A free preview of my debut novel; adventure thriller The Colonel of Krasnoyarsk is already available at most major online book retailers, but several people have asked me why it wasn’t on here too. Thinking about it, that made a lot of sense so here’s the introduction and chapter one of the story.
Five weeks earlier:
The two hikers made their way slowly down the narrow trail towards the National Forest Service parking area at Katahdin Lakes which lay about two miles distant. At the point where the forest opened out into a wide clearing they paused in warm sunshine to admire the view of New Hampshire’s White Mountains which appeared ahead as a series of long wooded ridges stretching away into the distant summer haze.
“Hey dad, how far are we from Canada here?” the younger of the two asked
“Only a few miles I guess; the border is somewhere over the far side of that ridgeline there.” His father gestured away to the right where one of the nearer ridges sloped steeply down from a stony crest into a valley of tall pines and tangled scrub.
They both sat on a rock enjoying the warmth as they shared some water from a plastic bottle when the boy, who was about thirteen, pointed upwards and exclaimed
“What’s that bird dad… sure looks weird?”
“Can’t see it… where… Oh yeah I see it now. That’s no bird; looks more like a glider of some kind or an ultralite aircraft.”
“Sure is quiet for an airplane.”
The aircraft was indeed almost silent. The only sound was a low whistle rather like the noise their open bottle made when the breeze blew. The wings were strangely bird-like and Jon Martin could see how his son Josh could have thought it was some large bird of prey though its colouring was too pale for an eagle. In fact it seemed to almost blend with the
background so that it appeared pale blue against the sky and off-white as it passed in front of a cloud.
“How strange” he thought to himself. Despite its closeness they would never have seen it if Josh with his keen eyes had not been scanning the skies for eagles of which they had seen two today along with several buzzards and what they thought had been a peregrine falcon; the fastest bird in the air.
“Must be some modern ultralite – remember those we saw at Grand Canyon last year?”
“Yeah they were so cool. This one’s got no ID markings though.”
That was yet another odd thing about the aircraft and they both watched as it wheeled like a vulture and turned; now totally silent and noticeably losing height before it was gone behind the nearby ridge appearing to narrowly miss the tree tops half way up. It was then that it occurred to Jon Martin that he had not been able to see the pilot or anything
resembling a cockpit.
It was hardly surprising that he was unable to see the pilot because he was several thousand miles away in front of a computer console in an office on the top floor of the Defence Ministry in the city of Moscow, the Russian capital. Major Lenanov of the GRU or Military Intelligence flew the pilotless aircraft or drone via a computer screen and a
satellite link that enabled the plane to be controlled from anywhere in the world. It was similar to flying a radio controlled aircraft though the slight delay caused by the distance the signal had to travel to the satellite meant he had to anticipate when to move his controls a fraction of a second ahead. A camera on the aircraft showed what he would
have seen had he been on board with the real time image beamed to the monitor on his console.
The aircraft he piloted through the distant hills of New Hampshire was like no ordinary radio controlled plane though, its design being based on the drones the Americans had used for purposes from intelligence gathering to the assassination of terrorists in hostile regions such as Afghanistan and Somalia The main difference between this one and those used in the War on Terror was in the propulsion system which was an experimental type of jet engine far more fuel efficient than conventional jets and while the top speed was unimpressive, the range was many times that of its US counterparts. The engine was silenced by a device similar in design to the silencer on a gun.
Additional features included lightweight translucent non reflective materials in the general construction that allowed some light through and gave the appearance of blending in with the background and a design that was difficult to spot on radar. In short it was meant not to be easily seen and while it could carry out similar tasks to the ones the Americans used, its main strength was in covert intelligence gathering over areas a long way from base.
Its current mission though was not to gather any particular intelligence but to see whether they could fly in and out of US airspace undetected. In this they had been successful until the moment that the warning message came up on the screen just after they had seen the two hikers in the forest clearing.
Almost as soon as the drone had crash landed in the woods just south of the Canadian border the operation to recover it had begun and the senior officer in the room; a lean fit looking General in his early fifties by the name of Koriakin had already decided who would be the best man to do it.
