Halfway between the United States and the Soviet Union, Iceland is one of the most strategic points in the Cold War. And home to a NATO squadron that could wipe Moscow off the map in an instant, it’s is about to become the unwitting host for the most daring operation in military history. On the remote coast of this frost-bound island, the Soviets are building a laser powerful enough to bring the United States to its knees. They call it Valkyrie, and once it’s operational, the free world will no longer be free.
When an exiled East German scientist notices a suspicious drain on the Icelandic electrical grid, the KGB sends an assassin to protect their superweapon. Halting the madness falls to Jack Spencer, an American journalist with a terminal disease—which may kill him before he gets a chance to save the world.
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The Valkyrie Project
By Michael Kilian
MysteriousPress.comCopyright © 1981 Michael Kilian
All rights reserved.
There was no reason for the people of the fishing village to fear the shabby little Polish trawler coming up the fjord in the gathering darkness of a sudden Icelandic storm. Certainly none would suspect it carried anyone so unfriendly as to commit murder. Iceland's last "cod war" with England had ended several years before, and Iceland was again quite hospitable to foreign vessels — providing they adhered to its territorial fishing regulations — especially if they were seeking shelter from its frequently violent weather.
The downpour commenced just as the little ship settled at drift anchor a short distance from the village wharf. A few minutes later, the darkness now as much night as storm, three of the crew, dressed in black slickers, motored quietly ashore in the trawler's inflatable. The only one to notice was an old fisherman who had come to fetch a bottle of Brennivin, Iceland's fiery native liquor, hidden from his temperance-society wife in one of the fish-drying sheds. Finding it, he retreated to the shed's recesses and proceeded to forget the strangers, who headed straight up the street for the village grocery.
Two of the trawlermen were Polish. The third, a tall, pink-faced man with a sharp nose and watery blue eyes, spoke the language well and had had a Polish grandmother, but he considered himself thoroughly German. His name was Emil Jahn and he came from Danzig, now called Gdansk, a city he insisted on considering still thoroughly German as well. He found it odd that this project was involving him so much with seafaring vessels. Jahn's military rank was colonel.
In a stretch of near-complete darkness, Jahn abruptly slipped away from the other two, who continued on toward the grocery, and turned into a smaller street, following it until at length he had left the village and was splashing along a gravel country road. Close to the fjord, the road was hazardous on so wet and dark a night, especially for someone who had never traveled it before, but Jahn, as always, had methodically memorized his map.
Iceland is not a pleasant place in which to be lost. The second largest island in Europe, it has few habitations — a population of two hundred twenty thousand scattered over one of the bleakest if most beautiful wildernesses on earth. Reykjavik, the capital, has all of eighty-five thousand people. The village Jahn had just left had three hundred, which made it rather large. The nearest town was two hours' rough drive.
Jahn disliked the isolation, the weather, and — very German of him — the lack of trees, yet he found himself becoming fond of Iceland. The people were hardy, industrious, inclined toward socialism, and indulgent in sex and strong drink. Except for what he considered a regrettable Celtic strain, Icelanders were the most racially pure people in the civilized world, little changed from the Vikings who had first settled their island eleven hundred years before. Their women were tough and independent, often irritating, but inordinantly attractive, in Jahn's mind the finest white women ever produced.
His feet began to slip a little in the gritty mud. Jahn found himself going up a long, steep hill. He thought he could discern through the rain a faint glow of light at the top. All seemed as the map had indicated.
He carried a small automatic pistol in the left pocket of his slicker. But the primary tool that he would use to kill Geir Krog would be an old-fashioned but altogether agreeable device — a pencil-like cylinder five inches long. It sheathed a spring-loaded needle with a payload of a drug that in most cases could stop the human heart within ten seconds. The puncture mark was almost imperceptible and the drug dissipated quickly, detectable only with the most sophisticated chemical analysis. The symptoms were those of a heart attack. Variations of the deadly cylinder could be fitted into umbrella sticks or canes. Jahn usually carried his loose in his pocket. He had used it often, the last victim a man on a crowded tram in Budapest. Very neat. Very pleasant.
Krog would be surprised — indeed, astonished — to have the man he knew only as a Polish engineer named Rozkowski suddenly appear at his east coast hideaway. The East German felt very smug that the Russians had once again had to call him into a situation they themselves had mucked up. They had been very stupid about Krog. They had been very stupid about Iceland from the beginning.
So, of course, had the United States. With their usual disdain for the affairs of small nations, the Americans had paid such little attention to Iceland's case against England in the 1975–1976 cod war that they had come perilously close to losing their wonderfully strategic airbase at Keflavik, along with Iceland's presence in NATO.
