In the decade of the 1980’s dramatic events took place on the global stage that brought the Cold War to an end and precipitated the collapse of the Berlin Wall and the dissolution of the Soviet Empire. Historic agreements between Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev captured the headlines of newspapers all over the world, but behind the scenes there was a real threat to the success of this rapprochement between the superpowers. Air Force Colonel Brick Autry, a staffer on the National Security Council and a former prisoner of war in North Vietnam, is lured to a meeting with a shadowy Russian KGB officer who informs him of a network of spies known as the sons of Lubyanka. This espionage effort is comprised of former American soldiers, captured by the North Vietnamese, and transported to the Lubyanka prison in Moscow where they are brainwashed and trained to serve the Soviet Union. Once embedded in the United States this team of spies and assassins presents a challenge to the peace process being pushed by the Reagan Administration.
“The Sons of Lubyanka” is a novel driven by the current events that took place in the mid-1980s. It is a spy thriller as well as a story that examines the national psyche of an America still reeling from the lost cause in Vietnam and desperately seeking a safer world driven by democracy and individual liberty.
This fast paced sequel to The Land of the Million Elephants takes readers through the corridors of the West Wing, the halls of the Kremlin, the back alleys and streets of Washington, Geneva, Paris and the French Riviera, all on a time critical chase to hunt down the men who threaten a peace agreement that could change the world.
By all accounts it was a spectacular night at the White House on a cool but clear October evening in Washington, DC. President and Mrs. Reagan were charming and gracious as they welcomed Singapore prime minister Lee Kuan Yew and his wife at the North Portico Entrance to the executive mansion. After briefly posing for photographers, the men in their tuxedos and the women in elegant gowns followed a parade of flag bearers and military aides into the cross hall at the center of the building. The national anthems of each country were played before an assembly of 120 guests invited to the state dinner. The next move in this highly choreographed performance was for the president and prime minister to lead a grand march into the East Room.
The entertainment for the event was provided by a group of actors who performed songs popular in the American musical theater. Prime Minister Yew was a big fan of Broadway shows and appreciated the First Lady’s decision to indulge his interests with this favorite form of American culture. After a standing ovation from an audience filled with senior officials from both countries, business leaders from Asia and the United States, movie stars, famous athletes, big Republican Party contributors, and a handful of military officers, the entire group followed the president and his wife into the State Dining Room for a superb dinner prepared by an army of White House chefs busily working one floor below. Violinists strolled among the twelve circular tables lit with candles and adorned with fine china to provide a romantic atmosphere that further enhanced an already-exquisite experience for those fortunate enough to be in attendance.
United States Air Force colonel Brick Autry had been to many White House events in the past, but never to a state dinner. He knew he was lucky to be there. He had served as a deputy national security advisor to the president only for eight months. His boss, the national security advisor, was on a secret trip to the Middle East and had asked Colonel Autry to attend the dinner in his absence. Although this was the second time in Brick’s career that he was assigned to the White House, this dinner was his first opportunity to experience one of the perquisites of being a senior advisor to the president.
Normally Autry was completely focused on his job and didn’t pay much attention to diplomacy and schmoozing the movers and shakers in the nation’s capital. But tonight he showed off his ability to be charming when he needed to be. He and his date (a Miss Barbara Quincy) were seated at a table with the Singaporean defense minister, the chairman of the Republican National Committee, the CEO of Colgate Palmolive, and the editor of the Los Angeles Times. This was a group of impressive people, so Brick was surprised at how interested these men and their wives were to speak with him and learn of his background.
He figured that it wasn’t every day that folks whose careers were just a progression of normal jobs got to meet a guy who flew supersonic jet fighters, including over three hundred combat missions in Vietnam and Laos. Having also spent nine months as a prisoner of war in the notorious North Vietnamese prison camp, the Hanoi Hilton, and then going on to work for Henry Kissinger during the Nixon administration made him a unique player in the Washington political power game. Perhaps because of his experience as a POW, the people around the table asked about his military experience in a tactful fashion. Brick appreciated this and answered them in a straightforward and truthful manner. If he referred to his time as a war prisoner, he generally told a story about his fellow prisoners that had a human or comical side to it. He never spoke much about the beatings and torture that he and most of his comrades had suffered. And, when it came to airplanes and flying, his enthusiasm for the passion of his life shone through as he related funny stories about his adventures. He generated a lot of smiles and a feeling of fellowship around the table. Connecting with other people—regardless of their station in life—was a skill that came naturally to Brick.
Colonel Autry’s charm and diplomacy were enhanced by his date for the evening. Brick had only met Barbara two weeks before at a meeting on Capitol Hill. She was the chief counsel to the House Armed Services Committee, and he had been very impressed by her intelligence and poise during a contentious discussion on defense spending between representatives from the White House and the Congress. He was also drawn to her appearance: blond and trim with a patrician, Ivy League look. She was a perfect candidate for his “target of opportunity” list. When he called her a week later to ask if she would accompany him to the White House state dinner for the prime minister of Singapore, she actually didn’t remember who he was, but she wasn’t about to turn down a night at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. Fortunately, when Brick showed up at her front door earlier that evening, she was pleased to see a handsome and athletic guy in a black dress uniform. Her glance fell to a cascade of miniature medals pinned to his left breast under the silver wings of a senior command pilot. Even though they barely knew each other, Barbara proved to be quite comfortable socializing at the White House and was an effective ally in Brick’s effort to network and connect with the important people who were at the table.
As the evening wore on, Brick realized that he was having a really good time. Discussions with the other guests were lively and interesting, and his date was handling herself quite well—getting admiring looks from other men in the room. Even though he was new to this level of political social activity, feeling like he was having a good night, he rewarded himself with a couple extra glasses of Cabernet Sauvignon. Eventually, as he held hands and walked around with his attractive date, he spotted someone he needed to speak with.
General Jim Young was the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and a man Brick had known and respected since he served under Young’s command during the Vietnam War. Brick excused himself from a chat Barbara was having with several well-heeled women and made his way over to the general. The older officer smiled when he saw Brick approach and moved forward to shake hands with his former subordinate. “How you doing tonight, Brick? This place is a lot fancier than the Officer’s Club in Thailand, isn’t it?”
“Yes, sir,” said Brick. “This is a whole lot nicer than that rotten bar at Ubon, but I still don’t think I’ve ever had more fun than some of the nights there when you were in command of the Eighth Tactical Fighter Wing. Being a member of the Wolfpack was one of the better experiences of my life.”
“Yeah, it was fun,” said General Young. “There were some tough times there too—like the night you and Jet Thompson got shot down west of Hanoi. There were a lot of sad faces around the bar when we realized that Jet Thompson was dead and you were a POW. Some of our guys thought you two were indestructible—but I guess we’re all mortal. Some of us came back, and some of us didn’t.”
Brick just nodded in agreement and said nothing.
The general took him by the elbow and moved him away to a spot in the State Dining Room where they could speak without being overheard.
“Brick, I need you to give me an update on the mood in the White House concerning the Strategic Defense Initiatives. Whenever I talk to the president, he seems to be completely on board with this, but we have a few loose cannons rolling around over here in the West Wing, and I just want to be sure I’m not getting smoke blown up my ass. Since the Soviets suspended the arms-reduction negotiations a few years ago, we’ve been kicking their butts developing space-borne defense systems and missile systems in Europe. We don’t think the Russians can keep up with us in this arms race, and sooner or later they’re going to crumble and come back to the negotiating table. I know all this additional defense spending isn’t popular in Congress, and Reagan is taking heat from both sides of the aisle, but I truly believe exercising our economic might over the Communists makes more sense than trading nukes over the top of the polar ice cap.”
“I’m with you, sir. The safest way to beat the Russians is to outspend them. I think the senior people in the White House all understand that, and my impression from meetings with the president is that he’s willing to do whatever it takes to build up our military capability and force them to bankrupt their society trying to keep pace with us.”
