Chapter 20 of Silent Vector

Chapter 20, in which the Soviets are starting to sweat

CHAPTER 20

REASSESS AND REGROUP

Kasparanov knew the meeting would be at least uncomfortable when he was summoned. Alexander Proykiev, the Deputy Commissar of the KGB’s First Chief Directorate, is well-known in the upper echelons of the Soviet intelligence apparatus for his ruthless and often deadly approach to furthering his own career. But Kasparanov remains calm during the interrogation. Having secured the blessing of the General Secretary makes him as close to invulnerable as one can get in the Soviet Union.

“It was a Kenyan. Cairo won’t release the body, but it was undoubtedly a Kenyan,” Kasparanov points out once again.

“But the reports put the CIA at the scene. There’s no question. CIA. What do you suppose the CIA is doing in the middle of a murder of a German national on the streets of Cairo? Do you think it’s merely a coincidence?”

Kasparanov takes a drag from his cigarette, puts it out in the ashtray on Proykiev’s desk, and responds.

“There is no surveillance. There are only inconclusive statements.”

“Should I read it to you once again?” Proykiev thunders. “Someone killed the Kenyan. Are you forgetting? A white man, who left in a late model Land Rover with a white male and an African female. KGB confirmed the American Station Chief in Cairo drives such a car. We don’t need surveillance. We don’t need photographs. I tell you, the CIA is closing in on your fantastic gamble.”

“They know nothing.”

“They knew who Hartmann was.”

“And where are they now? Leipzig? No. St. Thomas? No. The CIA knows nothing. And if the CIA was in Cairo, Hartmann’s in no position to provide them with anything.”

“We don’t know who the others were or where they are. Only Ridgely, the Station Chief. And he’s still in Cairo. For all we know, they may have taken the first flight from Cairo to Leipzig on their way to St. Thomas!”

“Of course they didn’t. We can proceed. Even if they get to Voi, what will they find out? Some German medical experiments went badly. It’s a familiar story, an old story, and that’s why it’s a good story, and that’s why they have nothing.”

Kasparanov hides his fear of this man’s power well. He knows he must tread a fine line between confidence and arrogance, that Proykiev will crush him for sport if he senses that Kasparanov’s attitude has become dismissive.

“And Schnelling?”

“The formula’s complete. It’s been tested. The trials were sufficiently conclusive. Now it’s a matter of production in a quantity sufficient for the initial attack.”

“We should increase his security detail.”

“He prefers to work alone.”

“He can go to the devil! His preferences at this point are of no concern of mine. His work must be protected. What of the formula?”

“We don’t have it yet. I understand our interest in having it, but we must proceed cautiously. He’s the only one who knows it, the only one who has it.”

“I’ll leave that to you, but we have to have the formula. We need security, for him and for us.”

“We can’t load up St. Thomas with KGB. That will surely get the Americans’ attention. It is, after all, their island.”

“If nothing else, I concede you are right about that. One man should do it, and I know just the man for the job. Driven, ruthless, a devout killer. He’ll be as effective as half a dozen men.”

As Proykiev picks up his phone and waits, Kasparanov breathes a barely audible sigh of relief. He has managed to survive another round, and he didn’t have to fall back on the General Secretary’s considerable clout to do so. He listens as Proykiev instructs his secretary.

“Lyudmila. Bring me the file of Nikolai Gregorovich Kropotkin.”