Dec 23 2012 12:00pm
The Moscow Club: Excerpt
An excerpt of The Moscow Club, a 1991 spy thriller by Joseph Finder (reissue available December 24, 2012).
It’s 1991. The Cold War is over. Charlie Stone is a brilliant analyst for the CIA who made a name for himself during the height of the Cold War. But today his expertise is needed yet again: A top-secret tape—one that foretells a coup d’état in the Kremlin—has been smuggled out of the Soviet Union by one of a few remaining moles. Stone’s assessment of the transcript is twofold: Not only is a very real, very violent power struggle underway but the plot may be linked to an old mystery involving the imprisonment of Stone’s own father. Could a McCarthy-era enemy be trying to send Stone a deadly modern message?
Soon Stone finds himself at the center of another conspiracy—framed for a grisly murder. Without proof of his innocence, he enters into a terrifying game of cat-and-mouse that leads him across the United States, through Europe, and finally, to the Soviet Union. There, he will come face to face with a group of Kremlin insiders whose ruthless agenda threatens to disrupt the fragile balance of world power—and leave Stone with nowhere left to run. But before he can thwart a tragedy of epic proportions, he must put a stop to the elusive ways and means of The Moscow Club.
Part I: The Testament
In Moscow he went to his office in the Kremlin...Silently, with hands folded behind his back, Lenin walked around his office, as if taking leave of the place from which he once guided the destinies of Russia. That is one version. Another has it that Lenin took a certain document from his desk and put it in his pocket. This second story is contradicted by a third: he looked for the document; not finding it there, he became furious and shouted incoherently.
—David Shub, Lenin (1948)
The Adirondack Mountains, New York
The first hundred feet or so had been easy, a series of blocky ledges rising gently, rough-hewn and mossy. But then the final fifty feet rose almost straight up, a smooth rock face with a long vertical crack undulating through it. Charles Stone rested for a long moment at a flat ledge. He exhaled and inhaled slowly, with a measured cadence, glancing up at the summit from time to time, shielding his eyes from the dazzling light.
Rarely was a climb as perfect as this: that trancelike serenity as he pulled and pushed with his hands and feet, lay backing up the tiered rock, the pain of physical exertion overwhelmed by the sensation of unbounded freedom, the razor-sharp concentration. And—only other climbers wouldn’t consider it corny—the feeling of communion with nature.
He was in his late thirties, tall and rangy, with a prominent jaw and a straight nose, his dark curly hair mostly obscured by a bright knitted wool cap. His normally olive-complexioned face was ruddy from the chill autumn air.
Stone knew that solo climbing was risky. But without the carabiners and the rope and the pitons and the chock-stones and all the customary apparatus of protection, climbing was something else altogether, closer to nature and somehow more true. It was just you and the mountain, and you had no choice but to concentrate utterly or you could get hurt, or worse. Above all, there was no opportunity to think about work, which was what Stone found most refreshing. Luckily, he was so valued that his employers permitted him (though reluctantly) to climb virtually whenever he wanted. He knew he’d never be another Reinhold Messner, the master climber who had solo-climbed Mount Everest without oxygen. Yet there were times, and this was one of them, when that didn’t matter, so much did he feel a part of the mountain.
He kicked absently at a scree pile. Up here, above the tree line, where only shrubs grew out of the inhospitable gray granite, the wind was cold and biting. His hands had grown numb; he had to blow on them to keep them warm. His throat was raw, and his lungs ached from the frigid air.
He struggled to his feet, moved to the crack, and saw that its width varied from about an inch or so to half an inch. The rock face, up close, looked more perilous than he’d expected: a vertical rise with little to hold on to. He wedged his hands into the crack and, fitting his climbing shoes into toeholds in the smooth rock, he hoisted himself up.
He grabbed onto a cling hold, pulled himself up again, and managed to wedge his hands into the crack. Finger-jamming now, he edged up slowly, inch by inch, feeling the rhythm and knowing he could continue climbing this way clear to the top.
