THE RUSSIAN EMBASSY WAS FIVE AND A HALF BLOCKS NORTH OF the White House on 16th Street between L and M streets. Like virtually every embassy in the world, business as usual included cocktail receptions. This one celebrated the appointment of a new deputy undersecretary to the ambassador to the United States, Igor Mikhailovich Lubiako, a tremendously charming man whose English was so idiomatically perfect that he could have been mistaken for an American anywhere. In Iowa they would have figured him to be from the East, Boston perhaps. In California he'd be from Minnesota, and in Boston from out West somewhere.
Richard Sweeney and his wife, Katherine, had been invited to attend. In the morning they were returning to Moscow.
"Hell of a way to spend our last night home, Ernie," she'd complained good-naturedly on the way over. But she was a good sport. She'd always been the perfect wife for an intelligence officer: Smart, cool under pressure, and when it came to politics, especially the world view, she definitely hadher head on straight. No bleeding-heart liberalism for her. Of course she'd been raised that way. Her father had graduated in the top ten of his class at West Point. As a child she'd been a tomboy. As a teenager a standout in high school and college swimming and soccer. She'd grown up to be a pleasant-looking if not beautiful woman with a good body, wide pleasant eyes, and thick, sensuous lips.
"We're showing the flag," he told her in the cab on the way over from their hotel.
"There're plenty of eager hands in this town to take care of that job nicely, thank you."
"Not many of them are special assistant to the ambassador in Moscow."
She looked closely at her husband. They'd been married long enough for her to understand when he was telling her to back off. They'd never had children, and they both believed that they were closer to each other because of it ... not necessarily better off, just closer in many respects.
He caught her looking at him and grinned. "Just keep your ears open."
"Lydia Lubiako," Sweeney said.
"Ah, the wife. Could be the new deputy undersecretary is a spook?"
"Sister. He might be."
"Maybe it's her ... she?"
Again Sweeney had to grin. "Just keep your ears open and your mouth shut. Deal?"
"Deal," she said in mock disappointment.
They often played these little games with each other, mostly to relieve the tension. On this trip back to the States, their stay had been too short for them to open their house in the Maryland countryside, located just outside of Lexington Park about sixty miles south of Washington. They owned twenty-five wooded acres of what had once been a part of a horse-breeding ranch. From the house they could see the Chesapeake Bay eight miles away. It was a beautiful spot thatthey both loved. "Peace in a world of turmoil," she'd once said.
"Yes, isn't it?" he'd replied, holding her, knowing what was coming next. The cold war was still going strong.
"But when the bombs fall on Washington it won't be such a great spot."
"No?" she asked, looking up into his eyes.
"Not if I can help it."
Washington had received a couple of dustings of snow since they'd arrived, but it still seemed like the tropics to them after Moscow. They'd already spent two and a half years in the Russian capital; two long winters, this their third. They'd definitely acclimatized. At least physically.
The cabbie dropped them off in front of the Russian Embassy a few minutes past five-thirty. They were fashionably late, as were a number of other guests, and they had to queue up just inside the vestibule, where their invitations were examined before they were allowed inside. In the old days they would have been subjected to a metal detector search. The Gorbachev regime had put a stop to that, and in that respect, nothing had changed since.
"This new openness will survive," a well-known Russian journalist had written, although Sweeney had his doubts. The Russian distrust of foreigners and anything foreign went back a long way ... even before Stalin, back to the time of the czars. It was in the national spirit, the people's psyche.
"Be friends with the wolf," the old peasant proverb said. "But keep your hand on the ax." After all, America's loss of life in the Great Patriotic War had been measured in tens of thousands, while the Rodina's losses had been measured in tens of millions!
The reception was being conducted mostly from the main hall and the state dining room on the ground floor, though the string quartet played on the second-floor balcony overlooking the stair hall. A number of people had gone up to listen, and to talk.
There was a muted hum of dozens of conversations among the more than one hundred guests. At this party the caterer was American and the canapes and other hors d'oeuvres were excellent.
