Act IV

When the vans stop at last, we climb out and I look around. We’re in the woods by a cabin, and a familiar figure is approaching.

“What the hell’s going on here, Mulroney?” Jim takes three steps toward the guy like he’s gonna deck him. Which I wouldn’t argue with, seeing as we’ve been kidnapped at gunpoint. Pacifism has its place, but damn! Who do these guys think they are?

The man who took Jim’s gun returns it to him, and Mulroney apologizes. “Sorry about the dramatics, Ellison. We weren’t able to inform you of the operation.”

Jim’s still in his face, but he hasn’t raised a fist yet. “What operation would that be?”

“Well, as soon as we learned that Ms. Kamerev had been released on bail, we decided to move her to a protected location. For her own safety.”

I look around again. “Where are we, anyway?”

“Delta station,” the fed replies, as if that explained everything. “It’s a safe house.”

Micki approaches from the second van. “You had no right to bring me here!”

“Well, actually, we do, Ms. Kamerev,” Mulroney points out calmly. “Your green card has been temporarily revoked, and we’re taking you into custody pending the outcome of your immigration status hearing.”

Jim shakes his head. “Who are you trying to kid here, Mulroney? I know what’s going on here. The agency wants Yuri, and they’re going to use Micki here as bait. Hell, they probably even put up her bail!”

Vaslova appears at the cabin door and walks toward us. “You are right.”

“What is she doing here?” Micki asks, eyeing Vaslova with distrust.

“Inspector Vaslova is here as a consultant,” Mulroney explains. “This is now a joint FBI-CIA op. The agency has wanted a crack at Yuri for a long time. This is their chance.”

Jim cuts his eyes at me, then back to the feds. “So, how do we figure into this?”

“Actually, Mr. Sandburg here is just along for the ride. It’s you we are interested in, Ellison. Given your history with Yuri, we felt your continued involvement might prove useful.”

Great. Wrong place, wrong time, as usual. If nothing else, at least I’m consistent.

“What makes you think we want to stay?”

Catching the emphasis on the plural, I smile my thanks at my partner.

“Because you want to protect Ms. Kamerev, and you want Yuri as badly as we do.” Mulroney pauses, then adds as an aside, “We know all about Hector Fernandez.”

Only the twitch in Jim’s jaw betrays him. Otherwise, his face is devoid of all emotion. We follow Mulroney inside without another word.

I have to admit, the technical aspect of this whole thing is fascinating. One of the feds, a younger agent, is explaining the array of electronics set up in the cabin’s living area.

“…ground effect radar, random motion sensors, infrared scanners, and audio detectors inside and outside the house.” He points to a monitor. “This is a geostationary platform with on-line, on-command image control. Gives up an infrared image of the cabin and surrounding area. That’s us right there. If Yuri shows up within 2,000 yards, this’ll pick him up.”

“Oh, very cool,” I comment, and it is. This is the aspect of police work that I really could get into.

Jim’s looking out the window, his mind obviously on matters other than what high-tech toys the feds have brought along to the wilds of Washington. “Mulroney’s pulling out? How many men is he leaving here?”

The young agent replies confidently, “Agent Walker and myself.”

“I suggest you get a lot more up here.”

“The idea is to draw him out,” the agent protests. “If we put a circus out there, he won’t show. Besides, we’ve got a million dollars of state-of-the-art equipment here. There’s no way he can get past all that.”

Jim looks at the agent as if he were a child not quite comprehending the seriousness of the situation due to his youth and inexperience. Finally, he says softly, “He’s done it before. Trust me.”

Still unconvinced, the fed argues, “We can have people here within ten minutes and on the scene.”

Jim’s voice is deadly quiet. “In five minutes, Yuri can turn this place into a graveyard.”

A shiver shakes me slightly at the image conjured by those soft words, and I decide to stick close to Jim on this one. I ease closer to him. If there’s a techno-sentinel out there who won’t hesitate to kill us all to get at Micki, I want my own sentinel close by.

I’ll take Jim’s senses over Yuri’s tricks any day.