And then, for a brief instant, his reverie was interrupted by a sound, an electronic bleat he could not place. Someone seemed to be calling his name, which was impossible, of course, since he was up here completely by himself, but—
—then it came again, quite definitely his name, electronically amplified, and then he heard the unmistakable racket of helicopter blades crescendoing, and it came again: “Charlie!”
“Shit,” he muttered to himself, looking up.
There it was: a white-and-orange Jet Ranger 206B helicopter hovering just above the summit, coming in for a landing.
“Charlie, Mama wants you back home.” The pilot was speaking through an electric bullhorn, audible even over the deafening roar of the helicopter.
“Great timing,” Stone muttered again as he resumed finger-jamming his way up the crack. “Some fucking sense of humor.” Twenty more feet: they could just god-damn wait. So much for his day of climbing in the Adirondacks.
When, several minutes later, he reached the top, Stone bounded over to the helicopter, ducking slightly as he passed under the blades.
“Sorry, Charlie,” the pilot shouted over the din.
Stone gave a quick, engaging grin and shook his head as he clambered into the front seat. Immediately he put on the voice-activated headset and said, “Not your fault, Dave.” He strapped himself in.
“I think I just broke about five FAA regulations landing here,” the pilot replied, his voice thin and metallic as the helicopter lifted off the mountaintop. “I don’t think you can even call this an off-site landing. For a while there, I didn’t think I’d make it.”
“Couldn’t ‘Mama’ wait until tonight?” Stone asked plaintively.
“Just following orders, Charlie.”
“How the hell’d they find me out here?”
“I’m just the pilot.”
Stone smiled, amazed as always by the resources of his employers. He sat back, determined at least to enjoy the flight. From here, he calculated, it would be something like an hour to the helipad in Manhattan.
Then he sat upright with a jolt. “Hey, what about my car? It’s parked down there, and—”
“It’s already been taken care of,” the pilot said briskly. “Charlie, it’s something really big.”
Stone leaned back in his seat, closed his eyes, and smiled with grudging admiration. “Very thorough,” he said aloud to no one in particular.
Charlie Stone mounted the steps of the distinguished red brick townhouse on a quiet, tree-lined block on the Upper East Side. Although it was nearly afternoon rush hour, it was still sunny, the sensuous amber light of a fall day in New York. He entered the high-ceilinged, marble-floored foyer, and pressed the single door buzzer.
He shifted his weight from foot to foot while they verified his identity by means of the surveillance camera discreetly mounted on the lobby wall. The Foundation’s elaborate security precautions had annoyed Stone until the day he caught sight of the working conditions over at Langley—the cheap gray wall-to-wall carpeting and the endless corridors—and he almost got down on his knees and shouted a hosanna.
The Parnassus Foundation was the name given, by a CIA wag no doubt enamored of Greek mythology, to a clandestine branch of the Central Intelligence Agency charged with the analysis of the Agency’s most closely held intelligence secrets. For a number of reasons, chiefly the belief of one former Director of Central Intelligence that the Agency should not be entirely consolidated in Langley, Virginia, Parnassus was situated in a graceful five-story townhouse on East 66th Street in New York City, a building that had been specially converted to repel any electronic or microwave efforts to eavesdrop.
The program was enormously well funded. It had been set up under William Colby after the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence (the so-called Church Committee hearings of the 1970s) tore the Agency apart. Colby recognized that the CIA needed to attract experts to help synthesize intelligence, which had traditionally been the Agency’s weak spot. Parnassus grew from a few million dollars’ worth of funding under Colby to several hundred million under William Casey and then William Webster. It engaged the services of only some twenty-five brilliant minds, paid them inordinately well, and cleared them for almost the highest level of intelligence. Some of them worked on Peking, some on Latin America, some on NATO.
Stone worked on the Soviet Union. He was a Kremlinologist, which he often considered about as scientific a discipline as reading tea leaves. The head of the program, Saul Ansbach, liked to call Stone a genius, which Charlie privately knew was hyperbolic. He was no genius; he simply loved puzzles, loved putting together scraps of information that didn’t seem to fit and staring at them long enough for a pattern to emerge.
And he was good, no question about it. The way baseball greats have a feeling for the sweet spot of the bat, Stone had an understanding of how the Kremlin worked, which was, after all, the darkest mystery.
