Act II

I couldn’t get any more out of Jim on the ride back to Simon’s office. I settle for watching him closely, trying to pick up on any clue to help me understand what the hell is happening here. It’s not everyday I find out that my roommate is on a first name basis with a professional assassin.

“Igoravich Goragoff,” Vaslova says, studying the folder lying open before her on Simon‘s conference table. “Code name Yuri. Spetsnaz sniper…eight years Afghanistan…hero of the Soviet Union…retired in 1993 with 122 confirmed kills.”

My jaw literally drops open when Jim corrects her. “It’s 127.”

Vaslova asks Jim the same question I’ve been asking myself since we left Yuri’s padded room. “How is it that an American detective has the knowledge of a spetsnaz sniper?”

Jim’s answer is purposefully vague. “Our paths have crossed.”

She nods in understanding. “Ah, so you also have a history.”

“None to speak of, no.” Jim replies with a tiny shrug.

Modesty, thy name is Ellison.

“Those are the most dangerous kinds,” Vaslova comments cryptically as she studies Jim intently, obviously sizing him up.

I stay out of their discussion, content to let the information sink in. I prop my elbows on the table and listen to Vaslova. What I hear starts the wheels turning.

“Yuri is unique. He is a master of surveillance - radio links, data intercepts, night vision. It allows him to work alone, to have the freedom to trust no one. Now he’s a free-lance assassin who contracts his services to the highest bidder.”

Simon asks, “Any idea who that bidder might be?”

“A man as outspoken as Gordievsky has more than a few enemies.”

I speak up. “Aw, come on, even I know for a pro like this to be involved, there’s more than just a grudge going on here.”

Grudgingly, Vaslova agrees. “Perhaps.”

“I’m just wondering,” Jim puts in, “if you have any information about this case that you’re not sharing with us.” He pinions her with those steely blue eyes. Jim’s fascinating to watch during an interrogation, and he’s using some of those same techniques with Vaslova. He stays cool, never showing his hand, never trusting, but not antagonistic, either. Just coolly detached, like a cobra waiting for the right moment to strike.

Damn, I’m glad I’m on his side.

“I am cooperating to the best of my ability.”

What a non-answer!

Simon speaks up again. “I’m sure you are, Inspector. Look, why don’t you take this photograph and show it around Little Moscow? Perhaps Yuri was interested in a home-cooked meal.”

Vaslova nods. “Very good, Captain.” She takes the photo.

“Sandburg,” Simon adds, turning to me. “You remember the neighborhood? Maybe you could draw up a list of establishments for the inspector?”

I figure I’ll make the best of it. “Right. Of course. It’s a classic American ethnic zone there. Sort of like a little piece of Russia right here in Cascade. Borscht meets café latte.”

Before we can leave, the phone rings. “Yeah, Banks. All right, Doc, great. We’re on our way.” After he hangs up, Simon announces, “Dan’s got news. Let’s head to the lab.”

We go straight to the lab, the three of us in the lead, Vaslova following behind, talking on her cell phone. Simon leans in and whispers to Jim, “What do you think?”

Jim’s answer is equally soft. “I don’t trust her. Not as far as I can throw you.”

Simon laughs at that. “Which ain’t too far,” he chuckles.

I glance behind at Vaslova. Her black eyes are locked on Jim’s back, and I have an uneasy feeling she’s heard every word.

Dan Wolfe is handling the case. I like Dan. He’s got a sharp mind, and he explains his results in a way even a layman like me with a queasy stomach can understand. If I have to spend time around a coroner when I‘m in Jim‘s world, Dan would be my choice.

“Hey, Dan, what you got?” Jim asks as we enter.

Dan looks up, his long black hair in his traditional ponytail. “Hey, Jim. I found these in Gordievsky’s intestinal tract during the autopsy.” He holds up what appears to be a bag of rocks.

Simon seems to be as surprised as I am. “Rocks? What are you saying? He had rocks in his intestines?”

Dan proceeds to dump the bag out on a specimen tray, then he picks up one already set over to the side with tweezers, giving it to Jim. “I cleaned this one up for you.”

“Thanks, Dan,” Jim quips with a smile. He lays it on the counter and focuses intently on the rock. “This looks like an uncut diamond.”

“Yeah,” Dan says. “Not your typical airline meal - even in first class.” His phone rings, and he steps to the counter to answer. “Okay, good.” He hangs up. “I got another customer waiting. Excuse me.”

All eyes return to the diamonds.

Simon suggests, “I guess the first thing we do is get these things appraised.”