Deep in the woods, the hunter waited. Covered by a thermal tent, Yuri listened to the conversations inside the cabin. His camouflage paint and clothes rendered him barely visible against the browns and greens of the forest floor. He pulled out a device with a monitor and followed the small blips as they moved around the screen. By listening to the conversations and coordinating them with the blips, Yuri soon identified every person in the cabin.

His smile was cold.

I decide to wait with Micki in the kitchen while Jim checks out the perimeter. Actually, Jim sort of encouraged me to wait inside.

Ordered seems such a strong word.

“Where’s Jim?” Micki asks.

I stir the soup simmering on the gas stove. Might as well cook something. From how things are going, we could be here a while. “He’s checking out the perimeter.” I taste a little. Needs pepper.

“Is he…still angry with me?” Micki’s voice is soft and hesitant.

“Oh, yeah.” I taste the soup again. Better.

“There’s something he must know…about the diamonds. They were not for me. They were for the future. For Russia. The Mirny diamond mines are the last of the KGB empire. They were dug by zeks - prisoners like my father. Like Gordievsky.”

I turn down the light under the soup and face her. “That’s where your father died?” From the corner of my eye, I see Vaslova standing in the doorway, listening.

“Those who killed him still run the mines,” Micki continues, “only now, the money doesn’t go to the state. It goes straight into their pockets. So we decided to use their own diamonds to help build a new Russia. Gordievsky knew people in the mines; I knew people in the west.”

“Father Kasporev used the church to filter the cash back home.”

She nods her answer. “Yes.”

It seems so simple. Only look at the body count so far, and from the looks of the situation, it might very well get worse.

Vaslova drifts into the room, a totally different Vaslova than I’ve seen before. Softer, somehow. More vulnerable.

“We dream of the same thing. A free Russia. Only our methods are different.”

She moves to stand beside Micki, only there’s nothing threatening about her demeanor now.

Jim comes in through the kitchen door, his gun still in his hand.

“Hey, Jim. Anything going on outside?” I ask, hoping maybe Yuri’s been caught and we can all go home now.

Except Micki. Where the hell will home be for her when this is all over?

No such luck. Jim shakes his head. “No, not yet, but he’s out there. I can feel him.”

It was time. Crawling out from the safety of his thermal tent, Yuri stood up, stretching his legs after hours hidden within the shelter. He pushed a single button on the watch-like device on his wrist., then he ducked back beneath his cover.

“Code red! We’ve got something in the woods! Looks like an intruder.”

There’s a mad rush to see what’s appeared on the fed’s screen. We all see the blip as the agent points to it, then, suddenly, it disappears completely.

“Damn it! He’s gone!” The young agent stares at the screen in disbelief.

Beneath the safety of his tent, Yuri aimed his high-powered rifle at the shuttered windows of the cabin and smiled. He glanced at the screen beside him, selecting his target with care.

He fired. Once. Again. Again.

Jim must have heard the bullet streaking toward us. “Get down!” he cries. “Everyone get down!”

A bullet slices the air, followed quickly by a second.

I throw myself behind a large overstuffed chair, as Jim dives behind a chair. Vaslova and Micki take cover behind the other big chair. I lose track of the agents for a moment, and when I find them, my heart sinks.

They are lying perfectly still, sprawled in the middle of the floor, blood oozing out and soaking the rug, turning it dark and wet.

I fight back a wave of nausea. No time to get sick, not right now.

Jim starts to crawl around the back of the cabin toward me. “Stay low!”

Just as he emerges into the open from the safety of the couch, two quick bullets bite the floor, forcing him to retreat.

Vaslova calls out, “The windows are covered. How can he see us?”

Jim raises up enough to look at the monitor display. “Son of a…! Sandburg! Give me the walkie-talkie! Right above you.”

Carefully, expecting at any moment to hear the crack of rifle fire, I ease my arm up and snag the walkie-talkie from the mantle. Hunkering back behind my chair, I lean out and toss it across the room to Jim.