It had been Stone who, in 1984, had predicted the rise of a dark-horse candidate in the Politburo named Mikhail S. Gorbachev, when just about everyone in the American intelligence community had his chips on other older and more established candidates. That was Stone’s legendary PAE #121, the initials standing for Parnassus Analytical Estimate; it had gained him great renown—among the four or five who knew his work.
He had once casually suggested, in a footnote to one of his reports, that the President should be physically affectionate with Gorbachev when the two met, as demonstrative as Leonid Brezhnev used to be. Stone felt sure this sort of gesture would win over Gorbachev, who was far more “Western” (and therefore reserved) than his predecessors. And then Stone had watched, gratified, as Reagan threw his arm around Gorbachev in Red Square. Trivial stuff, maybe, but in such small gestures is international diplomacy born.
When the Berlin Wall came tumbling down, almost everyone at the Agency was caught by surprise—even Stone. But he had virtually foreseen it, from signals out of Moscow he’d parsed, communications between Gorbachev and the East Germans that the Agency had intercepted. Not much hard data, but a lot of surmise. That prediction sealed his reputation as one of the best the Agency had.
But there was more to it than seat-of-the-pants instinct. It involved pick-and-shovel work, too. All kinds of rumors came out of Moscow; you had to consider the source and weigh each one. And there were little signals, tiny details.
Just yesterday morning, for instance. A Politburo member had given an interview to the French newspaper Le Monde hinting that a particular Party secretary might lose his post, which would mean the rise of another, who was much more hard-line, much more stridently anti-American. Well, Stone had discovered that the Politburo member who’d given the interview had actually been cropped out of a group photograph that ran in Pravda, which meant that a number of his colleagues were gunning for him, which meant that, most likely, the man was just blowing smoke. Stone’s record of accuracy wasn’t perfect, but it was somewhere around ninety percent, and that was damn good. He found his work exhilarating, and he was blessed with an ability to concentrate intensely when he wanted to.
Finally, there was a buzz, and he stepped forward to pull open the inner doors.
By the time he passed through the vestibule’s black-and-white harlequin-tiled floor and walked up the broad staircase, the receptionist was already standing there, waiting for him.
“Back so soon, sweetie?” Connie said with a dry cackle, immediately followed by a loose bronchial cough. She was a bleached blonde in her late forties, a divorcée who dressed, unconvincingly, as if she were twenty-five; who chain-smoked Kool menthols and called each of the men at Parnassus “sweetie.” She looked like the sort of woman you would meet sitting on a barstool. Hers was not a difficult job: mostly, she sat at her desk and received top-secret courier deliveries from the Agency and talked on the phone with her friends. Yet, paradoxically, she was as discreet as they came, and she oversaw the Foundation’s connections to Langley and the outside world with an iron discipline.
“Can’t stay away,” Stone said without breaking stride.
“Fancy outfit,” Connie said, indicating with a grand sweep of her hand Stone’s dirt-encrusted jeans, stained sweatshirt, and electric-green Scarpa climbing shoes.
“There’s a new dress code, Connie—didn’t they tell you?” he said, proceeding down the long Oriental rug that ran the length of the corridor to Saul Ansbach’s office.
He passed his own office, outside of which sat his secretary, Sherry. She had been born and raised in South Carolina but, having ten years ago spent one summer in London when she was eighteen, she had somehow acquired a reasonable facsimile of a British accent. She looked up and raised her eyebrows inquiringly.
Stone shrugged broadly. “Duty calls,” he said.
“Indeed,” Sherry agreed, sounding like a West End barmaid.
Saul Ansbach, the head of the Parnassus office, was seated behind his large mahogany desk when Stone entered. He stood up quickly and shook Stone’s hand.
“I’m sorry about this, Charlie.” He was a large, beefy man in his early sixties with steel-gray hair cut en brosse and heavy black-framed glasses, the sort of man usually described as rumpled. “You know I wouldn’t call you back if it weren’t important,” Saul said, gesturing to the black wooden rail-backed Notre Dame chair beside his desk.
