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The Oktober Projekt

R.J. Dillon

R. J.
Dillon has written in one form or another for most of his professional life,
firstly as a copywriter, then as an academic and latterly as a full-time writer
of fiction. Born in the North West of England, he obtained a first class
honours degree in English and History from Manchester Polytechnic, an MA in
Visual Culture from Lancaster University where he also successfully completed a
Ph.D in History. He is married with two children and lives on the Lancashire
coast, where he devotes his time to writing, walking and reading.

 

www.rjdillon.com

The
Oktober Projekt
is the first in a
series of novels based around the British Secret Intelligence Service’s (SIS),
Covert Operations Directorate, CO8.

 

By the
same author

The
Fanatic

 

Non-fiction

History
on British television: Constructing nation, nationality and collective memory
 
(Manchester University Press)

Copyright © R. J. Dillon 2010

 

The right of R. J. Dillon to be identified as the author of this work
has been asserted by him in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents
Act 1988.

 

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 copyright owner.

 

First published 2010

 

For Halina, Charlotte, Oliver

Acknowledgements

As is always the case, there are
far too many people to thank for their help, generosity and advice during my research
and writing of this novel. For obvious reasons, some of those people who
assisted me in understanding the very real world of covert intelligence
gathering that provided the environment for CO8 to operate within, cannot be
named, but deserve my sincere gratitude nonetheless.

For helping me turn a concept,
extensive research and several drafts into a manageable typescript, I would
like to especially thank Donna Bowen for pointing out omissions, correcting
errors and providing feedback. I am equally indebted to Peter and Suzanne
Nissen for their wonderful German hospitality, and their enduring patience for
never tiring of my endless questions.

My family have provided
tremendous support, and my son Oliver has not only been my fiercest critic
suggesting revision where revision was due, but diligently sacrificing too many
hours ensuring that my imagination did not get the better of me. Throughout the
novel I have drawn on real and imagined people and places, judiciously mixing
fact with fiction, so the landscape of
The Oktober Projekt
is entirely of my own design and making.

One

Protecting an Asset

Altstadt, Hamburg, October

 

Sally
Wynn was in a hurry. Three minutes and fourteen seconds remained for
her to reach the public phone outside the Peace & Love Hostel and take the
call. Her collar length auburn hair flicked against her neck as she pounded up
Katharinenstraße walking fast, and she was blowing hard when she reached the
booth on what was already turning into an unseasonably warm day. Sweeping back her
hair she inhaled, exhaled, telling herself that she was doing fine, recalling
Aubrey-Spencer’s instructions as she worked through her shoulder bag, engaging
in a little piece of theatre in order to claim the booth for as long as
required.

Bait the hook, nothing more, nothing less, Aubrey-Spencer had
instructed her. Exactly why a former distinguished Chief of the Secret
Intelligence Service wanted a hook baiting he never came close to fully sharing
with her. Wynn, an experienced officer in the Service’s Covert Operations
Directorate, CO8; only just recently returned to soft duties after maternity
leave, was also, until anyone could disprove it, meant to be attending a
residential refresher and reassessment course at the Service’s training
facility at Aspley Grange. These were the very reasons Aubrey-Spencer confided
to her, why she had been personally chosen. But despite having been back in the
field for less than three days, Wynn had successfully baited the hook and got
herself a bite.

On the street the midday traffic was heavy as a motorcycle wove
in and out of cars, vans and trucks crossing the Holzbrücke towards the booth.
When the phone gave its first shrill notes she snatched it off its cradle.

‘Yes, this is Christa,’ she answered, her breathing still a
touch hard.

A heavy hand slapped the booth’s glass, startling Wynn so badly
she almost jumped clean out of her skin. Resting his head against the glass,
smearing it with his long greasy hair, a bearded beggar demanded money.

‘I have no change,’ Wynn shouted through the glass, her back to
the road.

Drawing alongside the booth, the motorcycle idled. The pillion
passenger flicked back his visor, steadied himself, both feet planted on the
tarmac. Then he fired.

 

• • •

 

Polizeirat
Straelen of Hamburg’s
Kriminalpolizei
wearily longed for spring, an opportunity to escape
Hamburg; its noise, its climate, its ability to constantly surprise a
detective, even one with over twenty-years of experience.

‘So you saw the motorcycle stop?’ he gently asked a young
woman, the tears down her cheeks dried into black stream beds from her
mascara.
 

‘And there was a beggar, sitting right over there,’ the woman
told him, pointing to a tattered sleeping bag by the Peace & Love Hostel.
‘He came to the booth, banging on the glass, scrounging for change.’

‘So where did he go?’

‘He ran,’
the
witness explained, adding that the beggar had seemed too drunk to stand one
minute, but suddenly when he’d got the attention of the woman in the booth he
sprinted away, as fast as an athlete on the track.