“Mulroney! We’re under attack,” Jim shouts into the black box. “Yuri’s tapped into the security system.”

A crackling reply that sounds like Mulroney answers. “That’s impossible!”

Jim erupts. “Your two men have been hit. He’s using your satellite to target our heat signatures. Now shut it off before somebody else gets killed!”

“All right, all right,” the voice crackles. “I’ll shut it down. I’ll call you back.” There’s an audible click as the connection is broken.

Vaslova says, “I don’t understand. The satellite picked him up only for a moment, then he disappeared.”

“He probably was covering up his body heat, using a thermal blanket or something. He popped out only long enough to let us know he was there and get our attention.”

No one answered. I strain my ears, trying to hear something. Anything.

Be careful what you wish for. A spray of bullets tears through the walls and windows, splintering wood and shattering glass. I duck down low, covering my head and wishing I could crawl beneath the floorboards. The bullets are popping all around me, the splinters bouncing off my face. Down from the chair sprays into the air, and I realize it only offers the illusion of cover. Damn!

“Everybody fall back!” Jim cries. “Get behind the couch! Stay low! Sandburg, stay low!”

Don’t worry, man. I crawl quickly behind the more substantial bulk of the couch and collapse, panting and sweating with a combination of fear and exertion. From his position behind the chair, Jim spots me, and a determined look flares in his eyes. He crawls over to me, staying low. Dropping down and rolling, he plants himself in front of me so that I have the wall to my back and Jim to the front. Vaslova and Micki huddle together on the other side of Jim.

Mulroney’s voice crackles through the walkie-talkie again during a lull in the shooting. “Ellison? All right, we’ve turned it off. How bad is your situation?”

Jim leans back, his shoulder pressing heavy against my thigh. “He’s using explosive rounds. He’s firing blind now. It’s time to send in back-up.”

There’s a long hesitation. “We’ve got a team on their way. Five minutes out.”

Jim’s earlier words ring in my ears. “In five minutes, Yuri can turn this place into a graveyard.”

Oh, God.

What’s left of the cabin windows shatter with the impact of a tremendous explosion. “What was that?” I shout at Jim, staring at him as I grab onto his arm.

Jim shakes his head and keys the walkie-talkie. “Did you hear that, Mulroney? That’s a land mine. Your men are going down. Now, I suggest you send in the air support.”

The next words fall like lead. “We can’t do that.”

Another spray of bullets chops into the floor, the walls, the ceiling. We cower lower behind the couch, as Jim shouts into the walkie-talkie, “I’m telling you I need my people out of here now!” As another round bites the cabin walls and floor, he twists, grabbing my shoulders, pulling me down hard against him.

Mulroney‘s voice crackles again. “And I’m telling you, Ellison, we can’t risk the men. He could blow my guys out of the sky. Sit tight, and we’ll contain the perimeter. This is gonna be our last call. Yuri’s probably listening in. Over and out.”

With a click, communication with the outside was cut abruptly off.

“Mulroney!” Jim shouts, keying the walkie-talkie to no avail. “Mulro…” He slams the device across the room in a fit of fury.

I can see the moment when Jim makes up his mind. He looks around, then points to Vaslova. “All right. You’re in charge here.” Jim stares flatly at me. “I want you to listen to her. Anything she says, you do it, okay?” He doesn’t give me time to argue. “I’m going after him.”

Just as he raises up, another bullet whizzes by. I grab Jim’s arm and hold him back. “You sure about this, man?”

Why the hell do I feel like he’s just said good-bye?

Staring hard into my eyes, forcing me to understand the meaning behind the words, Jim says pointedly, “He’s lost his sight. All that technology isn’t helping him. I got the advantage now.”

Our gaze locks for a long moment, then I nod. I understand. The techno-sentinel’s working blind, and Jim could no more remain here in safety than he could walk out that battered door waving a white flag. Knowing Yuri can probably still hear every word, I squeeze his arm and say softly, “You can do this. Just be careful, okay?”

With a tight nod and a half-smile, Jim belly-crawls out the back door.


Act V