General Young put his arm around Brick and moved him closer to a window and further from anyone who might want to listen in on their conversation. “Brick, I’m going to share something with you, and I want you to keep this under your hat. I don’t want this information moving around inside the White House yet. There’re too many political hacks around here who could jump to unwise conclusions and get into the middle of this.”
“No problem, sir; what’s the issue?”
“It’s rare that you get strong agreement from key analysts at the State Department, the CIA, and my guys in the Defense Intelligence Agency, but based on some human intelligence we are getting out of the Kremlin, every Soviet watcher we have thinks that Gorbachev’s recent appointment as general secretary of the party could be a watershed event for US-Soviet relations. This Gorbachev guy seems to get it. He knows their economy is screwed up, and he understands that they have to make major reforms. Their economic, political, and military systems are a mess. We know they want to be a viable country and a player on the world stage. If we can force Gorbachev to the negotiating table with our strategic defense initiatives, we think we can do business with this guy.”
Brick shrugged. “That’s our take at the National Security Council. We think that we have a shot at making a deal with him.”
”Well, Brick, here’s what you don’t know: signal-intelligence-gathering activities conducted jointly by DIA and the NSA have been picking up telephone and radio chatter inside the Soviet Union, indicating that there are a few folks in the Communist Party and the KGB who aren’t too thrilled that a reformer is now running the country.”
“That doesn’t seem too unusual. Human beings don’t typically enjoy having things change around them.”
“Yeah. Well, this little group of human beings seems willing to alter the course of history by terminating the reformer. In addition, the CIA has several reliable spies in the Kremlin who are very alarmed by rumors about an alliance of the Russian mafia and the KGB. The mobsters know that reform will be bad for business, and the secret police know that the winds of change will weaken their hold on the country. Neither group is afraid of using violence to achieve their goals, so it seems like a real threat to the life of the general secretary.”
“If we can figure this out with listening devices on airplanes and satellites, and a few well-placed spies, don’t you think Gorbachev’s security team can figure it out?”
“Hopefully, but we don’t know that for sure. If this guy gets whacked and replaced by a reactionary who wants to return to the days of Brezhnev, Andropov, and Chernenko, our goal of ending the Cold War will go up in flames.”
Both men took a second to think about the ramifications of that statement, and then the general continued with his thoughts, “We’re going to really work this with all our intelligence teams. We have to see if we can identify the players in the anti-Gorbachev effort and then figure out how to scope the problem. It may be completely out of our control, but the United States has a vested interest in keeping the current regime in Moscow alive and healthy. At some point the CIA is going to have to brief the secretaries of state and defense on this as well as the president. I’ll give you a heads-up when I think that will take place. If you hear anything about this from another source, make sure you let me know.”
“I’ll do that, sir. I appreciate you rolling me in on this situation.”
General Young took a moment to look around the room at the sumptuous party being enjoyed by these successful, well-connected, and generally attractive guests. “I never thought I would get to go to a party like this. A lot of people were surprised when Reagan appointed me to head the Joint Chiefs. Hell, I spent most of my career flying around faster than the speed of sound and inhaling jet fuel. Now I have to act like I’m interested when some woman with blue hair tells me about her problems getting a good caterer so she can host a party for a bunch of useless lobbyists in Georgetown. We got too many weenies running this goddamned government!”
Brick chuckled and shook his head. Jim Young was the most charismatic and effective military leader he had ever met—a patriot who would give his life in an instant for his country or for one of the men or women in his command. It was ironically funny to see this dynamo constrained by the constructs of the political process that ruled the District of Columbia, and the nation.
Young slapped Brick on the back. “Keep me posted, Brick.” The general headed off to rejoin his wife and the gaggle of women she was speaking with.
“I will, sir.” He walked off in the opposite direction and grabbed another Cabernet from a waiter before making his way back to his date.
The moment arrived where protocol required that the president and First Lady excuse themselves to accompany the prime minister and his wife back to the North Portico. This was a signal to all at the party that they had thirty minutes left to enjoy themselves at the expense of the American taxpayer before leaving through the South Portico and heading back to their cars parked on the ellipse just outside the White House fence.
Brick took this time to guide the lovely lawyer from the House Armed Services Committee around the dance floor and knock down another drink. He realized the wine was getting to his head, but he was having fun and figured his temporary job of pressing the flesh and making small talk was finally over. As guests began to leave and move through a gauntlet of military aides and White House police toward the exit, he thought about something he wanted to do before the night came to an end. Normally he would visit the wall only by himself, but he was more than casually interested in the woman he was with and figured he would see how she handled one of his pilgrimages to a hallowed place in Washington.
Brick grabbed Barbara by the hand and walked out of the State Dining Room and into the cross hall. They left the main part of the mansion by walking through a door into the hallway that connects the center portion of the White House to the West Wing and Oval Office. The Secret Service agents and White House police manning various checkpoints in this section allowed them to proceed unimpeded since, as White House staff, Brick was authorized to move through the secured area. Having an unauthorized guest in these locations was not allowed, but the security personnel let it slide, given that Brick’s clear intent was to reach his parking spot on West Executive Avenue—a thoroughfare that separated the West Wing from the Eisenhower Executive Building, where Brick’s office was located.
When Brick and Barbara reached his reserved parking location, they hopped into his Porsche 911 and raced up to the security gate on Pennsylvania Avenue. The guard recognized Brick but still took a moment to check out the inhabitants of the car with his flashlight. Passing through the gate, Brick took a left on Pennsylvania Avenue and another left on Seventeenth Street, heading south. By this time of the night, the traffic was light, and Brick accelerated the car up to fifty miles per hour until he was forced to stop for a traffic light at the corner of Seventeenth Street and Constitution Avenue. When the light turned green, he popped the clutch and screeched around the corner, heading west toward the Roosevelt Memorial Bridge. However, several blocks prior to the entrance of the bridge, he made a violent U turn on Constitution Avenue and brought the car to a rest in a no-parking zone on the south side of the avenue.
“My God, Brick—are you crazy? Are you trying to get us killed?”
Brick laughed as he turned off the car engine. He hadn’t met many people in his life who enjoyed riding along with him, whether in an F-4 Phantom fighter jet or in a car. His normal approach for getting from point A to point B was routinely asymmetric.
“Brick, where the hell are we going? It’s the middle of the night, and you’re parked in a spot where they will either ticket your car or put a boot on it!”
“No sweat—I have a White House sticker on the front bumper; they’ll leave the car alone.”
Brick took Barbara’s hand, and they began to walk onto the national mall that stretched from Capitol Hill to the Potomac River. To their left they could see the Washington Monument soaring into the sky, and on the right, they could make out the top of the Lincoln Monument bathed in lights that created dramatic shadows within and around the marble building.
“Is it safe to be out here on the mall at this time? We may be a target for a mugging. There aren’t any tourists still walking around.”
“Don’t worry. You’re with me. No one will harm us.”
Brick was slurring his words a little. She knew he had had too much to drink.
After they walked about sixty yards from the car, Rick guided Barbara to a sidewalk that paralleled a long black wall set into the contour of a shallow hill. The wall was divided into two wings that sloped down from a vertex in the middle. The black granite panels of the wall contained the names of over fifty-eight thousand men and women who lost their lives during the Vietnam conflict.
“This is the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, isn’t it?”
Brick said nothing but continued to walk until he stood at the center of the wall with one wing sloping to his right and the other to his left. The lights buried in the brick border at the base of the wall cast an eerie glow over the surface, highlighting the thousands of names. Brick stared at the wall in silence. His date held his arm and pulled herself close to him for security. “I come down here once in a while at night, usually on a night when I’ve been working late. There is normally a park ranger here until ten p.m., but after that there won’t be anyone around. Just me.”
Brick became silent again, and Barbara began to wonder what was going on. Autry seemed to be such an articulate, smart, and outgoing guy that this mood of somber introspection appeared out of character. Maybe his experience in Vietnam had left him with more than a thirteen-year-old memory.
“Why do you come here, Brick? Do some of these names represent friends of yours?”
