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"Michael, please . . . at least hear me out." He reached for a
cigarette, extracting it filter-first from his trench coat.

"I have a serious personal problem, and I don't know where else to
turn."

Could it be true? Vance examined him more closely. The beard wasn't the
only change. The left side of his gray coat bulged as he searched for
his lighter. Alex had never bothered to carry his own protection. At
least never before.

He knew Alex Novosty was part of KGB's T-Directorate, Russia's special
organization for high-tech theft. In the old days he operated out of
Sophia, arranging the laundering of underground Soviet funds by
mingling them with the flight capital and drug money that made its way
between Turkey's Ziraat Bank, the Vatican's Istituto per le Opere di
Religione, and Geneva no-questions fronts with names like the Banco di
Roma per la Svizzera.

The truth was, Michael Vance, Jr., and Aleksei Ilyich Novosty had, over
the years, often traveled the same paths. They used the same
organizations and contacts - Novosty to conceal illicit monies, Vance to
expose them.

"You know, I always enjoyed our games." Novosty looked out over Athens,
his voice trailing off. "But, as you say, that was the old days. The
world's changed. Now perhaps we can just be two professionals. Do some
business."

He seated himself on a block of marble, still slightly moist with
morning dew, and withdrew a wrinkled clipping. It was from The Times of
London. "Here, read this, please."

Vance glanced down at it, then realized he had already read it on the
Reuters satellite news service. He had looked it over, stored it in his
news-update computer file, and promptly forgotten about it.



SOVIET PARTY OFFICIAL SOUGHT IN DISAPPEARANCE OF FUNDS



MOSCOW, Mar. 18 - The Central Committee today lodged formal charges
against a CPSU official, Viktor Fedorovich Volodin, First Secretary
of the oblast of Sakhalin, in connection with his alleged embezzle-
ment of government funds and subsequent disappearance.

The island of Sakhalin, together with the Kuril Islands, is an
administrative district in the far eastern region of the Soviet
Federated Socialist Republics. Since being taken from Japan in 1945,
the southern Sakhalin oblast has been closed to all Western
visitors. The island is said to have a major military airfield at
Dolinsk and a naval base at Korsakov facing La Perouse Strait, the
only year-round passage between Soviet warm-water ports in Asia and
the North Pacific. It is an economically and strategically vital
part of the Soviet Far East, with the only oil fields in the eastern
regions.

The amount embezzled is reported at twenty million rubles, which
would make Party Secretary Volodin responsible for the largest
outright theft of state monies in the history of the Soviet Union .
. .



Vance looked up. "The home team at play. Some ministry shell game,
probably. Little budget scam. What's it got to do with you?"

"My friend, this thing is no game." Novosty crumpled his cup. In his
other hand, the cigarette remained unlit. "I was . . . involved. Of
course, I didn't know then. But if Dzerzhinsky Square finds out I
stupidly let myself be - " He flicked his black Italian lighter, then
inhaled. "KGB will post me to Yakutsk piece by piece. In very small
boxes."

Vance stared into his dark eyes, trying to gauge the truth. None of it
added up. "Alex, you're one of the sharpest guys in the business. So,
assuming this is straight, why in hell would you let yourself even get
close to it? The thing had to be some internal play."

For a moment the bearded man said nothing, merely smoked quietly on his
cigarette. The sun was beginning to illuminate the cloud bank in the
east, harbinger of the midday Athens shower. "Perhaps I . . . yes, it
was an unknown, but what is life without unknowns? The job looked
simple, Michael. I just had to launder it. Easy enough. Of course, if I
had realized . . ." Again his voice trailed into the morning haze.

"So what's the inside story?"

Novosty drew once more on his cigarette. Finally he spoke. "All right.
The number of twenty million rubles? Of course it's 'disinformation.'
Typical. The real amount, naturally, is classified. There is even a
formal directive, signed by Chief, First Directorate Gribanov."

"Guess KGB still has enough clout to write the rules."

"The old ways die hard. They, and the military, are fighting a
rearguard action to protect their turf - just as your CIA and the U.S.
Department of Defense are doing now. Which is why they are so concerned
about this. If they don't get to the bottom of it, they will once again
be proved incompetent . . . as well as over-funded." He scratched at
his beard. "More to the point, this operation went around them. That's
a very bad precedent, if you understand what I'm saying. And the money,
Michael, was almost three times what they admitted. In dollars it was
over a hundred million."