All the clumsy Russians had done to exploit this rare chance was to finance some anti-NATO demonstrations by Icelandic leftists. Worse, they attempted a little fish poaching of their own. And worst: under a peculiar arrangement for a NATO country, Iceland imported all its oil from the Soviet Union. Instead of lowering prices to gain a little friendship and influence at that critical time, Moscow increased them to the highest in Europe. It was the same with so much of the xenophobic Russians' international dealings: no subtlety or intelligence; all power and greed.
This attitude was changing, as it must. The Russians now appreciated that Iceland was the most valuable real estate in the North Atlantic. If all went well with Valkyrie, it would soon become — for thirty minutes — the most valuable real estate in the world; perhaps, in the history of mankind.
Reaching the top of the hill, Jahn paused to wipe the rain from his eyes. Off to the side of the road were three small summer cabins, grouped together on a bluff to take advantage of what was in daylight one of Iceland's more majestic views. Two of the cabins were darkened, closed and locked for the season. The third was ablaze with light that flickered as someone inside moved past it. Parked just outside was Geir Krog's yellow Mercedes-Benz. Krog may have been one of Iceland's most brilliant engineers, but he was an abysmal fugitive. This was like dealing with Africans.
Jahn liked Krog, as much as he liked anyone with whom he did such business. In their few meetings, they had discovered a mutual interest in medieval literature and music, and a passion for chess. They had even played a game: Krog had beaten Jahn, but not handily. For a moment, Jahn had toyed with the possibility of demanding a final match. But that dalliance would be so unprofessional as to be idiocy. And there was little triumph in winning a game played while one sat holding a gun.
Circling to keep out of the light, Jahn made his way to the first of the darkened cabins, and then to the next, and finally to Krog's. Crouching by the door, he could hear the clatter of silver and plates from the kitchen. The door, to his surprise, was unlocked. He eased it open and stepped inside, taking out the pistol and thinking of some amusing words with which to announce himself. Then he saw the girl.
He was stunned. Who in hell was she? Very Icelandic, short and slender, well-built, with long pale hair, white skin, dark blue eyes. She wore a thick Icelandic sweater and nothing else, the bottom reaching just to her pubic hair. There was nothing about a girl in the surveillance report. Had he come to the wrong place? Krog's Mercedes was outside.
Jahn's professional instinct was to kill her at once, but he dared not alert Krog, wherever he was, and a shooting murder would complicate things. Yet she had seen his face. He put the pistol back into one pocket and took the cylinder from the other.
Typical of Icelandic women, she was more angry than afraid, which was well, for she might have screamed.
"Who are you?" she demanded in Icelandic. "What do you want?"
"Geir Krog?" he said, stepping forward as he spoke.
"He's not here. Who are you? Get out! You've no right here!"
He would have to kill her quickly, before Krog returned. Obviously, he would return soon. Where in hell was he? He would kill her and they would come back for Krog another time. Soon.
"Get out! Get out!"
Jahn lunged forward, aiming the cylinder at her throat, but he was rattled and off balance, and she was on her guard. In what seemed to him a single sudden motion, she leapt at him, driving her knee into his groin, clawing at his face and eyes, knocking the cylinder out of his hand. Then she began punching at his stomach with her small, hard fists. Furious with himself, Jahn spun her around, gripping her mouth and jaw with his left hand and her arms with his right. The cylinder was across the room, but there was a fish knife on the counter. He dragged her struggling to it, jerked her head up and back, snatched up the knife, and ripped open her throat, twisting her body away from him to avoid the fount of blood that gushed forth as she fell, landing with a thud on her side, her blood a spattered arc on the wall.
He stepped back from the spreading circle of red, his breathing as heavy as an exhausted runner's. There was no time to search the place as planned, nor to wait for Krog. This little mission was a shambles, and there was no one to blame but Emil Jahn. He had undertaken it himself because, so contemptuous of the Russian operation here, he had trusted no one else to do it.
As he wiped his fingerprints from the knife, an idea began to occur to him. By the time he had retrieved the cylinder, fled the cabin, and reached the sanctuary of the outside darkness and the road, he had it fully in mind. Things were not entirely a shambles. It was Krog's girl who had been killed, not his. It was Krog's rented cabin. No one was going to be pounding upon the Reykjavik hotel room door of a visiting Pole named Rozkowski. There were few police in law-abiding Iceland and they doubtless had little experience with murders. They would pursue the obvious. And what was more obvious than a half-naked girl in a man's lonely cabin, her throat slashed in a violent quarrel?
Jahn had not eliminated Krog, but he had certainly inconvenienced him. As Jahn slogged into the village, he made a note to write a stern report on the surveillance team that had failed to inform anyone about the girl. He was beginning to feel pleased with himself again.
