Sam Hollis felt his body swinging through the black void. The sensations of weightlessness and motion were soothing and pleasant, and he wanted it to last, but by stages he realized he was not floating but sitting still.
He opened his eyes to blackness and stared at distant lights until they came closer and took the familiar form of a cockpit instrument panel. He focused on a clock in front of him and saw it was nearly six. He assumed it was A.M. He turned his head and looked at O’Shea, sitting in the pilot’s seat beside him. “Where the hell are you going?”
O’Shea glanced at him. “Hello. Feeling all right?”
“I feel fine. Answer my question, Captain.”
Lisa leaned between the seats and kissed him on the cheek. She took his hand. “Hello, Sam.”
“Hello to you. Hello to everyone back there. Where the hell are we going? The embassy is only twenty minutes—”
Bert Mills, sitting behind him, said, “We can’t go to the embassy with this load, General. Captain O’Shea, Bill, and I are officially in Helsinki. You and Lisa are officially dead. Dodson died almost twenty years ago, and Burov is a major complication.”
Hollis nodded. He knew all that. “We’re going to the gulf.”
O’Shea replied, “Yes, sir. Gulf of Finland. To rendezvous with a ship.” O’Shea added, “Congratulations on your promotion.”
Typical military, Hollis thought. No congratulations on being alive, but promotions were important. He grunted. “Thanks.”
Mills asked, “How do you feel physically?”
Hollis moved his legs, then his arms, but didn’t feel any lack of coordination. His vision was good, and his other senses seemed all right. He smelled a faint odor of vomit and realized it was coming from his sweat shirt. He hadn’t voided his bladder or bowels, which was good. He realized the right side of his face was numb and put his fingers to his cheek, feeling a gauze pad over the area where Burov’s teeth had ripped his flesh. The numbness, he assumed, was caused by a local anesthetic and not the effects of nerve gas. “I’m all right.” He turned in his seat and stared at Mills. “You administered pralidoxime?”
Mills nodded, acknowledging that what they were discussing was the antidote for nerve gas, not sleeping gas.
“Did I convulse?”
“Slight. But if you feel all right, then you’re all right. That’s how that stuff is.”
Lisa said, “I didn’t think sleeping gas could make you so sick.”
No one replied.
Hollis turned and looked around the dark cabin. Lisa was kneeling on the floor between the seats, Mills was directly behind Hollis, and Brennan was sleeping peacefully in the seat behind O’Shea. In the two rear seats were Dodson and Burov, odd seating companions, he thought. They both were held upright by shoulder harnesses.
Mills said, “Dodson will be okay. He just needs a few square meals. Burov… well, he needs his face rebuilt. I hope there’s no brain damage.”
“He started with brain damage,” Hollis replied. Hollis felt Lisa squeeze his hand, and remembering his one regret, squeezed it in return. He said, “Good to see you.”
She said, “We waited for you, but…”
“You weren’t supposed to wait, and you weren’t supposed to come back and risk everything.”
Mills said, “We took a vote, and I lost. Nothing personal, General. Just for the record.” Mills added, “Also for the record, you and Seth shouldn’t have waited for me. But thanks.”
Hollis turned back to the front and scanned the instrument panel, his eyes resting on the fuel gauge. “How far are we from the gulf?”
O’Shea replied, “Based on average airspeed and elapsed traveling time, I estimate about a hundred and fifty klicks. I have a land navigation chart, but I can’t see any landmarks below. We’re on a heading for Leningrad. When we see the lights of the city, we’ll take a new heading.”
Hollis looked at the airspeed indicator and the altimeter. They were traveling at 150 kph at 1,600 meters. He read the torque gauge and tachometer gauges, then checked the oil pressure and oil temperature, battery temperature, and the turbine outlet temperature. Considering the load weight and the distance already traveled, the helicopter was performing well. The only problem he could see was with the fuel: there didn’t seem to be enough of it. He tapped the fuel gauge to see if the needle moved.
O’Shea thought Hollis was drawing attention to the problem and said softly, “I don’t know.” He forced a smile and using an old pilot’s joke said, “We might have to swim the last hundred yards.”
Hollis replied, “You burned some fuel coming back for me.”
O’Shea didn’t reply.
No one spoke for some time, and Hollis noted that for all the euphoria they must have felt over a narrow escape, the mood in the cabin was anything but jubilant. He suspected that everyone’s thoughts were flashing back to the Charm School and forward to the Gulf of Finland. The here and now, as Brennan was demonstrating, was irrelevant. He said to Mills, “If I understand you correctly, you, Brennan, and my former aide here are still in Helsinki and most probably will not be returning to Moscow to resume your duties, diplomatic or otherwise.”
Mills replied, “That’s a safe assumption.”
“And Burov and Major Dodson will disappear into the American Charm School.”
Mills nodded tentatively.
“And Lisa and I will get a ticker tape parade in New York.”
Mills stayed silent for a moment, then said, “Well… did Seth speak to you?”
“Yes. I know that Lisa and I were not supposed to be on this helicopter. But now that we are…”
“Well… I suppose we can say your helicopter accident was a case of mistaken identity. I guess we can work out your resurrection.”
“Thank you. You worked out our death real well.”
Mills smiled with embarrassment.
Lisa looked from one to the other. “I’m not completely following this, as usual.”
Hollis looked at her. “It wasn’t sleeping gas. It was nerve gas. Poison.”
“There will be no negotiating or swap for the others. Everyone back there, including Seth, is dead.”
“Yes. You and I were supposed to be dead too.”
“Why…?” She looked at Mills. “Seth… dead? No, he can’t be
Mills stood. “Sit here.” He took her arm and moved her into his seat. Mills squatted on the floor and drew a deep breath. “It’s very complicated to explain, Lisa.”
Hollis said, “No, it’s not, Bert. It’s very simple. You just don’t want to say it out loud.” Hollis said to Lisa, “The State Department, White House, Defense Intelligence, and the CIA cut a deal. Mrs. Ivanova’s Charm School is closed forever, and Mrs. Johnson’s Charm School is about to open.”
Mills said, “I don’t think you should say anything else, General. I don’t think Seth would have wanted her to know any of this.”
Hollis ignored him and continued, “The two seemingly insolvable problems were, one, how to identify the Russians in America, and two, how to deal with the Americans held prisoner in Russia. A man named General Surikov provided the solution to the first problem, which allowed Seth to provide his solution to the second.” Hollis related to Lisa what Alevy had told him.
Lisa stared at Hollis’ reflection in the Plexiglas window as she listened. When Hollis finished, she said in a surprisingly strong voice, “And that was all Seth’s idea?”
Hollis nodded. “To his credit, he felt remorse over the consequences of his finest moment. And he couldn’t bring himself to let you die. He was ambivalent about me right to the end. I shouldn’t even tell you that, but you have a right to know everything.” He added, “That’s what you always wanted.”
“I don’t think that changes how I feel about him right now.” She thought a moment. “I can’t picture all those people dead…. All those men, their wives, the children… Jane, the kidnapped American women….” She shook her head. “I can’t believe he made up that lie about sleeping gas and prisoner exchanges.” She looked at Hollis. “You knew it was a lie, didn’t you?”
“It seemed a bit too good and didn’t fit the facts.”
She nodded but said nothing.
Hollis said to Mills, “I consider that my life and Lisa’s life are still in danger.”
Mills seemed uncomfortable. “I’m not the source of the danger. We’ll work something out.”