As this drama played out in Moscow, over two thousand miles to the east in the Siberian city of Krasnoyarsk; six men gathered on the stairs of one of the old communist era apartment blocks. They moved slowly and silently up the bare concrete of the stairwell, the shadowy figures ghost like in the dim light. Their leader both in rank and position on the stairs held the rank of Colonel but despite this seniority he had never been one to send his men into danger before himself – they knew this and trusted him implicitly. He could, as did many of lesser rank than his own, have directed this operation from the safety of a warm office but he would never do that while he was able to take part.
Here though was no obvious mark of leadership, the soldiers each appearing identical dressed all in black and wearing balaclavas and gas masks. Each carried an AK74 automatic assault rifle equipped with a small but powerful torch that illuminated only where the weapon was pointed. The man in third position of the six moved up in front of the two at the top of the stairs and swiftly but methodically attached small explosive charges to the lock and hinge areas of the door in front of them before they all moved to the shelter of the wall – three either side of the door.
An ear splitting explosion and ringing echo filled the hallway which was followed by more explosions – dull thuds and more deafening reports as both gas and stun grenades were hurled through the gap that the door had until recently occupied. Into the storm of flashes and noise in the room the men quickly moved and their leader caught a fleeting view of several panicked faces around a table and more by the far wall. The light had gone out in the explosions and chaos reigned but like the rest of his men he focused only on the people in the room. A couple of them began reaching for automatic weapons that were placed near them. Those who did so fell dead while those that did not soon found themselves captive. A minute later seven of the nine men were lying face down, their hands bound behind them with plastic cable ties while two of their colleagues lay dead.
The American Airlines Boeing 767 broke through the cloud ceiling at about 4000 feet but the man seated in the aisle seat just in front of the exit was denied the aerial view of New York City and Long Island Sound as the pilot made a banking turn to begin their final approach into JFK. He felt relaxed and didn’t think of what lay ahead, preferring instead to observe his fellow passengers; the large man seated next to him was clearly in fear of flying and looked as though he would rather be somewhere else, the man in a suit two rows in front was drunk – as were several other passengers – and the blonde stewardess kept looking at him when she thought he wasn’t looking himself.
Despite his features bearing witness to many Siberian winters and the harsh mountain sun of Chechnya, he looked much younger than his thirty nine years with his brown eyes and youthful face giving an air that appeared determined but not unkind and the stewardess who served him was intrigued by his dark looks and calm polite manner:
The name on his boarding card was Stefan Romanski and he looked to be in his early thirties. He wore a plain dark blue baseball cap and she could see that his dark hair at the sides had been shaved recently and she wondered whether he was in the Military – on the one occasion he had left his seat on the flight from London he had walked with the confident upright gait of a soldier. He looked a shade under six foot; was of a slim but wiry build and clearly very fit. She had been further impressed by the fact that he had drunk only black tea and bottled water on the long flight when several of the passengers in her charge were already drunk even though it was only mid afternoon in New York.
The mystery man gave her a little smile and she was embarrassed that he’d caught her looking at him. She smiled back and continued to serve the businessman two rows in front with bourbon. He was reading a leading article in the New York Times about the recent increased activity of Russian spies in the City. She thought all that had gone away with the end of the Cold War…
Earlier that morning Colonel Yuri Medev had left London Heathrow in a rainstorm after arriving there from Krakow in Poland and was now near the end of a three day journey from his current base of Krasnoyarsk in Siberia. The British passport he carried declared him to be Stefan Romanski – a Polish immigrant to the UK – which was the reason for his diversion to those countries. His identity would be scrutinised more if he arrived on the Moscow flight. His English was excellent but heavily accented and he would not have passed for an American or an Englishman, hence the Polish identity.
He thought back over the events that had brought him here which had begun even before the raid on the Mafia gang’s apartment in Krasnoyarsk a month earlier. Medev was a colonel in the GRU or Military Intelligence and until recently had been a commander of Russia’s elite Special Forces known as the GRU Spetsnaz. When that division had been reorganised and no longer came under the directive of GRU, Medev had effectively become a full time intelligence officer though he retained his attachment to the Special Forces and was still able to participate in some operations. Most colonels of his age did not choose to get involved in the action to the extent that he did but then again most colonels of his age did not climb mountains and go cross country skiing for fun. Perhaps it was a subconscious effort to deny that he was approaching forty years old but he still got involved as much as he could.
His superiors too were happy to still encourage his direct involvement. They were quite aware that his experience with Special Forces went back many years to when he was with VDV the Airborne Division; long before he was even recruited by Intelligence. They recognised the value of that experience as well as the fact that most of the men would follow Medev anywhere whether they were ordered to or not.