Autry looked at Barbara briefly and then looked back at the wall. “I come here to think and to talk. I talk to my brothers and sisters who are here on the wall. I can put a face to several of the names carved into this stone, but mainly I come by to talk to all my fellow veterans.”
Brick again looked at Barbara Quincy, who was trying to assess whether that last statement was rational or delusional. Brick smiled. “Don’t worry—I’m not nuts. I realize there is no one here but me. I just like to think out loud, and I feel closest to the memory of these folks when I am standing here.” He hesitated for a moment and then asked a question that took their discussion in a different direction, “You work around politicians every day. Do you think they make good decisions? Do you think they make moral decisions?”
“The answer to each of those questions is different.”
“OK, let me put it this way: Do you think they make decisions that are in the best interests of our country?”
The young woman shrugged. “Sometimes they do—and sometimes they don’t.”
“Right—sometimes they do the right thing, and sometimes they don’t. But when I was a young college guy who desperately wanted to fly jets and wear the uniform of my country, I believed that our leaders in Washington would never allow our fighting men and women to die for nothing or for a hopeless cause. Do you know that by 1968, the secretary of defense knew that the war in Vietnam could not be won and gave this assessment to the president of the United States? From the end of 1968 until the war’s final conclusion, over twenty-one thousand more American lost their lives while our leaders tried to figure out how to cut and run.”
“I was just in high school at the end of the war. My parents hated it and were very antiwar. Once it was over, I never really thought much of it.”
“Well, I’ve thought about it a lot. The best and the brightest screwed it up getting into Vietnam, they screwed up the prosecution of the war, and they screwed up the withdrawal. The conclusion I draw from this is that the best and the brightest at the top of the government pyramid may not be the best, and they may not be so bright. We went to Indochina to make that part of the world safe for democracy. Today, all three countries, Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos are run by authoritarian Communist governments. The fifty-eight thousand names on this wall died for a cause that our leadership didn’t know how to lead.”
“That sounds pretty cynical, coming from a guy who sits right near the top of that pyramid today.”
“It’s not cynicism; it’s just reality. I’m proud of my military service. I served with amazing people in the air force as well as spectacular folks here in the White House. I’m just concerned that we are again turning into decision makers who have too much confidence in our judgments and not enough understanding of the world around us. It always makes me want to question authority or decisions made with a political goal in mind.”
“Well,” said Barbara with a smile, “if you are going to constantly question political decisions, maybe Washington is not the place where you should be pursuing a career.”
Brick smiled back at her and placed his arm around her shoulders to hold her close. As the two of them stood there looking at the wall, a large figure approached from the darkness.
“Hey, are you folks sure you want to be out here this late at night? We get an occasional thief wandering through the mall once the park rangers are gone.”
Brick and Barbara turned toward the voice and saw a tall, broad-shouldered African American police officer walking in their direction. The policeman came right up to them so he could get a look at the late-night visitors to the monument. He was a bit surprised to see an attractive woman in a formal evening gown and an air-force officer wearing a dress uniform.
“You folks look like you attended a pretty fancy party tonight. Where are you coming from?”
Brick smiled and answered his question, “We were just a few blocks away at sixteen hundred Pennsylvania Avenue. You know, the White House.”
The cop laughed softly. “Yeah, Colonel, I know where the White House is.”
The policeman moved around the couple nearer to the wall so the reflection of the lights in front of the monument would give him a better look at their faces.
“Say, aren’t you Colonel Brick Autry?”
Now it was Brick’s turn to be surprised. “Yes, I am. How did you know? Have we met before?”
“We haven’t actually met, Colonel, but I was at the Vietnam Veterans Association Meeting at Fort McNair last month where you gave the keynote address. It was a helluva speech. The vets really appreciated your candor and the ideas you had about dealing with the Soviet Union.”
“Oh, gosh! Thanks very much. I really enjoyed meeting so many veterans. You were all very gracious to me that day.”
“Well, I think we were pretty proud to know that one of our own was sitting at the right hand of the president of the United States and giving him good advice on how to provide for the national defense.”
Brick began to laugh. “Honestly, officer, you’re giving me a little too much credit. I don’t sit at the president’s right hand; my office is actually in the Eisenhower building, and I really only see Reagan once or twice a month. I’m reacting to the orders of my bosses, just like you are.”
The cop flashed Brick a wide smile. “I’m sure you are just being modest, Colonel.” He looked over at Barbara Quincy and then back at Brick. “You know, Colonel, your young lady is getting kind of cold. The temperature is dropping out here.”
Brick took off his dress-uniform waistcoat and wrapped it around the bare shoulders of his date, who was beginning to shiver. The miniature medals made a tinkling noise as he transferred the jacket from his torso to hers. He again placed his arm around her and held her close in an effort to conjoin the heat of their bodies. At that point, all three of them were quietly staring at the wall when Brick realized that the policeman knew his name but he didn’t know who this friendly public servant was.
“What’s your name, Officer, and where did you serve in Vietnam?”
“My name is Otis Day, and I was a sergeant in the US Army. I served in Quang Nam Province from late seventy-one until late seventy-two. We were working with South Vietnamese troops to protect the city of Da Nang and the air base that was located there. It got really hairy during the Easter offensive in April seventy-two.”
“I remember it well. I flew a number of air-to-ground missions in the region during that offensive.”
“Sure, I remember watching F-4 Phantoms dropping snake and nape on the bad guys. Maybe you were one of those brave pilots flying those planes.”
“Young and stupid, Officer Day. Bravery had nothing to do with it.”
The policeman took another long look at the wall and then turned back to the couple standing next to him. “You know, Colonel, it’s getting kind of late, and the young lady looks like she is ready to go home. I also suspect that the sports car illegally parked over here on Constitution Avenue belongs to you, and I’d appreciate it if you could move it as soon as possible.”
“Sure thing, Officer Day. I’m sorry if I’ve caused you any problem by being out here so late tonight.”
“It’s no problem—c’mon, I’ll walk you back to the car.”
Officer Day turned and walked eastward on the sidewalk with Brick and Barbara trailing close behind. As they approached the end of the granite monument, Brick stopped and strode over to a panel on the face of the wall to look for a name he had stared at so many times in the past. When he found it, he gently rubbed his fingers over the etched stone that read,
James Emerson Thompson
“You see this name, Officer Day? This is the name of my navigator in Vietnam, Jet Thompson. He wasn’t just my backseater; he was also my best friend. We flew over three hundred missions together. We thought we were the hottest jet jocks in the sky, and most of the time, we were. Then one day I made a mistake. I made an error in judgment. When the signal had been given for our flight of six F-4s to disengage from the target area, I pressed on and attacked a target no one else had been able to hit that afternoon. I was so damned sure I could get it that I ignored the order to disengage and rolled in on an ammo dump that was protected by high walls. In order to blow it up, you had to drop the bomb right on top of it. Jet and I never second-guessed each other, so he was with me all the way on the move, but it was really my decision, not his. I held the Phantom in a steep dive well below the altitude where I would normally release the bomb. When we pickled the weapon, I pulled up, but we were really low when the bird bottomed out and headed skyward again. We were right over an antiaircraft battery, and they let loose with everything they had. I could hear the triple-A rounds piercing the hull of the aircraft, and immediately everything started going to hell. I was getting engine firelights, hydraulic failure indicators, all kinds of emergency flashes on the instrument panel—the airplane was coming apart. At that point I couldn’t control the bird, and it started to roll over and head south. I screamed for Jet to eject, and I pulled the handles on my seat. Unfortunately when we ejected the airplane was upside down. Sometimes that ejection attitude screws things up. I made it to the ground OK because my chute worked perfectly. Jet got a streamer—the chute never fully deployed, and he came crashing to earth. I found him fifteen feet off the ground, hanging from a tree in his harness. He was terribly banged up. I knew he was dead. I started to climb the tree to see if I could cut him down, but in the distance, I heard men yelling in Vietnamese. They were hunting for me, and I had to run. I looked up at Jet and told him I was sorry, but I had to run. Twenty-four hours later, a bunch of angry rice farmers caught me and beat me until I was unconscious. At that point they turned me over to the North Vietnamese Army, who took me to the prison camp. Being a POW sucked, but nothing was as bad as leaving my best friend to rot in that stinking jungle. I’ve thought about that moment every day for the last thirteen years.”