Ansbach had been a quarterback at Notre Dame, and he had never quite fit in with the proper, careful Ivy League types that once dominated the CIA. Perhaps that was why they had sent him to New York to run Parnassus. Still, as with most CIA men of his generation, his clothes were more Ivy League than the president of Harvard’s: a blue button-down shirt, a rep tie, a dark suit that had to have come from J. Press.
Ansbach’s office was dominated by a marble fireplace almost four feet high. It was suffused by the orange light of the late afternoon, which sifted in through the double-glazed, soundproof windows.
They had met when Stone was in his last year at Yale.
Stone had been taking a seminar in Soviet politics taught by a large brassy woman who had emigrated from Russia after World War II. He was the star of the class; here, studying the very thing that his father had once done for a living, he had found his natural milieu, the first subject in college he really cared about, and he began to shine.
One day after class the teacher asked him whether he’d like to have lunch the next day at Mory’s, the private club on York Street where the professors ate Welsh rarebit and complained about Guggenheim fellowships they hadn’t received. She wanted him to meet a friend of hers. Charlie showed up, uncomfortable in his blue blazer and the Yale Co-op tie that was threatening to strangle him.
Sitting at the small wooden table next to his teacher was a tall crewcut man with thick black glasses. His name was Saul Ansbach, and for much of the lunch Charlie had no idea why they’d invited him. They chatted about Russia and the Soviet leadership and international Communism and all that sort of thing, but they weren’t just talking; later he realized that Ansbach, who at first said he worked for the State Department, was actually testing him.
When it came time for coffee, Stone’s teacher excused herself, and then Ansbach tried for the first time to recruit him for an intelligence program about which he remained vague. Ansbach knew that Charlie was the son of the infamous Alfred Stone, who’d been condemned as a traitor in the McCarthy hearings, but he didn’t seem to care. He saw instead a brilliant young man who had demonstrated an extraordinary flair for international politics and Soviet politics in particular. And who was also the godson of the legendary Winthrop Lehman.
Charlie, who considered the CIA vaguely sinister, said no.
Several times before he graduated, Saul Ansbach called, and each time Charlie politely told him no. A few years later, after Stone had embarked upon an illustrious career as a scholar in Soviet politics, teaching at Georgetown, then M.I.T., Saul asked again, and this time Stone finally gave in. Times were different; the CIA seemed far less odious. Intelligence work increasingly appealed to him, and he knew that now, with his reputation, he could have things his way.
He set down his conditions. He’d work when he wanted to (and climb mountains when he wanted); he wanted to work at home in New York and not have to move back to Washington, whose government buildings and white pedestrian “malls” gave Stone the shudders—to say nothing of dreary old CIA headquarters in Langley. And—since he was giving up the security of academic tenure—they’d pay him very, very well. For work he so enjoyed that he’d do it for free.
You never know, he later thought, how one quick decision can change your life.
Now Saul walked to the heavy mahogany double doors and shut them, emphasizing the gravity of what he was planning to say.
“It better be important,” Stone said with false gruffness, about to observe that being plucked from the mountaintop was a little like being interrupted during sex before you’re finished. But he held his tongue, preferring not to have Saul ask when Charlie had last seen his estranged wife, Charlotte. Charlie didn’t want to think about Charlotte right now.
If you tell yourself, Don’t think about white elephants, you will. The last time he saw her.
She is standing in the hallway. Her bags are packed for Moscow. And her eyes, unforgettable: too much makeup, as if her sense of palette had left her. She’d been crying. Stone is standing next to her, tears in his eyes, too, his arms half outstretched to touch her once more, to change her mind, to kiss her goodbye.
Ah, now you want to kiss me, she says sadly, turning away, a beautiful doll with smudged eyes. Now you want to kiss me.
Saul sank into his own chair, exhaling slowly, and picked up a dark-blue folder from his desk. He waved it and said, “We just got something in from Moscow.”
“More garbage?” Most of the intelligence the CIA receives from the Soviet Union consists of rumor and unsubstantiated gossip; the Agency’s Kremlinologists spend much of their time doing close analysis of information that is publicly available.
