Radiant angel, p.1
Table of Contents
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My Viking shipmate and navigator
It was late afternoon, a Wednesday in September, and Colonel Vasily Petrov of the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service sat in his New York office and stared at the red envelope on his mahogany desk. On the envelope’s flap was a wax seal, also red.
The envelope had arrived from Moscow an hour before on the Aeroflot flight that carried the daily diplomatic pouch to the Russian Federation Mission to the United Nations on East 67th Street.
Handwritten on the front of the envelope was his code number, 013575, and beneath that the identification number of the message: 82343.
A cipher clerk stood patiently in front of Colonel Petrov’s desk, then cleared his throat. “Sir?”
Petrov picked up a pen and signed the logbook, acknowledging receipt of the envelope and also receipt of a sealed satchel from Moscow that the clerk had placed on his desk.
The clerk retrieved the logbook, then gave Petrov another sealed envelope, saluted, and left.
Petrov sliced open the red envelope and flattened the sheet of paper on his blotter.
The communication from Moscow was typed on flash paper, encoded in four-letter groupings that appeared to be meaningless. Eye charts, they were called.
Petrov opened the second envelope that the cipher clerk had given him and laid the printed paper next to his encrypted message. On the cipher paper was the daily one-time-only code that would decipher his message.
If this message had been sent electronically, the cipher office on the tenth floor would have seen it and decoded it. And this message was not for their eyes. More importantly, electronic messages were routinely intercepted by the American National Security Agency, whose deciphering capabilities were a worry. Thus the message came in the diplomatic pouch, in a red envelope, which meant it was not for the diplomats; it was for the Foreign Intelligence Service—the SVR—which operated out of the Russian U.N. Mission. This was, in fact, a message for Colonel Petrov’s eyes only, and it was of critical importance. And Petrov knew it said one of two things: the operation was on, or the operation was off.
He picked up his pen and began to decipher.
It was a short communication, though like many such brief messages, the brevity was in inverse proportion to its importance.
It took him only a few minutes to decipher the communication, and when he was done he put down his pen and looked at the words.
Greetings: You will commence Operation Zero on Sunday.
He read it again.
Like all men from the beginning of time who await their orders and their fates, he was relieved that the wait was over, and he felt a mixture of calm and confidence, along with a sense of anxiety. It was not death that he feared; it was failure and disgrace—a fate far worse than death.
He took a deep breath and thought of his father, a former KGB general who had been awarded the Order of Lenin and who had been named a Hero of the Soviet Union.
On the day that Colonel Petrov boarded the Aeroflot flight for New York, his father had seen him off at the airport and said to him, “The future of Russia has been placed in your hands, Vasily. The history of this century will be rewritten by you. Come home in glory. Or do not come home.”
Petrov looked back at the paper. The next two lines were written in a cryptic style to further obscure the meaning of his orders in the unlikely event this message was seen by someone else.
He read: Happiness will be at planned time and place.
The third line read: The fish is swimming, the horse waits, and the bird will fly.
The final line advised: No further communication to or from you after Sunday. Good luck.
The message was not signed, nor did it ask for a reply. Or even an assurance that he was ready at his end. In fact, after a year of planning, there was nothing more to say. The time had come.
Petrov fed both sheets of paper into his cross-cut shredder, then stood and drew the large ballistic nylon satchel toward him. He broke the seal and unlocked the satchel with the key he had brought with him from Moscow. Petrov opened the satchel and saw three 9mm Makarov pistols. He checked that they were the PB model, developed for the KGB with an integral silencer. He also counted ten extra magazines of ammunition, which, he thought, should be sufficient for the number of people to be killed.
At the bottom of the satchel were two objects wrapped in blue gift paper that he knew were the two MP5 submachine guns he had requested and also about twenty extra magazines. And finally, there was an aluminum box—a tool kit, made for only one purpose. He closed the satchel, then locked it.
Petrov went to his window and stared down into the street. He hadn’t liked New York City when he’d first arrived four months before. It was too hot and there were too many Africans, Asians, Arabs, and Jews in this city. But now, in September, the weather had cooled. As for the chernokozhii—the blackasses—they didn’t seem to bother him as much.
What still bothered him, however, was being followed every minute of every day. The American security services knew who he was, of course, and they gave him little opportunity to do his job outside of his office. Well, they could follow him all they wanted. On Sunday he would lose them and they would not even know they had lost him. And then he could do his job. Operation Zero.
He was officially assigned to the United Nations for two years, and he could have tolerated that. But in fact, his posting was coming to an end on Monday. As was the City of New York.
If I wanted to see assholes all day, I would have become a proctologist. Instead, I watch assholes for my country.
I was parked in a black Chevy Blazer down the street from the Russian Federation Mission to the United Nations on East 67th Street in Manhattan, waiting for an asshole named Vasily Petrov to appear. Petrov is a colonel in the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service—the SVR in Russian—which is the equivalent to our CIA, and the successor to the Soviet KGB. Vasily—who we have affectionately code-named Vaseline, because he’s slippery—has diplomatic status as Deputy Representative to the United Nations for Human Rights Issues, which is a joke because his real job is SVR Legal Resident in New York—the equivalent of a CIA Station Chief. I have had Colonel Petrov under the eye on previous occasions, and though I’ve never met him he’s reported to be a very dangerous man, and thus an asshole.