Barbara Quinn and Otis Day stood motionless and slightly shocked. Brick’s story was moving, but the cold tone in his voice with which he narrated the tale was unnerving. He seemed like a man in a trance.
Brick looked back at Barbara and pointed at the decorations pinned to his dress uniform. “Do you see these medals, Officer Day? A Distinguished Flying Cross, a Silver Star, a Bronze Star for valor, a Purple Heart, and an Air Medal with two silver Oak Leaf Clusters—just fantastic. When I was released from North Vietnam, they told me I was a hero and gave me all these awards.”
Brick stepped closer to Barbara and put his arm around her shoulders. “Some freakin’ hero I am! I got my best friend killed and left him hanging in a damned tree.”
The two men and the woman silently resumed their walk away from the monument, but when they reached the sidewalk that would take them to Constitution Avenue, Brick stopped once more and looked back at the wall.
“Do you patrol this area every night, Officer Day?”
“Yes, I do. I pass the monument several times a night, and just like you, I always stop to think or say a prayer.”
“When you’re leaving this ground like we are now and you look back at the wall, how do you feel?”
“Hmm, I guess I feel hopeful.”
“Hopeful? How’s that?”
The black man smiled again and placed his hand on Brick’s shoulder. “You know, Colonel, I grew up here in the District with nothing. I didn’t even know who my daddy was. But my momma didn’t spare the rod and encouraged me to join the military when I got out of high school. The army taught me a lot. More than just how to be a good soldier. It taught me that it’s possible for different types of people to get along and work together. When you’re getting shot at, you don’t care if the guy next to you is white, black, a Jew, or a Christian. You just need to believe that he has your back, and you will risk your life to cover his back. That’s how it works. You know that as well as I do. So it makes me hopeful to know that most of the men and women who came back from ’Nam understand that and are doing jobs every day like the ones you and I are doing. We are working every day to make this a better country, a better country for everyone. And now that I have met you, I am even more hopeful. I’m glad you are in the White House. I have confidence in you.”
“I hope I don’t disappoint you, Officer Day.”
“You won’t disappoint me, Colonel. You gotta remember that sometimes it takes a mountain to believe.”
“That sounds like a line from a spiritual. Are you a religious man, Officer Day?”
“I sure am, and I love singing with the choir at my church. I might even think of you when I sing that song next Sunday.”
The policeman was pleased that he was able to bring a smile back to the faces of Brick and Barbara.
“You just remember, Colonel, the good Lord don’t make no mountain you can’t climb if you really set your mind to it. And once you make it over the top of that mountain, those demons haunting you from that jungle will be left far behind. It just takes the mountain to make you believe in yourself and the big man up above.”
Brick reached out and shook Otis Day’s hand. “It was an honor to meet you tonight, Officer Day.”
“Colonel, the honor was mine.”
The assistant to the president for national security affairs had flown all night from Beirut in the back of an air-force cargo aircraft in order to get back to Washington by four o’clock in the morning. A staff car from the White House picked him up at Andrews Air Force Base and drove him home for a quick shower and a change of clothes. He had been able to get six hours of sleep in the back of the C-141, and he was anxious to reach his office in the West Wing. By 7:00 a.m. he was at his desk, reviewing the notes from his trip, and thirty minutes later, two of his three deputies entered the office for an important staff meeting. However, one deputy was missing.
Elliot Woodson, the principal advisor to President Reagan on national-security affairs asked, “Where’s Brick? We need him here for this meeting.”
“He is just a minute or two behind us Mr. Woodson. I think he is recovering from a good time last night at the state dinner for Prime Minister Yew.”
“Well, I sure hope he enjoyed himself. My wife was really pissed at me when I told her we couldn’t attend. At least one of us got something out of it.”
A moment later Brick Autry burst through the door, looking slightly disheveled in his suit and tie. A late night, too much wine, and a rainstorm on the way to work threw him off his normal routine for getting to work on time.
“Sorry, I’m late, sir,” said Brick.
Woodson glanced at Brick and then, with his usual lack of casual banter, launched right into the situation at hand. He wanted to talk about the complex and troubling civil war in Lebanon that was destabilizing the Middle East. It was serving as a proxy war between Syria, Iraq, Iran, and of course Israel. The constant drumbeat of violence in Lebanon was not only diminishing the chances for a peace settlement in the region but also eroding the confidence of the American people in the Reagan administration’s Middle East policies. Especially troubling for the United States was the escalation of kidnappings taking place in Beirut that were clearly aimed at giving the terrorist group Hezbollah the leverage to negotiate concessions from the Americans, the Israelis, and the Syrians. This militant Shiite organization was allied with the Iranian government and was receiving training, arms, and money from Iran. They were responsible for the bombing of the US Marine Barracks in Beirut that killed 241 leathernecks.
The bombing was an embarrassing and costly wound to American foreign policy, and the purpose of many recent kidnappings was to discourage a US retaliation against the Hezbollah forces that attacked the barracks. It was estimated that Hezbollah now held between fifteen and twenty American hostages, and public pressure from the media and families of the hostages was making it very difficult for the government to adhere to a “no negotiations, no concessions” policy. Within this context, another kidnapping had taken place recently that required the president and the National Security Council staff to make a very difficult decision.
Woodson began to brief his underlings on the situation, “The president sent me to Beirut a week ago because we received some very troubling news from our CIA post over there. Somehow, Hezbollah managed to kidnap the CIA station chief, Roger Winfield. It looks like it was an inside job; Winfield’s Lebanese driver made a right turn instead of a left and drove him into a trap. The director of Central Intelligence is really up in arms over this, and you can imagine how the field agents feel. They risk their ass in Lebanon all the time, and it’s always possible for any of them to be snatched. If we aren’t committed to getting these guys back when the shit hits the fan, it’s going to be tough to expect them to take the risks one needs to take in this business. The principle of “no concessions, no negotiations” isn’t going to fly with the rank and file at the Company.”
Woodson’s three deputies looked at one another with surprise and some concern. A group of bearded fanatics was making the United States look bad, thumbing their nose at the CIA and American military might.
Woodson continued, “Hezbollah didn’t make this kidnapping public, so it was clear that they wanted to negotiate Winfield’s life for something specific. I spent the last couple of days with the CIA guys in Beirut, working out a deal with a representative from Hezbollah aimed at getting Roger back, as well as two faculty members from the American University who were captured over a year ago. We worked out an arrangement where we will deliver some equipment they want to a third party, in return for the release of Winfield and the two other Americans. The CIA guys are setting up all the moving parts associated with this business deal and the hostage release. The assholes at Hezbollah really want to shove our faces in it and have insisted that they will only release the kidnap victims to a close personal representative of the president of the United States. I offered myself up as the man to go in and take possession of the hostages, but the boys from Hezbollah have actually given us the name of the guy they want to come to Beirut.”
Woodson’s underlings were silent as they waited for the name of the person in the Reagan administration whom the terrorists had selected for the hostage turnover. Woodson looked down at his notes and scribbled something in the margin of a page to remind himself of a point he wanted to make with the president later in the day. Then he turned his attention back to the three men seated in front of him.
“They want Colonel Autry to come and pick up the hostages.”
No one in the room was more startled than Brick to hear that statement. Prior to his recent assignment to the White House, he had spent two years at the Pentagon and two years at NATO headquarters in Europe, focusing on the military capabilities of the Soviet Union and supporting nuclear-disarmament negotiations. He was an expert on the Russians, but he had never set foot in the Middle East. He would be hard pressed to explain to someone the difference between Hezbollah and the Palestinian Liberation Organization. To his knowledge he had no contacts at all in the Persian Gulf region and couldn’t imagine that a terrorist leader in Hezbollah even knew who he was.
“Are you sure they want me, Mr. Woodson? I’ve never worked on issues regarding that part of the world, and I don’t think I know anyone working in that area. I’m not even sure I can identify Lebanon on a map!”