Ansbach smiled cryptically. “Put it this way: this file has been seen by exactly three people—the director, a transcriptionist cleared straight to the top, and me. Is that sensitive enough for you?”
Stone nodded appreciatively.
“I realize you don’t know much about how we get the intelligence we do,” Saul said, leaning back in his chair, still holding the file. “I like to keep collection and analysis separate.”
“But I’m sure you’re aware that since Howard we’ve had hardly any assets inside Russia.” Ansbach was referring to Edward Lee Howard, a CIA Soviet Division case officer who defected to Moscow in 1983, rolling up virtually all the CIA’s human sources in the U.S.S.R.—a devastating blow from which the Agency had never fully recovered.
“We’ve recruited another,” Stone prompted.
“No. One of the few we had left was a driver in the KGB’s Ninth Directorate. Code-named hedgehog. A chauffeur assigned to various members of the Central Committee. We got him early, with steady money, paid in rubles, since hard currency would be too risky.”
“And in return he listened to what was going on in the back seat.”
“We gave him a recorder, actually. He concealed it under the back seat.”
“Well, he’d been noticing that one of the people he was assigned to had been having an awful lot of late-night meetings outside Moscow with a number of other high-powered people, and his ears pricked up. We got several tapes from him. Unfortunately, the poor shmuck didn’t know how to operate a tape recorder. He kept the volume dial all the way down, so the sound quality is lousy. We’ve been trying to run a voiceprint ID on the speakers, but the rumble is too loud. We managed to transcribe most of it, but we have no idea who’s involved, who’s doing the talking.”
“And you want to figure out what’s going on,” Stone concluded. He was looking not at Ansbach but at the framed prints of mallard ducks and botanical oddities that hung on the wall above the wainscoting. He admired Saul’s attempts to make headquarters resemble a baronial estate more than an office. “But, Saul, why me? You’ve got others who can do this.” He crossed his legs and added studiedly: “Who were already in town.”
Ansbach, by way of reply, handed him the blue folder. Stone opened it, frowned, and began reading.
After a few minutes of silence, he looked up. “All right, I see you’ve highlighted the parts you want me to pay attention to. So we’ve got two guys talking here.” He read aloud the yellow-highlighted fragments, skipping as he read, conflating them into one long string.
“ ‘Secure? ...The Lenin Testament...Only other copy, Winthrop Lehman has...the old fart got it from Lenin himself...the tin god...can’t do anything to stop it . . .’ ”
Stone cleared his throat. “This Winthrop Lehman—I assume they’re talking about theWinthrop Lehman.”
“You know another one?” Ansbach asked, spreading his hands with his palms up. “Yeah. Your Winthrop Lehman.”
“No,” Stone said softly. “Now I see why you wanted me.”
Winthrop Lehman, who would become his godfather, had been national-security adviser to Franklin Roosevelt and Harry Truman. In 1950 he had hired a brilliant young Harvard historian named Alfred Stone—Charlie’s father—as his assistant. Later, even during Alfred Stone’s disgrace, the so-called Alfred Stone affair, when Senator Joseph McCarthy had successfully branded Alfred Stone a traitor on a trumped-up charge of passing secrets to the Russians, Lehman had stood by him. Lehman, the statesman, aristocrat, and whom news magazines had dubbed “philanthropist” (which simply meant he’d been passingly generous with his vast fortune), was now eighty-nine years old. Stone was aware that he would not have been recruited to Parnassus were it not for some behind-the-scenes power brokering on the part of the enormously influential Lehman.
Saul Ansbach steepled his large, knobby hands and placed the point under his chin as if he were saying a prayer. “You recognize the reference, Charlie?”
“Yes,” Stone replied tonelessly. “The phrase ‘Lenin Testament’ came up during my father’s hearings before the McCarthy Committee. It was never explained; it was never mentioned again.” In spite of himself, he found his voice growing steadily louder. “But I’d always assumed—”
“Assumed it was just some mistake, is that it?” Saul asked quietly. “Some glitch, some shoddy piece of research done by some young whippersnapper on the Committee’s staff?”