“No need,” Vaslova says quickly. “If cut correctly, they would be worth about $2 million. Perhaps more.”

“You could tell all that just by looking at them?” Simon asks incredulously. Vaslova doesn’t respond, but she won’t meet Simon’s gaze.

Jim chuckles under his breath as Simon adds, “I don’t know, Jim. I think somebody knows more about this than they’re letting on, you know?”

Nodding, Jim replies, “Sounds right to me.”

Vaslova’s surrender is immediate. “For some time we have known that large diamonds were being smuggled out of our Siberian mines. We traced the pipeline to Cascade.”

Simon erupts right on schedule. “And you didn’t think it was important to tell us that?!”

“Until I was sure that Gordievsky and the diamonds were connected, I had orders to stay quiet.” She turns to go, her hand resting on the doorknob.

“So much for a level playing field,” Jim remarks.

That gets her attention. She turns around again. “We come from very different worlds, Detective. I told you what I could.”

“All right, look,” Simon comments, “the important thing is to find out why Gordievsky was killed. It’s time to smoke out his contacts. You know what to do.”

“We’ll spread the word we’re shipping the body back to Moscow. His connection - whoever it is - will probably want to make a play for the stones.” Jim immediately comes up with the plan. “Let’s go.”

Diamonds as bait. Sounds enticing to me.

Jim and I pull our stake-out duty sitting in his truck up the alleyway from a shipping warehouse. It’s cliché stake-out weather. Just like something you’d expect in a B-movie. A mist shrouds the city, dimming the streetlights and casting a damp blanket over all it touches. The only movement in the alley is the occasional alley cat or skittering rat passing through the debris along the walls of the warehouses.

As we wait, I study Jim’s profile, debating whether to push for an answer. After all, privacy’s a sacred thing. But so’s friendship, right? So I figure, no time like the present. “Jim, you’ve been putting me off all day, man. You going to tell me about Yuri?”

“There’s really nothing to tell.”

Tell me another one, Ellison. “You went up against him as a Ranger. You even knew how many kills he had. Obviously, you’ve followed his career since. Come on, what went on down there in Peru?”

Jim leans against the truck window, his hand resting on his forehead, and that jaw of his working constantly. Since we teamed up, Jim’s been pretty clear that his past is just that…in the past. Hell, I didn’t even know he had a brother! What I’m asking of him now is way beyond the ‘where’d you go to school’ kind of question. I know a lot of what Jim was involved in during his Army days is still classified, and I’d never expect him to reveal those things to me. But this…somehow, this feels personal.

I’ve almost given up on getting an answer when Jim takes a long breath and starts to talk. His voice almost doesn’t sound like his, it’s distant, as though he’s reliving what went down all over again. I wait quietly, without comment, not wanting to interrupt the flow of words once the floodgate has opened.

“The Army advisers were training the locals in anti-insurgency techniques. It was starting to work out until the other side sent in Yuri. He killed anyone with the guts to stand up to the rebels. Judges, city officials, priests - it didn’t matter. All very public hits designed to send a message. My unit was sent in to take him out.” He pauses for a moment, and I have to strain to hear the softly added words, “It was my responsibility to see that Yuri didn’t kill again.”

Jim is far away from me now, lost in his memories. “We never even got close. I’d been down there a while, long enough to get to know a lot of people. My closest friend was this guy named Hector Fernandez. He was a judge. Young guy, and totally fearless. We all knew he was on Yuri’s hit list, but Hector wouldn’t back down.” Jim shook his head and shut his eyes for a moment, his hands clutching the wheel so tightly the knuckles turned pale. “God, he was brave, Sandburg. He and his wife had just had their first child, a baby girl. We all knew that the christening was just the sort of thing Yuri wouldn’t be able to pass up, so we pulled out all the stops to find him. Tracked him into the mountains.”

Jim turns to look at me now, haunted blue eyes gleaming wetly in the sickly yellow light cast by the dim and dirty streetlight. He spreads his hands, palms out, in a futile gesture of helplessness. “I figured there was no way it could happen at the christening. He was a hundred miles away!”

Without conscious thought, my hand finds his bicep and grips it hard. I leave it there in silent support. If Jim notices, he doesn’t acknowledge the gesture. His own hands return to clasp the steering wheel, as if clutching that circle will help him hold on through the telling of this painful story.

“Yuri doubled back, came into town, and took Hector out right on the cathedral steps. The bullet passed through Marlena and killed her, too. The baby was unhurt, thank God, but that little girl is growing up never knowing her mother or father.” Jim’s fist pounds powerlessly on the wheel as he spits, “Thanks to Yuri.”