“Yeah, you’re definitely the guy they want.” Woodson lifted up a hand-written note and read the name specified on the document, “Colonel Brick Autry, deputy national security advisor to the president of the United States. They gave it to me in writing.”
Brick sat there in disbelief as the intercom line on Woodson’s phone lit up with a series of red flashes. Woodson answered the phone, grunted a few affirmations, and then hung up. “I’ve been summoned to the Oval Office. The president and the White House chief of staff want the latest news on this situation in Beirut.” Woodson handed Brick a folder with information regarding the deal with Hezbollah. “Get on the horn with the CIA station in Beirut and coordinate your mission to get over there to recover Roger and the two professors. We need to maintain total secrecy on this operation until you return to American soil with the hostages, so make sure none of this stuff is shared outside of the NSC, especially with the White House Press Office. I’ll touch base with you after I brief the president.”
Brick and the two other deputy national security advisors headed toward the Eisenhower Executive Office Building as Woodson walked down the hall in the direction of the Oval Office. Brick’s colleagues told him he could count on them for any assistance he might need in pulling off this mission. One of them said, “I guess this is why Reagan and Woodson brought you in here, Brick. They gave you the title of Deputy National Security Advisor for Special Operations. This definitely qualifies as a ‘special’ operation. It’s pretty bizarre. These guys with Hezbollah are really merciless killers. You had best be doggone careful when you’re over there.”
When Brick reached his office, he began to read the outline of the hostage exchange deal. The chain of events would begin with the Air Force Logistics Command flying a large shipment of equipment to the American Air Force Base in Incirlik, Turkey. The exact composition of the equipment was not specified in any of the documents he was reading, so Brick made the assumption that a detailed list of the material existed but was not being made available to him. Once the shipment reached Turkey, a CIA truck convoy, guarded by American and Turkish security forces, would drive over five hundred miles to a small Turkish town on the border with Iran, where they would be met by a contingent of Iranian Revolutionary Guards. At that point, the Iranians would inventory the equipment and authorize a bank in Tehran to wire $2 million to a bank account in a Washington, DC, owned by a company named Rhame Consulting, a sham corporation controlled by the CIA. Once the money was received, approval would be sent by satellite from CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia, to the CIA transport team, allowing them to turn the equipment over to the Revolutionary Guards. Upon taking possession, Iranian agents would contact Hezbollah in Beirut to confirm the delivery and approve the release of the three kidnap victims. The CIA team would apprise the CIA station in Beirut that the Iranians had what they wanted and that Colonel Autry could be taken to a meeting with the kidnappers from Hezbollah. Brick’s connection with Hezbollah would take place somewhere on the Green Line in Beirut. The Green Line was the line of demarcation in the city that separated Muslim factions in West Beirut from the Christian militias that controlled the eastern half of the city. It was called the Green Line because of the weeds and untended foliage that grew in an uninhabited space that had been badly damaged by the civil war.
The dossier that Brick was reviewing also had profiles that included photographs of CIA station chief Roger Winfield and both of the professors who had been kidnapped while teaching at the American University of Beirut. As Brick continued to thumb through the folder, his secretary stuck her head into his office and said, “Colonel Autry, I just got word from CIA headquarters that you are to be on the tarmac at Andrews Air Force Base by four o’clock this afternoon to board a corporate jet bound for the Middle East. Also, Rawhide wants to see you immediately in the Oval Office.”
“The president wants to see me?”
“Yes, sir. I just got off the phone with his secretary. Is something big going on, Colonel Autry?”
“Uh, not really—everything is OK. Just arrange some transportation for me to get to Andrews, and I will fill you in when I get back.”
Brick made his way to the north lobby entrance of the West Wing, straightening his tie and making sure his shirt was tucked in. He entered the building and walked through the lobby, past the Roosevelt Room, and eventually to the reception area outside the northwest entry door to the president’s office. Elliot Woodson was waiting there for him.
“Did you read the documents I gave you, Colonel Autry?”
“Yes, sir. I did.”
“I don’t want you to discuss any of the details you read in the dossier with the president. We have briefed him on the general plan, but he needs some deniability if this thing falls apart, so the less he knows about the nitty-gritty, the better.”
“I understand, sir. Do you know why the president wants to speak to me?”
“Reagan likes military guys like you. He respects the fact that you didn’t just talk the patriot talk but actually put your ass on the line for our country. I think you’re just going to get a pat on the back, but you can fill me in when your meeting with him is over.”
A receptionist opened the door to the Oval Office and motioned for Brick to enter. This wasn’t Brick’s first visit to the most famous workspace in the country, but he had never had a one-on-one meeting with any of the three presidents he had served. In the Nixon White House, Brick was a low-level staffer, and with all the Watergate issues surrounding the administration, Nixon didn’t even know who he was. Brick became a regular security briefer when President Ford took over, and Ford seemed to remember Brick each time he would see him—although he did refer to Brick as Gene at one briefing. Reagan, on the other hand, was a very down-to-earth guy and always seemed interested in Brick’s opinions and in the position papers Autry had written. Still, it was only the president’s closest advisors who would have personal conversations with Reagan, so Brick was curious to know what the president wanted to discuss with him.
He stepped into the Oval Office and could see the president seated at his desk, writing on a piece of paper. He heard the door close behind him and then realized that the receptionist had stepped out of the room. He was now alone with Rawhide, the Secret Service code name for Reagan. He thought about clearing his throat to let the president know he was standing there but decided to remain still. After several long and awkward moments, President Reagan looked up and smiled when he saw Brick. “Ah, Colonel Autry, come in, come in.” The commander in chief got up from his desk and strode over to Brick. They shook hands, and Reagan invited Brick to sit in one of the small sofa chairs situated in the middle of the office. Although Reagan was seventy-four years old, he moved with vigor and had a good strong handshake. Since he was over six feet tall, he was a couple inches taller than Brick, but he wasn’t an imposing figure. He came across as a friendly and amiable guy.
After a few words of small talk, the president began to address the issue at hand, “Elliot tells me that the kidnappers in Beirut are demanding an emissary from my staff to pick up Roger Winfield and two other hostages. For some reason, you are the person they want to carry out this task. I’m well aware of how unreliable the representatives from Hezbollah are, and the type of treachery and violence they are prepared to use against our people. I’m also aware that you were a prisoner of war in Vietnam and have already paid a huge personal price for the dedication you have shown to our country. If this little game with Hezbollah is a trick, you may end up a hostage yourself in Lebanon. If that happens—well—that puts you into a tough situation. Hezbollah doesn’t hesitate to kill a hostage who is more trouble than he or she is worth.” The president paused as if to emphasize the severity of his last statement. “Brick, if you didn’t want to take on this mission, I certainly wouldn’t hold it against you. There’s a big-time risk in this venture, and I don’t feel good about asking a guy who has put his life on the line so many times in the past to hang it out there one more time based on assurances from a terrorist group like Hezbollah. You can take a pass on this if you wish.”
Brick’s smiled and took a second to think about his response. “Mr. President, I’m very moved by your concern for my welfare, but I’ve been risking my tail for America for a long time. If I wasn’t willing to take on a job like this one, I could resign from the air force and do something else. I could fly for an airline or become a businessman or just move to South Carolina and play golf for the rest of my life. But right now, right here, this is what I have to do for my country and for a lot of Vietnam veterans who are counting on me to do the right thing.”
Reagan gave Brick the famous head nod he used so many times in press conferences and reached out once more to shake his hand. “Godspeed, Brick Autry. When you get back, we can talk more about your role on the National Security Council staff. I need a guy like you. Someone who isn’t a politician or working in the White House to beef up his résumé. I need straight advice sometimes from a guy who has survived the brutality of war. No one hates war more than the soldier who has been there. Experienced soldiers look for solutions down every avenue before advocating man’s greatest inhumanity to his fellow man. Come back in one piece, Brick. We have important things to do over the next few years.”