“Like what? Life tenure in the new Charm School?”
“I think that all Seth ever wanted from you two is a promise never to reveal a word of this to anyone.”
Hollis noted that Mills’ voice had that tone in it that one uses in speaking of recently deceased heroes.
Hollis turned back toward the front and concentrated on the problem at hand. His eyes swept the gauges again, and he noted an increase in oil temperature and a drop in pressure. The fuel needle was in the red, but the warning light was not on yet. He said to O’Shea, “You’ve done an admirable job of burning fuel. Reduce airspeed.”
“Well, according to my instructions, which I opened only after I was airborne, our rendezvous with the ship must occur before dawn. The ship won’t identify itself after daylight. There may be Soviet naval and merchant vessels in the area.”
O’Shea added, “First light in that part of the world isn’t until zero seven twenty-two hours. We’re cutting it close even at this speed.”
Hollis nodded. He’d thought the problem was only fuel. Now it was the sunrise. Hollis looked at the airspeed indicator, then the more accurate ground-speed indicator. Airspeed was still 150 kph, but actual ground speed was only 130. They were obviously bucking into a strong headwind.
Hollis looked out the windshield. Thin, scudding clouds flew at them, and occasionally he could feel the turbulence of the gusting north wind.
The sky above was layered with clouds, and there was no starlight. Below, Hollis could not see a single light. He’d flown this route to Leningrad with Aeroflot, and he knew this part of Russia. Much of it was an underpopulated expanse of forest, small lakes, and marshes. Last autumn he’d taken the Red Arrow Express from Leningrad back to Moscow, and the train had passed through the same country he’d seen from the air. The villages had been dilapidated, and the farms badly kept. It was a cold, unforgiving stretch of country below, not the sort of place where one would want to forceland a helicopter.
Hollis said to O’Shea, “Did you try a higher altitude?”
“No, sir. I didn’t want to burn any more fuel on a climb.”
Hollis took the controls on his side. “Take a break. Stretch.”
O’Shea released the controls and the stretched his arms and legs. “Do you want to fly it from the right-hand seat?”
“No, but I don’t want to try a crossover either. I’ll let you sit in the pilot’s seat as long as you don’t take it seriously.”
Hollis knew that helicopter flying, which needed continuous concentration and constant hands-on, could fatigue a solo pilot within an hour. O’Shea had been behind the stick for close to two hours, alone with the falling fuel needle.
Hollis said, “Let’s go upstairs.” He increased the collective pitch for a slow rate of climb, increased the throttle, and held the craft level with the cyclic stick. The increased torque caused the nose to yaw to the left, and O’Shea reminded him, “It’s backwards.”
“Thank you, Captain. Does that mean our fuel level is rising?”
Hollis pressed down on the right rudder pedal and put the helicopter in longitudinal trim. “It seems to handle all right. But I wouldn’t want to have to try something tricky like landing on a pitching ship in the dark with a strong wind.”
O’Shea glanced at Hollis to see if he was making a joke. O’Shea said, “Well, I’ve logged enough time on this to give it a try. But if you want to take it in, you’re the skipper.”
“We’ll arm-wrestle for the honor as we make our final approach.”
Mills looked from Hollis to O’Shea. Pilots, he thought, like CIA operatives, resorted to black humor when things were least funny.
Hollis watched the altimeter needles moving. At three thousand meters he arrested the ascent, and the airspeed climbed back to 150 kph. The ground-speed indicator read nearly the same. “That’s better.”
O’Shea said, “Maybe I should have climbed earlier.”
“Maybe. Maybe the headwinds were stronger up here earlier.”
“It’s hard to know without being able to call for weather conditions.”
“Right.” Hollis familiarized himself with the controls and with the instruments. He played around with the data available: speed, altitude, load, fuel, elapsed flight time, estimated distance to landing — but he couldn’t say with any certainty whether or not they’d see the Gulf of Finland before dawn or for that matter even see the Gulf of Finland or the dawn.
O’Shea seemed to be thinking along the same lines. “If we spot a landmark, we can figure our distance to landing. But I don’t have a feeling for that fuel gauge.”
Hollis replied, “We have the speed we need to arrive on time at the only landing site we have. Those are close parameters, and there’s nothing more we can do at the moment.”
O’Shea said, “Maybe we’ll pick up a tailwind.”
Mills, who had been listening intently, asked, “What if we pick up another headwind?”
O’Shea glanced back at him. “No use worrying about something we can’t do anything about.”
Mills said to Hollis, “Basic question, General — what are the odds?”
Hollis replied, “I just got here. I’m not giving odds on
Mills asked, “Look, would it help if we dumped some weight?”
“I assume you’ve already done that.”
O’Shea replied, “Yes. Coats, baggage, drinking water, some hardware, and all that. Lightened us maybe a hundred pounds.”
Mills said, “I had something else in mind.”
Hollis inquired, “
“Well… Dodson or Burov, I guess.”
“You need them,” Hollis said. “Would you like
“No. I don’t want Captain O’Shea flying again. He makes me nervous.” Mills smiled, then added, “Look, we
Neither Hollis nor O’Shea replied.
Mills said, “Well, forget it. I’m not playing that lifeboat game. That’s your decision if you want to make it.”
Hollis rather liked Mills when Mills was being Mills. But when Mills was trying to be Alevy, the result was an affected cynicism without his boss’s style or moral certainty.
Lisa, who hadn’t spoken in some time, said, “I don’t want to hear about any more murders, please.”
No one said anything, and the only sound was from the turbines and rotor blades.
Hollis asked O’Shea, “Have you sighted any aircraft?”
Hollis nodded. He didn’t think anyone at the Charm School had had the opportunity or ability to radio out any information. But by now, the Soviets might have discovered that their facility had been wiped out, and they might have made the connection between the missing Aeroflot Mi-28 helicopter and the disaster at the Charm School. And if they had put it all together, they were probably thinking of the only safe place other than the American embassy that an Mi-28 could reach: the Gulf of Finland.
Hollis turned to Mills and asked, “Did you people consult any Air Force types when you put this scheme together?”
“Of course,” Mills said in a slightly offended tone.
“How did you expect to escape Soviet radar detection?”
“Well,” Mills replied, “the Air Force guys we spoke to figured we’d be out of reach of Moscow’s radar by the time they drew any conclusions. We knew we couldn’t be spotted visually with our navigation lights off.” Mills said to O’Shea, “You have some technical written orders, don’t you?”
O’Shea replied, “I was supposed to get down low to avoid airborne radar — to blend in with the ground clutter — and take an evasive course toward the gulf. But I sort of figured that the available fuel wouldn’t allow for that.”
“You were sort of right.” Hollis said, “Even if they’re not looking for us, we’re going to show up on somebody’s screen as we approach Leningrad’s air traffic control area.”
O’Shea said, “At that point we’re going to have to get in low, below the radar. We can risk a visual sighting over a populated area at that time because we’ll be in the home stretch. We should be landed before they can scramble a flight to intercept us.” He looked at Hollis. “What do you think?”
“I think someone forgot to consider Red Navy radar that watches everything in the gulf. I think if they’re specifically looking for us, they’ll find us. I’m going on the assumption they haven’t connected an Mi-28 Aeroflot helicopter bearing a certain ID number with the nerve gas attack on their training facility outside of Borodino.”
