Chapter 72, in which bad news travels quickly to Moscow
A BIRD IN HAND
“One canister? It can’t be!”
Yevgeny Nikolaievitch Kasparanov stares at the decoded cable from Parrot Cay in disbelief. Schnelling is dead. The Americans have the lab and all of its contents, including presumably Schnelling’s formula, and a single canister is headed to the American mainland. What was to be a widespread, psychologically and physically devastating attack designed to demonstrate the strategic, tactical, and technical superiority of the Soviet Union has been reduced to a single act of desperate and ugly terror. And there is no guarantee the Americans won’t thwart the lone attack at this point. The entire operation is more likely than ever to be an unmitigated disaster.
He sits at his desk helpless, unable to render any assistance to make certain of the minimum success needed to salvage the operation, justify the expense, and save his own career or even his life. He thinks about calling his wife, but what would he tell her? Where can she and Tatyana go? There is no escape, and there is no one else to blame. He knows that his own ambition created this trap for the three of them.
The last canister is his only hope. If it makes it, he can claim he foresaw the odds as any field commander would and made certain enough assets were committed to ensure a level of success. Surely men who have witnessed the horrible slaughter of battle will appreciate such a point of view.
He checks the time stamp on the transmission one more time. He looks at his own watch and calculates the difference between the time zones. He should know within 12 hours if the single canister made it. The Atlanta cell, a lone patriot dedicated to the international cause, will surely report his success at the earliest possible moment. For now he can only sit and wait, hoping that the crisis in Cuba absorbs the full attention of the nation’s military and political leaders.
The phone on his desk rings. He stares at it as it rings a second and third time. If for no other reason than to stop the phone’s grating, maddening ringing, he picks up the receiver. Before he answers he tries to compose himself so that his voice, at least, does not betray his rising fear.
“Kasparanov here. . Yes, I’ve read it. . . Of course. . . By this time tomorrow. . .I’ll remain available. . .Of course.”
He hangs up, with the phrase “Make yourself available” ringing in his ears, a seemingly innocuous phrase that really means much more. He could have just as easily been told, “Don’t make your arrest any more difficult than it has to be. There is no escape. Perhaps you should consider saving your family further humiliation by taking your own life.”
The next 12 hours will decide his fate. With nothing left for him to do, he decides to spend the time at home with his small, vulnerable family. He stands up, grabs his light overcoat from the hook on the back of the door, turns out the light, and leaves his office for what may be the last time.