Yuri Kirov is a wanted man. A former intelligence officer for the Russian Navy, he is living incognito in the United States. But the Russians are not through with him. He is recalled to duty and ordered to complete one last mission: infiltrate a Chinese naval base and install spy hardware on their newest nuclear submarine.
As a Navy veteran and expert in underwater technology, Yuri is the perfect man for the job. But with his family in danger in the U.S., he is also the perfect pawn. By the time Yuri discovers the true purpose of his mission, it is too late. A new Cold War is heating up. And it's about to go nuclear . . .
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"An explosive, high-stakes thriller that keeps you guessing." -Leo J. Mal
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"A page-turner with as much heart as brains." -Dana Haynes
"A fast-paced adventure that will take readers on a thrilling journey." -Diana Chambers
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The interrogation cell reeked of stale vomit and rotting urine, leftovers from the previous occupant. A bullet to the back of the skull was the routine measure dispensed here for traitors.
Chilled to fifty-eight degrees Fahrenheit, the twelve-foot square unfinished basement room was buried deep under the Lubyanka Building in the Meshchansky District of Moscow. A single light bulb dangling from the ceiling illuminated the drab concrete walls and floor. Nastasia Vasileva sat on a metal chair, her left wrist handcuffed to the bracket bolted to a table. She wore a paper-thin oversized gray jumpsuit that concealed her curvy, sensuous frame. Sneakers sans socks and laces encased her feet. Other than plain cotton panties, no under clothing was allowed.
To complete the humiliation, they had sheared her mid-back length golden locks to a butch bob.
Nastasia shivered, an expected reaction to the frosty environment and her skimpy attire, but gut-churning dread amplified her body quakes. She struggled to maintain bladder control. She waited for nearly half an hour before he returned.
A stub of a man, Mikhail Kireyev was bald, rail-thin, and in his early forties. He worked for the Federal Security Service — Federal'naya Sluzhba Bezopasnosti. The FSB was the Russian Federation's FBI — and then some. Kireyev sat in the chair on the opposite side of the table. A major in the FSB, he was not in uniform today. Instead, he wore an off-the-rack dark wool suit with a starched white shirt and nondescript red tie. Kireyev placed the file folder he carried onto the tabletop and looked his captive in the eye. "I don't believe you," he said, his tone arctic. "We have not been able to verify your story. You are lying."
"No, that's not true. I was working to turn him, just what my directive required."
"We know you made at least three unauthorized visits to Seattle to collaborate with him."
"It was my mission. I had operational control. I did what was required."
Kireyev, an expert in counterintelligence interrogations, opened the file and removed a color photo. He held up the print of a mammoth yacht. "What was he doing with this boat?"
"He used it as his home base when he was in North America."
"How did he acquire the Mark Twelve?" He'd asked this particular question numerous times during previous interviews.
"I don't know anything about it. I never saw it and he never mentioned it." Nastasia reached up with her free hand and caressed her left shoulder. The post- operative ache remained. Her shattered clavicle, reassembled with metal pins and plates, refused to heal. Major Kireyev rubbed the stubble of his chin while staring at the woman he considered a turncoat. Nastasia looked away, knowing he'd already decided her fate.
Kireyev pushed his chair away from the table and stood. He collected the file and without another word exited the room. The steel door slammed shut with a shudder that signaled finality.
* * *
The two men watched as Major Kireyev departed. A closed-circuit high- definition camera mounted in a basement ceiling corner provided live audio and color video of the interrogation of Russian operative Nastasia Vasileva — cover name Elena Krestyanova.
The directors of the brother intelligence agencies sat in posh chairs inside a well-appointed office half a dozen levels above the subterranean holding cell. They drank tea while staring at the 65-inch wall-mounted flat panel screen.
"I agree with Kireyev," FSB General Ivan Golitsin said. "She's obviously dirty." A month beyond sixty with thinning blond hair, Golitsin wore a black business suit that did nothing for his thick, stocky build.
