“It’s on all their IDs—at least, the three bodies I searched. The Skorpion banner and this thing. I’ve seen it before. Galan had it on the computer at his flat. He said he was finding it on some KLA websites. He mentioned it in his note to me. He thought it was some sort of unit crest for the Skorpions.”
to them if they’re putting it on their military ID cards.”
“I’m a little worried about how far ahead of us these guys are. They were waiting for us, had an ambush all laid out.”
“You had to expect that.”
“I expected them to make a move in Kerch. Not here in the middle of the damned peninsula.”
“Even without Galan’s attempt to reach Irina Kuldic, which is why they killed him, the Russians—”
“Kirikoff. Yes, he had to know that once you found out about the Russians taking Levka and the
you’d come to Kerch anyway just to find out why. He’d got a snootful of your style last winter in Istanbul. He would
you to come back at him, which, by the way, is exactly what you
doing, isn’t it?”
“Yes. I know. Predictable as hell.”
“I think someone in Sevastopol was put there to watch for you. You’re quite memorable. If Kirikoff knew you were in Sevastopol, very likely headed for Kerch, it would make sense to set a trap for you out on a lonely road somewhere. What he
count on was you killing three of his men and chasing the fourth into the wild blue yonder with his arse shot full of buckshot. But he knew you’d be coming. It’s your idiom, isn’t it, dear boy?”
“Seems to be,” he said, rubbing his cheeks with both hands and sighing. “But what else can I do? I’m all out of pixie dust. And God’s not returning my calls.”
“Mine neither,” said Mandy with a smile. “But Satan keeps in touch.”
“He would, wouldn’t he?” said Dalton. “Since he’s a relative. I keep thinking about the Kamov. Not very many of them around in the Crimea. Too expensive for this area. Can’t be more than ten in the whole peninsula, and most of those would be down around the resort areas. Yalta, Sevastopol, Balaklava, Jasper Beach.”
“So why keep one around here? In the middle of nowhere? Is that what you’re thinking?”
“Yes. You’d have to have a damned good reason. It’s not just the machine itself. Choppers need a lot of maintenance, as much as three hours for every hour of flying time. The operational range for a Kamov Two-Six is about three hundred miles. That’s one-fifty out and one-fifty back home again, unless they have a FARP—”
“Micah, did we not agree on a no-acronyms policy?”
“Sorry. A forward area refueling post. Someplace at the other end where they could count on getting fuel. As we’ve seen, fuel is an issue around here. There’d have to be some sort of central support base, a supply depot, spare-parts warehouse, technicians to do the work, a hangar to keep it out of the weather.”
They rounded a turn, and a few outbuildings started to appear in the prairie grass. “Welcome to Staryi Krim,” Mandy said, shaking her head. “Christ, what a hole.”
And it was, at least on the outskirts. As they rolled at high speed through the town—a bullet-pocked Lancer draws attention—they passed block after block of squat stucco-walled housing roofed in corrugated-tin sheets, with shabby wooden outhouses scattered about, packs of stray dogs and feral cats prowling through threadbare yards fenced in rusted chain link.
There were very few people out: a few peasant farmers pushing carts full of cordwood, more two-wheeled, rubber-tired carts pulled by undernourished oxen, here and there a run-down market stand, a vodka bar, sodden drunks littering the steps out front.
Things improved slightly when they got into the old part of the town, where the main street was lined with neoclassical buildings, white marble or painted to look like it, Doric and Corinthian columns holding up Greek temples, and, at the top of the stony street, a large drum-shaped church.
The area around the church was packed with locals waving colored banners. A balalaika quartet on a podium was playing something polka-ish, damsels in dirndls were flashing their petticoats, huddled villagers were clapping in time. It was a street party or celebration of some kind, which they dodged by taking a back lane and skirting the town center. Soon they were into the slums again. More butt-ugly Stalinist housing and lots of Stone Age plumbing. Then Staryi Krim petered out like a drunkard’s tale of woe, and they were back in the high-desert prairie again.
