By JET & Lory
Beta read by Danae
Written for PetFly by Richard Maxwell
Rated PG
internal thought in italics


 


Prologue


Peru…

The steps of the large cathedral nearly dwarfed their occupants. The well-wishers thronged around the proud parents of the child wrapped in a brightly colored blanket and cradled in her mother’s arms. Behind them, the cathedral walls rose high into the air, its spire seemingly touching the clouds. The little girl gurgled in delight at the smiling faces peering at her, and her mother glowed with happiness as she nodded her appreciation to family and friends. Behind them stood the proud father, his face wreathed in a smile. A child’s christening was a time for happiness, joined with hope for the future, and this joyful group was filled with both.

No one heard the father’s quick intake of breath or the mother’s sudden gasp. As if caught on slow motion film, first the father, then the mother, crumpled to the cathedral’s cold stone steps. As the mother dropped to her knees, she clasped her baby girl tightly in her arms. Her dark brown eyes were frozen wide with surprise as she stared out into nothingness. A red stain slowly spread across the breast of her blue dress. Behind her, the same bullet had torn into her husband’s chest, and his life’s blood also seeped out onto the gray granite of the cathedral steps. By the time a relative quickly rescued the child from her mother’s arms, both parents were dead.

The celebrants-turned-mourners quickly slipped away, knowing full-well that any of them might be the next targets. For those who opposed the rebels, it was a dangerous time.
 


Act I



Cascade

I never learned to read Cyrillic, so the banner hung suspended between giant columns at the Cascade Cultural Arts building had no meaning for me. One thing I could understand though, was the crowd’s aura of anticipation as they waited to hear today’s featured speaker.

Damn! It was already beginning. I could hear the amplified words coming from the loudspeaker as we hurried toward the plaza in front of the Center. “Today,” the familiar voice Father Kasporev began, “a great man emerges from the darkness of our homeland to join his comrades in the light of God and community.” His face shone with his fervent belief in the words he spoke to the crowd. “He is a poet, yes, but also a saint of the dispossessed…a prophet of the imprisoned…the broken, the poor left behind. He is the voice for those who cannot speak. Most of all, he is a conscience for those who have none!”

I call back over my shoulder, “Hey, will you guys hurry up? I don’t want to be late for this!” Jim and Micki Kamerev are only slightly behind me, but as far as I’m concerned, the distance might be a mile. The speaker today has intrigued me for years; I certainly don’t want to miss this opportunity to hear him speak. With those long legs of his, how can Jim move so slowly?

“When did you get into Russian poetry?” Jim’s caught up with me now. See? He can move when he wants to.

I don’t slow my steps as I explain. “Dimitri Gordievsky is more than just a poet, man. I mean, his gulag diaries are a primary source on neo-tribal adaptation.”

Micki comments, “When you meet him, Blair, you’ll see -- Dimitri is a very simple man.”

She looks so…taken…with just the mention of the man. Of course, she has reason to be. “Oh, yeah, sure. Just your everyday Nobel Prize winner. What could be simpler than that?”

We pass the fountain flowing in the center of the crowd and find a place to stand near center of the throng lining the steps of city hall. Father Kasporev is smiling broadly, and his voice grows louder as he speaks. “To mark the opening of Cascade’s Russian arts festival, he will read from his works. Please welcome our guest of honor - Dimitri Gordievsky!”

A slim man in his mid-forties with brown hair and beard approaches the microphone, shaking hands warmly with Father Kasporev as the priest backs away. Gordievsky’s expression is friendly and approachable as he faces the applauding crowd, and I decide that I like this man I‘ve read about for so long. “Thank you, Father, for your kind words. But you embarrass me. I am no saint. I am just a mirror who reflects the frailties of our imperfect world.”

Jim stands beside me, with Micki on his left. Before long, I’m wrapped up in Gordievsky’s inspirational words. The only time I snap back to reality is when Jim bends lower to whisper in my ear, “He’s got the right ideas, Chief. Glad you talked me into coming.”

Sometimes Jim really surprises me. From his attitude, you’d never think he cares about politics, but when I glance up at him, I can tell he’s genuinely moved by Gordievsky’s ideas. “Me, too, man,” I say quietly. Then, my attention’s drawn back to the podium.

Gordievsky has finished his prepared speech and is asking the crowd, “Perhaps there are a few questions?”