“No. The ‘Lenin Testament’ that I know about is no mystery. It was a document written by Lenin in his final days, in which, among other things, he warned about Stalin’s getting too powerful. Stalin tried to suppress it, but it came out a few years after Lenin’s death.” He caught Saul’s half-smile. “You don’t think that’s what they’re referring to, do you?”
“No,” Stone agreed. “But why don’t you have hedgehog find out more?”
“Because he was killed two days ago,” Saul said.
Stone’s eyes widened somewhat; then he shook his head slowly. “Poor guy. KGB got on to him?”
“We assume it was KGB.” He shrugged broadly. “Apparently, the hit was professional. As for how he was blown—well, that’s another troubling thing. We don’t know.”
“So you want me to find out what they meant by ‘Lenin Testament,’ if possible, right? Talk to my father, try to worm the information out of him, maybe? No, Saul. I don’t think I’d like that very much.”
“You know your father was set up. Did you ever ask yourself why?”
“All the time, Saul.”
All the time.
Alfred Stone, professor of twentieth-century American history at Harvard, had once been one of the stars in his field, but that was years ago. Before it had happened. Since then, since 1953, he was a broken man. He had published almost nothing. In recent years, he’d begun to drink too much. He was—it was a cliché, but in this case it was accurate—a husk of his former self.
Once, before Charlie was born, Alfred Stone had been a young, fiery lecturer and a brilliant academic, and in 1950, at the age of thirty-one, he was asked to join the Truman White House. He’d already won a Pulitzer Prize for his study of the United States and the end of the First World War. The president of Harvard, James Bryant Conant, had asked him to serve as dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, but he decided instead to go to Washington. Winthrop Lehman, one of Truman’s assistants, and a holdover from the Roosevelt administration, had heard about this rising star at Harvard and had asked him to the White House, and Alfred Stone had accepted.
He should have gone on to become some sort of minor national celebrity. Instead, he returned to the Harvard campus in 1953 shattered, kept on at Harvard’s sufferance, never again to produce anything of any worth.
Charlie Stone had been ten years old when he first learned about his father’s tortured past.
One day, after school, he found the door to his father’s book-crammed study open and no one inside. He began poking around, exploring, but finding nothing of interest. He was about to give up when he found a large leather-bound scrapbook on his father’s desk. He opened it. His heart started pounding when he realized he had made a discovery, and he pored through the book with guilty pleasure and complete absorption.
It was a collection of clippings from the early 1950s concerning a part of his father’s life he had never heard about before. One article, in Life magazine, was titled “The Strange Case of Alfred Stone.” Another headline, in the New York Daily News, called his father “Red Prof.” Rapt, Charlie went through one yellowed clipping after another, as the mildewy, vanilla smell of the scrapbook enveloped him. Suddenly various bits of overheard conversation came together, things he had heard people say about his father, quick, nasty things, and arguments between his parents in their bedroom. Once someone had painted a large red hammer and sickle on the front of the house. A few times, he remembered rocks being thrown through the kitchen window. Now, finally, it made sense.
And of course his father had returned to his study suddenly and caught him at the scrapbook, whereupon he strode to the desk in a dark fury and snapped it closed.
The following day, his mother, the willowy, dark-haired Margaret Stone, sat Charlie down and gave him a brief, sanitized account of what had happened in 1953. There was a thing called the Un-American Activities Committee, she said, which was once very powerful before you were born. There was a terrible man named Joseph McCarthy who thought America was overrun with communists and who said they were everywhere, even in the White House. Your father was a very prominent man, an adviser to President Truman, and he was caught up in a battle between McCarthy and the President, a battle that the President wasn’t able to fight on all fronts. McCarthy dragged your father before his Committee and accused him of being a Communist, a spy for Russia.
Lies, all of it, she told him, but our country was in a very difficult time, and people wanted to believe that our problems could be solved just by rooting out the spies and the Communists. Your father was innocent, but there was no way of proving his case, you see, and...
Charlie replied, with the unassailable logic of a ten-year-old, “Why didn’t he say anything? Why didn’t he fight them? Why?”
“But did you ever ask your father?” Ansbach lifted an earthenware mug from the top of a stack of green-and-white computer printouts and took a swallow of what, Stone felt sure, had to be tepid coffee.
