Authors: Stephen Coonts
Tags: #Qaida (Organization), #Intelligence officers, #Assassination, #Carmellini; Tommy (Fictitious character), #Fiction, #Grafton; Jake (Fictitious character), #Suspense, #Espionage, #Thrillers, #Suspense fiction, #Undercover operations, #Spy stories
“Whaddaya think of that?”
“I didn’t know you knew anything about computers.”
“Don’t.” He waved the PalmPilot. “I had a local lady geek program this for me.” I see.
“Gonna put her and my name on the patent app. Both of us gonna make some money outta this.”
He opened a small refrigerator that he had plugged in under the bench and pulled out two beers, one of which he passed to me. When he was seated and sipping, I said, “Willie, I wish you’d asked me about that thing before you started working on it. The agency’s got gizmos that do the same thing.”
He stared. “You’re jivin’ me, right?”
He swore a little. Drank some beer and swore some more. After a while he smacked the workbench with the flat of his hand and said, “I knew it was too good to be true! Invent something, make some money.” Then he glowered at me. Sooner or later he’d decide his misfortune was my fault, and it turned out to be sooner. “You’re like a little black cloud, Carmellini. When the sun starts shinin’, you show up and rain on ever’thin’.”
“You come around a little more often, we could talk about stuff, partner to partner, but you’re off alla time sneakin’ into this or that, peepin’ through keyholes, spyin’ on folks who don’t want to be spied on. Someday somebody’s gonna stomp your sorry ass.”
On that happy note, I went home. I had ruined a friend’s day, and that was enough. Hi-de-ho.
The next morning at the office I asked for Marisa’s file. It was sorta thick. While I was there I also checked out her husband Jean Petrou’s file, which was not thick.
I took them to the cubbyhole the government euphemistically refers to as my office. With my door locked, I opened Marisa’s classified file and perused it. About half of the contents were newspaper clippings. It had grown some since I saw it last.
According to the file, Marisa was the daughter of Lamoureux and his second wife, a woman named Grisella. She attended private schools until college, dabbled a year or two at the Sorbonne and a couple of Ivy League joints in the States and married the son of a wealthy financier, Jean Petrou. They lived together a year or two, she split, did some more American college, never graduated, had a fling with a French heart surgeon and wound up as the mistress of Henri Rodet, the director of the French intelligence service. That’s where she came into my life.
Grafton insisted then that Marisa was a co-conspirator with Rodet and his buddy Abu Qasim. His assertion that she might be the natural daughter of Qasim, and Rodet had arranged for his good friend Lamoureux to adopt her when she was about ten years of age, was in the file. Our agents had checked the public records in Switzerland and France and had come up dry. Which only proved that if there had ever been adoption papers filed on the child, they weren’t in the records now. The French and Swiss police had also made inquiries, they said, and their negative reports were also in the pile.
Being smarter than the average bug, we wanted to interview the people who knew the truth about Marisa’s parentage, Georges Lamoureux and wife number two, Grisella. Unfortunately they were dead. Grisella succumbed to cancer in a Paris hospital five years ago, and Georges died in a single-car crash in the Swiss Alps a couple of months before the Paris G-8 summit.
I flipped through page after page of this stuff until I came to something interesting. After the flap in Paris, Marisa and Jean Petrou had buried the hatchet, patched up their differences while Marisa convalesced and once again taken up housekeeping as husband and wife. Then, a couple of months ago, Jean accepted a posting in the French diplomatic service. He was currently attached to the French embassy in London, but he also spent a lot of time in Paris at the ministry.
Apparently the French government wasn’t nursing any grudges against Marisa, or her hubby would never have gotten his political post. Of course, French politics being what it is, the French government had never officially admitted that there was ever a plot to assassinate the G-8 leaders, nor that the late Henri Rodet was anything other than a recently deceased civil servant who had done his bit for la belle France. Jean and Marisa were apparently aristocrats in good standing.
I was happy for them.
There was more info in the file, lots of details, addresses and so on. I took some notes.
Finally I closed the file and arranged it squarely on my desk and sat staring at it. I had a ruler in my desk, so I took it out and checked. The file was precisely one and three-eighths inches thick, counting the stiff folder that contained it.