As they cleared a steep pass, the Crimean Peninsula opened up in front of them, and they saw in the hazy distance a cluster of office towers and apartment blocks beside an arc of glittering blue, the Black Sea port of Feodosiya, about twenty klicks away. On their extreme right, far away to the southwest, there was a jagged line of snowcapped peaks on the horizon, the Crimean Mountains.
“We’re up pretty high now, aren’t we?” asked Mandy.
Dalton gave her a sideways look.
“Yes, Mandy. We certainly are up pretty high.”
“Sarcasm,” she said, “is the last defense of the witless. What I meant was, I’ll bet we can use the BlackBerry.”
“I can’t. I can’t turn mine on. And I haven’t had a chance to pick up a black cell anywhere. Why?”
“I have mine,” she said, turning it on. “And I’m pretty sure nobody has my SIM card cloned. Look,” she said, flipping the device faceup. “There’s even a good signal.”
“Is your GPS off ?”
“Really, Micah,” she said with a tone. “I was thinking about what you said, about the Kamov Two-Six needing a service base?”
“Yes? What have you got in mind?”
“Poppy’s man in the Ukraine, Earl Ford? He has aerial photos of the entire peninsula. They take them to identify geological formations that might have coal, iron ore, bauxite seams in them. What if I call him and ask him to send us whatever photos he might have of this area? What was the operating distance of the Kamov?”
“A normal one, I’d say three hundred miles. The one we tangled with was armored, so that would bring it down to, let’s say, two hundred miles. There and back again, if we assume no refueling depots on the perimeter, so they have to go back to home base before they run out of gas. That would still mean a radius of one hundred miles. Basically, if we’re using here as the center, that’s the entire Crimean, from Sevastopol to beyond Kerch.”
“Worth a try, no?”
“Not really. Not without some way of narrowing the limits.”
“Then narrow them, Micah. What else would isolate this particular chopper? You said it had armor. Anything else?”
Dalton gave it some thought.
“Markings. I didn’t see any. No registration numbers. No corporate logo. Unmarked choppers would draw some attention, even here in the outback. The Ukraine’s not some Third World backwater like Toronto. They have a very good civil-aviation authority. Just like everywhere else, each airframe has to carry a registration number. Sooner or later, someone would report an unmarked chopper.”
“Maybe someone already has?”
That stopped him.
“This Ford guy, he got clearance for Poppy’s Lear to land without the usual red tape, right? That means he has friends in the local government. Do you think he’d be willing to ask around, see if anyone knows anything about an unmarked brown Kamov Two-Six operating in the Staryi Krim region?”
“Yes. He would.
worth a try, at least.”
Mandy picked up the phone, tapped in a few numbers. Dalton watched the road unwind, bringing them down toward the sea again. Mandy got the receptionist, identified herself, and asked to speak to Big Bear. In a moment she was put through.
“Earl . . . Yes, everything’s fine, sweetheart . . . No, really, just fine . . . Pardon? On the road near Staryi Krim . . . Yes, yes, it
a beastly little piss pot . . . Now, the thing is, Earl, I was wondering if you could do us a simply massive favor?”
She laid it out for him, described the Kamov in detail—dun brown, no markings at all, cargo box not fitted—leaving out the fresh bullet scars on the cockpit belly. She got a few clarifying questions, which she answered, and ended the call with, “Thanks, Big Bear. Do love you!”
She turned to Dalton, her face bright and happy.
“Finally I get to feel like something other than cargo.”
“He’ll do it?”
“Yes. He has a man at Simferopol Airport who has access to official records, incident reports, flight-path filings, airframe registrations. Earl says this man knows most of the Kamovs in the Crimean. He’s going to call him and see what he can get.”
“Minutes, he said. Hello, what is this?”
Her voice trailed off, and her face took on a look of puzzled concentration. She studied the screen for a time.
“Okay, this is interesting. I have the news feed for the BBC. It seems our old friend Ray Fyke has made the news.”
“Ray? What the hell has Ray done now?”
“Apparently, he’s gone to war with the Mossad.”
“The Mossad? Show me.”
“Pull over and read it,” she said, handing Dalton the BlackBerry. He found a turnout near a bridge, pulled in, and parked.