The bullet captured the sun, its glare reflecting off the smooth surface to send out small, shimmering shards of light. Father Kasporev’s tinny voice filled the room, amplified by the high-tech radio resting beside the man dressed in black. Brushing his dirty-blonde bangs back, the man nodded in satisfaction as the bullet was lowered into the chamber of a high-powered rifle. He felt the familiar tingle of anticipation creep down his spine and welcomed it. As had happened so many times before, his body as well as his mind was preparing for the task at hand.

The man took great pride in his professionalism. Killing brought him pleasure, that much he could not deny, but it was the preparation for the kill that truly fulfilled him. Anyone was capable of murder. It took a brilliant mind to plan and execute an assassination and not be caught. Therein lay the challenge, the meticulous attention to detail. The carefully choreographed dance for two that brought him to the exact moment when he would capture his target in his sights, then slowly ease back the trigger. Yes, his target was part of the dance, even if the marked partner never realized his participation, for he considered his victim at each and every step. Yes, a successful assassination was a mental exercise, and the man prided himself on his intelligence. He did not fear failure. He was the best, and he surrounded himself with whatever technological advantages he deemed necessary for success.

Failure was simply impossible.


A young Asian reporter speaks up immediately after the professor‘s call for questions. “Professor Gordievsky, you supported political reforms in Russia. Now you seem to think the Russian church is the only answer. Why?”

“Ten years ago,” the professor explains, “things were so bad even Gorbachev knew we needed democracy.” He smiles as though sharing a secret with the crowd. “Now they are so bad, any fool knows our only hope is prayer. But the truth is that the same ones who run the gulag, now secretly run the stock exchange. They were thieves then, and they are thieves now! Our Lord died between thieves.” He pauses for a beat, his brown eyes scanning the crowd slowly. “Perhaps he can forgive them; I cannot.”

The crowd erupts in cheers of support as another reporter calls out, “Will you name names?”

Gordievsky’s reply is instantaneous. “Of course! In America, I name names, yes!”

As the crowd applauds, the professor suddenly spots Micki in the crowd and waves. She lights up like a comet at the recognition, and I gesture for Jim to look at Micki’s glowing face.

Gordievsky calls to the crowd, “Wait! Wait, wait! There is someone who should be up here with me! She is the real reason I and many other Russian writers come to Cascade. Micki, come up! Come up!”


Nearly a half mile away, the man smiled at the flowery words of the speaker. That was another aspect of his job he enjoyed almost as much as the planning.

The knowing.

Knowing that in mere seconds, everything the unsuspecting victim thought was true would be blown away with the force of a rifle’s bullet. Knowing exactly how long that person had left to live, knowing almost to the breath how many more times his lungs would draw in life-giving oxygen. Knowing the chaos that would erupt after the shot was fired, and knowing that he would already be halfway to safety by the time those present could piece together in their muddled minds exactly what had just transpired.

He chuckled in anticipation. Yes, the knowing was a truly exhilarating power to possess!

His gloved finger flipped a switch on a small machine at his side and a monotonous whirring filled the room. The man turned back to the window.

He had thought of everything.

Raising the rifle to his shoulder, the man prepared to accomplish his mission and the tingling sensation increased dramatically. He smiled again, a tight, cruel expression. He found Professor Gordievsky and centered him in the crosshairs.

It was almost time.


As the crowd turns to her, Micki begins moving toward the podium area. I can’t believe what happens next. It feels like one of those slow-mo scenes in the movies where time seems to be stuck in molasses. Without warning, Dimitri Gordievsky staggers backward, clutching his chest. He turns slowly, then he collapses face-down on the entryway of the building. The crowd falls into a shocked silence, unsure of exactly what‘s going on.

Micki seems to sprout wings on her feet as she flies to his side. Jim recovers almost as quickly, but I’m trailing them both By the time I reach the steps, she’s already kneeling beside the injured man. She’s got one arm behind the professor’s back, but when she removes her hand, it is covered in blood. Flashbulbs erupted from all sides, creating an eerie lightshow as they capture the grotesque image.

“Doctor!” Micki screams. “Please, someone get a doctor! Somebody get a doctor!”

My voice is shaking as I turn to Jim. “Looks like someone shot him! I didn’t hear anything, did you?” Surely there had been some noise, the click of a clip being loaded, the flash of a gun - something - that Jim would have heard.

I stare up at him, waiting for the explanation that never comes. Jim looks to be as in the dark as I am. His confused blue eyes lock with mine. “I didn’t hear anything. I should have heard something, Chief. What the hell’s going on here?” He waits for me to make some sense of this, but I can only shake my head slowly as the words fail me.

I have no answer for him.


