Yevgenni Anatolevich Tarankov, known as the tarantula, is out to turn back the clock in the new Russia and return to the good old days of communism. Ex-CIA officer Kirk McGarvey knows that any chance for Russian democracy rests on his sholders--and on the bullet with the tarantula's name on it.
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About the Author
David Hagberg is a former Air Force cryptographer who has traveled extensively in Europe, the Arctic, and the Caribbean and has spoken at CIA functions. He has published more than twenty novels of suspense, including the bestselling High Flight, Assassin, and Joshua's Hammer. He makes his home in Vero Beach, Florida.
David Hagberg is a New York Times bestselling author who has published numerous novels of suspense, including his bestselling thrillers featuring former CIA director Kirk McGarvey, which include Abyss, The Cabal, The Expediter, and Allah’s Scorpion. He has earned a nomination for the American Book Award, three nominations for the Mystery Writers of America Edgar Allan Poe Award and three Mystery Scene Best American Mystery awards. He has spent more than thirty years researching and studying US-Soviet relations during the Cold War. Hagberg joined the Air Force out of high school, and during the height of the Cold War, he served as an Air Force cryptographer. He attended the University of Maryland and University of Wisconsin. Born in Duluth, Minnesota, he now lives with his wife Laurie in Sarasota, Florida.
Read an Excerpt
By David Hagberg
Tom Doherty AssociatesCopyright © 1997 David Hagberg
All rights reserved.
Yevgenni Anatolevich Tarankov was called the Tarantula because of the gargantuan web he'd spun over all of Russia in the past five years. From friends in the Kremlin and inside the old KGB, through the peoples of the central Russian plains and wheat fields still dotted with intercontinental ballistic missile silos, and beyond, to the independent-minded residents of the wild far eastern regions of Siberia, he was feared and loved. He was a force to be reckoned with. A Russian force, campaigning for the leadership of his country the Russian way, with bullets and bread.
He was a man in his early fifties, whose most prominent features were his eyes, which were large, black and expressive. When he smiled his eyes lit up with a pleasant warmth like a crackling fire on a cold Siberian night. But when he was angry, the fire was replaced by a sharply bitter man-killing wind that, as a poet from St. Petersburg wrote, "... chilled a man's soul so completely that he forgot there ever could be such a season as summer.
He was unremarkable in appearance, typically Russian of moderate height with a thick waist, a bull neck and a massive head that looked common beneath a fur hat. But if his eyes were windows into the soul of Russia, his intellect was the engine that drove his successes and earned a grudging respect from his enemies, and an adoration bordering on religious faith from his followers. With Tarankov you either felt safe, or you felt as if your life were teetering on the slippery edge of an ice-coated cliff that dropped five thousand meters into a black hole from which escape was impossible.
It was his vision for the future of Russia. The nation would either regain its greatness or it would fall into a bottomless pit of despair.
It was morning and sharply cold as he stood on the swaying platform on the last car of his twenty-car armored train headed west from Yekaterinburg. They'd passed through the industrial city of Perm a few hours ago, and soon they'd enter Kirov, their next target city, where the killing would continue.
He leaned against the rail, smoking a German cigarette, enjoying the calm before the storm. The sky was overcast, which seemed to be appropriate this morning, the air bitter with sulphur oxides from what few factories were still in operation. The people here, he mused, were like the air and countryside — gray, dull, used up, without hope.
His East German wife, Liesel, came out with his morning brandy. Like him she was dressed in combat fatigues, without insignia. "Radar is clear so far," she said. Her Russian was still heavily accented though she'd lived in Russia since she was a seventeen- year-old student at Moscow State University.
"Not a day for flying in any event."
"They'll wish they had," she replied. She hunched up her coat collar and shivered, then sniffed the air and smiled slyly. "It's come, Zhennia, can you smell it?"
He returned her smile. "I can smell air pollution. Is that what you mean?"
"Hope, Zhennia. That's what you're smelling, and nothing is sweeter than hope."
