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FROM USA TODAY BESTSELLING AUTHOR J. ROBERT KENNEDY
THE COUNTRY'S BEST HOPE IN DEFEATING A FORGOTTEN SOVIET WEAPON LIES WITH DYLAN KANE AND THE COLD WARRIORS WHO ORIGINALLY DISCOVERED IT.
While in Chechnya CIA Special Agent Dylan Kane stumbles upon a meeting between a known Chechen drug lord and a retired General once responsible for the entire Soviet nuclear arsenal. Money is exchanged for a data stick and the resulting transmission begins a race across the globe to discover just what was sold, the only clue a reference to a top secret Soviet weapon called Crimson Rush.
Unknown to Kane, this isn’t the first time America has faced this threat and he soon receives a mysterious message, relayed through his friend and CIA analyst Chris Leroux, arranging a meeting with perhaps the one man alive today who can help answer the questions the nation’s entire intelligence apparatus is asking the Cold Warrior who had discovered the threat the first time.
Over thirty years ago.
USA Today bestselling author J. Robert Kennedy weaves a tale spanning two generations and three continents with all the heart pounding, edge of your seat action his readers have come to expect. Take a journey back in time as the unsung heroes of a war forgotten try to protect our way of life against our greatest enemy, and see how their war never really ended, the horrors of decades ago still a very real threat today.
With over 800,000 books sold and over 3000 five-star reviews, USA Today bestselling author J. Robert Kennedy has been ranked by Amazon as the #1 Bestselling Action Adventure novelist based upon combined sales. He is the author of over thirty international bestsellers including the smash hit James Acton Thrillers. He lives with his wife and daughter and writes full-time.
"A master storyteller." — Betty Richard
"A writer who tells what we are thinking but sometimes afraid to say." — Bruce Ford
"Kennedy kicks ass in this genre." — David Mavity
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"If you want fast and furious, if you can cope with a high body count, most of all if you like to be hugely entertained, then you can't do much better than J Robert Kennedy." — Amazon Vine Voice Reviewer
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For Hermann, Erica and Michaela Kapp, my German “Granddad”, “Grandma” and “sister”.
“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”
George Santayana, The Life of Reason, Volume 1, 1905
“Chronic wrongdoing, or an impotence which results in a general loosening of the ties of civilized society, may ultimately require intervention by some civilized nation, and in the western hemisphere the adherence of the United States to the Monroe Doctrine may force the United States, however reluctantly, in flagrant cases of such wrongdoing or impotence, to the exercise of an international police power.”
The weapon referred to in this novel exists. What isn’t known is how many were manufactured, and how many were smuggled into the United States and other NATO countries by the Soviet Union. Some estimates have Soviet scientists building over one thousand of these weapons over nearly thirty years. And if just one had been successfully deployed, it could be devastating.
The author will leave it to the reader to decide whether a country hell-bent on the elimination of our way of life would have even attempted such a thing, and whether or not they would have been successful.
Checkpoint Charlie West Berlin, West Germany February 12, 1982
Alex West frowned at his handler, Gord Justice. He had always been a cold bastard of few words when on the job. Loosen his lips with a good scotch and he had one of the raunchiest senses of humor West had encountered in his travels.
No bottle of scotch was in sight.
“Nice to see you too.”
Justice grunted, motioning with his head that they should go, the Soviet spy exchanged for West now reaching his own handler. The traditional Berlin fog was heavy at this time of night, but the checkpoint was well lit on both sides, this far from a shadowy exchange usually executed at the Glienicke Bridge under the cover of a sparsely populated area, its most famous pedestrian U2 pilot Frances Gary Powers in 1962.
Checkpoint C or as it had come to be known, Checkpoint Charlie, was established as one of the few controlled crossing points between East and West Berlin after the Berlin Wall was erected to stop the flood of East Germans, over 3.5 million of their best and brightest, to the West. After the wall was completed, this slowed to a trickle. Checkpoint Charlie was probably the most famous crossing point between the East and West in this divided city buried in the middle of a divided country, the Iron Curtain as Churchill named it unforgiving when it came to families and borders. When the wall had gone up as a barbwire fence in a single day on August 13, 1961, families had been cutoff overnight, those fortunate enough to be on the west side of the line of troops and barbwire blessed to live out a life of freedom, those on the east, doomed to life in a communist state, in one of the Soviet Union’s staunchest allies.
“Control wants to see you immediately.”