Katherine accepted a glass of typically sweet Russian champagne from a passing waiter, while Sweeney took a small cognac. They would drink their first drink, and would accept a second in due course, which they would not touch. An oft-used trick was serving the first drink undoctored, but the second drink, after the guest's taste buds were numbed, could be safely spiked. No one could taste the chemical.
"Mr. and Mrs. Sweeney, I believe," a Russian said as they started across the hall into the dining room. Sweeney turned around.
"Yes," Sweeney said, extending his hand. "Nice party."
"Thank you, but frankly it's easier to do here than at home," the Russian said, shaking hands. "I'm Yuri Truskin, embassy chief of protocol." He was a short, stocky man with thick black hair.
"Pleased to meet you. Maybe I can help change all of that, you know. Now that your President is opening up the country to foreign investment again."
"Investments, not loans," the Russian said.
Sweeney smiled broadly. "Ah, but then, my friend, on the world market there's hardly a difference."
"Except that one has to be paid back, the other not."
"Not always necessary."
Truskin turned to Katherine. "I see that you're drinking our champagne. How do you like it?"
"Sweet, but very good," Katherine said, with a little giggle.
"Some Americans are beginning to acquire a taste for it. A small market has been developed."
"Don't forget your vodka," Sweeney interjected. "The yuppies are all drinking Stoli and grapefruit, or Stoli and a mix of orange and cranberry juices. Sells like gangbusters. Good for your balance of trade."
Truskin's smile broadened. "It's incredible, isn't it? Good vodka and ... cranberry juice?"
Sweeney looked beyond him toward the dining room. "What I'd really like to see in Moscow would be a Ford or GM plant. Could employ a lot of people. Pump a lot of money into the economy."
"That may be a dream ..."
"Actually we're returning to Moscow in the morning. Who knows, maybe we can work out such a deal, Mr. Truskov," Sweeney said, deliberately mispronouncing the man's name.
Truskin smiled pleasantly. "Then I'll wish you a good trip."
"Thanks, but we just stopped by to offer our congratulations to your new deputy undersecretary. I understand exactly what he's up against."
Again Truskin smiled. "I'm sure you do, Mr. Sweeney."
Sweeney took his wife's elbow. "Nice chatting with you," he said, and he steered his wife toward the dining room.
"Nice fellow," Katherine said as they crossed the room.
"Yes," Sweeney said. The embassy was bugged, of course, so they had to watch what they said.
Katherine wore a low-cut white cocktail dress that they'd bought in Paris on the way back to the States, for what she'd thought at the time was a ridiculously high price. Considering the looks she was generating now as they crossed the room, she would have gladly paid double. She and Richard were the same age; at forty-three a girl took her compliments where she got them.
Sweeney steered her toward a knot of people near the head of the large room. The huge dining table had been removed for this occasion, and the gilded walls were lined with the chairs. Waiters bearing trays of cocktails and hors d'oeuvres circulated in and amongst the groups.
He recognized Lubiako from the photographs he'd studied at Langley. At over six feet, the man was very tall for a Russian. His complexion was fair, and his hair dishwater blond. With a tan he could have passed as a southern Californian.
Lubiako was a relative newcomer. A 1974 graduate of Moscow University, he had spent one year at Cambridge, in England, and eighteen months at Harvard. He did not drink, he didn't smoke, and although he'd never married, so far as the Agency could determine he wasn't a homosexual (it would have been highly unusual if he had been). He was clean. Adkins called him "Snow White." And Sweeney wondered if the Russian had his seven dwarfs lurking somewhere nearby; Truskin was one, were there six others?
Two men speaking with Lubiako were Americans. One of them tall and craggy, the other heavier and much older. They turned as Sweeney and Katherine stepped up.
"Richard Sweeney. Just stopped by to offer my congratulations, Mr. Deputy," Sweeney said to Lubiako. They shook hands.