Mills said, “We’re gambling that no one even knows that the Charm School is dead until someone comes by in the morning with a delivery or someone calls from Moscow or something. As for this helicopter, I changed the ID number, and they’re probably still looking for the crash site of P-113. This is a very compartmentalized country, and information does not travel freely. Therefore connections aren’t easily made. That’s working in our favor.”
Hollis replied, “You may be right.” He asked O’Shea, “How are we supposed to rendezvous with the ship in the gulf?”
O’Shea glanced at a piece of paper clipped to the instrument panel. “Well, first we look for Pulkovo Airport, which you and I would recognize from the air. Then we drop below two hundred meters to get under the radar. About a klick due south of the control tower, we take a three-hundred-ten-degree heading. We’ll pass over the coast west of Leningrad and continue out until we see the lighthouse on the long jetty. From a point directly over the lighthouse we take a three-hundred-forty-degree heading and maintain a ground speed of eighty kph for ten minutes. According to what it says here, somewhere down in the main shipping lane we’ll see three yellow fog lights that form a triangle. Those lights are on the fantail of a freighter heading out of Leningrad. The lights won’t blind or project a beam that might attract unwanted attention. But they should glow bright enough for us to see them at two hundred meters’ altitude and about half a klick radial distance around the ship — even in one of those gulf fogs. We land in the center of that triangle, deep-six the chopper, and the ship takes us to Liverpool.” O’Shea added, “I’ll buy dinner when we get to London.”
Hollis glanced at O’Shea but said nothing.
They continued north for another fifteen minutes, and Hollis saw that the ground speed was dropping, indicating they were picking up headwinds again. The needle on the fuel gauge was buried in the red zone. One of the things Hollis recalled from the Mi-28 manual — which he’d purchased indirectly from an Aeroflot mechanic for blue jeans and American cigarettes — was that the fuel gauge shouldn’t be trusted. In fact, he noticed that though the needle was deeper in the red, the fuel warning still wasn’t on.
O’Shea said, “Want me to take it?”
“No. I need the practice.”
A few minutes later O’Shea said, “We should have seen the lights of Leningrad by now.”
Mills asked, “Will we have any warning before the fuel runs out?”
Hollis replied, “Do you want a warning?”
“What do you mean?”
“Do you want to land in Russia?”
“I guess not. I guess we just keep flying until we go down.”
“I guess so,” Hollis replied.
Five minutes later the fuel warning light flickered. A few seconds after that a reedy voice said in Russian, “Your fuel reserves are nearly gone.”
O’Shea replied to the recording, “Screw you.”
The voice said, “Make preparations to terminate your flight.”
Hollis and O’Shea exchanged glances.
Mills asked, “What did he say?”
Hollis replied, “There’re only forty-two shopping days left until Christmas.”
Lisa said to Mills, “Fuel is low.”
Mills nodded. “I figured that’s what he said.”
They continued on north through the black night. No one spoke, as if, Hollis thought, everyone were waiting for the sound of the turbines to cut out. Finally, Lisa leaned forward and put her hand on his shoulder. “How are you?”
“Fine. How’re things back in business class?”
“You tell me. How much fuel is left after that announcement?”
“It’s more a matter of how much flight time you can get out of the available fuel. That depends on load, temperature, humidity, winds, altitude, speed, engine performance, maneuvers, and the good Lord.”
“Should I pray?”
“I’ll let you fly.”
“Okay. You pray. I’ll fly. Later we’ll switch.”
Lisa looked at Hollis’ hands on the controls. This was a different Sam Hollis from the one she’d known in Moscow or in the Charm School. It struck her that he belonged in this aircraft, and she recalled what Seth Alevy had said to her at Sheremetyevo Airport about the world of pilots: They were a different breed, but she thought she could love him just the same.
The voice said again, “Your fuel reserves are nearly gone,” then, “Make preparations to terminate your flight.”
No one spoke for some minutes, then O’Shea said, “Hey, did you hear about the Aeroflot pilot who ran low on fuel crossing the ocean and dumped fuel to save weight?”
No one laughed, and O’Shea said, “It’s funnier on the ground.”
Hollis looked at the instrument panel clock. It was 6:59. Sunrise was in twenty-three minutes, after which time the freighter was to turn off its landing lights, making it indistinguishable from any other freighter in the area. At their present speed they could cover about sixty kilometers before sunrise. But for the last ten minutes of the flight they would have to reduce their speed to eighty kph, according to the instructions. Hollis said to O’Shea, “Our options are two: We can decrease speed, conserve fuel, and we’ll probably make it to our rendezvous, but it will be well after dawn. Or we can increase speed and our rate of fuel consumption, which is the only way we could possibly make our rendezvous before dawn. Of course, if we increase fuel consumption, we may not get that far. What’s your professional opinion, Captain?”
O’Shea replied as though he’d given it some thought. “I’m betting that there’s more fuel left than we think. That’s just my gut feeling. I say full speed ahead.”
Mills said, “I vote to cut speed and conserve fuel. Our primary obligation is not to get to that freighter before dawn — it’s to get out of the Soviet Union, and out of the reach of the KGB. I want to make sure we reach the gulf. I’d rather go into the drink than have them get their hands on us. We know too much.”
Hollis replied, “You have no vote, Bert. This is a technical matter. But your opinion is noted. Lisa?”
“I’m with Bert. I’d rather drown than run out of gas over land.”
Hollis nodded. “Should we wake Brennan for his opinion?” Hollis heard the sound of popping bubble gum, followed by Brennan’s voice saying, “We dead yet?”
Mills replied, “We’re working on it.”
Brennan stretched and cleared his throat. “Hey, Colonel, glad to see you up and around. How you doing?”
“Fine. I’m a general.”
“Oh, right. Sorry. Hey, did we do a tit for tat on them, or what? I mean to tell you, we kicked some ass. Right?”
“Right. Did you hear our problem?”
“Yeah. That’s a tough one. Whatever you guys decide is okay with me.”
Hollis wished everyone was as unopinionated.
Brennan added, “I hate flying. Glad we’ll be down soon.”
O’Shea said, “Your call, General.”
The disembodied voice said again, “Your fuel reserves are nearly gone. Make preparations to terminate your flight.”
“Full speed ahead.” Hollis pushed forward on the cyclic stick, dropping the craft into a nose-down attitude, and simultaneously increased the throttle and adjusted the collective stick. The airspeed indicator rose to 180 kph with a corresponding rise in ground speed. Hollis said, “Never believe a Russian.”
They continued north. The fuel warning light glowed steady red, and the recorded voice gave its warning in the same indifferent tone. Hollis had always thought that these cockpit recordings should get shriller each time they came on. But tape players did not fear death.
O’Shea called out, “Look!”
Hollis, Mills, Lisa, and Brennan looked to where O’Shea was pointing. Slightly to starboard of their flight path, on the black distant horizon, they could see a faint glow. Hollis announced, “Leningrad.”
O’Shea said, “About twenty klicks. Maybe seven minutes’ flight time.”
Hollis looked at the clock. It was 7:04. Eighteen minutes to sunrise. If they got to Pulkovo in seven minutes and changed heading, they would get to the lighthouse in about another five minutes. Then a ten-minute flight to the rendezvous point with the freighter. That sounded like twenty-two minutes.
O’Shea said, “We’re racing the sun now, General.”
Hollis replied, “I thought it was the fuel gauge. You’re confusing me.”
O’Shea smiled grimly.