"Maybe, maybe not," said Borya Smirnov. In his early fifties, he wore a Savile Row navy herringbone classic fit suit. The custom tailor-made ensemble complemented his lanky frame.
"Come on, Borya, I know she was one of your stars, but Kwan obviously turned her. Your own man in the field said as much."
"She was granted broad authority, like she said. He's a juicy target and her mandate was to bring him over, whatever it took." Smirnov was the director of the SVR and Nastasia's — Elena's — boss. The SVR — Sluzhba Vneshney Razvedki — was the successor to the former First Chief Directorate of the KGB. Responsible for foreign intelligence operations, the SVR functioned as Russia's CIA.
General Golitsin studied Elena's video image. The thirty-two-year-old woman remained seated at the table with her head slumped forward — defeated.
"Perhaps she got too close to Kwan. Could she be in love with him? That would explain much."
"No. She's not capable."
"That plus all those years in the orphanages — she was abandoned at two years old."
"Orphanages — nasty business," Golitsin offered.
The men studied the video image of the prisoner. SVR chief Smirnov set his empty cup on a side table. He turned to face his counterpart. "I believe there may be a way to salvage this situation."
Golitsin leaned forward, his head angled to the side. "What do you have in mind, Borya Mikhailovich?"CHAPTER 2
Day 1 — Sunday
Laura Newman sat in a lounge chair on the expansive deck of her hillside home, overlooking the tranquil waters of Lake Sammamish.
It was half past six and the July sun arced low in the western sky. With temperatures still in the high eighties, it was the tenth day of the "heat wave" for the Puget Sound region — a rarity for the Pacific Northwest. Laura luxuriated in the warmth, wearing a bikini halter top and low-rise bottoms. Even with her chocolate complexion, she took precautions, applying sunscreen over every square inch of her exposed skin.
An exotic blend of Scandinavia and equatorial Africa, Laura had inherited her Swedish mother's high cheekbones, full ripe lips, azure eyes, and russet hair. Her father's tall willowy frame, broad nose, and cocoa skin, all linked to his distant Bantu ancestors, complemented her mother's genes.
Laura cherished the downtime. This was the first weekend in several months that she didn't bring her work home. She'd promised Yuri that she would avoid all email and switch her cell off. Still, she couldn't help but think about the coming week. The pressure cooker would ramp up tomorrow morning when she returned to the downtown Bellevue high-rise that served as the headquarters for Cognition Consultants. As one of the three owners of the two thousand-plus- employee IT firm, Laura was in high demand. Grateful for her company's phenomenal success — and the enormous financial rewards she benefitted from — Laura grew weary from the daily grind. Nevertheless, she would soldier on. Only thirty-three, she envisioned running full-throttle for another ten years and then maybe backing off. Yuri wanted her to put the brakes on now. She'd already accumulated more wealth than they would ever need — for several lifetimes.
Laura glanced at the color monitor on the deck table next to her chair. The image of her daughter asleep in the nursery filled the display. Two weeks shy of her first birthday, Madelyn Grace Newman had ash-blond hair, sapphire eyes, and when she smiled, the cutest dimples any mother could wish for. Laura's ex- husband was the child's biological father, but Yuri treated Madelyn as his own — a blessing Laura cherished.
Laura would limit herself to just one glass of wine. She was still nursing Maddy, but tonight she would use a warmed bottle of her own milk stored in the freezer. They had decided it was time for a nanny. Laura interviewed nearly a dozen candidates before making her choice. The references and background checks were now completed. A twenty-six-year-old from Bellingham would start work the following week. Laura hoped that Maddy and Amanda would connect, but not so much that Laura's own bond would suffer. Laura had promised herself — and Maddy — that she would not become a part-time mom, no matter what demands her business generated.