The Russian grinned, the expression seemingly open and guileless. "I'm sorry, but I don't think I know the name."
"I'm stationed at our embassy in Moscow as a special assistant to our ambassador."
"I see. In what capacity, may I ask?" Lubiako asked.
"Developmental loans," Sweeney said, watching the man's eyes. "It's a job."
"And why are you in Washington?"
"Oh, the usual instructions and conferences and all that at the State Department."
"We keep them busy," the tall, craggy American standing next to Lubiako explained to the Russian. "I'm Walter Miller, State Department, Economic Affairs," he explained to Sweeney. "I recognize your name, but I don't think we've ever met."
"No, sir," Sweeney said, shaking hands with the American. His legend was good with the State Department.
"May I add my congratulations, Mr. Deputy?" Katherine said sweetly.
"Mrs. Sweeney, I presume?" Lubiako said. "Enchanté, madame."
"Oh, thanks," Katherine twittered. When need be shecould play the part of a mindless American wife very well. The Russians accepted it.
The other American introduced himself and shook hands with Sweeney. "Omar Ward, State Department. We've met."
"Yes, sir," Sweeney said. "Indeed we have." He'd never seen the man in his life.
A horse-faced woman who looked to be in her late forties or early fifties, but who was probably not yet forty, came up.
"Good evening," she said in English, her Russian accent extremely thick.
"May I present my sister, Lydia Lubiako," Lubiako said, and he introduced the others.
"Pleased to make your acquaintance."
Miller and Ward again offered their congratulations, and excused themselves.
"Is there a powder room here?" Katherine asked the woman.
Lydia Lubiako hesitated, but her brother stepped in. "Show Mrs. Sweeney to the ladies' room, would you be a dear?"
"Of course," the woman said, and she and Katherine left.
When they were gone, Lubiako eyed Sweeney with some amusement. "So, are you finding good opportunities in Russia?"
"You can't believe how good, Mr. Deputy. I just love it over there. Especially now. It's exciting and interesting."
"And what exactly is it you do?"
Sweeney laughed out loud. "It's my job to make millionaires."
"Pleasant work," Lubiako said.
"Yes," Sweeney replied. "It's good that we're finally friends again."
"I see you two are getting along well," Yuri Truskin said, coming up behind Sweeney. "There is someone who wishes to speak with you," he said in Russian to Lubiako.
"It was a pleasure meeting you, Mr. Sweeney," Lubiako said. "But I'm afraid duty calls."
"Perhaps we'll meet again," Sweeney said.
Sweeney sipped his drink as he watched them cross the big room. There was something about Lubiako that had been irritating. It was as if the man were condescending toward Americans. Often it was an affliction of very good spies who began to believe that they were invincible and therefore above everyone else. In some respects Sweeney was almost sorry that the cold war was over. His father would have called him an anachronism for not keeping up with the times. "I know, because I was one," the old man would have said. He'd been a case officer in Cuba and then in Mexico in the late forties, fifties, and early sixties. His car had been blown apart by a bomb thirty-six hours after he'd arrived in Saigon in 1964.
His father had not trusted communists. His son had limited his distrust to the Russians.
"What was that all about with Truskin when we first came in?" Katherine asked her husband in the cab on the way back to their hotel. It was nearly nine in the evening. The cocktail party had run over, as most parties these days in Washington did.
"He's Yuri Fedorovich Truskin. Intelligence has got him pegged as the KGB's Washington Rezident."
"Does he suspect who you really work for?"
"We don't think so," Sweeney said. "But I'd rather not spend a lot of time talking with him. He's a sharp bastard, no telling what he might pick up."
"Did he seem interested?"
"No. Now, what about Lydia Lubiako?"
"She's either the most incredibly stupid woman I've ever met, or the best actress. But I haven't a clue which."
"Are they actually brother and sister?"
"I don't know."
"Why's she here in Washington? Did she give you any idea of at least that much?"
"I don't know."
"Katy, what the hell did you talk about?"
