It's 1991. The Cold War is over. Charlie Stone is a brilliant analyst for the CIA who made a name for himself during the height of the Cold War. But today his expertise is needed yet again: A top-secret tape—one that foretells a coup d'état in the Kremlin—has been smuggled out of the Soviet Union by one of a few remaining moles. Stone's assessment of the transcript is two-fold: Not only is a very real, very violent power struggle underway but the plot may be linked to an old mystery involving the imprisonment of Stone's own father. Could a McCarthy-era enemy be trying to send Stone a deadly modern message?
Soon Stone finds himself at the center of another conspiracy—framed for a grisly murder. Without proof of his innocence, Stone enters into a terrifying game of cat-and-mouse that leads him across the country, throughout Europe, and finally, to the Soviet Union. There, he will come face to face with a group of Kremlin insiders whose ruthless agenda threatens to disrupt the fragile balance of world power—and leave Stone with nowhere left to run. But before he can thwart a tragedy of epic proportions, he must put a stop to the elusive ways and means of THE MOSCOW CLUB... from New York Times bestselling author Joseph Finder.
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About the Author
Joseph Finder is the author of several New York Times bestselling thrillers, including Buried Secrets, High Crimes, Paranoia and the first Nick Heller novel, Vanished. Killer Instinct won the International Thriller Writers Award for Best Thriller, and Company Man won the Barry and Gumshoe Awards for Best Thriller. High Crimes was the basis of the Morgan Freeman/Ashley Judd movie, and Paranoia was the basis for 2013 film with Liam Hemsworth, Harrison Ford and Gary Oldman. Killer Instinct is also in development as a major motion picture. Born in Chicago, Finder studied Russian at Yale and Harvard. He was recruited by the CIA, but decided he preferred writing fiction. A member of the Council on Foreign Relations and the Association for Former Intelligence Officers, he lives in Boston, Massachusetts.
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The Moscow Club
By Joseph Finder
St. Martin's PressCopyright © 1991 Joseph Finder
All rights reserved.
The Adirondack Mountains, New York
The first hundred feet or so had been easy, a series of blocky ledges rising gently, rough-hewn and mossy. But then the final fifty feet rose almost straight up, a smooth rock face with a long vertical crack undulating through it. Charles Stone rested for a long moment at a flat ledge. He exhaled and inhaled slowly, with a measured cadence, glancing up at the summit from time to time, shielding his eyes from the dazzling light.
Rarely was a climb as perfect as this: that trancelike serenity as he pulled and pushed with his hands and feet, laybacking up the tiered rock, the pain of physical exertion overwhelmed by the sensation of unbounded freedom, the razor-sharp concentration. And — only other climbers wouldn't consider it corny — the feeling of communion with nature.
He was in his late thirties, tall and rangy, with a prominent jaw and a straight nose, his dark curly hair mostly obscured by a bright knitted wool cap. His normally olive-complexioned face was ruddy from the chill autumn air.
Stone knew that solo climbing was risky. But without the carabiners and the rope and the pitons and the chock-stones and all the customary apparatus of protection, climbing was something else altogether, closer to nature and somehow more true. It was just you and the mountain, and you had no choice but to concentrate utterly or you could get hurt, or worse. Above all, there was no opportunity to think about work, which was what Stone found most refreshing. Luckily, he was so valued that his employers permitted him (though reluctantly) to climb virtually whenever he wanted. He knew he'd never be another Reinhold Messner, the master climber who had solo-climbed Mount Everest without oxygen. Yet there were times, and this was one of them, when that didn't matter, so much did he feel a part of the mountain.
He kicked absently at a scree pile. Up here, above the tree line, where only shrubs grew out of the inhospitable gray granite, the wind was cold and biting. His hands had grown numb; he had to blow on them to keep them warm. His throat was raw, and his lungs ached from the frigid air.
He struggled to his feet, moved to the crack, and saw that its width varied from about an inch or so to half an inch. The rock face, up close, looked more perilous than he'd expected: a vertical rise with little to hold on to. He wedged his hands into the crack and, fitting his climbing shoes into toeholds in the smooth rock, he hoisted himself up.
