Authors: Larry Bond
To Katie and Julie Bond and Olivia Larkin
We would like to thank Mennette Masser Larkin for all the hard work, skill, and sound, shrewd advice she put into this book.
Thanks also go to Matt Caffrey, Dwin Craig, Steve Hall, Dave Hood, Don and Marilyn Larkin, Colin Larkin, Duncan Larkin, Greg Lyle, Eleanore Neal Masser, Bill Paley, Tim Peckinpaugh and Pam McKinney-Peckinpaugh, Jeff Pluhar, Jeff Richelson, and Thomas T. Thomas for all their help, advice, and support.
Thanks also to the Defense Weapons Agency Special Operations for the reality check.
After five books, high-school English teachers now ask me to come into their classes and lecture on how to collaborate. It’s supposed to be the hardest way to write, but I can’t imagine doing it any other way.
It’s not perfect, of course. When creative ideas are blended, there are always points where they don’t mesh smoothly. The conflicts can be the result of different viewpoints, different visualizations of the story or characters, or even basic philosophies.
Resolving these conflicts is a day-to-day part of any collaboration, and the vital thing to understand is that nobody has a monopoly on good ideas, and that almost any idea can be improved.
If you keep the focus on the story as a whole, and making it as good as it can possibly be, then you’re willing to change or even abandon an idea when a better one comes along. Professionals don’t become emotionally attached to a plot twist.
There’s also an old saying that collaborations succeed only if each partner does 60 percent of the work. It’s funny and a little true, but even if it’s entirely true, it’s still a lot better than doing 100 percent of the work.
And imagine doing all that work alone—without anyone to bounce ideas off of, receive encouragement from, or commiserate with when problems arise.
If I can teach others how to make a partnership work, it’s because I’ve collaborated with Pat Larkin for ten years now. It’s interesting that even as our styles and skills have grown, the rules for working together haven’t. And we’re still doing it all on the basis of a handshake.
As a partner and friend, Pat Larkin has both created and molded our stories. Sharing an intimate creative vision, crafting the books chapter by chapter, sometimes word by word, his contribution is the best 60 percent of this story.
O.S.I.A Inspection Team, 125th Air Division Base, Kandalaksha, Northern Russia
The twin-engined Antonov-32 turboprop roared off the runway and climbed sharply before banking right. Within minutes, Kandalaksha’s barbed-wire fences, watchtowers, camouflaged aircraft shelters, and
sites dwindled and then vanished astern.
John Avery waited until the Russian military airfield was completely out of sight before allowing himself to relax even to the slightest degree. He shivered, still chilled by what he had seen.
He checked his watch. They had a little over three hours left in the air. Three hours to safety. Three hours before he could make his report to the proper authorities in the U.S. Embassy at Moscow.
Until then, he and his team members were at risk.
Avery glanced out the window again. They were flying southeast over the White Sea at ten thousand feet. Red-tinged light from the setting sun reflected off the cold gray water below.
He turned in his seat, surreptitiously checking out the other people aboard the plane. The An-32 transport plane’s passenger compartment was almost empty. Fewer than half the aircraft’s thirty-nine seats were occupied—eight of them by his joint Russian-American weapons inspection team. The other passengers were a few Russian Air Force officers flying home to Moscow on leave.
Avery’s eyes narrowed. The Russian officers were a bedraggled bunch—unshaven and poorly dressed. Some of them were plainly fighting massive hangovers after a day spent knocking back vodka in the mess.
All in all, the assembled Russians were a far cry from the proud, square-jawed pilots portrayed on old Soviet propaganda posters.
It was like that all across the fragments of the old Soviet empire.
Like the U.S. military, Russia’s armed forces were being cut back. But where the American downsizing was deliberate, the Russian reductions were chaotic and uncontrolled—the result of not enough money and not enough support from Moscow. Utility companies had cut the electric power supply to bases because of unpaid bills. Other units were left without regular food deliveries.
Tens of thousands of soldiers, sailors, and airmen had not been paid in months.
Kandalaksha had proved no exception.
Seen up close, much of the Russian air base had resembled a ghost town.
Trees killed by the harsh arctic weather had fallen across the rusting perimeter fence—tearing gaps that were left unrepaired. Few of the guard towers were manned. Fewer than half of the 125th Air Division’s one hundred and twenty Su24 Fencer fighter-bombers were combat-ready. Many of the aircraft shelters, maintenance hangars, headquarters buildings, and barracks were boarded up, or stood abandoned, with doors and windows gaping open and empty. Grass grew wild through cracked sidewalks and concrete runways.
It was an environment that invited corruption.
After spending three years in Russia as the leader of a treaty compliance team for the U.S. government’s On-Site Inspection Agency, the O.S.I.A, he’d thought he’d run across every form of graft and crime imaginable. He’d met officers who stole their men’s paychecks and others who sold their units’ arms and equipment.
He’d found bordellos, gambling clubs, and bars being run out of barracks, armories, and headquarters buildings.
But Avery had never stumbled into anything remotely as dangerous as what he feared was going on at Kandalaksha. And he’d seen a lot of danger in his time.
Before joining O.S.I.A four years before, he’d served in the U.S. Army’s Special Forces, first as a demolitions man and then as a “special weapons” expert. Very few people meeting him for the first time would have believed that.
The tall, lanky ex-soldier knew his open, round face, thinning brown hair, and thick glasses made him look more like a mildmannered professor than a former Green Beret. Others were often surprised at the intensity that lurked behind the soft cadences that were all that was left of his boyhood Alabama drawl.
