CHAPTER 9

The Russian spoke, Stronski translated.

“You will not be challenged. You may run into others in there, for the library is never empty. They are simply other spies who’ve paid the same price for their few hours of gnawing at the scraps of history. They will not see you, nor should you see them.”

The officer led them to a dedicated passageway – no other entries were placed along its way except at the end – and to that last door. Again, it had that old Commie look, the steel, the harsh lights behind cages, girders with rivets everywhere, the smell of paint and iron, the sense of muscular, even brutal industrialism as aggression.

The officer did discover a bright plastic keypad, self-lit, a concession to the modern era. His fingers flew across the pad, and the door clanked ajar.

He led them into a final chamber. This one had a sense of hospital to it. The officer pointed to a box of fresh-pressed surgical green utilities, and they pulled them on over their clothes. A mask slipped over nostrils and mouth, a rubberized surgical cap to contain the hair. Gloves came next, rubberized as well, tight and thin, to handle the delicate papers. When they were sealed off in their operating-theater garments, the officer took them through a last door, and they felt the temperature drop twenty degrees.

Swagger blinked to adjust his vision to the greenish hues. It seemed they were on a metal balcony of some sort, restrained by a railing from a twenty-foot drop to the floor of the place itself, a vast, hushed space with metal racks on two levels, cut by steel stairways running this way and that, the whole thing seeming to extend to infinity or whatever was beyond the realm of the greenish lights on the far side of the opening. Clearly, the cavern occupied the entire eighth and ninth floors.

Swagger beheld the belly of the red beast: a vast room with crude steel shelving sustaining boxes, each box labeled and containing a forced mass of good old paper-and-ink documents. How many coups, how many deceits, how many black ops, how many wet ops, how many pix of fat diplomats with whores sucking their cocks, how many assassinations? All chronicled here, so it wasn’t a belly, it was a memory, a part of the brain loaded with forgotten info, hard to access, buried deeply away, barely acknowledged.

“Sixty-three, Mexico?” the Russian officer said.

Swagger nodded.

“Okay, you come.”

He led them downstairs and into the maze of two-leveled shelving, turning so many times that Hansel and Gretel would have become lost. Now and then another pilgrim would pass in the green night without acknowledgment. The officer turned at last down an aisle no different from any others. He spoke in Russian to Stronski, who translated.

“He says during duty hours, clerks process requests from SVR or army intelligence officers of rank, take the box, find the file, check it out, and present to officer, who can only read in reading room, also on ninth floor. You do not have it so easy. You will have to find your own files, pull your own documents. Sorry for dust, sorry light is not good, sorry no place to sit, no bathroom, no Coke machine.”

The two Americans nodded.

The Russian spoke again through Stronski.

“Rules once again. No pictures, no notes, no Xerox machine, all must be memory. Replace everything. Delicacy, please: no tugging, no folding, no forcing. You must respect the material and make allowances for its age and brittleness. You are interviewing an old man, and his attention may wander, do you see? You yourself, do not wander. Do not leave this area. Do only business you have paid for. Be honest, diligent, and bring glory on your cause, whatever it is. I will come get you in four hours.”

“Ask him,” said Bob, “if this is all agencies, including, I’m guessing, not only KGB but GRU as well as specialized military teams, or just KGB.”

The Russian listened and, in time, responded.

“I don’t know. The idea initially was to consolidate, all by hemisphere and target country, all of it in one place so that access would be better and those who had to know could find all from one area. But budget ran out before it could be completed, and I am not certain if consolidation project got to ’63 or not. Also: this is only ‘offensive’ materials, that is, initiatives generated by heroes of the past. ‘Defensive’ – that is, ‘counterespionage,’ in response to something done by main target and others – would be on different floor. That is not so interesting, just notes of suspects being followed, wiretaps being uncovered, traitors found and executed.”

“Would I be able to get in there at some later date?” asked Swagger.

“I will take it up with committee,” the officer answered, then laughed at his own joke. “All things are possible for a man with cash in his pockets.”

“Excellent,” said Swagger.

“I will see you in four hours,” said the officer. “Not a second longer.”

– – – –

They worked on their knees, as if in genuflection to the material before them.