An hour later, in Simon‘s office, an answer still eludes me. Our first stop had been the hospital, where Gordievsky had been pronounced D.O.A. Both the hospital and station were bustling with reporters anxious to get the scoop on the assassination of the famous Russian dissident. Sometimes, the results of freedom of the press turn my stomach.

Now, as I perch on the edge of the conference table in Simon’s office, I’m still struggling to understand why Jim wouldn’t have heard something - anything - just before the assassination went down. Sure, there was a ton of noise with the crowd, the traffic, and the general bustle of downtown Cascade in the middle of the day, but such distractions haven’t stopped Jim before. For once, I’m stumped, but if there’s one thing I am sure of, it’s that Simon will be asking for an answer.

Oh, man, when I’m right, I’m right. Simon slams several newspapers down on his desk with a growl, then sits down heavily in his desk chair. “Cascade just made front page center of the Times - that would be the Los Angeles Times, gentlemen - the Washington Times, and the New York Times! The mayor’s overjoyed by the publicity.” Turning his scowl on Jim, he asks, “Come on, Jim! You mean to tell me you didn’t see or hear anything unusual?”

I wince at the question I’d known was coming. Jim glances at me quickly for help, but the best I can offer is a little shrug. “Don’t have a clue, big guy,” I whisper, knowing he’ll hear.

He sighs slightly, then looks at Simon apologetically. “I didn‘t hear a thing, sir.”

It just doesn‘t add up. I blurt out, “I don’t get it! How many times have you heard a gun being cocked, a trigger being pulled… Why not this time?”

Jim locks eyes with me for a long moment, and I see the guilt hiding in the shadows of blue. “Look, I don’t know what to say, Chief. I didn’t hear or see anything. If you’ve got any ideas, I’d love to hear them.”

I wish I had an answer to ease his mind, but I don’t. The realization reminds me almost as forcefully as a punch in the gut exactly how little I really understand about this sentinel business. Sometimes, like now, I wonder what the hell I’m doing here. With Jim’s life in my hands. And me totally clueless.

Oh, God…

Simon cuts in, sparing me the embarrassment of admitting in front of him what a idiot I really am. “Look, right now we have a high-profile murder with no suspects, no clues, and no motives. While Jim’s failure to hear the assassin may provide Sandburg with a fascinating theoretical question, it’s rather like closing the barn door after the horse has escaped. I need answers, gentlemen!”

“Maybe the motive was political,” Jim speculates, turning the conversation back to the facts of the case. “Gordievsky talked about government corruption without much regard for who might be listening. I would think the assassination was to keep him quiet.”

I disagree, and I say so. “I don’t think so. Corruption in Russia is no secret. I mean, everybody knows who’s involved there. It just wouldn’t have the impact a similar scandal would here.”

“Jim, I want you to clear your boards and make this top priority. We need to get our homework done and fast before the feds come in and take over. The way this is drawing ink, the feds will be all over us like a cheap suit.” Simon grimaces as he stands and pours a cup of coffee.

The timing couldn’t have been more perfect. It’s a struggle to stifle my smile as the office door opened, and a man and woman enter. The guy might as well have worn a neon sign flashing “FED!”

“Nice suit,” I comment, biting my lip to keep from laughing. I can’t look at Jim. I would totally lose it.

The man shoots me a quick look, but obviously dismisses me just as fast. “Captain Banks?”

Simon’s smile isn’t stifled at all. If there‘s one thing that man despises, it‘s the feds tromping into his territory. In some ways, police captains are every bit as territorial as sentinels. Now that might make an interesting paper…

“Agent Mulroney,” Simon says politely. “We were just talking about you.”

The agent acknowledges Jim with a curt nod. Me, he‘s still ignoring like the plague. Maybe it‘s the hair? “Detective Ellison. Meet Inspector Major Katrina Vaslova. Moscow Metro Militia. Inspector Vaslova’s Russia’s official liaison with the Bureau.”

The tall brunette steps forward. Her hair’s pulled back in a stark bun, and as she glances at me, her eyes have no trace of warmth. She wouldn’t be a bad looking woman, if she’d learn to smile, that is. Of course, Mulroney‘s not any friendlier toward me, so why be surprised? Could it be the clothes?

Vaslova nods to Simon and Jim. “It is a pleasure to meet you, Captain. Detective.”

Hate me or love me, just don‘t ignore me. I paste on my widest smile and introduce myself. “I’m Sandburg. Blair Sandburg. Consultant to the police department. Nice to meet you. ” Grinning at Mulroney, I add, “Hi!” Mulroney’s only reaction is to roll his eyes and look back at Simon. I shoot Jim a quick, but subtle, thumbs-up and am rewarded by the flash of a swift grin that immediately disappears without a trace.