He grabbed onto a cling hold, pulled himself up again, and managed to wedge his hands into the crack. Finger-jamming now, he edged up slowly, inch by inch, feeling the rhythm and knowing he could continue climbing this way clear to the top.
And then, for a brief instant, his reverie was interrupted by a sound, an electronic bleat he could not place. Someone seemed to be calling his name, which was impossible, of course, since he was up here completely by himself, but —
— then it came again, quite definitely his name, electronically amplified, and then he heard the unmistakable racket of helicopter blades crescendoing, and it came again: "Charlie!"
"Shit," he muttered to himself, looking up.
There it was: a white-and-orange JetRanger 206B helicopter hovering just above the summit, coming in for a landing.
"Charlie, Mama wants you back home." The pilot was speaking through an electric bullhorn, audible even over the deafening roar of the helicopter.
"Great timing," Stone muttered again as he resumed finger-jamming his way up the crack. "Some fucking sense of humor." Twenty more feet: they could just goddamn wait. So much for his day of climbing in the Adirondacks.
When, several minutes later, he reached the top, Stone bounded over to the helicopter, ducking slightly as he passed under the blades.
"Sorry, Charlie," the pilot shouted over the din.
Stone gave a quick, engaging grin and shook his head as he clambered into the front seat. Immediately he put on the voice-activated headset and said, "Not your fault, Dave." He strapped himself in.
"I think I just broke about five FAA regulations landing here," the pilot replied, his voice thin and metallic as the helicopter lifted off the mountaintop. "I don't think you can even call this an off-site landing. For a while there, I didn't think I'd make it."
"Couldn't 'Mama' wait until tonight?" Stone asked plaintively.
"Just following orders, Charlie."
"How the hell'd they find me out here?"
"I'm just the pilot."
Stone smiled, amazed as always by the resources of his employers. He sat back, determined at least to enjoy the flight. From here, he calculated, it would be something like an hour to the helipad in Manhattan.
Then he sat upright with a jolt. "Hey, what about my car? It's parked down there, and —"
"It's already been taken care of," the pilot said briskly. "Charlie, it's something really big."
Stone leaned back in his seat, closed his eyes, and smiled with grudging admiration. "Very thorough," he said aloud to no one in particular.CHAPTER 2
Charlie Stone mounted the steps of the distinguished redbrick townhouse on a quiet, tree-lined block on the Upper East Side. Although it was nearly afternoon rush hour, it was still sunny, the sensuous amber light of a fall day in New York. He entered the high-ceilinged, marble-floored foyer, and pressed the single door buzzer.
He shifted his weight from foot to foot while they verified his identity by means of the surveillance camera discreetly mounted on the lobby wall. The Foundation's elaborate security precautions had annoyed Stone until the day he caught sight of the working conditions over at Langley — the cheap gray wall-to-wall carpeting and the endless corridors — and he almost got down on his knees and shouted a hosanna.
The Parnassus Foundation was the name given, by a CIA wag no doubt enamored of Greek mythology, to a clandestine branch of the Central Intelligence Agency charged with the analysis of the Agency's most closely held intelligence secrets. For a number of reasons, chiefly the belief of one former Director of Central Intelligence that the Agency should not be entirely consolidated in Langley, Virginia, Parnassus was situated in a graceful five-story townhouse on East 66th Street in New York City, a building that had been specially converted to repel any electronic or microwave efforts to eavesdrop.
The program was enormously well funded. It had been set up under William Colby after the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence (the so-called Church Committee hearings of the 1970s) tore the Agency apart. Colby recognized that the CIA needed to attract experts to help synthesize intelligence, which had traditionally been the Agency's weak spot. Parnassus grew from a few million dollars' worth of funding under Colby to several hundred million under William Casey and then William Webster. It engaged the services of only some twenty-five brilliant minds, paid them inordinately well, and cleared them for almost the highest level of intelligence. Some of them worked on Peking, some on Latin America, some on NATO.