West nodded. “I should hope so,” he said, following Justice to a waiting car. Control had no sense of humor. He had never met Control in all his years of spying for his country. Sometimes he was certain the voice at the other end of the speaker was a different person, and it probably was. There were too many missions for Control to directly oversee them all. Then again his missions were usually critical, not the casual photography job of Red Square that most embassy staff were asked to perform. His were much more cloak and dagger, far more life and death than most operatives were faced with.
And in this case he knew the only reason he was walking across the border was that killing him would acknowledge what he had found out was true. He knew the Soviets were betting on him failing to convince his handlers of the truth. But if he failed, the potential devastation that could be wrought upon America was incalculable. It could mean the end of Western civilization, and a planet doomed to a post-apocalyptic horror dominated by an uncontested communist Soviet Union.
“You realize how much shit you’re in?”
West did. He was in it up to his nostrils. He had gone against orders, created an international incident that had required his side to hand over a valuable captured asset, and because he had been caught, he had none of the evidence he had accumulated. He was barely treading water in the cesspool he now found himself in.
“When Control hears why I did what I did, something tells me he’ll have bigger things to worry about.”
“You seem pretty confident.”
“Why? Why did you do it?”
West realized nobody on this side of the Curtain knew what was going on. They only knew one of their top men had gone cold, then through unacknowledged diplomatic channels had requested an exchange. It was almost unheard of; usually when captured, covert agents would simply endure their torture, then wait in a cell for an exchange—if they were still alive.
But in rare cases when they felt their intel was far too valuable to wait, and if the other side holding them felt they knew nothing of importance, or could prove nothing if it were, they’d make an exchange for one or more of their assets who were being held in accommodations usually just as pleasant.
West had nearly shit his pants in surprise when he had seen who he had been exchanged for. Viktor Zorkin, a master spy if there ever was one. They had exchanged fists and bullets and tails for years, and over their years of thrust and parry they had both been responsible for each other’s capture and defeats.
But this was insane.
How the hell did he get captured so quickly? I just saw him not even a week ago!
They were warriors who respected each other, and as part of that unwritten code, certain leeway was cut by both, a leeway that had saved both their lives over the years, including this most recent mission. Their rivalry was old, going back to the start of both of their careers, and he found whenever he saw Zorkin in some other part of the world, he smiled slightly and gave the man a nod, it always returned if possible. It was almost a friendship, a friendship that reminded him of the old cartoon characters Ralph E. Wolf and Sam Sheepdog, Sam defeating Ralph mercilessly while at the job, but at the sound of the steam whistle, they would return home the friends they were.
He felt old. He wasn’t, not by anybody’s standards except for the young whippersnappers coming out of training, desperate to jump in and defeat the evil Soviet Union in one single, movie-inspiring stroke, their names forever to go down in history.
More likely they’d end up on the Memorial Wall at Langley, an anonymous star to be remembered and eventually forgotten to all but their families.
It was a brutal business.
And he loved it.
He climbed in the back of the car with Justice.
“If Control clears you, I’ll tell you all about it,” he said.
Justice’s eyebrows shot up.
“Christ, Alex, it’s me, Gord. How long have we known each other?”
West gave him half a smile.
“Long enough to know you’d give me up in a heartbeat to save yourself.”
“Uh huh.” Justice wasn’t happy with the remark, but didn’t protest it because he knew damned well it was true. West had read his record before agreeing for the man to be his handler. He didn’t mind the fact that the man would sell him out to save himself, all he cared about was to what side. Justice was a patriot, through and through, and would never betray him to the Soviets, but to his own people, he’d sing like a damned canary if it were demanded of him, but only if it meant saving himself from some blemish on his immaculate career jacket sitting in a cabinet in a file room at Langley.
He was a career man willing to step on anyone to get ahead.
But he was definitely not a field operative.
And unfortunately he was the closest thing to a friend West had.
“I’m sorry,” he said. “I’m just grumpy. You know I can’t tell you, but if Control agrees, I’ll ask you sit in.”
This seemed to placate the wounded Justice, and the rest of the short ride was filled with talk of baseball, West’s beloved Cleveland Indian’s seemingly always a disappointment to Justice’s glee, he being a Yankee’s man himself. What Justice didn’t realize was that the Indian’s weren’t West’s home team. He had been forced to give them up, Cleveland instead part of his cover. Home teams gave away your home, something you didn’t want anyone finding out about in this business.
They arrived at “The Exchange”, a secret underground complex in the American sector of West Berlin where underground tunnels could lead them pretty much anywhere in the sector they needed to go, away from prying eyes, including those of the KGB agents that had been following them from the moment they had left Checkpoint Charlie. They were tolerated because they were known. It was better to leave a spy in place as long as he was doing no harm. If you arrested them every time you identified one, you’d be spending more time trying to find his replacement than you’d save by keeping the known man in play.