What do you say in the face of such pain? “Oh, man. I’m so sorry.” I squeeze his arm again.

My words seem pitifully inadequate, but before I can find others, Jim adds softly, “I missed that one, too, Chief.”

This time, words don’t fail me. “Jim, no. That was not your fault. You didn’t think he was anywhere near the cathedral. There was no way you could have known he’d doubled back.”

“I-should-have-known!” Each word is emphasized by the sound of Jim’s fist striking the wheel. “It was my job to know! My responsibility, Sandburg, don’t you see that? I underestimated Yuri then, but I swear I won’t underestimate the bastard again.”

Before I can reply, the radio sounds. “Zebra six, we have activity in the alley behind the building. There are intruders on the premises.”

Jim replies immediately, suddenly calm and professional. “Roger that, edgar nine. I have a visual on the suspects.”

The moment of sharing confidences vanishes in an instant as reality sets in. Time to go to work.

By the time we get inside, the action’s about over. That little knot of apprehension that forms inside my gut every time I go into an unknown situation with Jim loosens considerably, and I breathe normally again. Vaslova, Mulroney, Simon, along with various other uniformed cops, are standing around two familiar figures.

Micki and Father Kasporev.


One officer leads the priest away, while Jim approaches Micki. I stand close by, but I try to stay out of his way.

“Just tell me why!” Jim demands.

“You wouldn’t understand.”

I hear the note of betrayal in Jim’s soft reply. “I thought I was your friend.”

You blew it, lady. This is one man who may forget, but he doesn’t forgive. Not easily, at least.

Micki’s eyes hold his steadily. “You are, but you are also a policeman.”

Jim turns and walks away without another word.

Vaslova comes up to Micki with a cunning smile. “Don’t worry, you can talk to me. Won’t that be nice?” The fake friendliness in her voice chills to the temperature of an iceberg. “Let’s go.”

I catch the brief glint of fear in Micki’s eyes before she catches herself and holds it at bay. As Vaslova firmly grips Micki’s elbow, I hurry to catch up to Jim.

The mist is a perfect counterpoint to the thick tenseness in the air between the main characters in this little Russo-American drama that’s going down. I have to admit that since I’ve known Jim, my life’s been nothing if not exciting. Me, Blair Sandburg, caught up in the assassination of an international dissident. Who would’ve believed it?

Jim acknowledges me with a quick nod when I join him outside. He begins to speak, then suddenly stops as his head tilts in that familiar listening pose.

Uh, oh…

“Get down!” Jim shouts, pushing me roughly behind one of the vehicles. Almost simultaneously, a shot blasts the eerie quietness of the alleyway, and Father Kasporev crumples to his knees, then collapses completely. My elbow scrapes painfully on the rough pavement, and I feel the grit grinding into my face. Ow! My nose!

“Take cover!” Vaslova cries, as Micki makes a break toward her friend, now lying motionless. An officer grabs her shoulders, holding her back.

I hear Simon’s voice barking orders, but I can’t see him from my position behind the car. “Get her back inside now!”

Jim glances at me, the look in his eye warning me to stay put, and I nod in understanding. “Shooter’s down the alley!” Jim informs the captain. “Second floor!”

They tear down the alleyway toward the building. I watch them disappear from view.

The next few minutes whirr in confused activity. The ambulance arrives, and the medics pronounce Kasporev dead at the scene. The uniforms and Vaslova whisk Micki off to the station. I can’t even locate her among the press of protective bodies around her.

At last, Jim and Simon return. Banks doesn’t say a word, just climbs into his sedan and takes off for the station, muttering beneath his breath and puffing on his cigar like a bellows. Jim motions for me to join him, and I fall in step beside him.

“How’s your nose?” he asks, and I see his eyes dart in the direction of the second waiting ambulance. I hasten to reassure him.

“Fine. Nothing a little soap and water and antiseptic won’t fix.” I touch it gently. “Gotta start protecting this handsome face, man.”

Jim laughs unexpectedly, and I take advantage of the sudden good humor to change the subject. “So? What did you find?”

The smile disappears into the mist. Jim holds out an object, but my hand stops inches short of taking it from him. “Damn! Is that what I think it is?” I look up at him anxiously. “Don’t you think we should…I don’t know…call Joel or something?”

“It’s a fake, Chief.” He holds out the charge to me. “Look at the display.”

I read the digital block numbers. Then Jim turns it upside down. Suddenly, the numbers become letters, and my blood chills. “ELLISON…”

Jim’s blue eyes are cold as he nods in acknowledgement. “Yuri. He knows I’m here.”

Act I