“Station 14Alpha (1963),” read the marking on the box. That would be it, the Mexico City KGB reports, that year, that place. Stronski removed the box and set it on the floor for inspection, and they crowded in close. This, as much as anything, was what Bob had come for: to see the thing, to check it for evidence of tampering.

He bent and looked at the cardboard box full of papers, all held in coherence by a red ribbon illuminated in the beam from Stronski’s flashlight. Bob went lower, looked carefully at the knot. “Has it been untied and retied a lot?” he asked.

His two colleagues closed in as well.

“I can see the worn-flat signature on two of the intersecting ribbons that suggest it was untied once,” said Reilly, “but it doesn’t look as if it’s been subject to chronic tying and retying. I’m guessing that when Norman Mailer was here in 1993 or ’94, that’s the last time the box was opened. They untied it, found and removed the Oswald reports from the KGB goons, and took those to him in the reading room.”

“Does anybody see signs of disturbance since then?”

All looked as Stronski rotated the beam across the messy surface of the raggedly stuffed-in paperwork. Tatters and flags stuck out unevenly; a corner or two peeped out at the edges. Stronski gently ruffled the uneven edges, as though pushing his hand through sheaves of wheat, and fluffy clouds of fine dust puffed outward, roiling in the flashlight beam.

“It does not appear to have been disturbed recently,” said Swagger. “Everybody agree?”

“Let me compare with others,” said Stronski, and leaped up with his flashlight and walked a few feet, making random examinations. He returned. “It is same. Dust, chaos, paper disintegrating at the edges.”

“Okay,” said Swagger. “Now what do we see?”

“I can see divisions, I’m guessing by month,” said Reilly. “Do we start with September, when Oswald showed up?”

“That makes the most sense,” said Swagger.

Reilly pointed to the appropriate cardboard separator that demarcated the adventures of September, and he pulled it out as gently as possible, amid more clouds of dust and flecks of disintegration as the paper – at least at its edges – eased toward oblivion. Three sheaves extended a bit from the more neatly collected mass of April reports. They were an obvious starting point. He pulled them out and held them open.

She examined the first. “This is just the September 27 report by Kostikov on his immediate discussion with Oswald. It’s been published by Mailer, I have the book. Standard stuff.”

“Would you do me the favor of examining this one for any info that Mailer might not have published or missed?”

“Sure.” She read it carefully. “I don’t see anything.”

“Anything on claims or boasts by Oswald?”

“No. His intensity comes through, his seething anger, his disappointment that they don’t greet him like a brother, but there’s no specific dialogue or claims.”

“You’re sure.”

“Absolutely.”

Swagger considered this carefully. “But is there a transcript?”

“No,” she said. “It’s based on notes, not recordings.”

“Okay, fine. I get it. Let’s go to the next one.” He slid the next file over, and her eyes attacked it.

“This is a report by Nechiporenko, another KGB, the next day, on the disposition of the case, the rejection, Oswald’s anger and unpleasantness.”

“Please read for any indications of boasts or claims.”

“No, nothing. But there is a second page.” She read it, her eyes scanning hard behind her glasses as Stronski tried to keep the light steady. “Okay, this is a summary by a third KGB, I’m guessing the boss, his name is Yatskov, he’s a jock. Oswald comes back a second time, Saturday the twenty-eighth, shows up at the KGB-GRU volleyball game, and Yatskov is there and takes him into his office. Oswald is beside himself by this time. God, he even pulls a gun! Yatskov takes it from him, and the idiot collapses crying on the desk. The only thing that Yatskov can do is tell him to submit for a visa through regular channels, and no, he can’t get in contact with the Cubans for him. Meanwhile, Nechiporenko shows up and pitches in. Then Yatskov gives him the gun back! And leads him out. Pathetic.”

“No boasts, no claims?”

“Why is that important?”

“I have to know what he told them about himself that might be interesting to the James Bond guy I’m looking for.”

“The gun, doesn’t that signify something?”

“Possibly. But no transcripts, no specific language, nothing like that?”

“No.”

“Okay, then, that’s that. Next move: we scan, start to finish, looking for visitors to the embassy; by that I mean intelligence professionals not assigned to it but arriving and departing around the same time, the last week in September. KGB, but also GRU or military as well. SMERSH, even, why not? Maybe there were units of intelligence I don’t know about, connected with the air force or strategic warfare or signals intelligence. Intelligence outfits are like mushrooms.”