It was a game with rules, that men of honor played by.
Unfortunately not every man playing the game was honorable.
They exited the vehicle, switching to another that would bring them to their final destination, their original car now headed back outside with two stand-ins in the rear to play a little wild goose chase with their KGB shadows.
“You know, this is probably going to end your career, my friend.”
“If I go out on this one, then it will have been worth it. As long as somebody listens.”
Justice made a disgruntled sound.
“No guarantee on that,” he said as they pulled up to the underground entrance to one of several CIA outposts in the city. Within moments West was in a room, a light shining on him, ashtray in front of him, still half-full from the previous debriefing.
He didn’t smoke.
At least not any more. He found it made him too jumpy if he was without. Which was something that could get you killed in the field.
He pushed it aside, the thought of taking a long drag now disgusting to him.
Chairs scraped in the darkness on the other side of the light, and several red cherries glowed in the dark as his interrogators indulged in their own bad habits, none having yet apparently conquered the addiction.
“Welcome, Mr. West,” came the voice of Control. “Yet again we meet under less than auspicious circumstances.”
West would hardly call this a meeting. Meetings implied two way communications in which you could not only hear, but see the participants.
“I fear it’s the nature of the business we’re in,” he replied.
“Yes, I seem to see you more than any other of my agents.”
“Perhaps because I am given the more difficult assignments.”
“Yet you ignored your latest mission’s parameters.”
“If you heard my reasoning, you would understand why.”
“How would you like to proceed, Mr. West?”
“How about at the beginning?”
Shali, Chechen Republic, Russian Federation Present Day
CIA Special Agent Dylan Kane shoved the shopkeeper aside, racing between temporary stalls set up daily by their owners, and the more permanent structures for those who had the right connections—warlords who provided protection for a price.
Which meant only the most successful vendors occupied the most desirable places in the markets. A Catch-22 if Kane had ever seen one.
“Byekhk mah beel-lahh!” he yelled, apologizing to the downed vendor, one who hadn’t paid attention to the man charging through the market, instead immediately casting a watchful eye over his wares, knowing shoplifters took advantage of just these situations.
And one had, hence his darting in front of Kane necessitating the less than gentle shove.
His target was about thirty feet ahead of him, making great time, obviously familiar with the market, but Kane had the advantage. His target had to decide where he was going which took mental cycles that subtly slowed him down, and with each delay, Kane gained inches. And as long as he could rely on the crowd to stop and stare after the man who had shoved through them, he could use their momentary distraction to speed through with little interference.
A dodge into an alleyway and Kane lost sight of his man, but moments later he was in the same narrow passage just in time to see him exit the other end and head left.
Kane poured on the juice, sprinting with all his might through the alleyway, bursting through the other side and slamming headlong into a cart rushing through the back street far too fast. Kane spun but kept his footing, spotting his man a good hundred feet ahead of him, a grin on his face at Kane’s pain.
Kane pushed through the ache in his thigh from where it had caught the spinning wheel and was soon back to full speed. His adversary rushed up a set of steps leading to the roofs of a row of houses lining the rear of the market and soon they were racing along slippery shingles and rooftop terraces. Kane shoved through a series of sheets hung out to dry, pushing the last one aside and gasping as he put on a burst of speed then jumped, only five feet of rooftop left between the sheets and the street below.
He pushed off the ledge, his philosophy of ‘assume you’re already dead’ paying off as he saw the roof across the street, about one story below, rapidly nearing as his feet and arms waved in the air.
“Not gonna make it!” he cursed as he approached the other side, the gravity end of the curve finally coming into play as he sunk, smacking into the wall with his body, his arms stretched out above him, grasping the ledge. As his fingers began to slip he raised his feet, pushing the toes against the side, creating some traction to push himself up slightly, his right toe finally catching on something large enough to halt his descent. He let go with his left hand and flung his entire left side up as hard as he could, grabbing onto the other side of the ledge, then pulled himself over the side, dropping unceremoniously to a rooftop patio, gasping for breath.
Voices had him shoving himself up on his elbows. Two women were looking over the edge he had just climbed, one pointing below. The one pointing was older, the other younger, perhaps early twenties. A mother-daughter pairing if he had ever seen one. The daughter looked at him, smiling shyly. He scrambled to his feet as he surveyed his surroundings.
His target was gone.