"You sound like a recruiting poster now."
"Maybe." She pursed her full lips. "Already a lot of young boys believe it. Believe in you."
"Better the factory workers and the farmers want to follow me."
"Them too," Liesel said. "But it's the young men who'll make it happen." Her eyes flashed. "There'll be a bronze statue in Dzerzhinsky Square of a young soldier, his rifle raised over his head, his face pointed up to the sky in hope." She smiled again, this time coyly. "Just like the Minuteman in Concord."
"With a pool of blood at his feet," Tarankov said. The brandy had made his stomach sour.
Liesel shot him a sharp look, her violet eyes flashing with passion, her angular face screwed up in a grimace. She was a direct woman who never took sarcasms well. She expected short, succinct answers. In school her double majors had been mathematical logic and analytical psychology. She understood what motivated people, though she most often didn't like it.
"It's better to lose a river of blood now, than the entire country later," she said.
"Da, Russian blood, but from traitors, Zhennia." She swept her hand outward. "Look what they've done. Look what they're doing. It's time for a clean sweep, even in the darkest corners. The filth has to be cleaned away before we all choke on the dust. And you're the only man in Russia capable of doing it."
Tarankov looked at his wife with warmth and affection. For a brief moment he could see them alone, away from the struggle, in a dacha by a lake somewhere in the far east. A part of him desperately wanted the peace and quiet away from the struggle, back to a past, easier life.
In the early days after the war, his father had been on the team of rocket scientists who'd built the Russian launch center at Baikonur. Tarankov had fond memories of evenings spent listening to his father and fellow Russians and captured German scientists passionately talk about a science that would not only take them to the moon and beyond, but would also be capable of launching nuclear weapons intercontinentally. The Soviet Union would become the dominant force on the planet, and these men, his father included, would be the means to achieving that goal.
By day, his mother who was a gifted mathematician in her own right, and his aunts and grandfather, who were poets and historians, educated him. Philosophy and psychology were equally important as mathematics and physics. Literature and poetry were on par with chemistry and astronomy. Those days were simple, and he missed them now.
He attended Moscow State University, joined the Young Pioneers, the Komsomol and the Communist Party, and when he graduated with masters degrees in mathematics, physics, philosophy and psychology, he enlisted in the newly formed Strategic Rocket Force as a captain.
But then disaster struck. His father and mother had become too moderate and too vocal in their views. They were friends with Andrei Sakharov, but they did not have the physicist's importance so they were sentenced to a Siberian gulag for crimes against the State, where five years later they both died.
It was the beginning of Tarankov's real education, he once admitted to a friend. At that moment he became a realist. He embraced the Soviet Union and the Communist Party as he never had before, working equally as earnestly with Gorbachev's moderates as with Vladimir Zhirinovsky's ultra-nationalists. But when the Wall fell he shed no tears. Nor did he openly mourn the loss of the Baltic states and the disintegration of the Soviet Union. Instead, he began to consolidate his power base in the military, the Militia, the old KGB, the Kremlin and the Communists.
They passed a shack in the morning mist, a curl of smoke rising from the chimney. Then another shack, and two more, as they entered the outer suburbs of Kirov which was an industrial city on the Vyatka River.
"Just eight hundred kilometers to Moscow," Liesel said, straightening up. "Not so far. Maybe eight hours or less."
"More like eight light-years," Tarankov replied. He finished his brandy and handed the glass to his wife. "Have Leonid join me."
"Here," a dark figure said from within the shadows of the doorway behind them.
Liesel was startled, but Tarankov didn't bother to turn. Leonid Chernov was like an extension of his own personality, a brother, a kindred spirit. They understood each other.
"I'll see that Colonel Drankov is ready," Liesel said, and she left.
"There could be resistance in Kirov," Chernov said joining Tarankov. "It might be better if you remained aboard until we have Government Square secured."
"Do you think that's for the best, Leonid Ivanovich?"