Thinking ahead to a critical meeting she would chair tomorrow afternoon at Cognition, Laura's thoughts clicked on pause when Yuri walked onto the deck from the living room. A strapping six-footer with slate-gray eyes, jet-black hair, and a trim beard that complemented his square-jawed face, Yuri Ivanovich Kirov was a couple years younger than Laura was. He wore a tank top and swim shorts that revealed his well-muscled, athletic build. He carried a platter of thick steaks, New York strips from Trader Joe's.
"Time to barbeque," Yuri said as he stepped to the built-in gas grill at the end of the deck. A trace of his Russian accent remained.
Laura sat up. "You need help?"
"I've got everything covered — just relax." Half an hour later, they sat together at the deck table enjoying Yuri's feast — sizzling beef, corn on the cob, Caesar salad, and grilled vegetables. Maddy continued to sleep.
"This is wonderful," Laura said. "Thank you for making dinner."
"Did you talk with Bill this afternoon?" Laura referred to Bill Winters, chief engineer for Northwest Subsea Dynamics. Laura owned the controlling interest in NSD. Yuri managed the company for her.
"Yes, we caught up."
"Does he still want you to go to Barrow?"
"He does, but I was able to put it off for a couple of weeks."
Laura shifted her legs. "How's the cleanup going?"
"It's still a mess. Pockets of oil are continuing to leach from the remaining ice as it melts. There's an armada of cleanup vessels but they're not enough."
NSD was under contract with the U.S. Coast Guard to monitor an enormous oil spill in the Chukchi Sea offshore of Barrow, Alaska. An oil well blowout in nearby Russian territorial waters during the previous winter had contaminated large swaths of the Arctic with crude oil. For the past several months NSD's autonomous underwater vehicles had kept track of the oil-laden ice that reached Alaskan waters.
"So, this could go on for some time," Laura said.
"I'm afraid so. The ice pack moves around so much that the remaining floes containing oil might freeze up in the fall. The whole mess could start over again next spring."
Laura arched her eyebrows, knowing the awful toll the renegade oil had already taken on the environment. Videos of oil-soaked birds, seals, whales, polar bears, and other wildlife frequented the nightly news.
Dinner was over. Laura and Yuri sat side by side in lounge chairs enjoying the retreating sun. Laura held Maddy as she nursed from a bottle. Yuri was enjoying an ice-cold bottle of Redhook ale.
Laura decided it was the right moment to revisit a subject that both had ignored for too long.
"Honey," she said, "I think it's time for us to make that trip to D.C."
"Hmmm," Yuri mumbled.
"The attorneys in Washington say it would be best for you to make a formal request for asylum directly with the State Department. They will set it up for you. Because of who you are, it will likely reach the secretary's level."
"But that will drag you into my mess. I don't want that."
Laura had prepared for Yuri's argument. "They assure me that I will be treated as an innocent party."
Yuri muttered something in Russian and then turned to face Laura. "My actions put you — and Maddy — in so much danger that it taints everything."
"You're ignoring what you did. The U.S. Navy will be grateful when we tell them what happened."
Yuri gazed lakeward. "One way or the other I will still have to deal with the FBI — and the CIA. That goes against everything I've stood for."
Laura knew how bull-headed her lover could be at times. "Yuri, we can't go on like this much longer. Sarah Compton's family deserves to know what happened. My Seattle attorneys can only keep the police at bay for a while longer. Eventually, we'll have to reveal what went down. If we start at the top by talking with the State Department, it will be much easier to deal with the local issues."
Yuri turned to face Laura. "You're right. I need to get this over with. Please have the law firm set it up."
Laura beamed. "I will."CHAPTER 3
Day 2 — Monday
"You need any help?" Yuri asked. He stood by the garage door watching Laura as she secured Madelyn in the child car seat in the rear of the BMW sedan. It was 7:47 A.M.
"What time do you think you'll be home tonight?"
Laura closed the door and turned to face Yuri. She wore a sleek silk blouse with a knee-length pleated skirt that displayed her shapely legs. "Probably around six."