It had taken him two weeks to find the man, Aslan Islamov, a known Chechen terrorist, or rebel as they preferred to call themselves. Anti-Russian all the way, and responsible for an extensive drug network that had its tendrils deep into the United States, distributing massive amounts of narcotics to the American public.
And they were brutal.
They put the Mexican gangs to shame.
His assignment was to track and observe, see who his contacts were, and to then capture him if possible, take him out if not.
But one week ago Kane had witnessed something he wasn’t supposed to. A meeting between Islamov and a man who was clearly Russian, his white skin and prominent nose a dead giveaway in this area. Kane had sent the photos back to Langley via satellite link as the meeting progressed, and he soon had IDs on the men. The guards were all former Russian Special Forces, Spetsnaz, and the main man himself was former Major General Yuri Levkin, once responsible for the entire Soviet nuclear arsenal.
A staunch opponent of the new Russia, but fiercely patriotic—Levkin was a man who wanted the Soviet Union to return, in all its former glory, with an iron fist at its head. He was a tacit supporter of Putin, especially since Putin had begun to remove most of the freedoms Russians had gained, turning elections into a farce, crushing any opposition on the streets and in the press, and rebuilding the armed forces to once again rival that of their traditional enemy, the United States.
But Levkin was one who felt that was just a start.
He wanted the hammer and sickle to fly once again over the Kremlin, for the once proud CCCP acronym to adorn their military hardware, and for the world to tremble when Soviet armor redeployed, even if only on an exercise.
So when this man met with Islamov, Kane immediately took notice. What appeared to be a massive amount of cash was handed over to Levkin by Islamov’s people, then computers were employed for about five minutes to most likely conduct wire transfers, and then the meeting was over.
With Islamov apparently receiving nothing but a memory stick.
When Levkin had left, Islamov had immediately plugged the stick into his laptop, then minutes later pulled it, destroying it with a rock and tossing it into a cooking pit with a flame substantial enough to melt anything exposed to it in time.
Kane had retrieved it, but didn’t hold out much hope of anything being recovered.
He had called in a satellite trace of Levkin in case they needed to pick him up, then awaited orders from Langley on what to do. They had come in just minutes ago.
Take Islamov alive.
Which was why he hadn’t just shot him in the market. Instead he had shot his four man security detail, all amateurs and barely trained from what he could see, but during this brief moment, the bastard had been able to escape on foot.
And now was nowhere to be seen.
He approached where the two women were, the young one blushing as she held her veil up, covering her face, but leaving a stunning pair of eyes to gaze out at him.
“What is it?” he asked in Chechen.
“Look for yourself,” was the response of the older woman, none too pleased to see him on her rooftop. She glanced at her daughter then yelled, the poor girl crying out in anger and embarrassment, then running toward the door leading to downstairs, casting one last glance, and with a drop of her veil, a smile at Kane.
Kane returned it, hating to break a young girl’s heart, then looked over the edge.
And found his target, Islamov, lying on the ground, barely moving, he obviously not as successful at clearing the alleyway as Kane had thought. Kane looked for a way down, but found none, instead running toward the door the young woman had just entered.
He pushed the door open and wound himself down several flights of steps until the bottom, coming out into a common area where the girl was sitting on the floor, preparing a meal. She jumped up, her eyes full of hope as her mother burst from the stairs, yelling at him to get out.
Kane gave the girl a wink, she blushed, and he stepped out into the alleyway and over to his target. He quickly checked the man’s vitals. He was weak, and judging from the piece of rebar shoved through his abdomen, he would have a few minutes of slow, agonizing dying before he’d be of no more use to Kane.
Kane smacked him on the cheek, reviving the man. Groans were the response, then fluttering eyes.
“Help me,” he muttered.
“I will if you answer some questions.”
“Why were you meeting with Levkin?”
The man shook his head.
Kane grabbed the rebar and gave it a push.
The man winced, paling even more, but now a little more alert, the sharp pain having sent a surge of adrenaline through his system.
“Don’t make me hurt you. Why were you meeting with him?”
“Codes for what?”
“I don’t know.”
Another jerk on the bar.
“I don’t know!” gasped the man. “I swear.”
“You paid a fortune for codes you know nothing about?”
“I’m just the middleman.”
“Who are the codes meant for?”
“I don’t know. I emailed them. He wired the money.”
“What’s the email address?”
“I don’t know, I destroyed it.”
The man’s voice was barely a whisper.
“Your account number?”
“In my wallet.”
Kane searched his pockets, pulling out a worn black leather wallet. Between several bills he found a folded piece of paper with an account number written on it.
“Do you have any idea what this is about?”
He shook his head.