As the sun began to set over Beirut, the temperature dropped from eighty degrees to a comfortable seventy-four. Brick Autry sat on a cot in a CIA safe house in the eastern portion of the city and worked his way through a meal of tabbouleh, hummus with pita bread, kibbe, and stuffed grape leaves. He had spent most of the last twenty-four hours flying from Andrews Air Force Base to Lebanon by way of Spain, Greece, and Israel. Although Ben Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv was only 120 miles south of Rafic-Hariri airport in Beirut, the last leg of Autry’s trip was on an Air America aircraft, which flew far out over the Mediterranean Sea and then circled back into the Lebanese airport from the west. Airplanes coming directly from Israel were normally shot at by various Islamic groups at war with the Israelis.
Brick’s hosts were five CIA agents who only referred to each other in code names while Brick was in their presence. They all looked like indigenous citizens of the region, but when they spoke English, it was clear that the agent in charge, referred to by his colleagues as Dog, was an American of Lebanese descent. Before serving dinner, they had prepared Brick for the hostage exchange that was supposed to take place that night and gave him an in-depth briefing on Hezbollah’s operations in Beirut, Southern Lebanon, and Syria. For the rest of the evening, they would wait for the message from CIA headquarters, which would give them clearance to complete the exchange. As Brick was reviewing the folder given to him by his boss back in the West Wing, he thought of a question about the details of the hostage swap.
“In return for the kidnap victims being released, we are delivering a large shipment of equipment to the Iranians. What’s in this shipment?
The senior agent shrugged his shoulders and informed Brick that the contents of the shipment were classified. It was information that the CIA didn’t think Brick needed to know.
Brick set down the folder he was holding and looked directly at Dog. “Let’s get something straight. In a little while I’m going to become the star of this show, and any information I have that will help me to talk my way out of a tough spot on the other side of the green line is information I need to have. Now, what the hell is in the shipment?”
Dog looked around at his fellow agents, and since no one seemed concerned about giving Brick more information, he casually answered the question, “Weapons, Colonel Autry. We are giving them automatic rifles, pistols, hand grenades, machine guns, rocket-propelled grenade launchers, and small mortars. All the stuff they need to continue to fight Saddam Hussein’s troops on the six-hundred-mile border they share with Iraq.”
“We’re selling arms to the Iranians? The United States has been part of a United Nations arms embargo against Iran since 1979. How can we violate the terms of an international coalition we put together?”
“I’m just a foot soldier, Colonel. Those decisions get made well above my pay grade.”
“OK, so we’re getting paid for these weapons, and the money is wired to Washington; what does CIA do with the money when they get it?”
Dog laughed at the question. “Colonel Autry, I haven’t a clue as to what they do back in Langley. I’m just trying to keep myself and my guys alive while we figure out what the psychos in this country are up to.”
“Was this deal negotiated when my boss, Mr. Woodson, was over here last week?”
“I wasn’t part of the negotiation, Colonel Autry, but my sense is that the deal was driven by Woodson and the head honchos from Langley. They were desperate to find a way to get the Iranians to intercede with Hezbollah and free up our station chief and some other hostages. Since I may get snatched one day by the bad guys, it seems like a damned good idea to me. When you figure that we actually get paid for the stuff we give the Iranians, it smells like a pretty good business decision.”
Brick made a mental note to ask Elliot Woodson about this strange arrangement when he got back to the White House. If certain members of Congress knew about the sale of weapons to Iran, they would really be on the president’s case. Iran had been declared a terrorist state, and the Reagan administration had always talked tough when it came to dealing with terrorists. This could be a scandal if it hit the newspaper headlines.
Brick went back to studying the information in the folder when there came a knock on the door, followed by the entrance of a young woman. She spoke to Dog and the other agents in Arabic and then quickly left.
“OK, Colonel,” said Dog, “it’s show time. Let’s saddle up and get you to the rendezvous point.”
Brick was pushed into the backseat of a small car with Dog driving and another heavily armed agent sitting in the front seat on the passenger side. They raced off toward the western part of this war-torn city. As they got closer to the Green Line, the buildings and homes they passed showed increasing amounts of damage from the fighting that had plagued Beirut for the past five years. When they reached a street that paralleled the Green Line, they parked the car and walked down a narrow alley between adjacent three-story buildings. At the end of the alley was a barricade of sandbags and fifty-gallon drums filled with dirt. Two men were standing on the metal drums and looking over the top of the sandbag wall. Dog exchanged several words with the men and then turned to Brick.
“Once you’ve squeezed through this crack between the building and the sandbags, you’ll be in the Green Line. There’s a lot of freelance gunfire exchanged across this area, so there’s no guarantee that Hezbollah can prevent anyone on the west side of the street from firing at you, just as we don’t have complete control of our side of the street. It’s best for you to stay low and move at a steady pace toward a blinking flashlight the Hezbollah fighters will be illuminating from a point about one block away. Don’t run, but don’t spend more time in the open than you have to.”
One of the men peering over the sandbag wall advised Dog and Brick that the Hezbollah signal had commenced. “OK, Colonel, good luck. We will be waiting here for your return.”
Brick turned sideways and forced his way through the sandbag opening. He crouched down and looked northward where he could see a small light blinking in his direction from eighty yards away. He stayed low and moved at a consistent speed in the direction of the light. The street was filled with rubble, weeds, and potholes, and even though it was dark, there was enough moonlight to see that the buildings on both sides of the street were marked by bullet holes and walls had been smashed by cannon or mortar fire. When he got within twenty feet of the blinking light, he could see the figure of a man guiding him to the entrance of another alley. Someone called out to him, “Hey, man, right here—come here quick.”
When Brick ducked into the alley, several men immediately seized his arms. “Are you Autry?”
Brick confirmed his identity, someone placed a black hood over his head, and he was hustled down the alley to another waiting car that took him on a chaotic ten-minute ride through the streets of western Beirut. When his captors pulled him out of the car, he could hear seagulls screeching, so he assumed they were now fairly close to the Mediterranean waterfront. Brick stumbled his way from the car and into a house with the aid of the two men holding his arms, and he was thankful to be placed in a chair and no longer moving around without the ability to see. The hood was removed from his head, and he found himself sitting in a dimly lit room surrounded by at least eight soldiers standing in the shadows. One Hezbollah fighter came forward and held up a photograph next to Brick’s face. “You’ve aged, Colonel Autry—you were much younger in this picture.”
Looking around the room, Brick noticed that each man surrounding him was wearing a kaffiyeh, the traditional scarf that covered the head and the face. However, the fighter speaking to him was relatively young and made no attempt to disguise his identity. He wore jeans and a military fatigue jacket and had a Kalashnikov automatic rifle slung over his shoulder.
“So, you are here to pick up the two old men who teach the useless ideas of the West to our young people and the criminal killer who works for your CIA. I would prefer to return these men as dead bodies, but I will cooperate with our Iranian friends and let you walk out of here with the infidels.”
“Thanks for sticking with the deal. I’m ready to escort Roger Winfield and the two college professors back to eastern Beirut at this time. Can you please take me to them?”
The Hezbollah fighter sneered at Brick and motioned for him to stand up and follow him into the next room. When Brick entered he immediately saw three men sitting on a couch with worried expressions on their faces. The two professors from American University no longer resembled the men in the photographs that had been included in the Brick’s mission dossier. They had lost weight and hadn’t shaved or had a haircut in over a year. Brick knelt down in front of the two bearded professors and asked their names.
“I’m Richard Coltrane, and this is my colleague Steven Sinclair. Who are you?”
“I’m Colonel Brick Autry of the United States Air Force, and I am here to take you home.”
Brick looked over at the kidnapped CIA station chief and asked him if he was OK. It was a rhetorical question since a quick look at Winfield’s swollen and bruised face was clear evidence that the last ten days as a guest of Hezbollah hadn’t been an easy time.
Winfield responded in a calm and quiet voice, “How is it that an air-force officer gets the duty to spring us from Hezbollah?”