Hollis increased the craft’s speed to two hundred kph.
O’Shea observed, “We’re operating at full power at the end of a long flight. Do you trust these turbines?”
Hollis glanced at his instruments. The turbine outlet temperature was redlined, and so was the oil temperature. “Never trust the reds.” Hollis called back to Brennan, “So what made you come back for this, Bill?”
“Oh, I don’t know. Seth Alevy said you were in trouble. That’s why Captain O’Shea volunteered too. Right, Captain?”
“Right.” O’Shea said to Hollis, “I want you to reconsider my evaluation report.”
“I’ll think about it.” Hollis began a long sloping descent. O’Shea said to him, “How many hours of rotary wing do you have, General?”
Hollis glanced at the clock. “Counting the last thirty minutes, one hour.”
O’Shea said, “Seriously.”
“I don’t know… ten or twelve. Is this a test?”
“No. I’m just wondering who should put it down.”
“If it’s a power-off landing in the freezing gulf, you can do it. If it’s power on, on the deck of the freighter, I’ll do it.”
The Mi-28 continued descending, and Hollis noticed its ground speed bleeding off, indicating increasing headwinds. At five hundred meters its airspeed was still 200 kph, but its actual speed relative to the ground, which was the speed that mattered, was not quite 130 kph. Hollis knew they were encountering those infamous winter winds from the Gulf of Finland, winds so strong and steady that they sometimes caused the gulf to rise as much as five feet, flooding Leningrad. He thought about heavy seas and their freighter rising, falling, rolling, and pitching in them.
Hollis could now see the main arteries leading into the city and saw some predawn traffic below.
O’Shea said, “I think that’s the Moscow highway down there. So Pulkovo should be to port.”
Mills said, “I haven’t heard the recording for a while.”
Hollis replied, “I think he gave up on us.”
O’Shea said, “Is that it?” He pointed out the left side window.
Hollis looked and saw the familiar blue-white aircraft lights. “Yes.” He added, “That was a remarkable piece of land navigation, Captain.”
“Thank you, sir. I tried to allow for wind drift, but I wasn’t sure how much we were being blown off our heading.”
“Apparently not enough to miss a whole city.” Hollis banked left as he increased the rate of descent. The altimeter read two hundred meters, and he leveled off. He estimated he was a kilometer south of Pulkovo’s tower, and he took a heading of 310 degrees. They were so low now that Hollis could make out passengers in a bus below. He saw a few factories slide by and saw a train speeding away from the city. To the north, the great city of Leningrad seemed to grow brighter minute by minute as it wakened from its long autumn night.
O’Shea said, “I think I see the gulf.”
Hollis looked out and could see where the scattered shore lights ended and a great expanse of black began. “Another few minutes. Look for the lighthouse at the end of the jetty.”
The minutes passed in silence. The coast slipped below them, and they were suddenly out to sea. Hollis looked at the clock: 7:14.
Mills said, “That’s it. No going back.”
Hollis nodded. If they went down and survived the crash, survival time in the near-freezing gulf would be about fifteen minutes.
O’Shea pointed directly ahead. “Lighthouse.”
“See it.” Hollis continued on and within a half kilometer of the lighthouse began to throttle back and pick up the nose. The ground speed hit eighty kph as he passed over the lighthouse on the end of the two-kilometer-long concrete jetty. He swung the nose around to the new heading of 340 degrees and noted the time on the clock: 7:17. “Captain, keep the time.”
Hollis watched the compass and maintained the northwesterly heading but had no doubt that the north wind was blowing them off course. He tried to calculate how much drift there might be in a ten-minute flight if the wind was as strong as thirty to forty knots. He had a sudden desire to meet Mills’ flight advisers. He said to Mills, “What air force was that?”
“The guys with whom you consulted.”
“Oh… what’s the problem? Besides fuel, I mean?”
“Navigation. Two moving objects. He has to contend with the seas; we have to contend with the air.”
O’Shea observed, “Sort of like threading a moving needle.”
“In the dark,” Hollis added.
Mills didn’t reply.
Brennan said, “I guess we only have one shot at this rendezvous.”
O’Shea said, “If that many.”
A voice said in Russian, “Fuck you… I’ll kill you all.”
Hollis inquired, “Is that a prerecorded announcement?”
Brennan chuckled. “I think that’s our passenger in coach. What did he say?”
“He said he needs another shot of sodium pentothal,” Hollis replied. “Bert, shut him up.”
Mills made his way to the rear and looked at Burov. He called out to Hollis, “He’s in bad shape already, General. I don’t want to kill him.”
Burov said indistinctly through swollen lips, “I’ll have you all back in the cells.”
The recorded warning came on again, and Burov said, “You see? Land this helicopter immediately.”
Hollis called back in Russian, “Shut your mouth, Burov, or I’ll throw you out.”
Burov fell silent.
Mills looked Dodson over and announced, “Our other passenger seems okay.”
O’Shea said, “Time, seven-nineteen, two minutes elapsed.”
Mills looked out the rear window toward the southeast. “The sun is coming up.” He added, “They won’t take us aboard if it’s light.”
Lisa asked, “What choice do they have?”
Mills replied, “Well, they have the choice of shutting off their landing lights. Then we wouldn’t know what ship it is down there. All I know is that it’s a freighter. I don’t know anything else about the ship, not even its nationality. We’re not supposed to know anything for security reasons, and I guess also so that we can’t make a landing in the daylight and endanger the ship. All we know is to look for three yellow lights on a freighter.”
Hollis said, “Maybe your friends in Washington picked a Soviet ship for us.”
Mills smiled weakly. “That’s not funny.”
Burov spoke in English through his broken teeth. “Listen to me. Listen. Land this helicopter and let me out. You can make good your escape. I will guarantee you that no harm will come to the men and women at the school. You have my word on that.”
There was a silence in the cabin, then Hollis said to O’Shea, “Take the controls.” He made his way to the rear of the cabin and stood over Burov, whose wrists were bound to the chair with steel flex. Hollis stared at Burov, and Burov stared back. Finally Hollis said, “Would you like something for the pain?”
Burov didn’t respond for a second, then shook his head.
“Are you thirsty?”
Hollis turned around. “Anything left to drink?”
“Just this,” Mills said, handing him a flask. “Cognac. Real stuff.”
Hollis took the flask and held it to Burov’s blood-encrusted lips. Burov’s eyes stayed on Hollis, then his mouth opened, and Hollis poured half the flask between Burov’s lips. Burov coughed up dried blood, but got most of the cognac down. Hollis saw tears forming in the man’s eyes and assumed it was because of the burning alcohol on his split lips and gums. Hollis said, “We have no water.”
Burov didn’t reply.
Hollis put the cap back on the flask and said to Burov, “It’s over, you know.”
Burov said nothing.
“Within a few minutes you will be either a prisoner on a ship or will be dead in the water. There’s no other fate for you.”
“Do you pray?”
“But your mother taught you how.”
Burov didn’t reply.
“You might consider it.”
Burov seemed to slump further into his seat, and his head dropped. “I congratulate you. All of you. Please leave me alone.”
Hollis looked at Dodson’s battered face, then looked back at Burov. Hollis said to Burov, “You’ve got a lot to answer for. I’m going to see to it that you answer directly to Major Dodson on behalf of the other airmen.” Hollis moved to the port side windows and looked out to the southeast. He saw a small red rim poking above the flat horizon, casting a pink twilight over the city of Leningrad. But out here, in the gulf, the waters were black. He went back to the copilot’s chair and sat. “I’ll take it.”
