Chapter 45 of Silent Vector

Chapter 45, in which the Soviets tip their nuclear hand

CHAPTER 45

SAME OLD, SAME OLD

Bill Johnson and the Director have been down this road before: the Berlin Blockade in ’48 and ’49; the Hydrogen Bomb in ’53; Suez, Budapest, and Poznan in ’56; Sputnik in ’57; Powers, Gagarin and Berlin again in ’61. Since the end of World War II the rhythm of their professional lives has been defined by events originating behind the Iron Curtain. Their perceptions and judgments of a society largely closed to outsiders are fine tuned to a degree the average American cannot understand. Where others see threats directed at the free world, they discern pleas for political survival directed at a scheming inner circle; where the unskilled believe they’ve spotted a weakness, they sense a trap; where demagogues see totalitarian bloodlust, they detect old wine in new jugs – an ageless xenophobia. And where others see little or nothing at all, they see the potential for trouble on a massive scale. Today, Bill Johnson and the Director see nothing but trouble.

“I don’t think any other conclusion is reasonable. It’s definitely all tied together, sir. The railhead activity and the uptick in merchant marine deployment from both Vladivostok and Sevastopol. It’s all connected.”

“No chance of a bumper crop, that it’s just harvest time and these deployments have a civilian application?”

“Too early, and the locations are inconsistent with that analysis, sir.”

“Yeah, I know. I was only half serious.”

“Any port in a storm, right?” Johnson lets his boss off the hook.

“What’s the Army hearing in Sinop?”

“Soviet military units are supplanting stevedores and other dockworkers in Sevastopol. Whatever they’re loading is ‘eyes only’ and the civilians are getting kicked to the curb. That’s what got the attention of one of our assets in the Crimean. Sinop confirmed it.”

“We should be able to pick up the maritime traffic in Istanbul.”

“Sure. We’ll be ready when they come through, but at that point, unless they get sloppy, it’s just about counting ships. We’ll still have no idea where they’re headed, although we might have a lead on what they’re carrying. And so far, whatever else this operation has been, it sure as hell hasn’t been sloppy.”

“What about Berlin?”

“Besides the Field Station?”

“Right. Arnie Miller. Anything coming his way?”

“Not a thing. Arnie’s been working Cliff Thompson behind the curtain on the St. Thomas operation. That’s still producing some solid intel, but nothing in his zone appears related to these new developments.”

“Vladivostok?”

“Buttoned up. Nothing solid, but our man is reporting some of the same sort of activity we’re seeing in Sevastopol. So far the Sovs have managed to keep a tight lid on what’s next.”

“What about the railheads?”

“Most are routine. Of the routes we’ve been able to confirm, and it’s not a whole lot of them, the railhead that jumps out could hold the key to the entire operation.”

“Well?”

“Romny. In the Ukraine.”

“Why is that name familiar?”

“It’s a stone’s throw from the 43rd Guards Rocket Division H.Q.”

“Jesus H. Christ!”

The Director leans back in his chair absorbing the details of his conversation with Johnson, putting it all in the context of his experience. After a quiet moment he slowly leans forward, placing his elbows on his desk, his eyes wide open, almost in alarm.

“Do you see it, Bill?”

“I’ll tell you what I see: a redeployment of significant assets of the Soviet Union’s nuclear forces.”

“No doubt about it.”

“With no idea as to where or why.”

“We figure out where, and that’ll tell us why.”

“Agreed.”

“What the hell is Ivan up to now?” the Director muses aloud.

Answering that simple question has been the raison d’être for these two men since the spring of 1945.