“I suppose you’re here, Mulroney,” Simon says quickly, “to tell me the Bureau is going to be taking over jurisdiction in this case?”

“Actually, Captain, the Bureau doesn’t want this case. We have every confidence in your department.”

Jim looks slowly from Mulroney to Simon, his eyebrows arching in disbelief. Simon goes him one better. He actually guffaws.

“That’s a good one, Mulroney!” The congenial grin vanishes in an instant. “What do you want?”

If Mulroney is bothered by either man’s reaction, he covers it well. “We want Inspector Vaslova to assist with the investigation. The victim was a Russian national. She could be invaluable to us. Given the circumstances, we think it would be pretty good politics.”

After exchanging a quick look with Jim, Simon agrees. His choices are limited any way. Gracious acceptance is his only realistic alternative. Still, I know how the words gall him. “Very well, then. Welcome, Inspector Vaslova. Detective Ellison will fill you in on the details.”

Jim gives me his ‘I don’t believe this!’ look, and once more, I can only shrug. I can’t even figure out why Jim’s senses struck out this afternoon; Russian cops and federal agents are way out of my league.

Vaslova nods at Simon and says politely, “Captain, I promise to keep a low profile and not to step on…how do you say…? Your shoes.”

“It’s toes,” I correct her with a smile. Might as well try for a touch of good old American diplomacy here, right?

“Yes. Toes.” The ice princess hasn’t thawed a degree.

So much for diplomacy.


It turns out that Inspector Vaslova has something to offer the investigation after all. She’s able to identify the type of ammunition used to kill Gordievsky after Jim admitted that our lab couldn’t ID it.

“It’s a 7.62 dragunov sniper round. Military issue. Our special forces use them.” She hands the bagged bullet back to Jim.

Now she’s hit on something my partner’s familiar with. Special forces. As it turns out, it doesn’t matter if they’re U.S. or Russian.

“Spetsnaz,” Jim says immediately.

Vaslova nods. “Yes. They have appeared in several recent killings in Moscow.”

Jim opens a folder. “I’ll need to see those files,” he comments.

Immediately, the armor goes up around Vaslova. “That will be…difficult.”

“I thought we were cooperating here?” Jim’s getting defensive, but it’s like trying to bash down a brick wall. Talk about the irresistible force meeting the immovable object.

“Of course,” Vaslova replies coolly. “But you see the bureaucracy back home is complicated.” She sighs, then adds, “I will do what I can.”

I jump in to smooth things over. “That’s great! See what a little cooperation can do? I mean…”

I don’t get the chance to finish. Micki and Father Kasporev have arrived.

“Jim?” Micki is dressed in black, and her face is at least two shades paler than normal.

“Excuse me,” Jim says immediately, making his way to her. “Micki, I’m sorry I haven’t called. I’ve just been very, very busy.”

“It’s all right,” she replies softly. “I understand. You remember Father Kasporev from the rally?”

I shake the priest’s hand and Jim nods in greeting. “Hi, Father.”

“We must see Dimitri’s body,” Micki says. “He was a deeply religious man. There are certain rites we must perform.”

Jim looks to me, and I nod. I’ll hand it to him, Jim’s got a ton of respect for important cultural traditions such as burial rites. Just look at his behavior when Incacha died. Nearly went ballistic trying to get a little respect out of the bureaucracy for the Chopec beliefs.

Jim assures her, “I’ll see to it that…”

Vaslova quickly interrupts. “I am afraid that will not be possible.” Her tone couldn’t be much colder if we’d been in Siberia.

“That’s not your call, Inspector.” Jim’s voice matches hers, degree for degree.

“Actually, it is.” She holds out a paper for Jim’s inspection. I read over his shoulder, and it looks legit. “This federal warrant issued by your Justice Department gives me the authority to take possession of the body as soon as the autopsy is finished.”

Micki snaps, “I was not aware that the KGB now tells the Cascade police what to do.”

“I am with the Moscow police. KGB no longer exists.”

Micki’s gaze never wavers in the face of Vaslova’s intimidation. “How silly of me. I meant FSB.” Micki looks over at me. “You see how easy it is to be democratic, Blair? All you need is to change your initials.”

I don’t have time to answer. Micki and Father Kasporev turn immediately and leave.

“I thought we weren’t going to step on each other’s toes here?” Jim points out.

Vaslova lowers her head slightly. “I apologize. It cannot be helped.” She, too, walks away.