He reached the wharf within the agreed-upon time. His men were waiting in the inflatable, a large plastic bag containing groceries between the boat's two seats. Saying nothing, Jahn took his place at the bow. He remained silent all the way to the trawler, as though savoring his thoughts. One rumor about him was true. He derived an almost sexual satisfaction from killing.CHAPTER 2
As he had every night for nearly three months, Jack Spencer ran out of sleep well before dawn, waking sweating and fretful. Someone in the bar of the National Press Club had told him that could be a sign of alcoholism. Spencer had found that very funny.
He sat up, throwing back the sheet, glad of the cool air on his bare skin. The woman next to him did not stir, even when he set his hand on her bare buttocks. Spencer lived in a section of Washington expensive enough to be spared the orange glare of crime-fighting sodium vapor lights, so the light that came through the bedroom window was soft and dim, making her sandy hair seem strangely dark. Spencer stared down at her, unable to remember her name.
He groped his way to the bathroom, and then to the kitchen where to his amazement he found both a clean glass and a bottle of whiskey still half-full. He took both prizes to the living room and lowered his naked body into the cold leather chair by the front window, filling the glass straight to the top.
This was how Spencer got to sleep at night and how he returned to sleep at night. If it constituted alcoholism, he would make the most of it. As his doctors would attest, there were worse problems.
Spencer's wife had divorced him because of his drinking and philandering — or so she had said — which he still found wonderfully funny, for he had been drinking and philandering all his adult life. In fact, he had taken his first drink at fourteen, inexpensive wine sneaked in Joycean fashion from a church altar. He had lost his virginity the following year, to a plump New England high school cheerleader he still fondly remembered. Both seemed simple, harmless pleasures, and he indulged himself in them accordingly thereafter. Once, on a single stroll through Grand Central Terminal, he had picked up three girls, brought them all to the same party, and later slept with each in turn, with no one much bothered about it. He met his wife in similar circumstances. In these predawn awakenings, he often puzzled after the real reason she had left him. He wondered whether it had been something as simple as his getting old.
In his twenties, Spencer had been handsome to the point where young girls called him beautiful and he was sometimes bothered by homosexuals. Now, nearing forty, he had aged greatly. His hair was turning silver and in his lined and weathered face the once-boyish features had taken on a quite melancholy cast. A woman at a party had told him that by age sixty he would look like God. Age sixty. Another wonderfully funny notion.
He gulped the whiskey, clenching his teeth against his stomach's protests. Except for his job, which he had come to despise, there was little left of his life now but drink and sex.
He still could not remember the woman's name.
It had been unusually and irritatingly difficult for Spencer to find a woman that night. He had started in midafternoon on Capitol Hill, a favorite hunting ground, prowling congressional offices ostensibly to chat with sources but with no other real purpose than to acquire a warm female body.
None had been interested. He finally managed to persuade a not very bright and slightly overweight blonde from Indiana to come with him for a drink after the House had adjourned. She had even taken a second — light beer — and then abandoned him for a basketball game. How typical of Indiana to prefer basketball to sex.
Spencer had forlornly tried some other Capitol Hill bars, and then some M Street singles bars, and finally in desperation had sought recourse to one of the embassy parties of the evening, a second-rate affair thrown by a third-rate Latin American legation. The woman with the sandy hair had arrived there perhaps half an hour after him, making an ostentatious entrance. Older than thirty, she must have been smashing in her early twenties but now had to be very careful with her makeup. She wore a short, deeply cut black dress, a thin strand of a gold necklace her only jewelry. Spencer had watched as she kicked off her shoes and began flitting from group to group, talking incessantly and chain smoking, and knew that at last he was spared a womanless night.
It had taken only two drinks. She was a publicity aide for one of the oil lobbies and had talked about her job all the way to his townhouse.
Spencer suddenly remembered her name. Frances.
He was a journalist, the Washington euphemism for newspaperman. He had a good job as newspaper jobs went — foreign affairs and State Department correspondent for the Washington bureau of a large chain of newspapers. As Frances had instantly appreciated, it was an important job, a fitting reward for his years as a correspondent in Vietnam, Mexico, Rhodesia, the Mideast, Russia, and London. He had covered everything from the Cambodian incursion to the Anglo-Icelandic cod war to the Mexican oil find. In the minds of those who ran newspapers, it was logical to promote him to Washington, where his skills and experience in such endeavors as finding taxicabs during street battles in Beirut were squandered covering endless meaningless press conferences called by countless fatuous asses.
Outside on the street, a noise proved to be leaves blown along the pavement. He loved autumn. How kind of the fates to let him have one last one.
Excerpted from The Valkyrie Project by Michael Kilian. Copyright © 1981 Michael Kilian. Excerpted by permission of MysteriousPress.com.
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