"Nice chunk of change." Vance whistled quietly.

"Even now, though, I have to admit it was brilliant. Flawless. Viktor
Fedorovich Volodin, first secretary of the State Committee for
Sakhalin, Far Eastern District, got authority signed off, got his
passport stamped vyezdnye, or suitable for travel, and then wired the
sixty million rubles not to the district, but to the state bank of
Poland, with instructions for conversion. A lot of money, yes, but it
was not unprecedented. And he did it late Friday, around two in the
afternoon, after all the _nomenklatura_ had left for their weekend
_dachas_. By Monday morning he was in Warsaw, to clarify the 'mistake.'
Next the money was sent to my old bank connection in Sophia . . . by
then, of course, it's _zlotis ._ . . I just assumed it was something
KGB wanted laundered." He paused. "They claim sometimes things have to
be handled outside the _nomenklatura_, to avoid the paperwork
bottleneck."

"So how much did you end up cleaning?"

"All of it," he sighed. "I converted it to deutsche marks, then bought
pounds sterling and used those to acquire British gilts, the long-term
government bonds. They're currently parked in a dummy account at Moscow
Narodny Bank, in London." The momentary lilt drained from his voice.
"But now, now what can I do? The funds are just sitting there, waiting.
But if I show up and try to wire them out, I'm probably as good as
dead."

"The man who's tired of London is tired of life."

"Michael, the moment I'm seen in London, I may not have a life. I think
KGB already suspects I was somehow connected. If they find me, they
will turn me into sausages. I'm trapped. You've got to help me move it
again, make the trail just disappear." He tossed away his cigarette and
immediately reached into his overcoat for another.

"Seems to me the first thing you ought to do is try and locate Comrade
Volodin. Maybe let a couple of your boys have a small heart-to-heart
with him. Little socialist realism. Give him some incentive to
straighten it out himself."

"Michael, first directorate is already combing the toilets of the world
for him. He's vanished. The ministry of defense, and the GRU - "

"The military secret service."

"Exactly. The minute either of them finds him, the man's a corpse." He
shrugged, eyes narrowing. "If I don't find him first."

Vance listened, wondering. "That's a very touching story. You could
almost set it to music. Only trouble is, the punch line's missing.
There's got to be more - too much money's involved. So who else is in on
this? South Africa? Israel? Angola?"

"What do you mean? I've told you everything I know. Volodin, the
bastard, used me as part of his swindle. But now he's lost his nerve
and run, disappeared, and left me to face - "

"Sure, that's all there is to it." He cut in, laughing. "Incidentally,
you take your standard cut up front? Back at the beginning?"

"Michael, please, I am a businessman. Of course. The usual percentage.
But now - "

"Like you say, it's a problem."

He turned to stub out his cigarette. "A nightmare. Think about it. A
hundred million dollars U.S. That's starting to be real money, even for
the USSR. Not even the czars ever managed to steal so much."

Vance looked him over. Novosty was telling the story backward, inside
out. "Look, whenever somebody gives me only half a setup, I just - "

"Michael, no one knows better than you all the ways money can be moved
in this world. Those funds must be made to just vanish from London,
then reappear another place with no trail. I have already arranged for
a bank, far away. After that the money can be returned, anonymously.
What other solution is there?" He hesitated painfully. "You know, I
have no friends I have not bought - the definition of a tragic life. But
I remember you always were a man who kept his word. I can trust you.
Besides, where else can I turn?"

"Alex, forget it. I've already got all the fun I can handle." Vance
sipped his coffee, now down to the black grounds and undissolved sugar.
It was both bitter and sweet, contradictory sensations against his
tongue.

Just like Novosty's tale, part truth and part lie. Alex had no
intention of returning the money, for chrisake. He was probably in the
scam _with_ Volodin. And now the hounds were baying. The main problem
was, who were the hounds?

"Michael, do us both a favor. Help me move it." He pressed. "I'll take
care of the rest. And I'll even give you half the two million that was
my commission. Just take it. Gold. Tax free. It's yours. You'll be set
for life. All you have to do is arrange to transfer the money to
another bank I will tell you. I have an account already waiting, every-
thing, but I can't do it myself. They're too close to me."