Hollis looked at the clock: 7:21. About six minutes’ flight time to their rendezvous site, but only one or two minutes to first light. They weren’t going to reach the freighter before dawn.
O’Shea was looking intently out the front windshield. Mills and Brennan were looking out the port side, Lisa was looking out to starboard. They all searched the dark sea below. There were lights down there, Hollis saw, boats and channel markers, but no triangle of yellow lights.
As Hollis watched, the water became lighter, and he could see its texture now, the rising swells picking up the new sunlight. At least, he thought, he’d seen the dawn, and regardless of what happened, it was a better dawn than it would have been in the Charm School.
O’Shea announced, “It’s seven twenty-seven. Elapsed flight time since the lighthouse is now ten minutes.”
Lisa said, “I don’t see it.”
Brennan said, “I guess they’ve shut off their landing lights. Maybe we should just put it down on any ship. You see that big tanker out there? About ten o’clock, half a klick.”
Hollis could see the massive flat deck in the grey morning light. It was inviting, but like a woman beckoning from a dark doorway, it was not necessarily a safe bet. Hollis said, “It may be a Soviet or East Bloc ship. We can’t tell.”
Mills concurred. “We agreed that we wouldn’t fall into their hands. We owe that to our country as well as to ourselves.”
Brennan nodded. “You’re right. It could be a commie ship. I guess you find a lot of those here. I’d rather drown.”
Burov spoke. “You can’t be serious. Wouldn’t you all rather live than die horribly in the cold water?”
Lisa replied, “No.”
Brennan turned and said to Burov, “I don’t want to hear your voice again.”
Another few minutes passed, and the sky went from grey dawn to morning nautical light. Hollis could see the heavy cloud bank overhead now and the gulf mist below. Sea gulls and terns circled over the water, and in the distance he saw a rain squall. A typical dreary day in the Gulf of Finland.
Mills said, “Well, he’s killed the lights by now. He won’t risk a Soviet ship seeing an Aeroflot helicopter land on his deck. I can’t say I blame him.”
Lisa said, “But I don’t see anything that even looks like a freighter. I see a few tankers and a few fishing ships. I saw one warship with guns back there. We’ve missed him.”
O’Shea said, “Maybe he’s still in Leningrad, trying to clear red tape. Maybe he’s off course or we’re off course. An air-sea rendezvous with radio silence is hit or miss.”
Hollis looked at his flight instruments. The Mi-28 had been pushed beyond its limits, and he found it ironic that the last Soviet product he would ever use was the best. Every component had performed admirably except the fuel gauge. He said to O’Shea, “You were right about the fuel.”
“I figured that the gauge was an extension of Soviet life. They don’t trust people to make rational choices, so they lie to them for their own good.” O’Shea smiled, then added without humor, “But I think by now that empty means empty.”
Mills stopped looking out the window and sat back on the floor between the seats. “Well, good try though.” He produced the flask, took a swig, and handed it to Brennan. Brennan drank and gave it to Lisa. She offered it to Hollis and O’Shea, who declined, O’Shea saying, “I’m flying.” Lisa, Brennan, and Mills finished the flask.
Hollis looked out at the water below. The seas were high, and he could see white curling breakers rolling from north to south. At two hundred meters’ altitude, his range of vision encompassed an area large enough to insure that he wouldn’t miss the freighter even if he was two or three kilometers off course. Something was very wrong, and the thought crossed his mind that this was yet another Alevy double cross, a joke from the grave. But even if Alevy had wanted O’Shea, Brennan, and Mills silenced, he had apparently promised to deliver Burov and one American, so it couldn’t be that. Hollis realized just how much Alevy’s thinking had affected
O’Shea said, “See those buoys? We’ve crossed out of the shipping lane.”
Hollis nodded. He suddenly put the craft into a steep right bank and headed southeast, into the rising sun, back toward Leningrad.
Mills asked, “What are you doing?”
Hollis began a steep descent. Ahead, he could make out the lights of Leningrad about fifteen kilometers away.
Mills repeated, “What are you doing?”
Hollis replied, “I’m going on two assumptions. One is that the freighter did not reach the rendezvous point in time and is still steaming out of the harbor. Two, if that holds true, then the skipper of that boat feels some sense of failed duty, and if he sees us, he will do what any sea captain would do for a seacraft or aircraft in distress — he will come to our aid.” Hollis leveled the helicopter at less than one hundred meters above the churning sea and cut the speed to a slow forty kph.
O’Shea said, apropos of nothing, “I feel fine. We did good.”
Mills concurred. “We beat most of the odds, didn’t we? We’re here.”
Brennan said, “We stole this chopper, got into the Charm School, rescued Dodson, kidnapped Burov, shot our way out, flew cross-country over Russia, and got to where we were supposed to be. Shit, as far as I’m concerned, we made it.”
Hollis said, “I find it hard to refute that logic, Bill. If we had a bottle of champagne, I’d say pop it.”
Mills said, “Damn, Seth was supposed to buy champagne at the Trade Center.”
At the mention of Alevy’s name, there was a silence during which, Hollis thought, everyone was probably cursing him and blessing him at the same time. Such was the fate of men and women who move others toward great heights and dark abysses.
Lisa said to Mills, “Change places with me.” She got out of her seat and knelt on the floor to the side of Hollis. She said to him, “I know you can’t hold my hand now. But if you don’t have to hold the controls in a minute or two, can you hold my hand then?”
O’Shea took the controls. “I’ve got it, General. Take a stretch.”
Hollis released the controls and took Lisa’s hand.
The helicopter continued inbound, toward Leningrad, and no one spoke. The steady sound of the turbines filled the cabin, and they listened to that and only to that, waiting for the sound to stop.
O’Shea cleared his throat and said in a controlled voice, “Twelve o’clock, one kilometer.”
Brennan, Mills, and Lisa stood and looked out the front windshield. Steaming toward them was a medium-sized freighter, and on its fantail were three yellow lights.
Hollis released Lisa’s hand and took the controls. He figured they needed about thirty seconds’ flying time if he brought it in straight over the bow. But if they flamed out, they could smash into the freighter, and neither the freighter nor its crew deserved that.
He banked right, away from the oncoming ship, then swung north, approaching the freighter at right angles, flying into the strong wind for added lift. He noticed that the three yellow lights were off now, which probably meant they’d seen him making his approach.
O’Shea said, “General, we have to get some altitude for a steep approach.”
Hollis knew that a shallow approach from a hundred meters was not the preferred way to land a helicopter on a moving deck. But a flame-out during an ascent was no treat either. All his instincts and what was called pilot’s intuition told him that his remaining flight time could be measured in seconds. “Relax.”
“Your show.” O’Shea scanned the instrument panel as Hollis concentrated on the visual approach. O’Shea called out airspeed, tachometer readings, torque, and altitude. He said, “Ground speed, about thirty.”
Hollis saw that the freighter’s stern was going to pass by before he reached it, so he put the helicopter into a sliding flight toward port as he continued his shallow powerglide approach.
He adjusted the rudder pedals to compensate for the decreased torque, keeping the nose of the helicopter lined up with the moving ship, while continuing a sideways flight.
He tried to maintain constant ground speed by use of the cyclic pitch, coordinating that with the collective pitch and the throttle.
