in a pleasant two-bedroom house on the edge of Denver, and he'd never even heard of the Committee for State Security. He didn't care much for spy movies or congressional hearings, being partial to cowboy pictures and telecasts of the games of the Denver Broncos. Sipping his third can of beer of the evening, he waited for the deodorant commercial to subside — confident that Clint Eastwood would soon return to the nineteen-inch screen to demolish the evildoers. He'd get every one of them. He always did.


As any cultured Muscovite can tell you, the elegant building at 11 Kropotkin Street houses the Leo Tolstoi Museum where one may inspect the original manuscripts of such masterpieces as Anna Karenina and War and Peace. Few residents of the Soviet capital are aware, however, of what goes on in the stone mansion four doors away. It is no longer the home of some cousin of the Tsar, but it isn't the Institute for Botanical Research either. The sign outside is a lie. This is the headquarters for the Third Bureau of the K.G.B. — the Committee for State Security — and in its sub-basement, where six thousand bottles of fine wine had once rested, an interrogation team was systematically and expertly hurting the prisoner taken earlier that bone- gray April morning. Aleksei Malchenko sat against the wall in an armchair covered with green plastic, glumly watching and hating the man from 108 Gorki Street who'd scream but wouldn't talk.

"Zagorsk! Viktor Zagorsk!" the captive howled again and again.

"Viktor Zagorsk," said Bogdanovich.

The lieutenant wasn't in the cellar. He was in an office on the second floor, and now instead of a radio he held a bulging brown envelope.

"That's the name on his identity documents," Bogdanovich told the bespectacled moon-faced man across the desk, "but we think they're all fake. That's why we want you to check them out. After all, you're one of the best documents experts in the business."

It was comical the way these junior officers said "we" to cloak themselves with the authority of their superiors. But Nicolai Dalchimski didn't laugh. He didn't even smile as he accepted the envelope containing the identity papers of "Viktor Zagorsk," for after twenty-three years in the K.G.B. he was used to this sort of thing.

"Thanks for the compliment, Lieutenant," he answered carefully.

"You've earned it. We're counting on you, although the interrogators will probably worm the whole story out of him in three or four days. He's getting the full treatment — the works. Do you know what they found in that bastard's apartment?"

"A transmitter?"

"No — a whole damn arsenal! That's classified, of course."

"I didn't hear a word you said, Lieutenant."

"You're a good man, Dalchimski."

Now the documents expert smiled in gratitude. As the door to the second-floor laboratory closed behind Bogdanovich, another door in the basement swung shut behind Malchenko. The portly colonel nodded to the uniformed guards outside the interrogation room, shook his head and nearly bumped into General Pyotr Strelski.

"You're looking grim, Aleksei," said the white-haired man who commanded K.G.B.-Moscow, "but then you always do when you come out of there."

"I don't enjoy that sort of thing," Malchenko admitted. "Never did. It isn't that I'm squeamish, but all that savagery and screaming depresses me."

"You don't have to apologize to me, Aleksei. I was the one who brought you into this back in forty-six, remember? You were a pretty good soldier before that."

"And you weren't such a bad commissar," Malchenko recalled. Every Soviet battalion had been assigned a political commissar during the war against the Fascists, and Strelski had been one of the best. They'd fought their way into burning Berlin together, riding atop the same mud-smeared tank onto the runway at Templehof.

"You're not saying that just because I recommended you for the medal?" the general asked.

"You know I never gave a shit about medals. I was fighting for the homeland — long time ago."

Strelski drew a dark cigar from his jacket pocket, lit it.

"You're still fighting for the homeland — in a slightly different way," he assured him. "How's the interrogation going?"

The ex-infantryman shrugged.

"He's a real fanatic. Takes everything they're dishing out and says nothing except his name — which is almost certainly a lie. I'm having his papers and prints checked now," Malchenko said as he waved aside the offer of a matching corona.

"They're fine Cuban cigars, Aleksei. Romeo y Julietta, that's a nice romantic name."

"I'm not feeling that loving, Comrade. Just because they're our allies doesn't mean I've got to smoke their stinking cigars."

They started up the corridor as he told Strelski about the weapons cache and the K.G.B. poison pill. "This isn't some clique of malcontent poets with an illegal mimeograph machine," he judged in bitter tones. "This looks like a real conspiracy, and some of our own personnel may be involved. Damn lucky we stumbled onto it."


"Pure chance. The police thought someone in the next building had a black market operation going, and when they put in the wiretap some idiot plugged into the wrong line," Malchenko explained as they started up the stairs. "Nothing for a week, and then a couple of funny conversations — including two that mentioned Scarface."

Strelski stopped as if he'd hit a wall.