A million dollars, he thought. Christ, with that you could pay off the
four hundred thousand mortgage on the boats, free and clear. You'd also
be helping Alex out of a jam, and the man looked like he could use all
the help he could get. He stared out toward the encircling mountains,
now swathed in fleecy clouds. . . .

No. The deal had too many unknowns. The whole point

of working for yourself was you could pick and choose your jobs. If you
ever started going with the highest bidder, you were a fool. Guys who
did that didn't last in this business.

"Afraid I'll have to pass. There're plenty of other . . ."

That was when he absently glanced down at the early sun glinting off
the windows of Athens. In the parking lot below, a tan, late-model Audi
had just pulled in. He watched as it idled. "Incidentally," he said as
he thumbed at the car, "friends of yours? More art lovers?"

Novosty took one look and stopped cold.

"Michael, I'm sorry, I really must be going. But . . . perhaps you
might wish to stay here for a few more minutes. Enjoy the women. . . .
Though I hear you like them better in the flesh. . . ." He reached into
his breast pocket. "Think about what I've said. And in the meantime,
you should have this." He handed over a gray envelope. "It's the
original authorization I received from Volodin . . . when he
transferred the funds to the bank in Sophia."

"Look, I'm not - "

"Please, just take it. Incidentally, it probably means nothing, but
there's a corporate name there. I originally assumed it was KGB's
cover. Who knows. . . ." He continued to urge the envelope into Vance's
hand. "I've written the London information you will need on the back.
The account at Narodny, everything." He was turning. "Be reasonable, my
friend. We can help each other, maybe more than you realize."

"Hold on." Vance was opening the envelope. Then he lifted out a folded
page, blue. "Good name for a dummy front. Nice mythic ring."

"What . . .?" Novosty glanced back. "Ah, yes. From the old story."

"Daedalus."

"Yes, everything about this is a fiction. I realize that now. Of course
The Daedalus Corporation does not exist." He paused. "Like you say,
it's just a myth."

Vance was examining the sheet, an ice blue reflecting the early light.
Almost luminous. Something about it was very strange. Then he massaged
it with his fingertips.

It wasn't paper. Instead it was some sort of synthetic composition,
smooth like silicon.

Saying nothing, he turned away and extracted a booklet of hotel
matches. He struck one, cupped it against the light wind, and with a
quick motion touched the flame to the lower corner of the sheet.

The fire made no mark. So his hunch was right. The "paper" was heat
resistant.

When he held it up, to examine it against the early sun, he noticed
there was a "watermark," ever so faint, an opaque symbol that covered
the entire page. It was so large he hadn't seen it at first; it could
have been reflections in the paper. He stared a second before he recog-
nized -

"Talk to me." He whirled around. "The truth, for a change. Do you know
where I'm headed this afternoon?"

"I confess my people did obtain your itinerary, Michael. But only in
order to - "

"When?"

"Only yesterday."

"That was after you got your hands on this, right?"

"Of course. I just told you. That was the original authorization."

"The Daedalus Corporation?"

"That name is only a myth. Nothing but paper." He began walking briskly
down the steps next to the Temple of Athena Nike, the Sacred Way,
toward his black limousine in the parking lot. "We will finish this
later. The final arrangements. I will be in touch."

Vance watched as the black limo backed around and quickly headed toward
the avenue. After a few moments, the tan Audi slowly pulled out of the
parking lot to follow.

He turned back to look at the temples, sorting through the story.
Somebody in this world, this Daedalus Corporation or whomever it
represented, had a hundred million dollars coming, dollars now all
nicely laundered and ready to go. What did it add up to?

In years past Alex Novosty had moved money with total impunity. So why
would he turn up in Athens, bearing an elaborate and patently bogus
story, begging for help? It couldn't be for the boys back at
Dzerzhinsky Square in Moscow. They never went outside with their own
problems. Besides, they cleaned money all the time.

Somebody, somewhere, was pulling a fast one.

Don't touch it, he told himself. For once in your life just walk away.
It's got to be hot. Bad news all around. Just forget it and go on to
Crete.

He could hardly wait. Eva Borodin was meeting him there; a decade-late
reunion after all the stormy water under the bridge. Or was it going to
be a rematch? Whichever, that was going to be a scene. He had vague
hopes they might put together a rerun of years past, only this time
with a happy ending.