‘Then what did you see?’ Straelen asked, though he knew this
last question superfluous. Over the witnesses’ shoulder he watched as a
forensic team stepped warily over fine shards of glass mixed with fragments
from Sally Wynn’s skull. Someone had gone to a lot of trouble to make a point
with a sawn-off shotgun he decided, returning his gaze to the witness though
not before he spotted the Range Rover with its tinted windows and diplomatic
plates, which he instinctively understood would bring trouble of an altogether
different kind.

 

• • •

 

If
Polizeirat
Straelen was already preoccupied with the murder of
Sally Wynn, Nick Torr, the Director of CO8 knew nothing concerning the loss of
one his officers as he entered Latvia for a hastily conceived operation
christened Salvage. At forty-five, Nick was used to raw deals and his face had
all the maturity he needed for the rest of his life; fair skin ribbed by clawed
lines around his blue eyes, a strong mouth and a pronounced line down his right
cheek as proof he smiled. Dark hair dropped raggedly over his forehead in a
jagged line and a broken nose set badly gave him an aggressive arrangement that
Angela, his wife, compared to a tormented Caravaggio figure. On this run into
Russia to check out the claims made by one very jittery agent codenamed Viper,
Nick would be tormented for an entirely new set of reasons.

Of course, hindsight is a wonderful commodity for cynics. And
in the SIS there was an abundance of them, a good portion of them high-ranking
men and women, seasoned officers all, who after the event claimed they knew
that Operation Salvage was doomed from the outset. The operation had, or so it
seemed to them, possessed a self-fulfilling mandate for disaster. To Nick Torr
none of this retrospective soothsaying mattered. What concerned Nick was the
indecent haste in which the operation had been cobbled together, that and the
fact that his CO8 Directorate was so desperately stretched that he had no
option but to take command of the operation himself, with barely a full
briefing provided. There was also Alistair Foula.

At fifty-two and an agent
handling expert, Foula was more accustomed to training new officers in the
psychological dexterity of ensuring their agents did not self-destruct or wilt
at the first signs of pressure.
This had been Foula’s main duty for over
eighteen months, during which time he had become quite attached to turning his
seminar theory into practice in the training facilities at Aspley. Nick had
worked with Foula on previous operations, so when Nick met up with him at the
small provincial Latvian city of Rēzekne, he was shocked at the
transformation. For Foula bore the physique of a man too fond of his desk, of
which he had indeed become.

A dour Scot originally from Fife, Foula’s sandy hair had
retreated as much as his paunch had advanced which seemed to have crept into
his arms as well as thickening his legs; while his thick flabby neck was topped
by a square fleshy face set in a permanent anxious scowl. Their cover, or lack
of it, amounted to false passports and visas declaring them tourists.

‘Is it reliable?’ Nick asked, going over the sturdy dark blue
Gaz-3110 saloon fitted with false plates parked close to the Kolonna Hotel
overlooking the river.

‘It’s the best our representative in Riga could do at short
notice,’ replied Foula, chewing a fingernail, a poor substitute for the thirty
cigarettes that had at one time eased him through the day. ‘Is there a
problem?’

‘No problem,’ answered Nick, lighting a cigarette. ‘You do have
all the documents?’

Letting out an exasperated sigh, Foula nodded. ‘They’re in the
glove box.’

‘And the extra plates?’

Foula simply cocked his head towards the boot, setting his jaw
as firm as it would go to prove that he wasn’t in awe of a CO8 roughneck,
regardless of his rank.

‘We need to leave,’ decided Nick, walking to the driver’s door,
taking a casual glance up and down the road and pavements on Brīvības
iela, checking for unwanted company.

They crossed without incident from Grebnova on the Latvian side
of the border, heading northeast along the A-116 to Gavry, before turning south
to pick up the A-117 at Opochka.

‘What’s Viper got that’s so precious?’ Nick wondered as he
drove towards Dubrovka where they would hit the M-9, taking them all the way to
Moscow.

‘He’s struck gold apparently and RUS/OPS wants a taster. Viper
also reckons his handler is still wet behind the ears,’ Foula drawled, a hint
of his Scottish roots lurking in his vowels. ‘It’s a straight in and out, so I
hardly think there’s much to go wrong?’

‘Isn’t there?’ queried Nick as they travelled through
featureless countryside, a frozen wasteland dreaming of spring. Beside him,
Foula chewed a fresh nail. ‘Did Parfrey brief you?’ Nick threw the question
casually, but for some reason it caused Foula to tense.

‘Ruth… Yes, well I mean, not fully, it was sort of vague.’

Nick heard Parfrey’s quiet voice echo again at his own
briefing. Ruth Parfrey Head of Russian Operations, RUS/OPS, assured him it was
a straightforward case of babysitting Foula for the operation. The operation
had come at a bad time she observed, they were in the midst of yet another
terrorist alert as Nick knew only too well, and the only CO8 people available
at such short notice amounted to Nick, who with his exhausted team had just flown
in from Helmand Province in Afghanistan.
 