“Did Levkin say anything that didn’t make sense?”
“I will, if you tell me what I want to know.”
“He said, ‘Now Crimson Rush can finally proceed.’ That’s all.”
“Crimson Rush? What’s that?”
But Islamov didn’t answer, finally passing out from the pain and loss of blood. A growing crowd was gathering at either end of the alley and it would only be a matter of time before this man’s friends would find him.
Kane decided it was best to avoid that.
He stepped back inside the house he had just left, the mother protesting, slapping at him, the daughter smiling shyly behind her veil, as Kane thanked them in Chechen for their hospitality, climbing the stairs then racing across the roofs and away from the body that was once one of Chechnya’s greatest drug lords, his mind consumed by one thought.
What the hell is Crimson Rush?
The Opera House West Berlin, West Germany February 5, 1982 One week before Checkpoint Charlie Exchange
Alex West sat in the high back leather chair, a luxury compared to what he was used to. One way to judge the importance of a meeting to those organizing it was how comfortable the chairs were. It was his experience that the most important meetings were in comfortable chairs like these; the most life threatening in the utmost uncomfortable imaginable.
He sat on one side, alone, about a dozen chairs surrounding the table. He sipped his coffee, black and horrid, wincing with each sip at the bitter brew that rotted his gut with each ounce he consumed.
The bastard responsible should be handed over to the Soviets.
He put the mug down, the blue NATO logo emblazoned on white facing him. He pretended to be interested in the logo as he assessed the situation. Only two weeks ago he had successfully rendezvoused with a nuclear sub in the Bering Sea, a microfilm obtained from a double-agent in Siberia that contained information he was forbidden to look at, the canister containing it apparently rigged to detect if he had.
At the time he had decided not to risk it. If it was that important he’d find out eventually if there was a need to know. Meetings like this with this many chairs were rare, which had him guessing this was about his last mission. Either a debriefing by a high-level committee, or a briefing by an equally high-level committee.
“The Opera House” as it had been nicknamed was a series of offices in the American Sector of West Berlin housing most of the CIA personnel in the zone. Top of the line security and anti-surveillance technology filled the building, but nothing beat burying everything. At the moment he was sure he was at least fifty feet underground, devices embedded in the soil to detect any digging from the Soviets.
It wouldn’t be the first time a tunnel had been dug from one side to the other. In 1954 the British MI-6 and the CIA, in a joint operation, had tunneled almost 1500 feet to the Soviet side and tapped all their landlines, gathering intel for over a year before the Soviets discovered the taps.
Unfortunately the Soviets had known all along, a KGB mole inside MI-6 having tipped them off before the tunnel was even complete. To protect their mole, the Soviets left the taps in place, staging the accidental discovery. An incredible amount of intelligence was gathered, and the propaganda coup the Soviets had hoped to gain with the discovery backfired, the public in the West instead marveling at the balls displayed by their intelligence apparatus.
West looked up as the lone door opened and a stream of brass and suits entered, each taking seats as if assigned by perceived pecking order. Somebody frowned at West’s apparent choice.
I’m not moving. I was on time.
Several ducklings lined the walls, apparently too junior to merit chairs, but with security clearances high enough for whatever was about to be presented. He recognized the man sitting at the head of the table. Chester Albright. He was the top CIA man in Europe. For him to be here meant this was big.
Albright cleared his throat and an aide leaned in, activating a speaker and microphone so somebody else out of view could listen in.
“Thank you for coming on such short notice,” began Albright.
Like I had a choice?
“What you are about to hear is classified. You are not to repeat it to anyone. No notes or records will be kept, paper or electronic.” Albright droned on for another minute repeating what was pretty much standard in the meetings West was involved with.
Blah blah blah, you talk you die.
A folder was placed in front of Albright by an aide. Albright opened it, flipped past a cover page, then looked around the table, his eyes settling on West for a moment, then continuing around the room.
“This is what we know. Thanks to a double-agent, now dead, one of our agents was able to obtain disturbing intelligence last week that powers far above me have decided must be taken seriously, and acted upon immediately.”
West was quite certain it was his intelligence that was being referred to. He felt a twang of regret that the other agent was dead, then again, the man was a traitor of opportunity to his country, even if the enemy. Playing both sides for a profit was a dangerous game, and not looked upon favorably in the spy community. Double-agents were valuable, their information sometimes invaluable, but it said something about a man who was willing to betray his country for profit.
West could never see himself betraying his country, going against orders, or doing anything disloyal or unpatriotic.
He loved his country fervently, believed in democracy and the West’s way of life, and was determined to defend it against the tyranny of Soviet Communist aggression.