Still mulling over the pieces of Novosty's puzzle, he turned and headed
for the northwest edge of the Acropolis. In the distance stood the ring
of mountains that once served as Athens's natural fortress: Parnes,
mantled in dark forests of fir; the marble face of Pentelikon;
Hymettus, legendary haunt of the honeybee; Aigaleos, its noble twin
crests rising up to greet the early sun. And directly below lay the
excavated ruins of the ancient Agora, the city center where Socrates
once misled the youth of Greece, teaching them to think.

Now Vance needed to think. . . .

Remembering it all later, he realized he'd been in precisely the wrong
place to actually witness the accident. He just heard it - the screech of
rubber, the sickening crunch of metal. He'd raced to look, but the
intersection below was already a carpet of flame.

What had happened? There was a gasoline truck, short and bulky, wheels
spinning in the air, its hood crumpled against the remains of an
automobile.

He strained to see. Which was it? Alex's limo? The tan Audi?

Then came the explosion, blotting out everything, an immense orange
ball that seemed to roll upward into the morning sky like an emerging
sun.



Wednesday 8:23 A.M._



_Viktor Fedorovich Volodin was amazed he'd managed to make his way this
far, from the fiery intersection at the base of the Acropolis all the
way down Leoforos Amalias, without his frayed facade of calm completely
disintegrating. He bit his lip, using the pain to hold back the panic.
Traffic on the avenue was backed up as far as he could see, and firemen
were still trying to reach the charred remains of the truck. On his
right, the new Zapio conference center and its geometric gardens were
shrouded in smoke.

He scarcely noticed. Breathing was impossible anyway, since the diesel
fumes of the bus settled in through its broken windows and drove out
all oxygen.

How had it come to this? He'd spent his entire life in the party
apparatus of Sakhalin, rubber-stamping idiotic economic plans concocted
in Moscow, trying to survive the infighting and intrigue of the
oblast's State Committee. Then one day a personal aide of none other
than the president, Mikhail Sergeevich himself, had secretly made an
offer that sounded too good to be true. Help transfer some funds, do it
for the Motherland. . . .

It would be simple. KGB would never know.

Nobody told him he'd be stepping into a nightmare. And now his worst
fears had come true. To see your driver crushed alive, only inches
away, then watch him incinerated. They were closing in.

_Fsyo kanula ve vyechnost, _he thought, _kak ve prizrachnoy skazke_.
Everything is gone now, like a fairy tale.

He crouched down in the torn plastic seat as the ancient city bus
bumped and coughed its way into the center of Syntagma Square. Around
him were packed the usual morning commuters gripping briefcases and
lunch bags, cursing the delays and blaming the incompetents in Parlia-
ment. The air was rank with sweat.

Finally the vehicle shuddered to a halt. End of the line. He rose,
trembling, and worked his way to the forward exit, then dropped off. As
his feet touched down on the warm pavement, he quickly glanced right
and left, searching the crowded midmorning street for any telltale
signs that he'd been followed.

There was nobody, he concluded with relief. The milling Greeks didn't
seem to notice he was there, or care. They were too busy complaining
about the traffic, the smog, the latest round of inflation. Business as
usual in Athens, the timeless city. This place, he told himself, should
have been the perfect location to hide, to just disappear. Novosty was
supposed to handle the final delivery.

Maybe the crash had been an accident. Fate. _Sud'ba_. Things happened
that way.

He was sweating heavily now, whether from fear or the early morning sun
he wasn't sure. Already it was a nascent ball of fire in the east,
promising to bake the asphalt of the square by noon.

He stepped over the curb and onto the sidewalk. The outdoor cafes were
all thronged with workers and tourists having a quick coffee before
taking on the city this spring day. He felt his knees tremble slightly
and realized he only wanted to collapse. Any table would do. Just melt
into the crowd, he told himself, then nothing can happen. _Nichevo nye
sluchitsya_.

He wiped at his brow and settled nervously into the first empty chair,
plastic and dirty, hoping to look like just another tourist. The cafe,
he noted, was Papaspyrou, in front of the American Express office.
Perfect. Above all else, he wanted to pass for an American. But he was
still trying to get it right. How did they look?

"_Elleniko kafe_, my friend? Greek coffee?"

He jumped at the sound of the voice over his shoulder, seizing the side
of the table.

The voice was speaking English, he finally realized. Maybe he did look
American!

It was an accident, he kept telling himself. The truck couldn't have -
Relax. Novosty made the arrangement with the American, didn't he? You
saw him hand over the letter. Now the trail will just vanish. KGB will
never be able to stop it.

