When Claire Hayden, a ruthless American intelligence agent, recruits aging ex-Stasi colonel Max Reinmann to identify the killer of a Kremlin insider with ties to the CIA, she opens the door on a secret operation at the heart of Vladimir Putin's regime.
Teamed with an old nemesis, ex-KGB agent Andrei Kozlov, Reinmann’s search for the killer blazes a trail of murder, revenge, and betrayal from France to a Ukraine fighting for independence from Moscow’s dream of a new Russian empire.
Kostya, interpreter and escort, points out an open window of the ransacked police headquarters building. Men in camouflage battle dress advance over a wooded, snow-covered rise.
You’re sure they’re Russians? says Claire Hayden. Not Ukrainian rebels?
Kostya lifts binoculars to his eyes. Yes, I’m sure. They’re armed with new Kalashnikovs. Wearing body armor. See for yourself.
She looks, passes the binoculars to Cassidy. They’re spetsnaz all right, he says, breath smoking in bitter air. We’d better haul ass. He starts collecting weapons and comms gear.
Hayden has binoculars to her eyes with one hand, Makarov pistol in the other. I count fifty or so. Must have crossed the border last night. Everything jibes with what she was told would happen.
Kostya says, Bastards! You can’t trust Russians.
No, you can’t trust anyone, thinks Hayden. Someone betrayed us.
Cassidy tugs Hayden’s sleeve. Come on.
Wait. She spots more commandos. Look over there.
Kostya, panicky, says, We’re trapped. His eyes cloud with fear.
Hayden crouches under the window sill, Cassidy beside her. She lifts her head. Listen.
They hear the wok-wok- wok of helicopter rotors. The building shudders under the heavy beat growing louder by the second.
Ukrainian or Russian? asks Cassidy.
The answer is a gray and black Mil-24 gunship, Ukrainian insignia on its flanks, rising above the trees like a giant insect searching for prey. The advancing Russian commandos wave to the crew who wave back.
It’s one of ours, says Kostya. I told you they’d pick us up. Hayden looks at the approaching helo bristling with machine guns and rockets. As it dips toward the building the chopper’s black belly fills the sky outside the window. A searchlight in the nose washes the room probing for occupants.
Hayden spots a masked soldier in the helicopter’s open side door, Kalashnikov in his hands spitting fire. If it’s a Ukrainian ship something is deadly wrong.
Get down! Hayden’s warning is drowned out by thudding rotors, the chatter of machine guns raking the building, the open window. Bullets ricochet off stone and stucco, slap into wood.
Hayden grabs a canvas bag, bolts into an adjoining room. Her hands claw inside the bag, lift out a MANPAD surface-to-air missile launcher. She crawls to another window, shoulders the weapon. She’s vaguely aware of Cassidy crouched back-to-back behind her with a stubby MP5, guarding their only escape route from the building. There’s no sign of Kostya.
The Mil hovers in a tornado of swirling snow, rocking slightly as it hoses the abandoned room with machinegun fire.
Hayden squeezes the MANPAD’s trigger, feels the tube buck, sees the rocket ignite, throws herself down alongside Cassidy.
The Russian pilot tries to lift off and turn away. Too late, a burst of sunlight turns dusk to midday as flame engulfs the chopper. Pinwheeling out of control, the ship nosedives into a cluster of spetsnaz and explodes, unleashing a barrage of torn metal, broken rotor blades, body parts.
Hayden and Cassidy hear men screaming, dying. Heat from the funeral pyre blows through the open window. They smell burned fuel and scorched metal. Back on her feet, still holding the MANPAD, Hayden throws it aside. Where’s Kostya?
Gone, says Cassidy.
Right. What do we do with him?
* * *
Nuit Blanche—White Night—rules the city. So do breakdancers, mimes, laser light shows. Diamond Vision screens ring Notre Dame and Place de l'Hôtel de ville.
Alone, anonymous, he weaves through crowds, first to the quai then across Pont Marie to Île Saint-Louis. There’s an explosion, a flash of light—he ducks but it’s only fireworks.
Shouldering through knots of celebrants, carousers, drunks, no one sees him, cares who he is. Then—a man! Tall, dark-suited, searching eyes, striding toward him on Quai d’Anjou. A block of shadow haunts a doorway. He presses in, watches the man enter a courtyard cut through a wall of apartments. A beat, a breath, he pushes out of shadow. Around the next corner he spots the church of Saint-Louis-en-l’Île with its distinctive clock hanging out over the sidewalk. Threading through revelers dancing in the street, he guides on the clock like a landmark.
A beggar outside the front door rattles coins in a paper cup to attract attention. Inside, the church is all shards of candle light, shadow, ancient incense. In the chancel a solitary tealight flickers at the feet of the Virgin. Nerves thrumming, he sits in a chair at the end of a row in the nave. He hears voices of celebration outside, voices of fear in his head.
He hears something else and discovers he’s not alone. An old woman kneeling on bare stone prays before an altar tucked into a corner of the nave.
Mouth dry, palms slick, the nausea of fear rumbles through his gut and bowels. Voices in his head demand attention:
Where are you going?
Never mind. Stay in the room. Say nothing.
The security detail . . .
I told you, say nothing.
He remembers a fast walk from the hotel at Place Vendôme to Rue de Rivoli, then a cab to Place de l'Hôtel de ville and Nuit Blanche. The church of Saint-Louis-en-l’Île to meet his American contact.
Finished praying, the old woman departs. Alone now, the voices in his head tell him to run away from the church, away from everything, even himself. The urge is overpowering. Then he hears feet shuffling on stone, the rattle of coins in a cup. The beggar’s smell arrives ahead of him.
A black-suited priest appears. Get out!
The beggar flees. The front door crashes open, crashes shut.
I’m so sorry. Did he molest you?
No, Father, not at all.
Do you need assistance?
I’m waiting for someone.
You are Russian?
Yes—He sees something in the priest’s hand catch a blade of light. He throws up an arm to deflect it but can’t escape the blinding, killing pain in his throat. He feels a hot fountain erupt from the gaping wound and has only a split-second to comprehend that the blood splashing onto his clothes, the chair, the stone floor is his blood and that he’s going to die.
Berlin, November 1945. Yuri Nosenko, a Russian army officer awaiting execution for a crime he didn’t commit, is released from an NKVD prison and sent to Berlin to find and kill Heinrich Müller, former head of Gestapo.
Müller has top secret Soviet documents that prove Stalin ordered the Katyn Forest Massacre of 15,000 Polish officers. He aims to swap them for immunity from prosecution as a war criminal, and for sanctuary in the West. Their disclosure could shatter the postwar peace and sabotage the Nuremburg War Crimes Trials. For Nosenko, the documents are the key to his and his family’s freedom.
Nosenko stumbles through the ruins of Berlin searching for Müller, consumed by memories of his vanished wife and children whom he has vowed to find. His dual quest evolves into a perilous and deadly trek across Europe, one that propels him to a final reckoning with his past, his future, and the days of killing. Fiction. E-book.