“Maybe once, when I was a kid. It became immediately clear that that was none of my business. You just didn’t ask about that stuff.”
“But as an adult...?” Saul began.
“No, Saul, I haven’t. And I won’t.”
“Look, I feel funny even asking you. Exploiting your relationship with your father, with Winthrop Lehman, for Agency business.” Ansbach removed his black-framed glasses and polished them with a Kleenex he took from a box in one of his desk drawers. When he resumed speaking, he was still hunched over the glasses, polishing busily. “Obviously, if our agent hadn’t been killed I wouldn’t need to ask you, and I know it’s outside the realm of the pure analysis you’re hired to do. But you’re our best hope, and if it weren’t important—”
“No, Saul,” Stone said hotly. He itched to light a cigarette, but he had quit smoking the day Charlotte had left. “Anyway, Saul, I’m no field operative, in case it slipped your mind.”
“Damn it, Charlie, whatever this ‘Lenin Testament’ is all about, it’s clearly a key to why your father was thrown in jail in 1953.” Ansbach wadded up the Kleenex and replaced the glasses on his face. “If you don’t want to do this for the Agency, I should think at least you’d—”
“I wasn’t aware you cared so deeply about the personal lives of your employees, Saul.” The appeal to family: Saul was a master manipulator, and Stone felt a surge of resentment.
Saul hesitated for what seemed an eternity, examining the cluttered heaps atop his desk, running his fingers along the desk’s worn edges.
When he looked at Stone again, he spoke with great deliberateness. His eyes, Stone noticed, were bloodshot; he looked fatigued. “I didn’t show you the last page of the transcript, Charlie. Not because I don’t trust you, obviously . . .” He took a single sheet of paper that had been facedown on the desk in front of him and handed it to Stone.
It was stamped “Eyes Only/Delta,” which meant the need-to-know requirements were so stringent that no more than a handful of people at the very top of the U.S. government would ever be permitted to see it. Stone glanced at it quickly, then read it again, more slowly. His jaw literally dropped in astonishment.
“You see,” Saul said, dragging out his words as if it pained him to speak, “Gorbachev has been in trouble in the Politburo since the day he was named General Secretary. You know that; you’ve warned of that for years.” He pressed the heels of his hands against his eyes, massaging them wearily. “Then all this turmoil in Eastern Europe. He’s a man with enemies. And with the summit coming up in a matter of weeks, the President heading for Moscow, I thought it was vital—”
Stone was nodding, his face flushed. “And if we can figure out what this reference to a ‘Lenin Testament’ means, we can determine who’s involved, what their motivations are...” His voice trailed off; he was lost in thought.
Ansbach was peering at Stone now with a fevered intensity. He asked, almost whispering: “You read it the way I do, too, huh?”
“There’s no other way to read it.” Stone could hear the faint sound of typing from down the hall, which had somehow managed to penetrate the massive doors, and for a long moment he watched the pattern of sunlight and shadow on the wall, a neat geometric grid cast by the slats of the window blinds. “These people—whoever they are—are about to pull off the first coup in the history of the Soviet Union.”
“But nothing inside the Kremlin,” Saul added, shaking his head as if he didn’t want to believe it. “Nothing like that. Something much, much worse. You with me on this?”
“Look, Saul, if that report is accurate,” Stone said, his glance still riveted on the wall, “we’re talking about the fall of a government. Massive bloody chaos. A dangerous upheaval that could plunge the world . . .” He shifted his gaze back to Saul. “You know, it’s funny,” he said softly. “For years we’ve wondered if this exact thing could ever happen. We’ve speculated about the terrible notion that someday the power that’s now held by the Kremlin could ever be seized by another, much more dangerous clique. We’ve talked and talked about it, so much that you’d think we’d get used to the idea. But now—well, the thought of it scares the hell out of me.”
Copyright © 1991 by Joseph Finder
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Joseph Finder is the New York Times bestselling author of ten novels, and has written extensively on espionage and international affairs for The New York Times, The Washington Post, and The New Republic. A member of the Association of Former Intelligence Officers as well as the Council on Foreign Relations, he lives in Boston, Massachusetts.