Read Legends Online

Authors: Robert Littell

Tags: #Fiction, #Thrillers, #Espionage, #General

Legends

BOOK: Legends
6.54Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

LEGENDS By ROBERT LITTELL

Synopsis:

Robert Littell is today widely considered one of the true Grand Masters of American spy fiction, hailed for his profound grasp of the ambiguous world of international espionage, grippingly displayed in his thirteen novels. His most recent international bestseller The Company was praised as being “popular fiction at its finest” by the Washington Post Book World and as “one of the best spy novels ever written” by the Chicago Tribune.

In Legends, Littell shifts focus from a broad Cold War canvas to the life of a single CIA operative caught in a contradictory “wilderness of mirrors” in which remembering his past and forgetting it are both deadly options. Martin Odum is a one-time CIA field agent turned private detective in Brooklyn, struggling his way through a labyrinth of memories of past identities “legends” in Agency parlance. Is he really Martin Odum? Or is he Dante Pippen, an IRA explosives maven turned CIA agent? Maybe he is Lincoln Dittmann, Civil War expert. Or yet another legend? These men like different foods and different women, speak different languages, and have different skills.

Is Odum suffering from multiple personality disorder, brainwashing, or simply exhaustion? Is he a creation of the Legend Committee at the CIA’s Langley headquarters? Can he trust the Agency’s psychiatrist? Or the Deputy Director of Operations? Or Stella Kastner, a young Russian woman who engages him to find her brother-in-law so he can give her sister, an Orthodox Jew, a divorce, which under religious law requires the husband’s presence?

Like Sybil and The Three Faces of Eve, Legends is a novel that explores the concept of the divided personality … it is also pure Robert Littell from unforgettable opening to astonishing ending again displaying the author’s unparalleled prowess as a seductive storyteller exploring the clandestine but always very human world of secret agents.

Also by Robert Littell FICTION

THE COMPANY

WALKING BACK THE CAT

THE VISITING PROFESSOR

AN AGENT IN PLACE

THE ONCE AND FUTURE SPY

THE REVOLUTIONIST

THE SISTERS

THE AMATEUR

THE DEBRIEFING

MOTHER RUSSIA

THE OCTOBER CIRCLE

SWEET REASON

THE DEFECTION OF A. J. LEWINTER

NON-FICTION

FOR THE FUTURE OF ISRAEL (with Shimon Peres)

LEGENDS

A NOVEL OF DISSIMULATION

ROBERT LIT TELL

DUCK WORTH

This is a work of fiction. Any similarity to persons living or dead is purely coincidental … the same is true for events.________

First published in the UK in 2005 by

Gerald Duckworth & Co. Ltd.

90-93 Cowcross Street, London EClM 6BF

Tel: 020 7490 7300

Fax: 020 7490 0080

[email protected] www.ducknet.co.uk

2005 by Robert Littell

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without the prior permission of the publisher.

The right of Robert Littell to be identified as the Author of the Work has been asserted by him in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988.

Grateful acknowledgment is made for permission to reprint lyrics from the song “It’s All Right Ma (I’m Only Bleeding)” by Bob Dylan. Copyright 1965 by Warner Bros. Inc. Copyright renewed 1993 by Special Rider Music. All rights reserved. International copyright secured. Reprinted by permission.

A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library

ISBN 0 7156 3411 9

Book design and type formatting by Bernard Schleifer Printed and bound in the USA

For my muses: Marie-Dominique and Victoria

“All names are pseudonyms.” Romain Gary (writing under the pen name Emile Ajar)

“.. one of those individuals with multiple faces like so many of the great spies of Cold War mythology who invariably turn out to be different from who they seem and, when we think we have located them at the center of a great riddle, show up as part of another, even greater riddle …” Bernard-Henri Levy, Who Killed Daniel Pearl?