I also measured Jean’s file. It held an inch less paper.
I opened the husband’s folder and began reading. There was a photo in there, a snapshot. No place or date. The guy was of average size and weight and looked smarmy. A fop, I decided.
The info in the file sorta went along with that assessment, making ol’ M. Petrou sound like your average rich young Frenchman. He was the only son of a seriously rich financier, so he had expectations. Private schools in his youth, a few regrettable incidents with young women, an expensive car wreck—a Ferrari, no less—flunked out of one school and was thrown out of another, some dabbling in recreational drugs. What else? Enjoyed pornography and erotic art. Collected some of both. Didn’t drink to excess and wore expensive suits and jewelry. He had worked in various capacities for his father’s banks before he entered the French foreign service, and apparently got a nice allowance, because he lived well above his salary. Had a mistress, whom he saw a lot when he was separated from Marisa. No info about whether he and the mistress still had a thing going since he had reconciled with his wife. His pop had died two years ago, and his mom was running the banks.
That raised my eyebrows. Most European aristocrats of old man Petrou’s generation married cute, curvy, clotheshorses from the right families who looked good at society parties, had their kids by them, then began a long series of dalliances with younger and younger mistresses. Maybe old Petrou had done that, but his wife, Isolde, was still a natural force. Someone had clipped an article about her and stuck it in the file: The banks were more profitable last year under Isolde’s stewardship than they were under her late husband’s. He’d be whirling in his grave if he knew.
All this dross was background, of course, to help intelligence evaluators weigh the worth of any tidbit an agent might glean from young M. Petrou at a cocktail party or other venue. He was not a regular intelligence source. Still, an agent had noted a comment of his about French foreign policy in Iraq made during a business luncheon in Paris six months ago. That tidbit was also in the file. It looked like a blog comment to me, but what do I know?
That was the crop. Ho hum. I took the files back to the library and headed for the Starbucks on the ground floor to get a cup of coffee. Ah, the fast, hot life of an international spy.
Of course, Marisa was in my future. I wondered if she had really taken up poisoning people, an ancient and dishonorable trade. Even if she hadn’t, she wasn’t ordinary, not by any stretch of the imagination. Amazingly, I was actually looking forward to seeing her again.
I took my cup of cappuccino into the cafeteria, where there were tables, and was sitting there musing about poison when Robin Cloyd, Grafton’s new assistant, came striding over and dropped into the chair across from me. She had coffee in her hand and a little cup of yogurt.
“Good morning, Tommy,” she said brightly. She had long hair that she wore frizzy, which hid most of her face. What you saw was the mountain of hair above the sweatshirt—today she was advertising New York University—and, peeking out of the hair, the big glasses, which magnified her green eyes. The glasses dwarfed her nose, which was working overtime holding those things up.
“That your breakfast?” I asked, glancing at the yogurt.
She flourished a plastic spoon. “Oh, yes. I’m so healthy that sometimes I can’t stand myself.”
“A common affliction among certain classes,” I replied politely. I slurped at my coffee, which was still warm.
“We haven’t really had a chance to get to know each other,” Robin said as she tore off the foil from her yogurt.
“Mr. Grafton said you’re single.”
I made a mental note to remind the admiral that loose lips sink ships.
“So am I,” she said brightly.
I said something polite and hit the road. Didn’t really want any more coffee, after all.
“Do you have any grandkids?” Sal Molina asked Jake Grafton. They were in the basement of Molina’s Bethesda home. Molina was sitting on the floor putting a tricycle together. Parts were strewn around, and he had the directions within easy reach. Grafton found a clean spot on the sofa and sat down.
“Not yet,” Grafton said. “Amy is still looking for Mr. Right.”
“That damn guy is hard to find,” Sal admitted. With his glasses in place, he glanced at the directions, then selected a washer and cotter pin from a small pile and began installing a rear wheel. “Talk to me,” he said. “Alexander Surkov.”
“Surkov was Oleg Tchernychenko’s chief lieutenant, and presumably Tchernychenko told him about the data-mining op we put in Tchernychenko’s company. Tchernychenko trusted him, and we needed a bag man, a man to carry money, around Europe and the Middle East to our soldiers. So through Tchernychenko, we used Surkov. I thought he would be better than an American at delivering the money.”