“They grow in the dark and thrive in shit?” said Reilly.

“I thought I made that line up, but I guess I didn’t. Are you ready?”

Both nodded.

“Mikhail, you hold the light. I will pull the documents one at a time and turn the pages. Kathy, you tell me when you have the gist of the page, and we can go on.”

That was what they did for three hours, with breaks for sore knees, eye fatigue, backaches, and on and on. It was not fun. It seemed to last six or nine rather than three hours.

Finally, she reached her verdict. “Agriculture reps, diplomats, doctors, lawyers, but nobody is in the official record as a case officer, an agent, a recruiter, nobody who seemed remotely like an operator. Maybe the Russians used codes within their own top-secret documents, and when I see ‘Dr. Menshav the agronomics professor,’ that means ‘Boris Badanov, special assassin,’ but I doubt it.”

“I doubt it too.”

They had done all of September, then the October and November files, through the assassination. That event produced its own tonnage of paper and demanded its own box, but Swagger saw no point in looking at it, since everything after the fact was meaningless.

“No sign of James Bond,” said Reilly. “No sign of any cogitation, activity, meetings, anything that would suggest the embassy was anticipating or knew that someone in its own sphere was involved in what would happen on November 22. No sign of any contact with outside agents from outlier espionage groups, no suggestion of special ‘visitors’ from Moscow.”

“Did you see the name Karly Vary?” asked Stronski. “It’s the Spetsnaz and KGB training site on the Black Sea; all ‘wet’ operators go through there for technical expertise and are held there on downtime.”

“No Karly Vary,” said Reilly. “Not a whisper.”

“Red bastards probably killed your president anyway,” said Mikhail. “They like that shit, they pull it all over the world.”

“If so, it was entirely out of the embassy sphere, and none of the bureaucrats noticed anything out of place or out of norm,” said Swagger.

“Mikhail,” said Reilly, “the reports are consecutively numbered. I kept careful track.” She had noticed something Swagger hadn’t. “That means nothing could be inserted or removed without retyping the entire file that came after. I don’t see any difference in the tone or state of the paper to suggest that new paper was added sometime. Also, the typing is clearly from the same typewriter, and I got so that I recognized the font, particularly since the H was clouded under the bridge. That typewriter – some poor Russian girl had the job of typing more than forty pages a day – was used all the way through. I can recognize her style. She was a little weak on the last two fingers of her left hand, and those letters were always a little lighter. But she had Mondays off, and a much less gifted typist took over, more typos by far, more uncertain on the right side of the keyboard, so I’m guessing the substitute was a lefty.”

“Wow,” said Swagger. “Kathy, you’re in the wrong business. You should have been an intelligence analyst.”

“I’ve looked at a lot of Russian documents, a lot of reports. I get used to the style, the diction, the nomenclature, even the bureaucratic culture. It hasn’t changed all that much since ’63, even if everything else has. This has the feel of the authentic, so I don’t think there’s any suggestion that someone came back to it and tampered with the evidence to hide James Bond’s visit.”

“That damn James Bond,” said Swagger. “He’s never around when you need him.”

– – – –

The next day, Swagger as “Agent Homan” had his sitdown with the ranking gang specialist of the Moscow police, who, well known on the international circuit and a Moscow rep to Interpol, spoke fluent English. They sat in the inspector’s office, glass-enclosed, off the usual bright, impersonal ward of the organized-crime squad on the third floor of Moscow’s central police station.

“This fellow Bodonski, he was a nephew of the Izmaylovskaya boss, or in their language, avtoritet, also a Bodonski,” said the inspector as they looked over the thick Bodonski file and Swagger saw a photo of the man he’d killed. Bodonski had been handsome, dashing, even, with thick sweeps of dark hair and piercing eyes. He must have had the gangster way with women. The last time Swagger had seen him – which was also the first and only – his face had been pancaked into the steering wheel of his car, and what flesh was visible in the nest of crushed plastic and bent steel looked like the rotting fruit of a watermelon smashed against a brick wall. Too bad for him.

“He was a tough guy, very capable,” the inspector continued. “If someone topped him, whoever did it must have been a tough guy in his own right.”