So when a double-agent he had shook hands with not seven days ago died, he knew he wouldn’t lose too much sleep over it.
“The intelligence was scant, but we think valuable,” continued Albright. “This is what we know, and it is minimal. The Soviets have developed a new first strike weapon system, referred to as RA-155. We know it is an offensive weapon, it can apparently hit our cities with zero warning time, and if deployed, could change the balance of power overnight. Other than that, we know nothing beyond its code name.”
The room seemed to lean forward in anticipation.
Hotel Arena City, Grozny, Chechen Republic, Russian Federation Present Day
Kane smacked yesterday’s newspaper on yet another cockroach, striding to the balcony with “city view”, scraping the dead inheritor to all that is and will be on the railing, then flicking it to the street below. He looked out upon the city, half still in various states of repair, the other half rubble, the long civil war having taken its toll, including on the currently darkened power supply. Russia was pouring money in now to try and rebuild the capital to maintain the support of the ruling, pro-Moscow government, the rebel movement mostly crushed.
On the street below beaters and asses competed with Bimmers and Astons, the gap between the rich and poor in this former Soviet state far more harsh than back home. He chuckled as he saw two horses passing by below, pulling the chassis of a Jaguar XK-8 cabriolet, the harness integrated into the empty engine compartment, this apparently not a recent development.
It’s probably more reliable now!
The owner sat in the driver seat, reigns in hand, flicking them gently as the odd pairing moved with traffic, his dated clothes nearly immaculate, his posture one of forced dignity, he apparently no longer the success he once was.
Suddenly the power came back on, his fan kicking in, the only state of the art piece of equipment in the room beyond the flush toilet, it at least stolen from someone who had purchased it this millennia. The TV was Soviet era, the phone would have looked at home on Stalin’s desk, the light a single bulb dangling from the ceiling, now rocking back and forth in the fan’s breeze.
He checked his satphone and saw it was now charging, the battery completely dead from a week in the field with no electricity available, and frequent transmission of photos and data back and forth. His solar panel meant for those situations had failed on the third day, leaving him at risk of being incommunicado. He had relayed his status, then shutdown, only turning his gear on for emergency broadcasts or his twice daily scheduled check-in.
But now back in near-civilization, he was taking the opportunity to charge up everything. He activated the satphone and dialed a now familiar number, checking his watch to see what time it was at Langley. The phone rang, picking up on the third ring.
“Hey old buddy, how’s it hanging?”
There was a pause as he knew his friend Chris Leroux would be trying to figure out a way to respond without giving away who it was. He had known Leroux since high school, Leroux a nerd two years his junior that had tutored Kane in his final two years, getting his grades high enough for college, and in exchange Kane had protected Leroux from the bullies. They had become friends, but lost touch after school.
Kane had only attended college for a year, dropping out in his second year, almost immediately after 9/11, joining the army after a long heart-to-heart with his archeology professor, James Acton, a man whose CIA file was over an inch thick and incredibly interesting reading. He had gone Delta eventually, then CIA Special Ops. Leroux on the other hand had completed college, then been approached by the CIA after passing some aptitude tests with flying colors. He was now one of their top analysts with the ear of the Director.
Neither had realized the other was in the CIA until a chance encounter at Langley, and their friendship had been rekindled. In fact, Kane considered Leroux one of his best friends, if not his best friend, the nature of this business making it almost impossible to make close friends. It meant constantly lying to them about what you did, where you were, how you got that cut, why you were so tanned.
It felt like a holiday with his family, forced to constantly lie.
With Leroux it was different since he knew exactly what Kane did. He could be more open with him, not hiding who he was. He didn’t talk missions of course, but at least could honestly say the ringing in his left ear was due to a grenade rather than a Linkin Park concert.
“Hi, umm, it’s hanging fine? Ah, you? I mean, yours?”
Kane laughed, loving the awkwardness of the still developing Leroux. He had a stunning girlfriend, CIA Agent Sherrie White who was the exact opposite of Leroux—outgoing, personable, fun. She had fallen for him and they were now living together, her personality slowly pulling Leroux out of his lonely hole of bachelorhood, self-imposed due to extreme shyness. He was a good looking kid, just never been kissed—at least not enough for a man his age.
Sherrie certainly took care of that!
“Fine. Listen, I need a favor from you. I’ve already sent in a secure packet for analysis, but I need the best. How’s your schedule?”
He heard giggling in the background and the sounds of an embarrassed Leroux shushing Sherrie who apparently was checking the hanging status of something.