I’m John Corey, by the way, former NYPD homicide detective, now working for the Federal government as a contract agent. My NYPD career was cut short by three bullets which left me seventy-five percent disabled (twenty-five percent per bullet?) for retirement pay purposes. In fact, there’s nothing wrong with me physically, though the mental health exam for this job was a bit of a challenge.
Anyway, sitting next to me behind the wheel was a young lady whom I’d worked with before, Tess Faraday. Tess was maybe early thirties, auburn hair, tall, trim, and attractive. Also in the SUV, looking over my shoulder, was my wife, Kate Mayfield, who was actually in Washington, but I could feel her presence. If you know what I mean.
Tess asked me, “Do I have time to go to the john, John?” She thought that was funny.
“You have a bladder problem?”
“I shouldn’t have had that coffee.”
“You had two.” Guys on surveillance pee in the container and throw it out the window. I said, “Okay, but be quick.”
She exited the vehicle and double-timed it to a Starbucks around the corner on Third Avenue.
Meanwhile, Vasily Petrov could come out of the Mission at any time, get into his chauffeur-driven Mercedes S550, and off he goes.
But I’ve got three other mobile units, plus four agents on legs, so Vasily is covered while I, the team leader, am sitting here while Ms. Faraday is sitting on the potty.
And what do we think Colonel Petrov is up to? We have no idea. But he’s up to something. That’s why he’s here. And that’s why I’m here.
In fact, Petrov arrived only about four months ago, and it’s the recent arrivals who are sometimes sent on the field with a new game play, and these guys need more watching than the SVR agents who’ve been stationed here awhile and who are engaged in routine espionage. Watch the new guys.
The Russian U.N. Mission occupies a thirteen-story brick building with a wrought-iron fence in front of it, conveniently located across the street from the 19th Precinct, whose surveillance cameras keep an eye on the Russians 24/7. The Russians don’t like being watched by the NYPD, but they know they’re also protected from pissed-off demonstrators and people who’d like to plant a bomb outside their front door. FYI, I live five blocks north of here on East 72nd, so I don’t have far to walk when I get off duty at four. I could almost taste the Buds in my fridge.
So I sat there, waiting for Vasily Petrov and Tess Faraday. It was a nice day in early September, one of those beautiful dry and sunny days you get after the dog days of August. It was a Sunday, a little after 10 A.M., so the streets and sidewalks of New York were relatively quiet. I volunteered for Sunday duty because Mrs. Corey (my wife, not my mother) was in Washington for a weekend conference, returning tonight or tomorrow morning, and I’d rather be working than trying to find something to do solo on a Sunday.
Also, today was September 11, a day when I usually go to at least one memorial service with Kate, but this year it seemed more appropriate for me to mark the day by doing what I do.
There is a heightened alert every September 11 since 2001, but this year we hadn’t picked up any specific intel that Abdul was up to something. And it being a Sunday, there weren’t enough residents or commuters in the city for Abdul to murder. September 11, however, is September 11, and there were a lot of security people working today to make sure that this was just another quiet Sunday.
Kate was in D.C. because she’s an FBI Special Agent with the Anti-Terrorist Task Force, headquartered downtown at 26 Federal Plaza. Special Agent Mayfield was recently promoted to Supervisory Special Agent, and her new duties take her to Washington a lot. She sometimes goes with her boss, Special Agent-in-Charge Tom Walsh, who used to be my ATTF boss, too, but I don’t work for him or the ATTF any longer. And that’s a good thing for both of us. We were not compatible. Walsh, however, likes Kate, and I think the feeling is mutual. I wasn’t sure Walsh was with Kate on this trip, because I never ask, and she rarely volunteers the information.
On a less annoying subject, I now work for the DSG—the Diplomatic Surveillance Group. The DSG is also headquartered at 26 Fed, but with this new job I don’t need to be at headquarters much, if at all.
My years in the Mideast section of the Anti-Terrorist Task Force were interesting, but stressful. And according to Kate, I was the cause of much of that stress. Wives see things husbands don’t see. Bottom line, I had some issues and run-ins with the Muslim community (and my FBI bosses) that led directly or indirectly to my being asked by my superiors if I’d like to find other employment. Walsh suggested the Diplomatic Surveillance Group, which would keep me (a) out of his sight, (b) out of his office, and (c) out of trouble.
Sounded good. Kate thought so, too. In fact, she got the promotion after I left.
My Nextel phone is also a two-way radio, and it blinged. Tess’ voice said, “John, do you want a donut or something?”
“Did you wash your hands?”
Tess laughed. She thinks I’m funny. “What do you want?”
“A chocolate chip cookie.”
“No.” I signed off.