"For your personal safety, yes." Chernov shrugged. "For the cause ... no."
Tarankov turned to look at his second in command who was ten years younger than him and stood a full head taller. Like everyone else aboard the train, including Colonel Drankov and his two hundred highly-trained commandoes, Chernov wore Russian battle fatigues with no insignia. They were a well-oiled team. Everyone knew everyone else, and all of their duties were clearly defined and perfectly understood. Everyone from the lowliest APC driver to Tarankov himself was equal, only their jobs and responsibilities differed.
"That's the whole point."
Chernov smiled humorlessly, but said nothing.
"Maybe I'll make you director of my KGB."
"Maybe I won't want it."
"There aren't many causes left worth your special talents," Tarankov said.
"Now it's you who are the idealist."
They passed the railroad siding for the Kirov Lumber Works complex, which looked all but deserted this morning. Where the yards should have been teeming with workmen, only a half-dozen men stood atop piles of lumber as the train roared by. A few of them waved, but most of them merely watched.
"They know we're coming," Tarankov said.
"It would seem that not everyone is thrilled by the prospect."
Tarankov studied his number two's eyes, but this morning he could discern nothing other than an amused indifference. They'd been together for more than five years, and in that time there'd been a few moments like these in which Chernov was unreadable. Stalin had once said the same thing about his secret service chief Lavrenti Beria, a killer whose cause and loyalty wasn't always so easy to determine. "What are you thinking?" Stalin asked. "You don't want to know," Beria replied. "Except that I'm yours."
So long as it suits me, Tarankov finished the thought as he was sure Stalin had.
They passed other factory complexes that like the lumber works were mostly deserted of workmen. The word had spread that Tarankov was coming. They would be gathering downtown to witness what a western journalist described as "... a revolution so typically Russian that no one in the West has a chance of understanding it. The distance from apathy to passion is nowhere shorter than it is at this time and place in history."
They roared into the city at more than a hundred kilometers per hour, not slowing down until they'd passed through the central switching yards and entered the downtown section where the tracks made a huge loop to the north, passing over the river still choked with dirty ice floes. The main railway station was two blocks off the city square, and as they approached it Chernov ducked inside for a moment returning with Tarankov's Makarov pistol and his fatigue cap with a red star on the crown.
Tarankov put on his hat, strapped on his pistol and checked the gun's action. Carrying a sidearm was his only concession to his personal safety. But everyone from Liesel to his military commander insisted on it, and at the rallies the crowds seemed to expect it. This was war.
Thousands of people lined the tracks, many of them waving the hammer and sickle flag of the Soviet Union. Others raised banners with Tarankov's name, and still others held posters with his picture. Most of them chanted his name, many of them held up their right fists in the sign of solidarity. There were no police or military in sight.
"It could be a trap," Chernov said.
"Then we die here," Tarankov replied, not taking his eyes off the crowds. His chest was swelling and blood pounded in his ears. He was more alive now than he'd ever been. Russia was his.
The train rumbled to an abrupt stop a hundred meters east of the big, iron latticework central depot, its iron wheels screeching on the tracks, throwing up sparks. Loading doors on twelve of the cars crashed open, and a dozen troop-carrying armored vehicles roared into life, their half-tracks clattered down steel ramps, and they quickly formed into a unit of a hundred commandoes, and four smaller squadrons of twenty-five men each.
Liesel, also wearing a sidearm, joined Chernov and her husband on the rear platform. They climbed down and boarded the lead APC in the main group from which Colonel Vasili Drankov would direct his forces. This was their tenth campaign in the past eighteen months, but Kirov, which was a city of 300,000, would be by far their largest conquest. Any number of things could go wrong, and they all knew it. By sheer weight of numbers the citizens could stop them dead, just as Yeltsin's supporters had protected the White House during the Kremlin coup.
Drankov saluted. "Radar is still clear. Air traffic has even been diverted from the civilian airport. And all the military channels are dead between Moscow and the air base as well as the army post."