"Great, I'll have dinner waiting. How's grilled salmon sound?"
Yuri stepped toward Laura and gave her their ritual morning kiss. "I love you, sweetie," he said with a glowing grin.
"I love you, too."
Yuri watched as Laura and Maddy drove up the private hillside road and disappeared from view behind a cedar tree-lined curve in the asphalt driveway.
Yuri returned to the living room of their residence. After picking up an electronic tracking device about the size of a paperback novel, he methodically walked around the perimeter of the space, eyeing the digital readout as it probed for bugs. He repeated the same procedure in the study, office, bedrooms, and bathrooms of the 5,000-square foot house. Yuri checked for listening devices at least once a week. The FBI was always a concern, but his principal worry was Russia's FSB. He had managed to evade his birth nation's security service for over a year but was now back on its radar screen. China's Ministry of State Security was an equivalent fear. Earlier in the year, Yuri had confronted MSS agents and military operatives of the People's Republic of China who plotted against both Russia and the United States. Yuri considered the United States his home; he had no desire to return to Russia.
Satisfied that the house remained free of spying ears and eyes, Yuri returned to the garage and climbed into his Toyota Highlander. His office was fifteen minutes away.
Laura was unaware of Yuri's weekly bug hunt; she already had too much strain in her life. Yuri didn't want Laura to fret over the possible electronic invasion of her sanctuary.
As Yuri headed to work, he couldn't help but recall the DVD he'd watched the previous evening with Laura. It was from one of the attorneys in Washington, D.C., preparing Yuri's case for requesting political asylum. The Sixty Minutes video segment featured a Cold War KGB-trained spy from East Germany who hid out in the United States for nearly twenty years, evading the FBI. After ten years of espionage operations, the KGB ordered the spy to return home but he managed to disappear from Russia's U.S. spy operations using a clever ruse. He subsequently raised a family, embraced suburban life, and ascended to upper management of a major American company before a fluke incident revealed his presence to the FBI. In the end, he was allowed to stay in the United States.
The story had buoyed both Yuri and Laura's spirits. His "non-status" as an American would soon be over, allowing Yuri to enjoy a normal life with Laura and Maddy.
Still, a knot remained in Yuri's gut. Asylum was not a slam-dunk. He was a military spy who had engaged in espionage operations against the United States. Yuri's only hope was to prove his new allegiance to the USA by telling everything. That briefing would take weeks and in the end, it would entangle Laura. The consequences to his lover troubled Yuri far more than his own fate.CHAPTER 4
Nicolai Orlov was the only occupant in the code room of the Consulate-General of Russia. Located on the thirteenth floor of a polished high-rise near downtown Houston, Texas, the windowless interior room was about twenty square feet. To defeat electronic snooping by the FBI and the National Security Agency, the room's perimeter walls, ceiling, and floor were lined with special copper wiring.
Tall and trim with stylish dark hair and a chiseled face, Nick was nearing forty. He had appealing looks that were received well by females and envied by males. The SVR had recruited him just after he completed his university studies in Moscow. He rarely spent time in Russia. His last duty assignment had been at the San Francisco Consulate until Washington forced its closure as part of an ongoing diplomatic dispute between the Russian Federation and the United States. He had recently relocated to Houston, where he was promoted to SVR rezident of the consulate. Single with no strong family ties to the homeland, Nick found that his itinerant lifestyle suited him.
Nick sat at a table in the center of the room. It was mid-morning. His eyes focused on the monitor positioned at the end of the conference table. His boss was eight time zones ahead on the opposite end of the encrypted satellite circuit. SVR chief Borya Smirnov was alone in his office at Russia's foreign intelligence headquarters, located in the Yasenevo District of Moscow. "So, the hard drive is useless," Nick said, responding to Smirnov's summary.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "The Faithful Spy"
Copyright © 2018 Jeffrey Layton.
Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
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