Katherine looked at her husband. "It was scary, Dick. Trust me. She talked, and then I talked. She talked again, and I answered. Sometimes I asked a question and she answered. And after all was said and done, the woman had said nothing. Nada. Absolutely nothing."
The purpose of a language was to communicate. The purpose of civilization was to protect us from the beasts in the night. Sometimes, however, he thought that he'd been listening to gibberish all of his life, while trying to keep a candle lit in a monster-ridden night in which a hurricane wind always blew.
"Twelve months," he said at length.
Katherine smiled wanly. She reached out and squeezed his hand. "I was having the same thought," she said.
His assignment to Moscow had only another year to go. He'd already declined an extension. In twelve months they would be coming home. Two years on the Russian desk, and then ... ? They'd make that decision together depending upon what his next assignment might be.
Time enough, Sweeney thought. In the interim he had to be careful. The ship at sea was safer than the ship returning to port after a long voyage. That's when the real disasters happened.
It was nearly midnight by the time Yuri Truskin entered the referentura's screened room in the embassy basement where top-secret KGB work was usually done. Like the screened rooms in U.S. embassies abroad, this room was safe from all kinds of eavesdropping, electronic or mechanical.
All, that is, Truskin thought wearily, except for the human kind of eavesdropping ... using the oldest piece of spy equipment known, the ear.
It was morning in Moscow. In another hour he would use the encrypted circuits to make his report. In the meantime he would enjoy his solitude, something he had come to appreciate more and more the older he got.
Loosening his tie, Truskin sat down at one of the desks inthe large room and lit a Marlboro. Blended whiskey and Marlboros, the two vices he had picked up here, would kill him sooner or later, according to his wife. Sometimes he wondered how she meant that.
The Kremlin coup notwithstanding, the cold war was over for now, and world peace was assured. Yet there were still enough nuclear weapons in existence to annihilate all human life on the planet a thousand times over. Who to trust? More important, who to distrust? The answer had always been easy for him: Simply never trust any nation that has the power to destroy the Rodina.
But as the Americans were fond of saying, things were getting a little flaky around the edges these days. In the first place there were vastly too many members in the nuclear club. And secondly the role of a spy in this new era was not clear.
Especially not clear, Truskin thought morosely, when Russians were practically tripping over themselves in the rush to change the old ways, no matter the cost.
Stalin had said, kill them all. Khrushchev had said, jail them all. Brezhnev had said, send them all to mental institutions. And Gorbachev had said, let them all leave, if they wish.
No matter what, Mother Russia had lost. And continued to lose.
"Welcome home, Mr. Privet," the customs officer at Washington's Dulles International Airport said.
The assassin, who was traveling on a U.S. passport that identified him as Vincent Privet, born in Milwaukee, smiled pleasantly and nodded. "Thanks a lot, it's good to be back."
"Been gone long?"
"Heavens, yes," the assassin said. "Far too long. Business, you know."
"Well, we all have to make a living."
"Isn't that the truth."
"Anything to declare, sir?" the customs officer asked.
"A carton of French cigarettes and a couple of bottles ofcognac," the assassin said. "I wrote it down on my customs declaration." It was always better not to come in clean. Less suspicion was generated.
"Right," the customs officer said. "Have a safe trip home, then."
"Will do," the assassin said, picking up his single bag. He stepped through the barrier and walked down a short corridor into the arrivals and departures hall, where he headed directly across to the main doors.
Another international flight had come in a few minutes before his from Paris, so the terminal was very busy just now. As they landed he had spotted the familiar tail shape of an Ilyushin jumbo jet on the ramp. It would be the Aeroflot flight for Moscow. Seeing it gave him a slight twinge for home, but only slight. Whatever it was he'd been called here for would surely mean that he could never go back. Never.
The struggle between the United States and Russia continued despite recent events. Yet here he was, on U.S. soil for the first time in his life. It made him shiver to think of the consequences.