Avery loosened his seat belt and leaned back, pondering his next move.
Should he brief the rest of his team now? He dismissed that notion as quickly as it arose. There was no way he could inform the other Americans without telling their Russian counterparts—and they were still on a Russian plane over Russian territory. There were still too many unanswered questions to take that chance.
He risked a quick look across the aisle at his own opposite number, Colonel Anatoly Gasparov. The squat, jowly Russian had his head back and his eyes closed—to all appearances dead to the world.
Every American arms inspector had an assigned Russian counterpart who accompanied him from Moscow. Gasparov had evidently finagled the assignment because it let him travel frequently. Rumor said the Russian colonel had shady contacts on bases all across the former Soviet Union. There were stories that he made tidy profits as a deal-maker in the black market buying and selling everything from Western cigarettes to Russianmade small arms and air-to-air missiles.
Some said he had contacts inside the Mafiya, the loose slang term covering Russia’s powerful organized crime syndicates.
Avery believed those rumors. Especially now.
He’d noticed Gasparov’s apparent chumminess with the commander of the 125th Air Division, Colonel General Feodor Serov, during both the welcoming dinner the night before and the inspection today. That could just be part and parcel of his counterpart’s usual brownnosing. Or it might be an indication that the two men were deeply involved in some shady business together.
Either way it made no sense to alert Gasparov to his findings.
Avery turned again to the window, trying to trace their course southward across the sunlit sea. Every kilometer the An-32 flew put them that much further out of any enemy’s reach.
He felt suddenly weary, wrapped in a haze of utter mental and physical exhaustion. The stresses and strains of the long day were finally taking their toll. Lulled by the unvarying roar of the plane’s engines, he felt himself starting to drift off. His eyes closed … Avery sat bolt upright. Something was wrong. He rubbed the sleep out of his eyes and checked his watch. He’d been asleep for less than half an hour. But what had startled him awake?
The sound came again. The steady, comforting drone of the An-3”-s starboard engine faltered, roared back to full power for a split second, and then died. The plane sagged to the right, drifting downward.
“Christ.” Avery yanked his safety belt tighter.
Seconds later, the portside engine revved higher and the An32 leveled out again, then banked gently to the left.
A calm voice crackled over the passenger compartment PA system. “This is Major Kirichenko, your pilot. I regret to inform you that we have a slight problem. Our starboard engine has failed. But there is no danger. I repeat, there is no danger. We can easily maintain flying speed with the remaining engine at full power.”
Kirichenko paused, muttered something inaudible to his copilot, and then continued. “However, as a precaution, we are diverting to an emergency field at Medvezhyegorsk. We should be on the ground in approximately fifteen or twenty minutes.”
Chilled again, Avery looked out the window and down at the terrain below. They were “feet dry” now—well inland after the relatively short hop across the narrow White Sea. According to the maps he’d studied, they were over a wilderness of pine forest and marshland that stretched for hundreds of miles in every direction.
But he couldn’t make out anything definite. This close to nightfall, it was dark down there—pitchblack. There were no lights. No signs of any civilization.
He pulled his eyes away from the blackness below and found himself staring across the aisle at Anatoly Gasparov.
The Russian colonel stared back, white-faced. He licked his lips, muttering, “My God … my God …”
The smooth roar of the port engine changed abruptly—running ragged for an instant before surging back. Then it, too, sputtered, once, twice.
s nose tilted forward-angling downward toward the ground.
Avery’s chest tightened at the silence. Air rushing past the fuselage showed they were still flying—but for how much longer?
The sound of pumps cycling broke the silence, and the plane shuddered.
He craned his head and saw a dark mass streaming away below the port wing—a spray of droplets glistening in the fading light. Their pilots were dumping ,fuel—desperately lightening the An-32 to stretch its glide path as far as humanly possible.
As the transport plane descended, falling at an eversteeper angle, the plane’s crew chief, a frightened young Russian sergeant, struggled through the passenger compartment—stowing loose gear and double-checking safety belts. The buffeting worsened as low-altitude winds and roiling updrafts tore at the powerless aircraft.
Avery’s inspection logbook slipped off the seat beside him and slid out of his reach before he could grab it. The An-3”-s nose dropped further.
The PA system squawked again. This time the pilot’s voice sounded strained. “We’re going in! We’re trying for a clearing or a river.
Brace for impact! Brace for impact!”
Avery couldn’t tear his eyes away from the window, desperate to know how high they were. He could see the trees now, pointing upward like a bed of nails, their tops needle-sharp. His heart froze.
Still moving at more than one hundred miles an hour, the An32 slammed into the forest. Avery was thrown forward against his seat belt with agonizing force. Horrified, he saw the fuselage rip open in front of him. Too late, he opened his mouth to scream. A tidal wave of flame and shredded metal swallowed him whole.
U.S. Special Investigative Team, Over Northern Russia The shadow cast by the giant Mi-26 helicopter rippled over mile after mile of evergreen forest brushing across vast stands of northern pine, spruce, and fir trees. Many of the trees were dead or dying, choked by acid rains and smog-laden winds from Russian mines, smelters, and industrial plants. Wherever the forest thinned, pools of standing water glistened in the pale sunlight.
Much of northern Russia was a tangled mix of woodland and swamp.
A lean, tough-looking man sat next to one of the helicopter’s fuselage windows, staring down at the ground. From a distance, his taut, sun-darkened face looked boyish. The illusion disappeared up close.
Years spent in the field and in command had put lines around his steady green eyes. And the same stresses and strains had turned some of his light brown hair gray.