The task as it presented itself to Nick’s weary mind, his logic
sluggish, appeared simple; ensuring Foula got in and out without encountering
problems. There’d be minimal resources available, which meant it would be a
solo run with no support and no backup, Parfrey had disclosed; so Nick deciding
that his team deserved a rest, volunteered himself for the operation. As he
waited for Parfrey to give her usual in-depth assessment, he sat there in vain.
Parfrey for some reason he couldn’t quite fathom, was somehow subdued, citing
the speed of events for the paucity of her briefing. He turned on Foula in the
passenger seat.

‘What do we know about Viper?’ Nick lit another cigarette, and
Foula started on the nail on his little finger.

‘I received Miss Parfrey’s redacted summary,’ Foula sniffed,
spitting a piece of nail into the footwell. ‘Our man goes by the workname of
Razdory, a civil servant of some description in a ministry that may or may not
have military connections.’

‘That it?’

‘As I said, he has apparently struck gold and I am to collect a
sample for assessment, open negotiations, conduct terms for his treasure.’

…four for silver, five for gold, six for a secret never to
be told
Nick thought, flicking his
cigarette out of a gap in the window, watching it curl away in a red trail as
Foula sought out a fresh nail.

‘Just got back from exotic parts, haven’t you?’ Foula ventured,
changing the topic, hiding his nerves behind small talk.

‘Have I?’

‘How was it?’

‘Exotic.’

After that exchange, Foula abandoned any attempt at building a
dialogue with Nick as they took it in turns to coax the Gaz down the M-9. Three
kilometres outside Moscow Nick pulled up and changed the plates again, then let
Foula take the wheel. Nick who had barely managed seven hours sleep out of
forty-eight after Helmand, wasn’t in the mood for city driving. On their way
into Moscow they’d skirted the city twice against Nick’s vehement protests,
only for Foula to observe sourly that he was getting his bearings.
 

The final compass point consisted of Foula turning left and
right through high-rise concrete apartment blocks and Stalin’s eight-storey
brick experiments to social housing. A brick water tower rooted to a roof on
Upper Zolotorozhsky was plastered white by the snow, and beside it Nick thought
he glimpsed a figure duck down out of sight. Only London knows we’re here he
assured himself, not for one moment convinced by his logic. Turning a corner
they passed a T-34 tank, a war relic fixed to a slab of concrete, its barrel
pointing menacingly at an apartment block. Slumped against its tracks a drunk
held on for comfort or support, eyeing them warily as they drove on.

This is the real Moscow, Nick reasoned. Drink, drugs,
prostitution, rape, murder, all the hidden buds of communism had blossomed out
here where no one gave a damn. Even in the districts you felt the tension, the
next explosion waiting to happen; as if the city had held its breath for
decades and suddenly it was going to let it all go. On Zolotorozhsky Avenue
light spilled from dozens of uncurtained apartment windows, pockets of life in
a communal block glowing green from the street lamps. Boom and bust, loss and
gain, Moscow promised all the delights of a frontier town during a gold rush.
Bright lights, bars, clubs, dancing girls, hustlers, thieves and pimps
flourishing after capitalism had rolled into town.

‘This is it,’ Foula announced and clipped the kerb as he parked
the Gaz.
   

Nick rubbed his eyes and took stock. ‘Impressive.’ He watched as
a gang of drunken youths slewed their way through a kid’s play area, setting
the swings going as they passed through.

Slowly the night crept around them, a veil for lovers and a
mask for thieves. Shallow pools of light shimmered on snow-capped pavements off
Krasnokazarmennaya Prospekt. A late evening tram passed them, groaning and
squealing in its haste to get home; then nothing. Silence as deep as a scream.
Snow pounded the windscreen and tiny curls of steam rose into the cool night
air off the bonnet. Across the prospekt Nick took in the scene; a Georgian
bakers selling lavash bread shared an island plot with a clearance centre and a
fortified store offering mobile phones, DVD players and cameras at knockdown
prices. No wonder some Muscovites believed they were living in a wonderland,
their own personal
strane chudes
, he
reasoned.

‘I don’t like it,’ decided Nick.

‘What?’

‘This place, this address.’ Nick swung his gaze round to rows
of communal apartment blocks, their concrete shining thinly to a lost cause;
stacked without hope in dismal canyons for a future none of the inmates would
ever be able to afford. Behind the kid’s play area a row of old
khrushchyovka
housing stood boarded and empty, waiting for
demolition. Even the shadows fell in subdued heaps with a touch of rage about
them, as though this heady scent of freedom in the air had no right to be
there. Starved trees planted in shallow clusters stood in splintered stumps,
the remains of a forest ravaged by urban battles. Democracy always thrived on hard
cash Nick decided, only here no one had bothered to turn on the tap.

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