BRIT SAILOR CLASHES WITH ISRAELI SECURITY TEAM IN TEL AVIV: REUTERS:
What was initially reported as fight in a beachside bar in Tel Aviv has taken on international significance after it was leaked that the three Israeli men who were injured in the incident were actually members of the Mossad, Israel’s counterpart to the CIA. The confrontation, which took place at Joko’s Beach Bar on Tel Aviv Boulevard yesterday evening, began when a British citizen, later identified as BRENDAN
FITCH, got into a loud disagreement with three unidentified males, two of whom then brandished firearms.
Fitch proceeded to overpower and disarm all three men. According to witnesses, Mr. Fitch, slightly injured in the affray, then left the bar in the company of a young woman and disappeared into the suburbs of Tel Aviv. So far, no arrests have been made.
The information that the three men were Mossad agents developed when an ER technician at Tel Aviv General Hospital, where the three men were taken after the assault, leaked the identity of the men to a local news reporter following the incident.
FITCH is described as being forty-one years old, about six feet two, weight two hundred and twenty pounds, with green eyes, a black, full-face beard cut short, and very muscular. The fact that FITCH was able to overcome and disarm three Mossad field agents seems to indicate some degree of military or martial-arts experience.
The owner of Joko’s Beach Bar, Mr. Joachim Levon, who was also injured in the fight, has refused to comment on the incident, as has the Israeli government. The search for Fitch and his female companion, tentatively identified as BEATRICE GANDOLFO, a U.S. citizen, continues.
“My sentiments exactly,” said Mandy, taking her BlackBerry back and hitting STORE to save the report. “By the way, does anybody outside hack journalism still use words like
? I trust you brandished your hand cannon during the affray back there? Never mind. Merely rhetorical. What do you think this means? I mean, it
be a coincidence that you draw the wrath—totally unwarranted, I know—of the Mossad and shortly thereafter an old friend of yours shows up in Tel Aviv, the headquarters of the Mossad, where he proceeds to dismantle three of them and then saunters off into the night, can it?”
“Not with Joko Levon involved. I know the man. He’s an old Mossad
, an intelligence operator. Fyke and I had some dealings with him when we were running the Birdman operation in Pristina. Fyke had a pretty good rapport with Joko; they both knew how to put away the Jim Beam. I can see him going to Tel Aviv if he wanted to make a back-channel contact with the Mossad.”
“I think we can say with some degree of confidence that if this was Ray’s intent, Fortune has not smiled upon his efforts. What I do wonder about is, how the hell would he know anything about your situation? I thought Cather booted him out the servant’s entrance last year.”
“No idea. Last I heard of him, he was back in the South China Sea—”
“Looking for Chong Kew Sak, as I recall? I haven’t heard any more since I’ve been on my sabbatical.”
Dalton smiled at her.
“He found him. In a village upriver from Port Moresby.”
Mandy smiled back. Last year, Chong Kew Sak had done his very best to throw Mandy into Changi Prison in Singapore and keep her there for his personal amusement.
“I’ve always liked Ray. In theory. Any idea what he’s up to?”
“I think we can assume that somebody inside Langley—”
“Maybe Sally Fordyce? She’s always had a soft spot for footpads and scoundrels. She’s very fond of
, I know.”
“They’ve got Sally in lockdown. I asked her to look into the Vienna thing. She did, got out one e-mail to me—a warning—and then went dark. No. Somebody told Ray, but not Sally.”
“Would your shiny new boss . . . What’s his name? Something about dirt? Mud? Gravel? Pottery?”
“Clay,” said Dalton, grinning at Mandy, who knew perfectly well who had replaced Deacon Cather as DD of Clandestine. “Clay Pearson. And, no, I think not. Now that Mariah Vale’s got her fangs into my ankle, I’m more likely to get a French kiss from Nancy Pelosi than the time of day from him.”
Mandy, shuddering, was about to say something withering when her BlackBerry kicked in with the first few bars of Mozart’s
. Mandy picked it up, saying to Dalton as she did so, “I know. Day of Wrath. I downloaded it last year when Poppy was always calling me up to scream about George Bush. Hello, Big Bear. That was quick . . . yes? Terrific . . . Hold on . . .” She waved her free hand at Dalton, making a handwriting gesture.