Chapter 49 of Silent Vector

Chapter 49, in which team Temple tries to predict the other side's next move

CHAPTER 49

THE MEASURE OF A MAN

Nick reviews the file from Langley one more time: Hartmut Schnelling, a despicable man who has spent nearly 20 years taking the darkest path he could find at nearly every turn. His war record is suspect enough. After the full extent of the atrocities of the Second World War came to light, the world learned to regard German scientists, however unfairly, with suspicion. In Schnelling’s case, the suspicions were well-founded. His wartime “camp” activities brought him to the attention of the Nürnberg prosecutors, but his 1945 escape to the East where he curried the favor of his Soviet occupiers prevented him from being brought to justice.

He profited handsomely from the Soviets’ need for skilled scientists after the intelligentsia’s brutal and near-total destruction during Stalin’s purges followed closely by 20 million dead in the war. The post-war expansion of the Soviet Army’s chemical and biological weapons of mass destruction owed much to the efforts of Schnelling. By the late 1950s, Schnelling had reportedly defected once again and retired to an undisclosed location in the Caribbean. The reports were wrong. The Company now knows that far from retiring Schnelling went to work overseeing the discreet construction of a sophisticated laboratory to conduct experiments leading to the production of a strain of vaccine-resistant polio.

“One sick bastard,” Nick thinks to himself.

Each member of the team has read the file. Now it’s decision time. The team members are gathered around the veranda table of their mountainside retreat. Nick works a tall glass of iced tea. A few glasses of ice water sit on the table next to photographs of Schnelling and Kropotkin. Pete Hall sips a rum and Coke. 

“It seems to me that the question is what he will do when we eliminate Kropotkin.”

“If he thinks the Sovs did it, he’ll fold his tent and get out of Dodge,” Kyle Richardson offers.

“Take his toys and go home?” Pete Hall asks.

“Something like that, although I’m not sure where a guy like that calls home.”

“And what if he correctly surmises the Americans have taken out Kropotkin?” Nick asks.

“As far as we know, it’s just Schnelling and Kropotkin on the island. He’s going to feel isolated and vulnerable at any rate,” is Dalila’s contribution.

“I’ve had a hard time believing there isn’t more muscle around this guy, but that seems to be the case. Does that mean the Soviets might not be that invested?” Nick asks the team.

“Either that or they’re keeping things low-key for a reason,” Kyle counters. “It’s worked for them so far. We really have no idea how long he’s been working here undetected. Frankly, Nick, if you hadn’t picked the island for a bit of R&R he’d never have come up on anybody’s radar at least on this side of the pond.”

“That’s a fact. And you’re right. Just because he’s been working alone doesn’t tell us that the Russians aren’t fully committed. It’s actually a smart strategy, especially for a group that tends toward overkill.”

“He’ll certainly go underground, at least in the near term, no matter who he thinks did it.” Pete Hall has learned that his insights are valued irrespective of his lack of a background in intelligence. 

“If underground’s his lab, we’re going to be up against it. Especially if he simply stays there until it’s time to move north.”

They all nod in agreement with Dalila’s assessment.

Lieutenant Escobar chimes in.

“I take it we’re a go on the Kropotkin sting?”

“Absolutely,” is Nick’s immediate response. “He’s too much of a threat to our security, and his elimination could well end the mission. It’s worth the risk all the way around.”

“Then your question about Schnelling will answer itself. In the meantime, we should focus on tomorrow knowing that we’ll just have to wait and see what Schnelling does in response.”

The team’s members look to Nick. He contemplates Escobar’s proposal for a moment before looking up.

“You’re absolutely right. Kropotkin is job one. So, let’s take about a five minute break and then go over the raid one more time to see if it needs any fine tuning.”

They all nod. Kyle and Pete stand up and head inside. Lieutenant Escobar approaches Nick.

“I hope I didn’t step on anyone’s toes.”

“Absolutely not. We’re in this thing together, and anything you have, or anyone else has to say, has to be on the table. Your point was solid and I’m glad you made it. Fair enough?”

“Got it.”

Escobar and Guzman head inside as well, leaving Nick and Dalila alone on the veranda.

Nick takes a sip from his sweating glass of iced tea.

“Got your lines memorized?”

“To the extent I can.”

“How’s the dress fit?”

“It should be convincing.”

“Can’t wait.”

Dalila flashes a sly smile at Nick before leaning in to whisper.

“I’ll wear it just for you someday soon.”

She finds his hand and squeezes it. He responds by pulling her to him. He whispers in return.

“Like I said, I can’t wait.”