1993: THE CONDEMNED MAN CATCHES A GLIMPSE OF THE ELEPHANT

THEY HAD FINALLY GOTTEN AROUND TO PAVING THE SEVEN kilometers of dirt spur connecting the village of Prigorodnaia to the four-lane Moscow-Petersburg highway. The local priest, surfacing from a week-long hinge, lit beeswax tapers to Innocent of Irkutsk, the saint who in the 1720s had repaired the road to China and was now about to bring civilization to Prigorodnaia in the form of a ribbon of macadam with a freshly painted white stripe down the middle. The peasants, who had a shrewder idea of how Mother Russia functioned, thought it more likely that this evidence of progress, if that was the correct name for it, was somehow related to the purchase, several months earlier, of the late and little lamented Lavrenti Pavlovich Beria’s sprawling wooden dacha by a man identified only as the Oligarkh. Next to nothing was known about him. He came and went at odd hours in a glistening black Mercedes S-600 sedan, his shock of silver hair and dark glasses a fleeting apparition behind its tinted windows. A local woman hired to do laundry was said to have seen him angrily flick cigar ashes from the crow’s-nest rising like a turret from the dacha before turning back to issue instructions to someone. The woman, who was terrified of the dachas newfangled electric washing machine and scrubbed the laundry in a shallow reach of the river, had been too far away to make out more than a few words Buried, that’s what I want, but alive…” but they and the Oligarktis, feral tone had dispatched a chill down her spine that made her shudder every time she recounted the story. Two peasants cutting hrewood on the other side of the river had caught a glimpse of the

Oligarkh from a distance, struggling on aluminum crutches along the path behind his dacha that led to the dilapidated paper factory disgorging dirty white smoke from its giant stacks fourteen hours a day, six days a week, and beyond that to the village cemetery and the small Orthodox church with the faded paint peeling away from its onion domes. A pair of Borzois rollicked in the dirt ahead of the Oligarkh as he thrust one hip forward and dragged the leg after it, then repeated the movement with the other hip. Three men in Ralph Lauren jeans and telnyashki, the distinctive striped shirts that paratroopers often continued to wear after they quit the army, trailed after him, shotguns cradled in the crooks of their arms. The peasants had been sorely tempted to try for a closer look at the stubby, hunch-shouldered newcomer to their village, but abandoned the idea when one of them reminded the other what the Metropolitan come from Moscow to celebrate Orthodox Christmas two Januaries earlier had proclaimed from the ambo:

If you are stupid enough to dine with the devil, for Christ’s sake use a long spoon.

The road crew, along with giant tank-treaded graders and steamrollers and trucks brimming with asphalt and crushed stone, had turned up during the night while the aurora borealis was still flickering like soundless cannon fire in the north; it didn’t take much imagination to suppose a great war was being fought beyond the horizon. Casting elongated shadows in the ghostly gleam of headlights, the men pulled on tar-stifT overalls and knee-high rubber boots and set to work. By first light, with forty meters of paved road behind them, the aurora and the stars had vanished, but two planets were visible in the moonless sky: one, Mars, directly overhead, the other, Jupiter, still dancing in the west above the low haze saturated with the amber glow of Moscow. When the lead crew reached the circular crater that had been gouged in the dirt spur the day before by a steam shovel, the foreman blew on a whistle. The machines ground to a halt.

“Why are we stopping?” one of the drivers, leaning out the cab of his steamroller, shouted impatiently through the face mask he’d improvised to filter out the sulfurous stench from the paper factory. The men, who were paid by the meter and not the hour, were anxious to keep moving forward.

“At any moment we are expecting Jesus to return to earth as a Russian czar,” the foreman called back lazily. “We don’t want to miss it when he comes across the river.” He lit a thick Turkish cigarette from the embers of an old one and strolled down to the edge of the river that ran parallel to the road for several kilometers. It was called the Lesnia, which was the name of the dense woods it meandered through as it skirted Prigorodnaia. At 6:12 a cold sun edged above the trees and began to burn off the mustard-thick September haze that clung to the river, which was in flood, creating a margin of shallow marshes on either side; long blades of grass could be seen undulating in the current.

The fisherman’s dinghy that materialized out of the haze couldn’t make it as far as die shore and the three occupants were obliged to climb out and wade the rest of the way. The two men wearing paratrooper shirts pulled off their boots and socks and rolled their jeans up to their knees. The third occupant didn’t have to. He was stark naked. A crown of thorns, with blood trickling where the skin had been torn, sat on his head. A large safety pin attached to a fragment of cardboard had been passed through the flesh between his shoulder blades; on the cardboard was printed: “The spy Kafkor.” The prisoner, his wrists and elbows bound behind him with a length of electrical wire, had several weeks growth of matted beard on his face, and purple bruises and what looked like cigarette burns over his emaciated body. Stepping cautiously through the slime until he reached solid ground, looking disoriented, he regarded his image in the shallow water of the river while the paratroopers dried their feet with an old shirt, then pulled on their socks and boots and rolled down their pants.