“Inspector,” said Swagger, “he just shot him. It wasn’t a fight. A gun is always tougher than a man. Even a man in a car.”

“The car was coming right at the man, as I hear it.”

“Yes, that’s true.”

“So that man, if he panics and runs, as most will do, Bodonski breaks his spine in two. He did it enough here. We have him for at least fifteen hits, which was why his uncle suggested he get out of town. Anyway, your man on the gun, he didn’t panic, he stood and fired well. Bravo. My compliments.”

“I’ll tell him you said so.”

“This Izmaylovskaya is the toughest of the gangs in town. Most of these outfits, they call themselves a bratva, meaning ‘brotherhood.’ It gives them some gentility, like a guild or something, a group of business associates looking out for each other. Not the Izzies; they just go by ‘gang.’ Their specialty is applied force. Murder for hire, extortion, human trafficking. The dirty end of the stick. Much more disciplined, much more violent, much scarier. They’re smaller – three, four hundred, maybe – than the brotherhoods, which may have as many as five thousand men. They’re not Jewish, they make no show of religious belief or ethnic identity. Hard guys, killers, danger boys. They take their money up front, lots of it. You want to swindle a financier, you go somewhere else; you want to murder your boss, the Izzies are for you.”

“Any connections? Gangs usually flourish where they have some kind of semi-official connection with power.”

“Only rumors. Nobody talks. You only get out of that gang the way Bodonski did, on a slab in the morgue. Nobody gets inside, as each rank is tattooed with a code of stars and dragons, and all the codes have to be perfect or you go swimming in the River Moscow with a zinc sink chained to your ankle. I’ll be honest: it’s a thing I can’t look into closely or I’ll be the one with my spine broken in two on the street, but the rumors say they have an affiliation with oligarchs. The one most usually named is Viktor Krulov.”

“I heard the name before. I think we have oligarchs too.”

“Yeah, everywhere, the same smart guys figure out how to get to the front of the line and get all the potatoes. They get so big, you can’t stop ’em. If I go against an oligarch, I don’t mind telling you, my wife is looking for a new husband.”

“Let me ask you this: since there was no personal reason for this Bodonski to hit our undercover, clearly, he was a professional doing a job. How would you go about hiring him? Would you do it from Moscow, or could you do it from New York?”

“Good question, which I will have to look into. See, with other groups, much bigger groups, there is more sophistication. They have lawyers, brokers, advertising directors, journalists all on the payroll. Many ways to approach them, to slip through that portal between legal service and illegal service, like a murder. With the Izzies, it’s different: they’re so small, they’re so specialized. You would have to know exactly who to go to. There would be one guy, that’s all.”

“Do you have a source who could tell you the name of that guy in New York?”

“Again, I’ll put it out. How long are you going to be here? You want to go on raids, we do a ceremonial raid once a week so it looks like we have a chance of enforcing the law against the bratvas. It’s a big joke; everybody laughs and goes out drinking together afterward. Certain sums are passed. Do I shock you?”

“No, I appreciate the honesty, Inspector.”

“Agent Homan, I don’t want to represent myself as a hero above it all. I take my envelope too, I know the rules, I know what can and can’t be asked and what will and won’t be answered.”

“Am I getting you? You will ‘ask’ about that name I requested, but you won’t really ask about that name. Is this the message I’m getting?”

“I’m trying to be honest and don’t want to get your hopes too high.”

“It’s not a problem. You have to do what you have to do. You live here, I don’t.”

“This I can tell you. You say two killings, one in Baltimore, one in Dallas. For a known man with a high rep, Bodonski would expect big dollars, plus expenses. I’m thinking fifty thousand dollars for one, maybe a discount, only twenty-five thousand dollars for the other if business has been done before. Not small change. Whoever paid, he had big money to spend, and he had highly sophisticated connections. He is not a small fry. This is not something that would be arranged to punish an adulterer, squelch a debtor, get a store owner to pony up his monthly. This is quality work, big-time stuff, usually for other bosses, big debtors, well-guarded politicians.”

“You’ve been a great help, Inspector.”

“Wish I could help more, Agent Homan. Do give my congratulations to the shooter. He was a man in a million.”

“So I will,” said Bob.

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