He glanced up from his comfortable seat to see that the stewardess was heading back up the cabin presumably to get more drinks for the passengers seated in front of him. She had nice legs he thought and wondered idly whether she went running or to a gym. The engine tone decreased, meaning the pilot had reduced power again for their approach.
Officially he had been in his new job for several months but this was his first mission as a GRU agent and not as a Spetsnaz Commander. He thought about the noisy military transports he was used to flying on compared to this and the fact that when he reached his destination today there would be nobody trying to kill him – luxury. Normally a criminal case such as this would not have involved the GRU at all once the gang had been located and the raid completed but there was an unusual difference here which had come to light with the investigation into the activities of the gang leaders they had apprehended at the apartment. He remembered studying the list of items found there which included a large sum in US dollars – in itself not unusual with these people – passports from the US and UK along with those from a number of other EU countries – chiefly Romania and Poland.
A large quantity of cocaine had been found at another location in the city after the questioning of those who had been arrested but other than that the inventory had all the hallmarks of people trafficking. It was something else that had come out in the questioning of the gang members that made this case unusual. They all maintained that the main people they did business with were based not in any Russian city but in the United States. It was this apparent US connection that had aroused the interest of his organisation.
The man in the seat next to him visibly tensed as the aircraft hit a patch of mild turbulence and Yuri observed with interest that he closed his eyes each time the aircraft gave a lurch. He supposed he was being unfair in his assessment; he had jumped from more aircraft than most people ever fly in and flying in these modern jets with no one trying to shoot him down gave him no fear at all. In fact he found it a relaxing occupation and staying awake was his biggest challenge. Of course there was always the possibility of terrorism…
When questioned further about an American involvement to their operations two names kept coming up; That of Jim Bergman – though none of the detainees seemed to know anything about him – and a man known simply as Nikovich. No-one seemed to know anything much about him either – or at least they were not saying; apart from the fact that both men were based in New York and to their knowledge had never even visited Russia.
Further investigation had revealed that Bergman was an agent of the American FBI and somehow mixed up with this gang though he appeared to be some kind of go between rather than any sort of leader. They concluded that he was probably a corrupt agent in the pay of Nikovich though it could not be discounted – as Yuri himself had pointed out – that he could be working under cover. There was no information at all forthcoming on Nikovich. As the investigation had continued along these lines Medev’s immediate superior General Koriakin had asked for a meeting to discuss with him the course of action to be taken. This had been seven days before he’d boarded this flight though the meeting was as clear in his mind as if it had been that morning.
He had left his apartment in the officers’ accommodation block and walked across the base to meet with Koriakin in his office. It had been a day of pleasant sunshine but the shade was cool – by September summer has left Siberia – two soldiers saluted him as he walked at his usual brisk pace towards Koriakin’s office. He touched his cap back to them and continued to the General’s office. His mood was buoyant and was helped by the soldiers; there had been recognition on their faces – they had not simply saluted his uniform and senior rank. He felt proud that the men of the base respected him and dare he say it even liked him. These two had certainly looked pleased to see him and not simply saluted out of a sense of duty. This happened a lot with Colonel Medev.
General Koriakin was tall and lean like Medev but his hair was much lighter and tinged with grey though neither man looked their true age or showed any sign of putting on weight like many of their age and rank. Both believed in staying as fit as the young soldiers they commanded and they often – voluntarily – shared their training regimes which won them the respect and admiration of the men.
“Yuri” beamed Koriakin at the younger man. “We have more news from Moscow.”
“What is the latest?” he replied curiously.
Koriakin had given him details of the watch their agents in New York had placed on Bergman, one of the US suspects.
He was indeed an agent of the FBI though nothing else had been found to link him to the gang in Krasnoyarsk. The name of Nikolai Nikovich had come up on US court records relating to a recent organised crime case that Bergman had been involved with so there was a link between the two men after all. Nikovich had been acquitted by the court on several counts of conspiracy to murder and human trafficking. He was described by the American press as being connected to the Russian Mafia though no reference to him was found on FSB files or those of the police in any of the major Russian cities.