“Open enough, I guess,” managed Leroux between grunts, giggles and protests.
“How about you take care of business there first otherwise you won’t be able to concentrate. Get back to me through secure channels when you have something for me.”
“Hey! Not while I’m on the phone!” came a muffled protest, the phone mouthpiece not properly covered. The sound of a hand uncovering the phone had Kane wondering exactly what was going on, a little jealous of the action his friend was apparently getting.
Get it while you can buddy! I’ve been holed up in Chechnya with nada available!
“I’ll get back to you as soon as I can,” said Leroux.
“Okay, thanks buddy, bye.”
Kane killed the call to free up his friend and his libido, placing the phone back on the table, then dropped on the bed, the squeaking of the metal springs loud and disturbing, this being a fairly dry climate.
Within minutes he was asleep, his mind a turmoil of thoughts on what Crimson Rush might be, then turning to the cute Chechen girl, her mother nowhere to be found.
Sheremetyevo International Airport Moscow, Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) February 6, 1982
Alex West, CIA Special Agent, or spy for lack of a better word, shuffled along the long line of those waiting to clear customs at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo International Airport, his Aeroflot Ilyushin Il-86 four engine wide body having landed about forty minutes before. He had his suitcase and carry-on with him, and his ass was killing him from the threadbare seats he had been forced to endure, the cushion flattened down to the metal frame.
Soviet superiority my ass.
Ten years ago it wouldn’t have bothered him, but now in his mid-forties, he knew he was reaching the end of his useful life as a spy. He kept himself in top physical shape, that was essential, but he knew it was just a matter of time before the old bones just couldn’t keep up with the young ones they were competing with.
The line shuffled forward.
His disguise was simple. Look exactly the same as he had every other time he’d been here. Trying to disguise yourself like in the movies was dangerous. Very dangerous. If you were pulled aside, explaining false mustaches, dyed eyebrows and cotton stuffed cheeks was difficult. But a well-crafted background identity, consistent mannerisms, and confidence with zero arrogance would get you through almost every time.
The KGB usually knew who you were when you came through, it was the customs guys you didn’t want blowing your entry. The KGB didn’t want them blowing your entry either—they wanted to know what the hell you were up to.
He reached the kiosk and handed over his papers, a perfectly forged Canadian passport and a perfectly valid Soviet Visa, a detailed itinerary showing hotel, planned meetings, etc, and a thin smile without a trace of worry on his face. He’d been here dozens of times, using this same passport, and the same cover story.
“Your purpose here in the Soviet Union, Mr. West?”
The accent was as thick as the man’s mustache, and rather than answer him in Russian, which West spoke perfectly with a trace of an Odessan accent, he stuck to English, his cover unilingual.
“Business, and I hope to squeeze a little bit of pleasure in of course,” he replied.
“And what type of business are you here to conduct?”
“I represent a company that sells farm equipment. I do a lot of business with your government, especially around this time of year when we’re nearing planting season.”
“And you feel your equipment is superior to our Soviet designs?”
West knew he was being baited. Less experienced agents quite often tripped up here, sending themselves down a path that attracted attention, too eager to avoid offending and raising suspicions.
“Absolutely. Our company is famous across the world for its farm equipment. Our latest combine is capable of clearing more acres of—”
“And what type of pleasure do you wish to ‘squeeze’ in while you are here?”
“Some of your fine cuisine, perhaps a visit to the ballet if possible. No one can match your dancers.”
“It appears we agree on one thing, Mr. West.”
And with that a large stamp was slammed against his passport and other documents, and he was waved on. West took the documents and nodded, not saying another word as he pulled his luggage through the airport and out to where a limited number of cabs waited, mostly first generation Volga GAZ-24’s with an easy to hose down all vinyl interior that oozed comfort, their lime yellow paintjob with heavy chrome a pale imitation of the yellow cabs of New York City. Looking about at the drab Moscow streets that greeted him, any color nature might have provided pushed south by the harsh winter, he wondered if the country even had yellow paint.
He tapped on the trunk of an idling cab and it popped, the driver staying inside the warmth of the vehicle. West placed his bags in the trunk, slammed the lid shut then climbed in the back of the vehicle, already thankful for the semi-warm interior, the heaters in these barely adequate by North American standards.
He was asked where he wanted to go in Russian, but since his cover had no clue what was said, he replied, “Do you speak English?”
“Da,” replied the gruff voice, the man occupying the front seat large, bearded and weathered, his skin a thick leather from decades of lye-based soaps, inadequate insulation and a cold and lonely job.
“Berlin Hotel, please.”