“I’m a deputy national security advisor to the president, Mr. Winfield. I guess the boys at Hezbollah wanted to be treated like major leaguers and insisted that someone from the White House come over to take you guys out of here. Some of your people are waiting for us on the other side of the Green Line. We need to get rolling.”
Brick helped Winfield to his feet and was relieved to see that the two professors had no problem moving about. He ushered the three captives back into the other room, where the Hezbollah fighters covered their heads with hoods and walked them to the car that had brought Brick to the meeting. As Brick started to move toward the exit, the man without the kaffiyeh stopped him. “Not so fast, Colonel Autry. There is someone here who would like to speak to you.” He pointed to a tall, burly soldier, who stepped out from the shadows.
“Hello, Colonel Autry. It has been a long time since we last saw each other. Despite my young friend’s comments, it looks like you have aged very well.”
The voice was not familiar, but Brick detected a strong Russian accent, and even though he was wearing the headscarf, the skin around his eyes reflected the lighter complexion of a European.
“How do you know me?” asked Brick.
The man reached up and took off the kaffiyeh so Autry could see him clearly. It took a few seconds for Brick to reach back thirteen years and put a name to the face, but it eventually came to him. “Ivan—you’re Ivan.”
The Russian smiled. “I know that is what all the prisoners called me, but my real name is Grigory Tourischeva. Even though we didn’t have any direct contact in Hanoi, I was hoping you would remember me.”
“Yeah, I remember you. You were one of the few jailers at the prison who spoke English. By the time I got shot down, the North Vietnamese knew the war would be ending soon and the POWs were pawns to be traded for concessions. They took it easy on me—I wasn’t beaten too badly. But some of those men who were there for years were routinely tortured, under your direction, so you could get military intelligence for the KGB. Good and brave men were damaged for life thanks to you, Ivan.”
“It was war, Colonel Autry. I was just doing my job.”
“Colonel Autry, I am here to help you. I want to be your friend. I had my contacts in Hezbollah request you specifically so we could talk.”
“Great; fuck you, friend.”
“Colonel Autry, you are a smart man. I am surprised you are allowing your emotions to get the best of you, especially in a difficult situation like the one you are in at the moment. I can make sure that this hostage swap continues as planned, or I can encourage my comrades in Hezbollah to act out their desires and behead your three fellow Americans right before your eyes. Which set of events would you like to see unfold?”
Brick said nothing and consciously calmed himself down.
Tourischeva pulled up another chair next to the one already in the center of the room. “Please, Colonel Autry. Please sit. We need to talk.”
Autry sat down and looked more closely at the soldier seated across from him. Tourischeva looked heavier and much older than the man he would occasionally see loitering around the periphery of the prison yard where the American POWs would exercise. Since Brick was captured just four months before the armistice that ended the war, he wasn’t subjected to the routine torture so brutally inflicted on long-term inmates. The Soviets wanted to learn more about American air-warfare capabilities and encouraged the North Vietnamese jailers to ask the POWs about American strategic and tactical plans. Prisoners who refused to answer were beaten. Although Brick hadn’t heard of any POWs who were physically abused by Tourischeva, he was the interrogator who supervised the Vietnamese guards. Because he spoke English with a heavy Russian accent, the POWs nicknamed him Ivan.
“We have come a long way since those days in Hanoi, Colonel Autry. I am now a lieutenant general within the Committee for State Security, and I work directly for the chairman. In like fashion you have progressed up the ranks from a junior captain to a full colonel who works on the staff of the American president. We have similar jobs.”
“Our jobs aren’t similar, Ivan. Your Committee for State Security, the KGB, enslaves your own people and foments terror and conflict around the world. My job is to protect the liberty of free Americans.”
Tourischeva smiled. “I’ve always admired the way you American military men adhere to this concept that you operate on a higher moral plane than we do. As though your bombs and bullets can somehow differentiate who should be killed and who should be spared. Don’t kid yourself, Colonel Autry; we’re in the same business.”
“What is it you want from me, Ivan?”
Autry’s refusal to call Tourischeva by his real name angered the Russian, but he would not let his emotions get the best of him as they had with this American officer. There were important things to discuss, and he needed to secure Brick’s cooperation.
“I know a great deal about you, Colonel Brick Autry. I know you spent two years at the Pentagon, supporting the negotiations with my country over the intermediate-range nuclear forces treaty. When we walked away from the negotiating table in 1983, you were transferred to Brussels, where they made you head of military intelligence for NATO. In these jobs you spent a lot of time learning about us, didn’t you, Colonel Autry? You learned about our troop strengths and military training. You learned about our strategic bombers and missiles. And since you are a fighter pilot, I’m sure you enjoyed evaluating our tactical warfare strategies over the skies of Eastern Europe. But unlike the rest of your colleagues at the Pentagon and the CIA, you also tried to learn about us as a people. What is it—you asked yourself—that makes those Russians tick? What is life like in Russia? Do Russians love their country? Will they willingly die for their government? Do Ukrainians love Chechnyans? Do members of the Communist Party live the same life as regular citizens? You asked questions of yourself that most military men do not ask. And unfortunately for us, you managed to get some very good answers to these questions. You worked with your CIA friends in Europe to debrief defectors from the Soviet Union as well as KGB and East German Stasi agents who came over to your side, and you put together a very accurate picture of a world superpower that was rotting from within. You realized that military might was a function of domestic resolve, and you were questioning whether or not Mother Russia really had that kind of power in its governments, institutions, and people. We were impressed with the conclusions you drew as well as the techniques you applied to get accurate information. Do you remember the beautiful East German double agent you occasionally met at a quaint hotel just down from the Brandenburg Gate in West Berlin? I’m sure she was very informative. She must have been spectacular in bed. You earned the tidbits you got from her by keeping her satisfied and coming back for more. Alas, she is now dead since the Stasi aren’t particularly forgiving once they find out that one of their agents is fucking an American intelligence officer.”
Brick kept a poker face as Tourischeva accurately recounted his activities over the four years prior to his landing at the White House. He felt a sincere pang of remorse when he heard the fate of Agnethe Eckardt. He remembered how soft her skin was and the simple pleasure of holding her in his arms.
“Yes, Colonel Autry, you figured out that a country that can’t manufacture reliable washing machines is probably not going to be any better at building intercontinental missiles that can hit a target five thousand miles away. You concluded that a country full of alcoholics is not going to compete well with a country motivated by self-interest and personal achievement. You told your contacts back at the Pentagon and the CIA that their assumptions about the strength of the USSR were incorrect, and that the Soviet Union could be dismantled simply by preying on the weaknesses of a society crippled by socialism and political corruption. Tell me something, Colonel Autry, were you shocked when your superiors told you that you were full of shit?”
Brick continued to stare at Tourischeva and said nothing. He wondered where the Russian was going with this dissertation, and how he knew so much.
“It appears, Colonel Autry, that bureaucracies are just as entrenched and closed minded in the United States as they are in the Soviet Union.”
“How do you know all these things regarding my work?” asked Brick.
Tourischeva shrugged and didn’t answer the question. He continued with his thoughts regarding Autry’s perceptions of the Soviet Union, “Do you know what the words ‘glasnost’ and ‘perestroika’ mean, Colonel Autry? They are two words we hear quite often in Moscow since the elevation of Mr. Gorbachev to party chairman. This man believes in these words. The concepts of openness and reconstruction are not philosophies the Communist Party has routinely used throughout history. These ideas may be common in America, but they are revolutionary in Russia. These words make some people very happy and others very uncomfortable.”
“How do they make you feel, Ivan?”
The Russian knew he was beginning to get Autry’s attention. “I know you consider me to be a monster, but at heart I am a Russian poet who greatly appreciates profound thoughts conveyed in artful prose. I believe that history is a relentless master. It has no present, only the past running into the future. To try to hold fast is to be swept aside.”
For the first time, Brick smiled. “I never thought I would hear a KGB agent quoting John F. Kennedy. You know, General Tourischeva, Kennedy also said that the best road to progress is freedom’s road. Do you also believe that?”