O’Shea called out, “Ground speed, forty.”
Hollis pulled up on the nose to bring down the speed.
O’Shea said, “Altitude, fifty meters.”
Hollis kept the nose lined up amidships. The distance to the freighter was about one hundred meters, and he estimated his glide angle would take him over the stern for a hovering descent.
“Ground speed, thirty; altitude, thirty.”
A horn sounded, and O’Shea said, “Oil pressure dropping. We must have popped a line or gasket.”
The recorded voice, which had stayed inexplicably silent about the fuel, said, “Imminent engine failure. Prepare for autorotative landing.”
They were within ten meters of the ship’s upper decks now, and Hollis picked up the nose of the helicopter, reducing ground speed to near zero. The ship slid past, and the aft deck was suddenly in front of him. The deck was pitching and rolling, but never had a landing zone looked so good to him. He felt his way toward the retreating deck, and as he passed over it, the helicopter picked up ground cushion and ballooned upward. “Damn it.” The stern was gone now, and he was over the water again. Without the ground cushion, the helicopter fell toward the water.
Hollis quickly increased the throttle and the collective pitch of the blades, causing the helicopter to lift, seconds before the tail boom would have hit the churning wake. Hollis turned the nose back toward the stern and followed the ship, focusing on its stern light, trying to hold it steady in the strong crosswind. He felt like a man trying to grab the caboose rail of a moving train.
Written in white letters across the stern of the ship was its name, and Hollis noted it irrelevantly:
The recorded voice said, “Imminent engine failure. Prepare for an autorotative landing.”
Hollis pushed forward on the collective stick, increased the throttle, and literally dove in, clearing the stern rail by a few feet. He pulled back on the collective pitch, and the helicopter flared out a few meters from the rising quarterdeck.
O’Shea shut the engines down as the rear wheels struck the deck and the Mi-28 bounced into the air. The pitching and rolling deck fell beneath them, then rose and slammed the two starboard wheels, nearly capsizing the aircraft. Hollis yanked up on the brake handle, locking the wheels.
Finally the helicopter settled uneasily onto the moving deck. Hollis looked up at the ship’s mainmast and saw it was flying the Union Jack.
No one spoke, and the sound of the turbines and rotor blades died slowly in their ears, replaced by the sound of lapping waves. A salty sea scent filled the cabin, and the relatively smooth flight was replaced by the rocking of a wind-tossed ship. Hollis saw that there were no crew in sight and assumed that all hands had been ordered below.
O’Shea cleared his throat and said quietly, “I don’t like ships. I get seasick.”
Brennan said, “I fucking
Mills said to Hollis and O’Shea, “You both did a splendid job. We owe you one.”
Hollis replied tersely, “If ‘we’ means your company, Bert, then we all owe you one too.”
Lisa suddenly threw her arms around Hollis’ neck. “I love
O’Shea’s face reddened. “I didn’t do… well, talk to him about my efficiency report.”
Hollis smiled. “I’ll reconsider it.”
O’Shea said to Hollis, “Right before I shut the engines down—”
“I heard it.”
“What?” Mills asked.
“One of them,” O’Shea replied, “went out. There isn’t enough fuel in the tanks to fill a cigarette lighter.”
“Well, we don’t need any more fuel. See, it worked out fine.” Mills reached under his seat and pulled out a plastic bag filled with black ski masks and handed it to Brennan. “Here, everyone put on one of these. No talking to the crew, no names.”
Mills went to the back of the cabin and slid a mask over Dodson’s face. He looked at Burov and said, “Well, Colonel, the good guys won.”
Unexpectedly, Burov laughed. “Yes? The CIA are the good guys? Your own countrymen don’t think so, no more than my countrymen think the KGB are the good guys. You and I are pariahs, Mr. Mills. That’s what sets us apart from humanity.”
“Could be. Glad to see you learned something in your own school.” Mills took a Syrette from his pocket and jabbed the spring-loaded device into Burov’s neck. “You talk too much.” He slid a ski mask over Burov’s head. “That’s much better.”
Brennan slid open the door, and a rush of cold air filled the heated cabin. Brennan jumped down onto the rolling deck, followed by Lisa, O’Shea, and Hollis. Mills got out last and said, “I’ll have Dodson and Burov taken to the infirmary.” He looked up at the Union Jack. “I sort of figured it would be British. There aren’t many of our intrepid NATO allies we can count on anymore.”
Hollis observed, “For this operation, I don’t even trust our allies in Washington, Bert.”
Lisa asked, “Are we home free, or not?”
Hollis didn’t think they would ever be home free as long as they lived. He replied, “We’re in the right neighborhood.”
The door of the quarterdeck opened and six seamen dressed in dark sweaters appeared. They approached the helicopter and looked at their five passengers curiously: four men, one woman, all wearing black masks. Three men were in Russian uniforms, one in a sweat suit. The woman wore a sweat suit and parka. And on board the helicopter, Hollis thought, were two unconscious and battered men in black masks, one in pajamas and one in a shredded sweat suit. If the seamen had been asked to pick out the good guys from the bad guys, Hollis realized, they would probably guess wrong.
One of the seamen made a pushing motion toward the helicopter as if he didn’t think anyone spoke English. Mills shook his head, held up two fingers, and pointed. The six men went to the helicopter and removed Dodson and Burov, laying them on the cold, wet deck.
Hollis jumped back into the cockpit and released the brakes, then joined O’Shea, Brennan, and the six sailors in rolling the helicopter to the portside rail. One of the men swung open the gangplank section of the railing. They all pushed from the rear of the fuselage, sending the Mi-28 over the side, nose first, its long tail boom rising into the air as the front plunged down toward the churning sea. Instinctively, they all went to the rail and watched as the helicopter bobbed a moment until the sea rushed into its open door and it slid, cockpit first, into the dark water. Its tail section seemed to wave a farewell, and Hollis found himself touching his hand to his forehead and noticed that O’Shea did the same.
The crewmen moved quickly to the three fog lights, which were portable and connected by cords running to electrical outlets. They disconnected the lights and threw them overboard. Hollis thought there was something disturbing about that. Getting rid of the helicopter was an obvious thing to do. But getting rid of three small lights indicated that the captain was taking precautions in the event of a possible boarding and search by Soviet authorities or at the very least a flyover. Hollis wondered what other evidence the captain was prepared to throw overboard.
Hollis looked over the port rail to the south and saw two ships on the distant horizon. They may have seen the helicopter landing, and through binoculars they could have seen it pushed overboard. If they were Soviet ships or even East Bloc craft, they might radio a report. More to the point, Red Navy radar had probably picked up the unidentified flight and had recognized its flight characteristics as that of a helicopter. They could have seen the blip descend to sea level, and perhaps had even concluded that it had landed on the ship that also appeared on their screens. Three-mile limit notwithstanding, the Soviets claimed this whole part of the gulf as their private pond.
Mills seemed to guess what Hollis was thinking. Mills nodded toward the two ships on the horizon. “That’s why we wanted a night landing.”
“Yes, but radar works at night.”
Mills replied, “I was told it would look like a crash at sea on radar.”
“It might. Depends on the Ivan who was staring at the screen.”
“Well, then this is a test to see whose side God is really on.”
Hollis smiled grimly. “After what we did at the Charm School, I think we’re on our own.” Hollis turned and walked away from the rail. Four of the seamen had stretchers now and were carrying Dodson and Burov toward the quarterdeck. One of them said to Mills, “Infirmary.”