Tess’ career goal is to become an FBI Special Agent, and to do that she has to qualify for appointment under one of five entry programs—Accounting, Computer Science, Language, Law, or what’s called Diversified Experience. Tess is an attorney and thus qualifies. Most failed lawyers become judges or politicians, but Tess tells me she wants to do something meaningful, whatever that means. Meanwhile, she’s working with the Diplomatic Surveillance Group.
Most of the DSG men and women are second-career people, twenty-year retirees from various law enforcement agencies, so we have mostly experienced agents, ex-cops, mixed with inexperienced young attorneys like Tess Faraday who see the Diplomatic Surveillance Group as a stepping-stone where they can get some street creds that look good on their FBI app.
Tess got back in the SUV and handed me an oversized cookie. “My treat.”
She had another cup of coffee. Some people never learn.
She was wearing khaki cargo pants, a blue polo shirt, and running shoes, which are necessary if the target goes off on foot. Her pants and shirt were loose enough to hide a gun, but Tess is not authorized to carry a gun.
In fact, Diplomatic Surveillance Group agents are theoretically not authorized to carry guns. But we’re not as stupid as the people who make the rules, so almost all the ex-cops carry, and I had my 9mm Glock in a pancake holster in the small of my back, beneath my loose-fitting polo shirt.
So we waited for Vasily to show.
Colonel Petrov lives in a big high-rise in the upscale Riverdale section of the Bronx. This building, which we call the ’plex—short for complex—is owned and wholly occupied by the Russians who work at the U.N. and at the Russian Consulate, and it is a nest of spies. The ’plex itself, located on a high hill, sprouts more antennas than a garbage can full of cockroaches.
The National Security Agency, of course, has a facility nearby and they listen to the Russians, who are listening to us, and we all have fun trying to block each other’s signals. And round it goes. The only thing that has changed since the days of the Cold War is the encryption codes.
On a less technological level, the game is still played on the ground as it has been forever. Follow that spy. The Diplomatic Surveillance Group also has a confidential off-site facility—what we call the Bat Cave—near the Russian apartment complex, and the DSG team that was watching the ’plex this morning reported that Vasily Petrov had left, and they followed him here to the Mission, where my team picked up the surveillance.
The Russians don’t usually work in the office on Sundays, so my guess was that Vasily was in transit to someplace else—or that he was going back to the ’plex—and that he’d be coming out shortly and getting into his chauffeur-driven Benz.
Colonel Petrov, according to the intel, is married, but his wife and children have remained in Moscow. This in itself is suspicious, because the families of the Russian U.N. delegation love to live in New York on the government ruble. Or maybe there’s an innocent explanation for the husband-wife separation. Like she has an important job in Moscow or they just hate each other.
Tess informed me, “I have two tickets to the Mets doubleheader today.” She further informed me, “I’d like to at least catch the last game.”
“You can listen to them lose both games on the radio.”
“I’ll pretend you didn’t say that.” She reminded me, “We’re supposed to be relieved at four.”
“You can relieve yourself anytime you want.”
She didn’t reply.
A word about Tess Faraday. Did I say she was tall, slim, and attractive? She also swims and plays paddleball, whatever that is.
But money is probably not an issue with Ms. Faraday. She mentioned to me that she was born and raised in Lattingtown, an upscale community on the North Shore of Long Island, also known as the Gold Coast. And by her accent and mannerisms I can deduce that she came from some money and good social standing. People like that who want to serve their country usually go to the State Department or into intelligence work, not the FBI. But I give her credit for what she’s doing and I wish her luck.
Also, needless to say, Tess Faraday and John Corey have little in common, though we get along during these days and hours of forced intimacy.
One thing we do have in common is that we’re both married. His name is Grant, and he’s some kind of international finance guy, and he travels a lot for his work. I’ve never met Grant, and I probably never will, but he likes to text and call his wife a lot. I deduce, by Tess’ end of the conversation, that Grant is the jealous type, and Tess seems a bit impatient with him. At least when I’m in earshot of the conversation.
Tess inquired, “If Petrov goes mobile, do we stay with him, or do we hand him over to another team?”
“No, I mean you should wear Depends.”
One of us thought that was funny.
But to answer Tess’ question, if Vasily went mobile, most probably my team would stay with him. He wasn’t supposed to travel farther than a twenty-five-mile radius from Columbus Circle without State Department permission, and according to my briefing he hadn’t applied for a weekend travel permit. The Russians rarely did, and when they did they would apply on a Friday afternoon so that no one at State had time to approve or disapprove their travel plans. And off they’d go, in their cars or by train or bus to someplace outside their allowed radius. Usually the women were just going shopping at some discount mall in Jersey, and the men were screwing around in Atlantic City. But sometimes the SVR or the Military Intelligence guys—the GRU—were meeting people, or looking at things like nuclear reactors that they shouldn’t be looking at. That’s why we follow them, though we almost never bust them. The FBI, of which the DSG is a part, is famous—or infamous—for watching people and collecting evidence for years. Cops act on evidence. The FBI waits until the suspect dies of old age.