Stone worked on the Soviet Union. He was a Kremlinologist, which he often considered about as scientific a discipline as reading tea leaves. The head of the program, Saul Ansbach, liked to call Stone a genius, which Charlie privately knew was hyperbolic. He was no genius; he simply loved puzzles, loved putting together scraps of information that didn't seem to fit and staring at them long enough for a pattern to emerge.
And he was good, no question about it. The way baseball greats have a feeling for the sweet spot of the bat, Stone had an understanding of how the Kremlin worked, which was, after all, the darkest mystery.
It had been Stone who, in 1984, had predicted the rise of a dark-horse candidate in the Politburo named Mikhail S. Gorbachev, when just about everyone in the American intelligence community had his chips on other older and more established candidates. That was Stone's legendary PAE #121, the initials standing for Parnassus Analytical Estimate; it had gained him great renown — among the four or five who knew his work.
He had once casually suggested, in a footnote to one of his reports, that the President should be physically affectionate with Gorbachev when the two met, as demonstrative as Leonid Brezhnev used to be. Stone felt sure this sort of gesture would win over Gorbachev, who was far more "Western" (and therefore reserved) than his predecessors. And then Stone had watched, gratified, as Reagan threw his arm around Gorbachev in Red Square. Trivial stuff, maybe, but in such small gestures is international diplomacy born.
When the Berlin Wall came tumbling down, almost everyone at the Agency was caught by surprise — even Stone. But he had virtually foreseen it, from signals out of Moscow he'd parsed, communications between Gorbachev and the East Germans that the Agency had intercepted. Not much hard data, but a lot of surmise. That prediction sealed his reputation as one of the best the Agency had.
But there was more to it than seat-of-the-pants instinct. It involved pick-and-shovel work, too. All kinds of rumors came out of Moscow; you had to consider the source and weigh each one. And there were little signals, tiny details.
Just yesterday morning, for instance. A Politburo member had given an interview to the French newspaper Le Monde hinting that a particular Party secretary might lose his post, which would mean the rise of another, who was much more hard-line, much more stridently anti-American. Well, Stone had discovered that the Politburo member who'd given the interview had actually been cropped out of a group photograph that ran in Pravda, which meant that a number of his colleagues were gunning for him, which meant that, most likely, the man was just blowing smoke. Stone's record of accuracy wasn't perfect, but it was somewhere around ninety percent, and that was damn good. He found his work exhilarating, and he was blessed with an ability to concentrate intensely when he wanted to.
Finally, there was a buzz, and he stepped forward to pull open the inner doors.
* * *
By the time he passed through the vestibule's black-and-white harlequin-tiled floor and walked up the broad staircase, the receptionist was already standing there, waiting for him.
"Back so soon, sweetie?" Connie said with a dry cackle, immediately followed by a loose bronchial cough. She was a bleached blonde in her late forties, a divorcée who dressed, unconvincingly, as if she were twenty-five; who chain-smoked Kool menthols and called each of the men at Parnassus "sweetie." She looked like the sort of woman you would meet sitting on a barstool. Hers was not a difficult job: mostly, she sat at her desk and received top-secret courier deliveries from the Agency and talked on the phone with her friends. Yet, paradoxically, she was as discreet as they came, and she oversaw the Foundation's connections to Langley and the outside world with an iron discipline.
"Can't stay away," Stone said without breaking stride.
"Fancy outfit," Connie said, indicating with a grand sweep of her hand Stone's dirt-encrusted jeans, stained sweatshirt, and electric-green Scarpa climbing shoes.
"There's a new dress code, Connie — didn't they tell you?" he said, proceeding down the long Oriental rug that ran the length of the corridor to Saul Ansbach's office.
He passed his own office, outside of which sat his secretary, Sherry. She had been born and raised in South Carolina but, having ten years ago spent one summer in London when she was eighteen, she had somehow acquired a reasonable facsimile of a British accent. She looked up and raised her eyebrows inquiringly.