Jim draws in a quick breath and scrubs his hand across his jaw. “Damn it, Chief. Ever get the feeling you’re walking a tightrope without a net?”

I laugh and slap his back. “Every day of my life, man. Every day of my life.”


Next step - check out the crime scene. The sight of all that blood being carefully scrubbed away makes me cringe. I wonder if the worker doing the cleaning even considers that he’s washing away someone’s life’s blood?

It seems a desecration, somehow, to just scrub away Gordievsky’s blood so quickly. It’s as if they think if they get rid of the evidence of what happened here today, it will all be over. Everyone will forget.

But it won’t be over. A life was lost. A great voice silenced forever.

The worker takes a hose and rinses the site. The remnants of blood flow down the marble stairs in a crimson river. What a waste.

“You okay, Chief?” Jim is watching me carefully.

“Yeah, I’m all right. It’s just so senseless, you know? Gordievsky had so much to teach us, and now…” I shrug helplessly.

Jim nods. “I know. I wish I’d had the chance to meet him.” He reaches out and brushes my nose gently. “How’s it feeling?”

What? For a moment, I’m confused, then I gingerly probe the still-sore bridge of my nose. It had been little more than a week since our return from Storm Island, and the injury I’d received at the hands of Monique was still sore. “It’s okay. A little tender, that’s all.” What is it about me and women anyway? Usually it’s my heart that gets broken. I suppose I was fortunate that this time, it was only my nose. Well, not even broken, exactly, but pretty damn sore, just the same.

As I look around the plaza, I change the subject, ready to do something that will help catch the assassin. It’s all we can do. Gordievsky will still be gone, but at least someone will pay. “You know, Jim, I don’t get it. I mean, even with the crowd here, how in the world can a gun go off and you not hear it?”

When Jim doesn’t reply, I turn to him and for an instant, I think he’s zoned. He’s just standing there, staring up. At what, I don’t have a clue.

“Jim?” I rest my hand on his arm as I try to determine if this is a zone, and if so, how deep is he?

Jim still doesn’t answer, but he moves. At least, this isn’t a zone. He jogs down the steps and to the street where he points at a brightly colored piece of cloth tied to a high wire. Okay. Obviously this means something to Jim, but I’m totally lost. “What is it?”

“That’s a telltale. Sailors use it to tell which direction the wind is blowing.”

If I was lost before… “Sailors?”

“And snipers. His line of fire’s this way.”

So we begin to jog, following the trail of telltales. First green, then blue, now yellow. If we’d been in the jungles of Peru, Jim couldn’t have looked any more pure sentinel. He’s totally focused, seemingly unaware of pedestrians and the traffic.

I follow him closely, my own eyes darting around as I watch for cars. Someone in this partnership needs to exercise a little caution, right? “Hey, come on, Jim,” I say as I jog beside him. “I mean, we’re half a mile away from city hall. Who in the world could make a shot from that distance?” Seems obvious to me that whoever left these telltales, it couldn’t be our shooter. Could it?

“Only the best, Chief.”

Finally, he stops in front of a building and stares upward. “Top floor, corner window. There’s a small circle cut out of the glass. That’s where the shot came from.”

No doubt in that voice. I follow Jim into the building. A set of stairs is directly inside the foyer. “You stay put,” Jim orders, already two steps up.

I start to protest, then I think better of it. I’ve seen Jim in this heightened sentinel mode before, and it’s not exactly the best time to argue with the man.

The seconds tick by into minutes. I watch the top of the stairs, craning my neck to see the top landing. Nothing.

“C’mon, man,” I mutter. “I didn’t argue. I waited like a good little observer. Would have stayed in the truck, if we’d been in the truck. Give me a clue here.”

I look again. No Jim.

I take a deep breath, then I start up the stairs. On the way, I work out my defense. I didn’t hear any shots, man. No sounds of a fight. I figured all’s clear and you just forgot to tell me, right?

As it turns out, I didn’t need to rehearse after all. I find Jim in a room that most definitely does not fit your definition of normal. The walls are lined with mattresses. “Man! This is like a big padded cell.”

Jim doesn’t turn around from the window. “Yeah, or a big silencer.” He sounds distracted. “I thought I told you to wait downstairs,” he adds, almost as an afterthought as he reaches over and picks up something from the top of the cut glass circle.

“What’s that?” Nothing like changing the subject.

Jim studies the object as he holds it up. “It’s a Russian coin. Some snipers - usually the good ones - have a signature. This is Yuri’s.”

That takes me by surprise. “What? You know this guy?” His next words blow me away.

“Yeah. We tried to kill each other in Peru.”

Act II