One of the other two sailors motioned to them, and they followed him into a door on the quarterdeck, then went up a narrow companionway to the upper deck and walked along a passageway without meeting another person. The seaman took them up one more deck and showed them into a white-painted chart room with large portholes that was located behind the bridge. The seaman left wordlessly, and Hollis pulled off his ski mask. Lisa, O’Shea, Mills, and Brennan did the same.
They all looked at one another, not knowing what their mood was supposed to be. In truth, Hollis thought, they were all so numbed by fatigue, tension, and sadness that he wouldn’t be surprised if they all stretched out on the chart tables and fell asleep.
Finally Mills broke into a grin and said in a buoyant voice, “Well, my friends, next stop is Liverpool.”
Brennan gave a long hoot and yelled, “We did it!”
There was some backslapping and handshaking, and Lisa got a kiss from Mills, Brennan, and O’Shea.
O’Shea, in an expansive mood, said to Hollis, “You’re a hell of a chopper pilot, General. Where’d you learn to fly rotary wing?”
Hollis replied, “Somewhere between Novgorod and Leningrad.”
Mills laughed. “You fooled me. Hey, look, there’s coffee and brandy.” Mills went to a chart table along the starboard side bulkhead on which sat an electric urn. He drew five mugs of coffee, then poured brandy into each one and passed them around. He raised his mug and said, “To…”
“To Seth Alevy,” Hollis said, “and the men and women we left behind.”
Everyone drank, but the toast had its effect of subduing the celebration. They all had more coffee and more brandy. There were chairs at the chart tables, and everyone sat but Hollis, who stood at one of the four starboard portholes and stared out to sea. The Gulf of Finland, the few times he’d seen it, reminded him of molten lead, as it did now, seeming to roll in slow motion, heavy, turgid water, all shades of greyness, its surface strangely unreflective. He saw a thin fog rolling in from the north, and through the fog, a squall suddenly burst forth like a gauze veil passing through smoke. The grey sky, the grey water, and the adjoining land masses, an unchanging landscape of grey-green pine forests, continually dripping a wetness onto the soggy earth. It was a dank and bleak corner of the world, making the Moscow region look sunny and picturesque by comparison.
Hollis rubbed his eyes and rubbed the stubble on his chin. The anesthetic was wearing off, and he could feel his cheek beginning to throb. It occurred to him that the rendezvous with this ship should be listed under minor miracles, right after their escape from the Charm School.
The door to the chart room opened, and a tall, red-bearded man of about fifty strode in. He was wearing a heavy white cable-knit sweater and blue jeans. He said nothing, but helped himself to a mug of coffee, then sat casually at the edge of a chart table. “Welcome aboard the
Hollis said, “I want to thank you for leaving the lights on beyond the sunrise.”
Captain Hughes looked at Hollis. “I’ll tell you, they were off, but I left the watch on, and he spotted you. So I argued with myself a bit and turned them on again.”
Mills said, “That was good of you.”
Hughes shrugged. “We were a bit off schedule ourselves. The bloody Russians don’t move very quickly with the paperwork, and our pilot boat was late.”
Captain Hughes looked at O’Shea, Mills, and Brennan in their KGB uniforms, then at Lisa and Hollis. “I’ll wager you’ve got quite a story to tell. By the way, that landing was either the best air-to-ship landing I’ve ever seen or the worst. I expect you know which it was.” Hughes added, “We’re carrying timber, if you’re interested. Pine, birch, and aspen. They grow good wood because God manages the forests, not them.” Hughes smiled and added, “We dropped off a load of fresh vegetables. They like to lay on some nice things for the anniversary of the glorious Revolution. Can’t say I approve of trading with them, but a job’s a job. Which brings me to my next point. I was given ten thousand pounds to say yes to this, and I’ll get another fifty thousand when I hand you over. You’re quite valuable.”
Hollis replied, “I hope we haven’t cost you more than we’re worth. Do you have any radar indications of ships approaching?”
“No, but you can be assured we’re watching Kronshtadt naval base very closely. Once we sail past there and get into the wider gulf water, I’ll breathe a sigh.”
“So will we all.”
Hughes said, “There isn’t enough money around to entice me to do this. They told me it was important to both our countries.”
“Indeed it is.”
Hughes said, “Before I left Leningrad this morning, a stevedore pressed a piece of paper into my hand.” He gave it to Hollis.
Hollis unfolded it and saw it was a page from a one-time cipher pad. It had that day’s date on it and a frequency. A handwritten note said:
Mills looked over Hollis’ shoulder and whispered, “That’s our diplomatic code.”
Hollis nodded and gave it back to Hughes. “Captain, will you be good enough to have your radio man encrypt a message from this pad as follows: ‘Attention Banks. Landed this location. Situation report to follow.’ Leave it unsigned. Send it out on that frequency.”
Hughes nodded. He said, “Your two friends in the infirmary are resting comfortably. The medic would like to be briefed on their history.”
Mills replied, “They’ve both suffered obvious physical trauma. Both have had sodium pentothal recently. The one in the sweat suit is the friend. The one in pajamas is not. He must be restrained for the duration of this voyage.”
Hughes walked to the door. “I’ll have a steward bring you some breakfast. I’ll arrange for sleeping quarters. In the meantime, feel free to use this room as long as you wish.”
Hughes left the chart room.
Hollis went back to the porthole but saw nothing out there except the thickening fog. He said, “We’ve all done a good job. I don’t like what we did, but we did it well.”
Mills poured himself more brandy. “Yes, and for whatever it’s worth to you all, I wanted to see those men come home… with their new families.” He added, “I’m not a religious man, but perhaps they’re better off where they are now. I don’t think even they really wanted to go home anymore.”
No one responded.
Hollis’ mind returned to the Landis house, and he thought of Landis’ little boy, Timmy, and of Landis’ saying about him, “My poor little guy.” Maybe, Hollis thought, just maybe they were all at peace now.
Hollis sat at the chart table and found a pencil and paper. He said to Mills, “I’ll write Charlie a note.”
Mills smiled. “Be nice. He probably sat up all night worrying about us.”
Hollis drew the paper toward him and began writing in standard, nonradio Russian:
This is Sam Hollis sending you this message, not from the grave, but from the Lucinda. With me are Lisa Rhodes, Bill Brennan, Bert Mills, and Captain O’Shea. Also with us are Major Jack Dodson, USAF, and Colonel Petr Burov, KGB, our prisoner. Seth Alevy is dead. Before he died, he told me about your arrangement with CIA, White House, Defense Intelligence, et al. Charm School is permanently closed, as per this arrangement. I must tell you, Charles, I think you and your crowd are far more treacherous and cold-blooded than me or Alevy, or any combat general or spy I’ve ever met. I would like someday to take you out with me on a field operation to expand your horizons a bit. But lacking that opportunity, I demand you meet us personally in London four days from today. The people with me are surviving witnesses to the murder of nearly three hundred Americans by their own government. We must discuss that to reconcile it with our personal sense of morality and the legitimate needs of national security. Come prepared for a long session.
Hollis handed it to Mills, who read it, nodded, and passed it on to the others.
Hollis said to O’Shea, “Captain, go to the radio room and encrypt this. Stay with the operator as he sends, then wait for a reply.”
O’Shea took the message and left the chart room.