“But you didn’t trust him?”
“He was in a position to betray my people.”
“What do you think? Did he sell us out?”
Grafton took his time with that question. “Surkov was living very well in the U.K., even for an expatriate with serious connections, making serious money. It’s possible he was selling information to anyone with cash to buy.”
“To al-Qaeda? Abu Qasim?”
“Perhaps. Or he may have sold information about Tchernychenko’s business to one of his boss’ competitors. Or to the Russian government. In any event, he deposited a hundred and fifty thousand pounds in his London bank three weeks ago, a check drawn on the account of a shell corporation based in the Seychelles. The check was good.”
“How likely is it that the Russians poisoned him?”
“The two men who ate dinner with him are the most probable villains, but one wonders if the orders really came from Moscow.” Grafton told Molina about his meeting with Janos Ilin as Sal finished with one of the tricycle’s rear wheels and began on the second one.
“The amazing thing,” Grafton concluded, “is that I had a man watching Surkov when he was poisoned. That is, assuming the British police’s theory that he was poisoned at the restaurant holds up.”
“You had a tail on Surkov?”
“We couldn’t watch him around the clock—we don’t have the resources—so we were doing the best we could with what we had. We monitored his landline and cell phone. Tommy Carmellini bugged his apartment and his car. Tommy was also keeping a discreet eye on who he met.”
“We lost two men last month. One of them and his girlfriend were tortured, then murdered. They took down Abdul-Zahra Mohammed, who had been running a money-laundering operation through a Russian company Tchernychenko has a finger in. The al-Qaeda guys aren’t stupid. Sooner or later they are going to investigate that connection, and Surkov, the greedy hustler, would be a logical place to start.”
Sal Molina shook his head and tossed the pliers into the toolbox. “Jake, this takes the cake. If Ilin learns that one of your men saw Surkov eat it, he’s going to smell a dead rat and get curious.”
Grafton was undaunted. “Oh, I suspect he already knows.”
“Did he mention it?”
“Oh, no. Yet look at it—Surkov is murdered in London and isn’t even in the ground before we have a senior Russian intelligence officer looking up a senior American intelligence officer to pass on a back-channel message. ‘We didn’t do it,’ they say.” Grafton threw up a hand. “There are U.S. ambassadors all over the globe, the Russians could have made a beeline for the State Department, the Kremlin could have called our president on the hotline. Why me?”
“I’m with you,” Molina muttered.
“Ilin must know that a man who normally works for Jake Grafton was present when Surkov went down. He then assumed that the CIA is or was interested in Surkov. So I took Tommy Carmellini, the op who was watching Surkov the night he was poisoned, to meet Ilin, who looked him over and told him he had heard his name. That convinced me I was right. Guys that senior normally ignore the grunts.”
“If the Russians didn’t kill him, who did?”
“That’s the problem—it could have been anyone. One of his dinner companions, someone in the kitchen or serving, Marisa Petrou—who may be Qasim’s daughter and was right there eating dinner—or anyone else in the restaurant. Carmellini was there observing, but he didn’t make a note every time someone passed that table. For heaven’s sake, they sat there on and off for almost three hours.”
Sal Molina finished the tricycle and levered himself off the floor. He sat down in a chair facing Grafton.
“Do I understand this correctly? You think it’s possible that Surkov sold out the Winchester group for money and someone killed him?”
“One of the group, or the person he sold them to?”
“I’m not in the proof business,” Grafton said testily.
“What does Winchester say about all this?”
“I’ll find out tomorrow. I’m seeing him then.”
“He may be having some serious second thoughts,” Sal Molina mused.
“Too late for that,” Grafton snapped. “I tried to tell him, and you, that once he was in, he was in until the crack of doom. As they say in Vegas, he and his friends are all in, with everything piled in the middle of the table.”
Molina rubbed his forehead. “Everything else going okay?”
“Jerry Hay Smith, the Mouth That Roared, is writing a book about the conspiracy.”
Molina closed his eyes for a moment. When he opened them, he eyed Grafton. “Is it any good?”
“Fair. Not much dialogue and it’s short on action, but it has its moments.”