“Yes, I do, but such a road will be a difficult one for the Russian people. My country has always been a place that needed a strong leader—someone to control so many different cultures spread over so many miles. First we had the czars, and then we replaced them with Lenin, Stalin, and the rest. After the misery and death we suffered in the Second World War, our leaders found they could keep our citizens in place by offering them security. A security they craved at the expense of liberty. But as I said, history is a relentless master. A society that values freedom from responsibility over the principle of human freedom, soon loses both. That is where we are headed.”
“OK, General Tourischeva, you’ve obviously gone well out of your way to get me here. What is the purpose of this meeting?”
The Russian leaned forward in his chair, placed his elbows on his knees, and looked directly into Brick’s eyes. “My bosses want you to convey a message to your president that, despite the bluster and saber rattling that we may generate in the headlines of world newspapers, we are ready to negotiate. We are ready to bring a halt to this nuclear arms buildup, and we want to become part of the world economy. Mr. Gorbachev will not roll over and let you screw him in the ass, but he is a man with the right vision for the Soviet Union, and he will work with your president to take us there.”
“That’s a powerful message. I look forward to bringing it back to Washington.”
“I’m sure you do, but that is the easy part, Colonel Autry. There is a great deal of contention within the Kremlin over these policies. Bureaucrats and Communist Party leaders have held total power in my country for over sixty years. Many of them do not wish to give up the privileges that go along with such power, and they will try to block Gorbachev’s innovations. Also, there are strong ties between certain segments of the KGB and the organized crime gangs that run the underground economy in Russia. The crime leaders are capitalists, Colonel Autry. Just like your robber barons of the last century, they don’t want to give up control of their markets.”
Brick thought back to the discussion he had with General Young two days earlier about the potential for a violent overthrow of the government in the Soviet Union. “Do you think these groups that oppose Gorbachev would go so far as to assassinate him?”
Tourischeva smiled. “It is my job to be sure that doesn’t happen. I’m confident I can do my job, but I must admit it is not always easy to determine who is a friend or an enemy within the walls of the Kremlin. When you bring the crime syndicates into the picture, you are dealing with men who view killing as a useful means to an end. There will be a great deal of political turmoil unfolding behind the scenes in the Soviet Union for the next few years.”
“Are you seeking our help in protecting Gorbachev?”
“No, not at all. You have a problem in the United States, which you are not aware of. I am here to warn you of this problem.”
“What’s the problem?”
Tourischeva sat back in his chair and folded his right leg over his left knee. He took a deep breath and continued his story, “During the Vietnam war there were American airmen and soldiers captured by the North Vietnamese who were not imprisoned with you and the other POWs in the Hanoi Hilton. These men were sent to the Lubyanka prison in Moscow and subjected to intensive psychological treatments intended to convert them into agents who would be loyal to our cause. In some cases it did not work, and the prisoners died. But in a few cases, our psychiatrists were successful at brainwashing these men and gaining their loyalty to the People’s Soviet Socialist Republic. With my recent promotion at the KGB, the unit that trained and handled the turncoat American agents came under my command. Before I took charge, this program was highly classified and a complete secret to all but a few KGB men. The senior officers who had run this project reported to me that several of the American-born prisoners had been successfully repatriated many years ago and were now acting as valuable sources of information regarding your military and diplomatic operations in Washington. They referred to these men as the sons of Lubyanka.”
“Can you give me the names of those agents?”
“Of course not. Would you be willing to give me the names of your CIA spies working in Moscow? They are not as useful as they had been, but I am not about to give them up. You have a much bigger problem than a few spies who are simply sources of information. You see, Colonel Autry, one of the men sent back to the United States has been trained to kill. His role is to eliminate anyone we thought could be a threat to our intelligence-gathering systems within your country. From what I am told, he has done an excellent job over the last five years. He is an expert at committing murder but making it look like an accident or a natural death. More often than not, his targets have been agents from our allies in the Soviet bloc who were either contemplating defection or were such incompetent idiots that it was smarter to kill them than let them blow up an operation. Unfortunately, it appears that this assassin is loyal to the forces in the Kremlin that are opposed to Mr. Gorbachev. I had the KGB agent who was his handler in Moscow dismissed from his job, arrested, and interrogated. After one day of questioning, he committed suicide in his cell and died before we could get any specific information from him regarding this man who is now a rogue agent. We are concerned that this son of Lubyanka will try to eliminate someone in your government who is essential to the prospect of a détente between the United States and the Soviet Union.”
“Who do you think he will target?”
“There is no one more essential than your president.”
“You’re kidding me, right? You think this man may try to kill Reagan?”
“We believe he has already tried once.”
Brick was caught off guard by that comment and looked askance at Tourischeva. In March of 1981, President Reagan was shot as he left a hotel after giving a speech. The would-be assassin was a deranged man who told investigators that voices from the sky had ordered him to shoot the president of the United States. Reagan took a bullet to his chest, the shell passing one inch from his heart, but he went on to make a speedy recovery. The FBI investigation concluded that the shooter acted alone and he was sentenced to a life term in a mental hospital.
“There was an attempt on the president’s life a couple years ago, but the man who pulled the trigger and wounded Reagan and several of his aides was a nutcase acting alone. Our FBI checked him out thoroughly and concluded there was no conspiracy in place to kill the president.”
Tourischeva shrugged his shoulders and gestured with his hands as though asking a question, “I’m sure your FBI men are much smarter than I. Maybe they are right, but then, could they be wrong?”
“Is there anything at all you can tell me about this rogue agent operating in the States?”
“Colonel Autry, from 1970 through 1972, I shipped nine Americans who had been captured by the North Vietnamese to Moscow. Once they got there, they disappeared into the bowels of the Lubyanka prison and were under the control of the KGB section charged with spying within the borders of your country. I never heard anything about these men again until recently when that unit came under my supervision. The trained assassin was managed by a single handler, the man who killed himself. But there must have been a communications link in place between the handler and the killer. Someone had to connect the orders from KGB headquarters in Moscow to the rogue agent in the States. We have been trying to determine who passed these orders back and forth, but many of our agents and other KGB assets are starting to disappear around the world. They fear being purged from the Communist Party or from their jobs as Gorbachev begins to clean house. It is safer for them to melt away into the societies where they have been operating. Whoever was responsible for contacting our killer agent in America seems to have gone to ground. Therefore, we do not know who the assassin is, nor do we have a method to contact him. Someone on your side of the pond is going to have to figure this out.”
Brick sat back in his chair and took some time to think through the scenario the Russian had just unfolded. It seemed strange that a high-ranking officer in the KGB would willfully tell him that the Soviets had successfully planted American-born spies in the United States and that one of these spies was a trained assassin who could be targeting people at the highest level of the American government. Tourischeva had to know that when Brick shared this information with the FBI and CIA, both agencies would concentrate their efforts to find the turncoats. Using data on Americans missing in action during the Vietnam War should narrow the search and make finding them somewhat easier since investigators would have pictures, fingerprints, and blood types of all the troops who went MIA. Brick wondered what Grigory Tourischeva wasn’t telling him.
“Why me, Grigory? Why did you want to tell this story to me? You could have passed the information along through a backchannel between our State Department and your Foreign Ministry. Or you could have simply given the information to Roger Winfield and sent him back across the Green Line. Why did you go through all these machinations in order to get me here face-to-face?”
Tourischeva sat back and slapped his thighs while letting out a good laugh. “You are proving to me that you are the man we thought you to be, Brick Autry. You are a warrior who thinks as well as he fights.”
The Russian stood and gestured to a Hezbollah fighter to come and escort Brick to the same car where the other three Americans were waiting.
“When your superiors discounted your accurate assessment of the situation in the USSR, someone in the CIA forwarded the white paper you authored to Elliot Woodson, who in turn ran your ideas by the president. For that reason they asked you to join the National Security Council staff. You obviously have credibility with these men, and they will listen to what you have to say. In addition, Colonel Autry, I have a hunch about you. I have a hunch that you will understand why we wanted to make this contact when you find the assassin. Finding the assassin is as important to you as it is to your country. Have a safe trip back to America.”