Lisa put her arm around Hollis. “Can British sea captains marry people?”
Hollis smiled for the first time. “Yes, but the marriage is only good for the length of the voyage.”
Mills sat in a chair, yawned, and said as if to himself, “In the last twenty-four hours, I’ve been in a Moscow taxi, an Aeroflot bus, an Aeroflot helicopter, a Zil-6, a Pontiac Trans Am, and now, thank God, a British merchant ship.”
Brennan took a pack of bubble gum from his pocket, started to unwrap a piece, then looked at it. He said, “Seth Alevy bought this for me in the Trade Center. He was a funny sort of guy. You always thought he was kind of cool and someplace else. But if you ran into him in the embassy, he’d call you by name and remember something about you to say. I always noticed that the senior people never said much to him, but the security men, Marine guards, secretaries, and all thought a lot of him.” Brennan rewrapped the gum and put it in his pocket.
No one spoke for a while, and some minutes later O’Shea came back into the chart room and handed Hollis a piece of paper.
Hollis looked at it and read it aloud: “From Charles Banks. ‘Delighted to hear from you. Congratulations on a fine job. Very sorry to hear about Seth. We’ll miss him. You’ll be met in Liverpool. Very much looking forward to seeing you all in London. Drinks are on me. Special regards to Lisa.’ Signed, ‘Charles.’”
Hollis looked at O’Shea, Mills, Brennan, and Lisa. The radio reply was so typically Charles Banks that everyone seemed on the verge of laughter.
Mills finally said, “What a lovable son of a bitch. I’d like to beat the hell out of him, but I can’t bring myself to do it. So we’ll have a drink with him instead.”
Lisa added, “I always liked him. I still like him. But I don’t trust him anymore.”
Hollis reflected that he had never trusted Banks. He wouldn’t trust him in London either.
An elderly steward entered with a galley pitcher of orange juice and a tray of hot biscuits. He set them down on the chart table and said in an accent that reminded Hollis of a Horatio Hornblower movie, “Compliments of Captain Hughes.” He added, “The first officer extends to the lady the use of his quarters. For you gentlemen, bunks have been set up in the officers’ wardroom. The captain wishes you to know that there are no radar sightings of any note. If there’s anything further you’ll be needing, send a message to the bridge, and someone will see to it.”
Mills thanked the steward, who left. Mills said, “Sometimes when we’re in Russia, we lose sight of what and who we’re fighting for. Then you come West on leave or business, and you run into a London cabbie or someone like that steward, and you remember the word ‘civility,’ and you realize you never once experienced it in the workers’ paradise.”
They all sat at the chart table, and O’Shea observed, “Real orange juice.”
They ate in silence awhile, then Brennan said, apropos of nothing, “I like London. I like the way the women talk.”
O’Shea smiled and said, “I didn’t think helicopters could be so much fun to fly. I might try rotary-wing school one of these days.”
Hollis observed, “School would be a good idea.”
Mills chewed thoughtfully on a buttered biscuit, then said, “I’m anxious to debrief Burov and Dodson. That will be one hell of an interesting assignment. I wonder how they’ll relate to one another in a different environment.”
Lisa looked around the table. “Don’t anyone laugh, but I’m going back to Russia someday. I swear I will.”
No one laughed. Hollis said, “Me too.”
O’Shea stood and looked at Mills and Brennan. “Why don’t we go find that wardroom and catch some sleep?”
Mills and Brennan stood. Mills said to Hollis, “I’ll look in on the infirmary, and I’ll keep in contact with the bridge regarding radio messages or unfriendly radar sightings. But somehow, I think we’ve made it. We beat them.”
Hollis replied, “We were due.”
Mills took his ski mask and moved to the door. He said to Hollis, “When you were passed out in the helicopter, I noticed that you snored. So why don’t you find other sleeping accommodations?” He left the chart room.
Lisa and Hollis looked at each other across the table. Lisa said finally, “You look sad.”
Hollis didn’t reply.
Lisa said, “We’re all sad, Sam. We’re happy that we’ve saved our own necks, but sad about the others.”
Hollis nodded. “This was the ultimate betrayal. The government betrayed those men once and now again. We’ve swept the last wreckage of that war under the rug for all time.”
“Will you try to put it behind you now?”
“I’ll try. Once you’ve come full circle, any further movement along that route is just going around in circles. I’ll try to move on now.”
Lisa removed a satin box from her pocket and laid it on the chart table and opened it. She stared at its contents awhile, then lifted out a string of amber beads and held them draped over her fingers. “Seth gave me these while we were waiting for you outside Burov’s house. May I keep these?”
“Of course.” He added, “Just don’t wear them.”
She looked at him and couldn’t tell if he was serious. She dropped the beads back in the box and closed it.
Hollis took some crumpled sheets of paper from his pocket and spread them on the chart table, holding them down with lead map weights. “These are the names of the men, living and dead… all dead now, who were in the Charm School from the beginning.”
“That was what Lew Poole gave you?”
“Yes.” He stared at the curled papers. “Simms… here’s Simms….” He looked off into the distance and spoke. “On the Vietnam memorial, they have crosses beside the names of the missing.”
“Yes, I’ve seen that.”
“And if a missing man is confirmed dead, they carve a circle around the cross.” He looked at Lisa. “I want these men to be officially recognized as dead and their families notified. I want this list put to some good use.”
She nodded, then asked, “Is that list… dangerous to have… I mean, the Charm School never existed.”
Hollis replied, “I think it would be dangerous for us
She nodded in understanding.
Hollis said, “I’ll send this along with a letter to my father in Japan. I’ll have a seaman post it in Liverpool before we get off the ship. Then when we get to London, we’ll talk about things with our friend, Mr. Banks.” He looked at her. “So what do
She smiled. “I’ve got it.
He smiled in return.
She added, “And we have Gregory Fisher’s murderer, don’t we? I mean, I know that Burov is not the sole murderer. The system is a killer. But a little justice was done.”
Hollis sipped on his coffee. Lisa yawned. Through occasional breaks in the clouds, shafts of sunlight came in through the portholes and lay on the table for a time. A seaman appeared at the door and said, “Captain Hughes wishes you to know that we’ve passed Kronshtadt. We are in undisputed international waters.”
Lisa looked at Hollis. “Another step home.”
“We’ll get there.” Hollis stood and went to the starboard porthole. He stared out to sea awhile, then turned and found Lisa standing in front of him. They looked at each other, then spontaneously she threw her arms around him.
The steward opened the door of the chart room, mumbled something, and backed out.
She buried her face in his chest. “My God, Sam, I’m so tired…. Can we make love this morning…? My parents buried their daughter…. They’ll be delirious to see me…. Come home with me…. I want to meet your odd family…. Sam, can I cry for Seth? Is that all right?”
“Of course. You’re shaking. Let me take you to your room.”
“No, hold me.” She said softly, “Can we pretend that after our lunch in the Arbat we flew to New York and nothing happened in between?”
“No, we can’t do that. But we can try to make some sense of it. Try to understand this whole mess between us and them. Maybe I’ll teach you about Soviet air power, and you explain Gogol to me. We’ll both learn something that no one else cares about.”
She laughed. “I’d like that.” She hugged him tighter. “Later I’ll tell you a Russian bedtime story.”
They stood silently for a long time, listening to the sounds of the ship and the sea, feeling the roll and forward momentum of the freighter as it moved westward, away from Russia.