The man nodded, a slight smile creasing the leather as he realized he might be in for a large tip, the hotel one of the finer ones available, only used by the Party elite and foreign visitors. It used to be called the Savoy, but the Party had it renamed to cater to wealthy Germans and Austrians. The same Party members wouldn’t tip him should they grace his cab rather than take an official car, but tourists and foreign businessmen were in the habit, quite often taking pity on the poor souls relegated to this side of the Iron Curtain.
“Very nice place, da?” asked the man as the cab pulled from the curb and into the barely existent traffic.
“Yes it is.”
“You’ve been there before?”
West looked at the reflection in the rearview mirror, nodding.
“You important business man, da?”
West chuckled, shaking his head.
“Business man, yes. Important, no.”
As they turned on to Volokolamskoye Highway the cab driver glanced in his side mirror, then his rearview and became silent for a moment, glancing between his passenger and the mirrors.
“I think you’re more important than you think you are,” muttered the man in Russian.
“Ah, nothing,” replied the now nervous man. “We almost there, I get you there in good time.”
West shifted slightly in his seat so he could see through the side mirror without making it obvious. A black sedan, standard issue KGB, was behind them, the same one he had seen pull out after them from the airport.
He had successfully acquired his tail.
Now all he had to do was lose them.
CIA Headquarters, Langley, Virginia Present Day
CIA analyst Chris Leroux held his right hand out, watching it shake slightly. His Red Bull habit was back with a vengeance. It had been fueling him since the New Orleans crisis, allowing him to put in extra hours on his delayed assignment to find out who The Assembly were, and what they were up to. What he did know was that The Assembly was an ultra-secret organization made up of senior corporate executives as well as government officials, including elected politicians, some voluntarily, some coerced.
They claimed to be the puppet masters pulling the strings of society, and claimed it was for a long time.
It was why he had a 24/7 security detail, and why he was working late nights. He had an accidental breakthrough during the New Orleans crisis when the President essentially suspended the Constitution, allowing all taps to be opened without warrant requirements. His automated searches had been working behind the scenes, constantly seeking out any mention of The Assembly or the few things they knew this organization had been involved with and the few people, all dead, that had ties.
The searches had produced nothing until the blocks had been lifted.
After the crisis when he examined his files he had found a single hit but hadn’t opened it. He knew if he did, and it went to court, the evidence would be tossed due to the lack of a warrant.
His boss, National Clandestine Service Chief for the CIA, Leif Morrison, had told him to ignore it, fruit of the poisoned tree. He wanted to take down the network legally. Leroux hadn’t said anything, his personality not one to challenge, but felt it was a mistake. It was more important to take them out, not take them to court.
Kane would have opened the attachment.
Leroux, hand still shaking, flipped over to his secure email and clicked on the email in question, highlighting it in the long list of false positives.
His finger hovered over the mouse button, shaking, spasm after spasm urging him to click, fake an accidental click, do something.
His computer beeped with a tone indicating something urgent had just arrived for him. Sighing, he flipped over to his main Inbox and saw the email containing the results of his search Kane had requested. His heart pounded a little faster as he opened it and began to read.
By the time he was finished reading the single hit found in the archival database, his heart was slamming in his chest. He leaned back in his chair, sweat having broken out on his forehead. He wiped it with the back of his hand, then his hand on his pants as he mentally processed what he had just read.
Why is Kane asking about Crimson Rush?
He knew he was on an op, and that it was classified as per usual, but he knew enough from the other intel requests he had seen that it seemed to be Chechen related, except for one group of Russian ID requests that was almost immediately followed by a reprioritization.
And now he knew why.
“Holy shit!” he muttered.
His head spun toward the voice as his fingers instinctively raced for the keyboard to blank the screen, his brain not yet registering the voice belonged to his girlfriend. He smiled at her, his fingers still doing their job as he spun his chair toward the love of his life. In fact, she was the only woman he had ever loved. And the only woman he had ever really been “with” if you didn’t count the couple of pity “dates” he had been on years ago. He was a late bloomer, and probably never would have bloomed if it weren’t for this incredible woman who had taken a chance on a dork, thanks in no small part to his best friend, and perhaps his only friend, Dylan Kane.
It had been a lonely life.
He raised his chin as Agent Sherrie White leaned in for a kiss. But instead of their lips meeting, she gave him a gentle smack on his cheek, wagging a finger at him then pointing at the half-empty can of Red Bull.
“How many is that today?”
“Do you mean since we came in this morning, or since midnight last night?”
“You mean there’s been enough to actually warrant a different count?”