Stone shrugged broadly. "Duty calls," he said.
"Indeed," Sherry agreed, sounding like a West End barmaid.
* * *
Saul Ansbach, the head of the Parnassus office, was seated behind his large mahogany desk when Stone entered. He stood up quickly and shook Stone's hand.
"I'm sorry about this, Charlie." He was a large, beefy man in his early sixties with steel-gray hair cut en brosse and heavy black-framed glasses, the sort of man usually described as rumpled. "You know I wouldn't call you back if it weren't important," Saul said, gesturing to the black wooden rail-backed Notre Dame chair beside his desk.
Ansbach had been a quarterback at Notre Dame, and he had never quite fit in with the proper, careful Ivy League types that once dominated the CIA. Perhaps that was why they had sent him to New York to run Parnassus. Still, as with most CIA men of his generation, his clothes were more Ivy League than the president of Harvard's: a blue button-down shirt, a rep tie, a dark suit that had to have come from J. Press.
Ansbach's office was dominated by a marble fireplace almost four feet high. It was suffused by the orange light of the late afternoon, which sifted in through the double-glazed, soundproof windows.
They had met when Stone was in his last year at Yale.
Stone had been taking a seminar in Soviet politics taught by a large brassy woman who had emigrated from Russia after World War II. He was the star of the class; here, studying the very thing that his father had once done for a living, he had found his natural milieu, the first subject in college he really cared about, and he began to shine.
One day after class the teacher asked him whether he'd like to have lunch the next day at Mory's, the private club on York Street where the professors ate Welsh rarebit and complained about Guggenheim fellowships they hadn't received. She wanted him to meet a friend of hers. Charlie showed up, uncomfortable in his blue blazer and the Yale Co-op tie that was threatening to strangle him.
Sitting at the small wooden table next to his teacher was a tall crewcut man with thick black glasses. His name was Saul Ansbach, and for much of the lunch Charlie had no idea why they'd invited him. They chatted about Russia and the Soviet leadership and international Communism and all that sort of thing, but they weren't just talking; later he realized that Ansbach, who at first said he worked for the State Department, was actually testing him.
When it came time for coffee, Stone's teacher excused herself, and then Ansbach tried for the first time to recruit him for an intelligence program about which he remained vague. Ansbach knew that Charlie was the son of the infamous Alfred Stone, who'd been condemned as a traitor in the McCarthy hearings, but he didn't seem to care. He saw instead a brilliant young man who had demonstrated an extraordinary flair for international politics and Soviet politics in particular. And who was also the godson of the legendary Winthrop Lehman.
Charlie, who considered the CIA vaguely sinister, said no.
Several times before he graduated, Saul Ansbach called, and each time Charlie politely told him no. A few years later, after Stone had embarked upon an illustrious career as a scholar in Soviet politics, teaching at Georgetown, then M.I.T., Saul asked again, and this time Stone finally gave in. Times were different; the CIA seemed far less odious. Intelligence work increasingly appealed to him, and he knew that now, with his reputation, he could have things his way.
He set down his conditions. He'd work when he wanted to (and climb mountains when he wanted); he wanted to work at home in New York and not have to move back to Washington, whose government buildings and white pedestrian "malls" gave Stone the shudders — to say nothing of dreary old CIA headquarters in Langley. And — since he was giving up the security of academic tenure — they'd pay him very, very well. For work he so enjoyed that he'd do it for free.
You never know, he later thought, how one quick decision can change your life.
* * *
Now Saul walked to the heavy mahogany double doors and shut them, emphasizing the gravity of what he was planning to say.
"It better be important," Stone said with false gruffness, about to observe that being plucked from the mountaintop was a little like being interrupted during sex before you're finished. But he held his tongue, preferring not to have Saul ask when Charlie had last seen his estranged wife, Charlotte. Charlie didn't want to think about Charlotte right now.
If you tell yourself, Don't think about white elephants, you will. The last time he saw her.
Excerpted from The Moscow Club by Joseph Finder. Copyright © 1991 Joseph Finder. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
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