Outside, he was lucky and got a cab almost immediately, giving the driver an address in Georgetown. As they pulled away he sat back in his seat as if he were indifferent to the countryside. But he was not. This was the United States. Not different from and yet very different from western Europe.
Wider; the single word came to him. It seemed that the horizon was farther away here than anywhere else.
The sky was overcast and it had begun to snow again by the time they crossed the river on the Key Bridge into Georgetown, so he'd been unable to see much of the city proper after all. The cabbie dropped him off at a charming brownstone on Dent Place near 34th Street.
After paying the driver, he let himself into the building and on the third floor knocked at the apartment door. A tall, well-built man with an expensive haircut and very well cut clothes opened the door. His name was Vsevolod Sergeevich Radchenko, and he was the assassin's control officer.
"You're right on time," Radchenko said, looking beyondPrivet into the corridor before he stepped aside. "Come in."
Privet stepped into the apartment, put his bag down beside the door, and took off his coat. "Are we alone here?"
"Yes, and the place is clean. Any trouble coming through passport control or customs?"
"None. I was supplied with very good documents."
"Fine," Radchenko said. He was nervous. "You'll be comfortable here. There's food in the kitchen, no liquor though. Clothes and other things in the closet and in the bathroom."
"When do I begin?"
"Not yet. I don't know when. When I'm told, I will tell you."
"In the meantime?"
"You wait," Radchenko said. He grabbed his overcoat from a chair and pulled it on. "I jotted down a number you may call here in Washington if there's trouble. You're to ask whoever answers if Uncle Harold is back."
"What about you?" the assassin asked. "Are you clean in this city?"
Radchenko looked startled for just a moment. "I think so," he said. "Or at least I'm as sure as I can be in this town."
Radchenko nodded. "They're very good, and of course they've been jumpy since August."
"Anyone in particular I should watch for?"
"All of them," Radchenko said, going to the door. "I'll contact you when it's time."
The assassin went into the kitchen without a word and looked for the tea things. He never heard the door shut behind his control officer.
The wide-bodied II-86 Aeroflot jumbo jet took off from Dulles International Airport on time. Their flight over the north pole to the Soviet Union would get them into Moscow at seven in the morning, Moscow time. The trip was a grind that no one liked.
"We just got here," Katherine Sweeney lamented as she watched the city of Washington drop behind them.
"Twelve months," Sweeney replied absently. His thoughts were still back at Langley. These next twelve months would be the most important of his career. He'd gotten that directly from CIA Director Robert Vaughan. "The General."
"Novikov tells anyone who'll listen that we're still spying on each other," Vaughan had said at one point. They were meeting in the director's seventh-floor conference room adjacent to his office. Yuri Novikov was the new KGB director.
"Hell, General, the Israelis are our friends and they spy on us," the Agency's deputy director, Alastair Whitehead, said. "Why not the Russians?" He'd been born in England, and had not become a naturalized U.S. citizen until he was nearly twenty-five. He'd risen higher in the CIA than any other person who'd not been born in the States.
"Nobody's saying we're closing up shop, Phil," Vaughan said. Whitehead's middle name was Philip. "But we cannot ignore the cogent facts here." He turned to Sweeney. "Fact one is Congress has done a shabby number on us, cutting our budget now, of all times. Fact two is the admiration the average American still has for Gorbachev, which means if you're caught, your ass will be out in the wind to dry. Loving Gorbachev will get you nowhere. Fact three, nobody has much control over there. No one is really in charge."
Sweeney looked at his wife, who was still watching out the window. And facts four, five, six ... ad infinitum were that Russia was still so fractured, so beset with internal problems not only with its republics but within its military-industrial establishment, within its intelligence services, and among the labor pool, the farmers, the factory workers, the miners, everyone ... that the country was ripe for upheaval into the twenty-first century. Violence would become a way of life.
Considering their vast arsenals of nuclear weapons, most of them aimed at the United States, it was more than imperative that we know their intentions.
"Imperative, that is, if we don't want to be caught with our pants down," the DCI said.