"That's not funny, Aleksei. There aren't that many people who call Marshal Vletska 'Scarface.' Only Red Army staff officers."

"The Red Army staff could be involved in this. So far as we know, Vletska's the last Stalinist left on the General Staff — but there might be others. That son of a bitch downstairs is going to tell us."

The general shook his head, frowned.

"Strelski, old friend, nobody needs twenty-six thousand fucking rounds of ammo to hold up the box office at the Bolshoi. Cases of grenades and explosives, nearly a score of automatic weapons and nine of the latest-model Red Army sniper rifles with night scopes — the latest model? What the hell would you say it is — an Armenian folk festival?"

"Not unless you found some musical instruments."

"Not one."

They reached the landing, turned along the corridor that led to Malchenko's office. Concentrating on their conversation, neither heard Lieutenant Bogdanovich approaching behind them.

"We'll find out all about this Zagorsk and his friends," Malchenko vowed, "and we'll exterminate them like roaches. You ever read that Englishman's novel — 1984? In that book they destroyed enemies of the State completely, even took their names out of all public records so that — for practical purposes — they never existed. That's what I'm going to do to these roaches, annihilate them — names and all."

"Names and all, he said," repeated Bogdanovich that afternoon when he picked up the documents expert's report on the prisoner's papers.

"He needn't bother annihilating the name Viktor Zagorsk," replied Dalchimski. "These identity documents are all forgeries, excellent forgeries — better than the finest C.I.A. or British product. Ink, paper, seals — all nearly perfect. That's all I can tell you at the moment."

"It's all right. That roach in the cellar will tell us everything in a day or two," the young officer predicted confidently.

It actually took more than three days — ninety-one hours and some minutes — to break the man who wasn't Viktor Zagorsk, but once he yielded he spoke freely. As Colonel Malchenko suspected, there was a large and well-organized Stalinist plot to seize power. More than two hundred men and women in the government and armed forces were involved, but the ruined prisoner didn't know all the names — just thirteen.

One was the buxom woman who was the secretary to the admiral in command at Leningrad.

Another was a colonel in charge of an armored unit near Odessa.

Still another was Marshal Vletska.

A fourth was a K.G.B. documents expert in Moscow, a man named Dalchimski. Almost all of those identified by the ravaged "Zagorsk" were arrested within the next week, but Nicolai Dalchimski wasn't one of them. He had — somehow — disappeared without a trace. Police and frontier control units across the entire U.S.S.R. were alerted, and normal search procedures were begun.

They all failed.


To be fair to the K.G.B., the roundup of Stalinist conspirators during the month after "Viktor Zagorsk" collapsed was highly successful. Some 181 of the plotters were seized by Malchenko and his associates in a series of briskly professional raids that ranged across the Soviet Union from Air Force headquarters at Vladivostok to the Baltic telecommunications center in Riga. Many important individuals in the Party apparatus and the armed forces were taken into custody, and quite a few of these provided useful information after visits to the cellar under Kropotkin Street. Dozens of senior officials — including the Premier, the First Secretary of the Party and nine members of the Politburo — had been slated for assassination, they confessed. There were no public trials this time, no carefully staged "shows" to thrill the press or T.V. audiences. The entire affair was hushed up so efficiently that even many K.G.B. officers never heard of it, and when Malchenko was awarded the Soviet Union's highest decoration it wasn't mentioned in the official gazette.

Imaginative efforts were made to camouflage the executions. Marshal Vletska and eight of the senior plotters died "in the crash of a military transport into the Black Sea," while others perished in "auto accidents" or "fires." There were a number of "heart attacks" and "strokes" and "brain clots" — all neatly spaced in time and geography. It was well done, so well that General Strelski was complimented by the chief of the entire K.G.B. for his organization's "superior performance."

Of course, all these incidents did not go unnoticed in Washington — or to be precise, in Langley, Virginia. The global headquarters of the Central Intelligence Agency is situated in that pleasantly wooded suburb of the American capital, in a massive and totally undistinguished building that is guarded by sophisticated and expensive electronic and sonic hardware, dog patrols and — for all we know — trained alligators, wood-chuck teams and killer hummingbirds. Inside this Cold War shrine dedicated to deities whose very names are classified there is a lot more machinery — some $190,000,000 worth of computers and other gear. And there are analysts — not psychoanalysts or urine analysts but intelligence analysts. To be wholly accurate, there are a few psychoanalysts and a couple of laboratory technicians who could tell plenty from pee-pee, but most of the C.I.A. family concentrate on other "areas."


Excerpted from "Telefon"
by .
Copyright © 1975 Walter Wager.
Excerpted by permission of Diversion Publishing Corp..
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.

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