Thousands of people raced down to the train, but mindful that something was about to happen, kept clear of Gruzinskaya Boulevard that led from the station to the city square. The noise was deafening, a roar that began to coalesce into the single chant: "Tarankov! Tarankov! Tarankov!"
"The military would be stupid to interfere," Tarankov shouted.
Liesel at his side was beaming. Chernov stood in the gunner's turret surveying the crowds and watching the taller buildings for snipers.
"This won't be another Chechnya," Drankov said with assurance. "Not with all this support. These people don't like the apparatchiks any better than anyone else we've seen. But the Party is still timid of Moscow."
"Not for long," Tarankov said harshly. "This time we'll give them a message they won't soon forget."
"As you wish, Comrade," Drankov said tightly, and he began issuing orders by radio. The main body of their forces would head directly into the city square which was at the heart of the government and financial district. Units One and Two were to head directly to the television and radio stations and the biggest newspaper, and summarily execute not only the government censors, but the left-wing intellectuals and democratic reformers who'd been identified by Tarankov's people months ago.
Unit Three was to proceed to the Arbat Bank, which was a branch of the powerful government-directed Bank of Moscow, execute its president and chief officers and rob the vault. The money and gold, if any, was to be brought back to the square and distributed to the people after Tarankov's speech. The confusion it would cause would help cover their retreat should the local militia decide in the end to retaliate. Anything was possible.
Unit Four was to round up the mayor, the entire city council, the chief prosecutor and his staff, the directors of public works, housing, transportation and all six of the regional court judges, and bring them to the central square.
The four smaller units roared off in a cloud of diesel fumes, and as Drankov's main unit headed up Gruzinskaya Boulevard, Tarankov spoke into a lapel microphone that relayed his voice by radio to loudspeakers atop all their assault vehicles.
"COMRADES, MY NAME IS YEVGENNI TARANKOV, AND I HAVE COME TODAY TO OFFER MY HAND IN FRIENDSHIP AND HELP."
The crowds lining the boulevard fell silent as Tarankov's voice rolled over them like waves on a vast shoreline. As the column passed, the people pressed in behind and followed the armored vehicles up to the square.
"OUR COUNTRY IS FALLING INTO A BOTTOMLESS PIT OF DESPAIR. OUR FORESTS ARE DYING. OUR GREAT RIVERS AND LAKES HAVE BECOME CESSPOOLS OF WASTE. THE AIR IS UNFIT TO BREATHE. THE ONLY FOOD WORTH EATING FILLS THE BELLIES OF THE APPARATCHIKS AND FOREIGNERS. OUR CHILDREN ARE DYING AND OUR WOMEN ARE CRYING, BUT NO ONE IN MOSCOW CAN HEAR THEM. NO ONE IN MOSCOW WANTS TO HEAR THEM."
The column moved at a steady four kilometers per hour, which made it easy for the crowds on foot to keep up with it, and which would give the four outriding assault units a chance to complete their assignments by the time the main force reached the square. The plans had been orchestrated by Chernov, and no one questioned his brilliance. Every town they'd entered had become theirs within thirty minutes, without exception. Kirov, though larger, more sophisticated and much closer to Moscow, was proving to be no different than the much smaller, rural towns.
"OUR HEALTH CARE SYSTEM IS BANKRUPT. OUR MILITARY HAS BECOME LEADERLESS AND USELESS. HOOLIGAN S AND PROFITEERS ERODE OUR LIVELIHOODS LIKE CANCER. THE MAFIA EATS BEEFSTEAKS AND CAVIAR, DRINKS SWEET CHAMPAGNE AND DRIVES CADILLAC AND MERCEDES CARS WHILE RAPING OUR DAUGHTERS, WHO HAVE NO HOPE FOR A FUTURE."
Excerpted from Assassin by David Hagberg. Copyright © 1997 David Hagberg. 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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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Rather boring, very slow moving, was tempted not to both finishing the book.