He turned, casually flashed an empty smile for the small,

gray-haired waiter standing behind him, tray in hand, white towel over
the sleeve of his tailored but frayed brown suit.

"Sure, thanks."

You're better every day, he told himself. You're even starting to get
the accent right now. Keep working on it. The twang. And learn to
saunter. The shoulders. Americans walk looser, swing their arms, seem
not to have a care in the world. Learn to slouch. Act like you own the
world, even if you no longer do.

He'd been secretly practicing for weeks, getting ready to disappear
after his part was over. Of course, he'd originally planned to go back
home afterward. But that was before he had a taste of this. The good
life, the freedom. For that matter, maybe he'd go to America. Why not?
He'd heard how it worked. Defection, so the stories went, could be very
rewarding. They'd open the golden gates for him at Langley.

The tiny cup of murky black coffee appeared in front of him, together
with the usual glass of tepid water. He reached for the water eagerly
and drank it down. Something, anything, to moisten the cotton in his
mouth.

There, that was better. Now the hard part: something to quiet his mind.

The cup rattled against the saucer as he gingerly picked it up. He
could still see the cab of the truck coming out of nowhere, hurtling
down on them, still feel the horror. Odd, but he couldn't remember
anyone at the wheel. He wanted a face, but none was there.

His own driver, the Afghanistan veteran Grigor Yanovich, had tried to
swerve, but he hadn't been quick enough. He'd caught the first impact,
the grind of metal that whipped the tan Audi around, flung open the
door . . .

Grigor, thirty years old, must have died without ever knowing what
happened, if not from the impact, then from the wall of flaming
gasoline that swept over the seat.

He marveled at his own luck, the hand of chance that flung him from the
car only a second ahead of the explosion. He remembered skidding across
the pavement on his back, then tumbling into the grassy ditch that
separated Amalias Avenue from the tiny side road of Thrassilou. Some of
the raw gasoline had drenched his sleeve, but he'd been safely out of
the way, his face down, when the explosion came.

It could have been an accident. He swiped at his brow and told himself
that anything was possible.

Don't be a fool. They're closing in. How much do they know?

He sipped at the gritty coffee and scanned the street.

Just get through the next few days, he told himself. Once the
transfer's complete, your part's over.

He was reaching for his small white cup when he noticed the woman,
striding directly toward his table, smiling, catching his eye. The way
she was swinging her brown leather purse, the jaunty thrust of hips
beneath the suede skirt, the carefully groomed auburn hair - all marked
her as American. Rich American. Probably headed into American Express
to cash a thousand or so in traveler's checks. America . . .

He lounged back in his chair with a rakish air. He was, he knew, an
attractive man. He had deep blue eyes, sandy hair, a practiced smile, a
trim figure far younger than his fifty-six years. He'd divorced his
wife Natasha three years ago, after she discovered his lunchtime
liaisons with one of the girls in the State Committee typing pool. He
had experience handling women.

Three weeks in Athens, he thought, and maybe my luck is about to
change. If you can get her, the nightmare could be over for a while.
You can't go back to the hotel now; they may be watching. But if she's
got a room somewhere? What better way to hide out till the transfer is
complete?

He was still trying to make his ragged mind function. Now was the time
for a "pick-up" routine. The lonely traveler . . . _Kak grussno mnye,
tak zhalostno mnye _. . . no, damn, not the sentimental Russian, think
American.

But where? He'd heard of New York, San Francisco, Miami, even Chicago.
But what if she was from one of those places?

All the careful preparation and he still didn't dare put himself to the
test. So what would he say? Canada? Australia?

Her eyes held his, interest growing as she continued to approach. They
were darkened with kohl, sensual, inviting. And she was still smiling,
even as she placed her hand on the chair across from him.

Was this how the women . . .? America was the Promised Land.

"_Etot stolnik osvobodetsya_, Viktor Fedorovich?"

It took a second for the language to register. She was speaking
Russian, calmly inquiring if the table was free, but his mind was
rejecting it, refusing to accept the implications.

"Perhaps you'd like to buy me a _kofye_, Comrade. I prefer it very
sweet." Now she was settling her purse on the table, adjusting her
tight skirt in preparation to sit. "Or would you rather take me
shopping. I could help you spend some of the money."



Online LibraryThomas HooverProject Daedalus → online text (page 2 of 30)