The spy Kafkor didn’t appear to recognize the figure gaping at him from the surface of the river.

By now the two dozen crewmen, mesmerized by the arrival of the three figures, had abandoned all interest in road work. Drivers swung out of their cabs, the men with rakes or shovels stood around shifting their weight from one foot to the other in discomfort. No one doubted that something dreadful was about to happen to the naked Christ, who was being prodded up the incline by the paratroopers. Nor did they doubt that they were meant to witness it and spread the story. Such things happened all the time in Russia these days.

Back on the stretch of freshly paved road, the team’s ironmonger wiped his sweaty palms on his thick leather apron, then retrieved a lunch box from the bullock-cart piled with welding gear and scrambled up the slope to get a better view of the proceedings. The ironmonger, who was short and husky and wearing tinted steel-rimmed eyeglasses, flicked open the lid of the lunch box and reached into it to activate the hidden camera set up to shoot through a puncture in the bottom of a thermos. Casually balancing the thermos on his knees, he began to rotate the cap and snap photographs.

Below, the prisoner, suddenly aware that every member of the road crew was gazing at him, seemed more distressed by his nakedness than his plight until he caught sight of the crater. It was roughly the size of a large tractor tire. Thick planks were stacked on the ground next to it. He froze in his tracks and the paratroopers had to grasp him by the upper arms and drag him the last few meters. The prisoner sank to his knees at the lip of the crater and looked back at the workers, his eyes hollow with terror, his mouth open and gulping air with rattling gasps through a parched throat. He saw things he recognized but his brain, befuddled with chemicals released by fear, couldn’t locate the words to describe them: the twin stacks spewing plumes of dirty white smoke, the abandoned custom’s station with a faded red star painted above the door, the line of whitewashed bee hives on a slope near a copse of stunted apple trees. This was all a terrible dream, he thought. Any moment now he would become too frightened to continue dreaming; would force himself through the membrane that separated sleep from wakefulness and wipe the sweat from his brow and, still under the spell of the nightmare, have trouble falling back to sleep. But the ground felt damp and cold under his knees and a whiff of sulfurous air stung his lungs and the cold sun playing on his skin seemed to stir the cigarette burns to pain, and the pain brought home to him that what had happened, and what was about to happen, were no dream.

A Mercedes made its way slowly down the dirt road from the village, followed closely by a chase vehicle, a metallic gray Land Cruiser filled with bodyguards. Neither car had license plates, and the workers watching the scene play out understood this to mean that the people in them were too important to be stopped by the police. The

Mercedes half turned so that it was astride the road and stopped a dozen meters from the kneeling prisoner. The rear window wound down the width of a fist. The Oligarkh could be seen peering out through dark glasses. He removed the cigar from his mouth and studied the naked prisoner for a long while, as if he were committing him and the moment to memory. Then, with a look of unadulterated malevolence on his face, he reached out with one of his crutches and tapped the man sitting next to the driver on the shoulder. The front door opened and the man emerged. He was of medium height and thin, with a long pinched face. He wore suspenders that kept his trousers hiked high on his waist, and a midnight blue Italian suit jacket draped cape-like over a starched white shirt, which was tieless and buttoned up to a very prominent Adam’s apple. The initials “S” and “U-Z” were embroidered on the pocket of the shirt. He strode to the chase car and plucked a lighted cigarette from the mouth of one of the bodyguards. Holding it away from his body between his thumb and third finger, he walked over to the prisoner. Kafkor raised his eyes and saw the cigarette and recoiled, thinking he was about to be branded with the burning tip. But S U-Z, smiling faintly, only reached down and wedged it between the lips of the prisoner. “It is a matter of tradition,” he said. “A man condemned to death is entitled to a last cigarette.”

BOOK: Legends
6.54Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

Other books

The Harvest by Vicki Pettersson
Crimson China by Betsy Tobin
Overcome by Annmarie McKenna
Little Vampire Women by Lynn Messina
Grunt by Roach, Mary
El vizconde demediado by Italo Calvino