The investigation at home though had revealed some more about those operations. The people from the apartment were involved in the trafficking of young girls who were promised passports and jobs in the US and Western Europe in return for payment. When they got there, their new lives turned out to be rather different than expected and the promised jobs ranged from prostitution to working for a pittance in illegal factories.
This was nothing new for Russian and Eastern European mafia groups but Yuri still thought this human trafficking that amounted to a modern day slave trade was a most despicable crime and wished his unit had killed more of the gang during the raid. The group with which Bergman and Nikovich were involved in New York appeared to be the recipient of these girls. As payment the New York gang were sending cash and consignments of cocaine to Russia which was much in demand by the increased number of rich businessmen here – a new development.
“So – if the American FBI had the confessions from our Apartment Gang they would have probably have convicted Nikovich. It seems as though lack of provable evidence was the obstacle.”
“That may be true but we don’t currently cooperate on that level with the US” returned the General “perhaps we should consider it in certain cases.” Yuri couldn’t help thinking that his phrase “in certain cases” could be replaced with “when it suits us” but he agreed with what Koriakin had said.
It was true though and both men realised it whatever their outward views on the matter. If the gangs were now cooperating internationally then their law enforcement had to do the same – at least to a degree – or the criminals would have the advantage. As for corruption, that was still a problem here so why not in the US too.
It had been decided though that the priority was to find Nikovich who was almost certainly the leader of the New York organisation. He clearly had Russian connections despite there being no trace of him in Criminal Records in the FSB and if allowed to continue he would find another gang and simply start up again. There was too much money at stake. The Krasnoyarsk Gang had been responsible for the deaths of several police officers and civilians to say nothing of the girls sent abroad on false promises before Medev’s Special Forces had stormed into their hideout to spoil the party. No-one wanted to go through all that again and he had to be stopped so Yuri was not surprised when the General gave him his instructions to go to New York.
“Bergman is our only connection to Nikovich and as he is unlikely to agree to tell us everything, we must find out what we can. We must start with his computer and his apartment. If he is working for Nikovich, any records will be there. He would not keep them on an FBI computer or at their office.”
Koriakin had made it clear to Yuri that he was not ordering him to go and that another agent could be found if necessary but he stressed that it would be an opportunity to directly attack the people trafficking gangs knowing that the younger man was always going to accept such a mission. It was then that the general hinted at a second part to his assignment.
“What does this second job involve?” Yuri asked with a look that could be described as cynical.
“It just needs someone in place on the ground – I will elaborate soon but it is much less risky than finding Nikovich. And that job should be straightforward too – we just want the hard drive from Bergman’s computer. Our tech people will decode what is on there and then we will issue further instructions regarding Nikovich; you just need to get into his apartment and steal it.” It was clear to Yuri that those further instructions would probably involve the termination of Nikovich just as soon as they had enough proof to justify it. He also wondered what the second job could involve as any of their agents currently in New York could steal a hard drive. Most of them would know what to do with it too.
He had a vague suspicion that the mystery job was the real reason behind sending someone to the States and that the Bergman hard drive thing had been to get him to volunteer because it was an attack on the people smuggling gangs. If he himself had been unwittingly hand picked for this job it meant that whoever had ordered it considered it of top level importance and secrecy. Despite the lack of information he trusted Koriakin and believed him as to the level of risk.
There was a dull clunk somewhere below the cabin floor as the landing gear went down. The man next to Yuri had his eyes shut and he gripped the arm of his seat tightly.
“We will be just fine” Yuri said to him in English in a calm voice. The man said nothing but appeared to relax slightly. The aircraft made a perfect landing and the pilot engaged reverse thrust to rapidly slow their hundred and fifty mile an hour dash along the runway.
His British passport gave no problems at US immigration – it shouldn’t have done being genuine – and he went through the security checks without incident so he was soon at the taxi rank awaiting a ride to his hotel which was situated near the theatre district of the city.It was definitely still summer here and he felt over dressed in his pale grey sweatshirt, matching combat trousers and baseball cap. Once they were off the freeway and into the city the traffic was as bad as he’d seen anywhere – well apart from Moscow and he hardly ever went there – and he didn’t envy the taxi driver as he weaved in and out of the speeding cars avoiding grid locked lanes at junctions and talking constantly.
“Can we go via Broadway” Yuri butted in to the driver’s relentless jabbering.
“Sure – you like the theatre? You’ll be taking in a show while you’re here then?”
“Yes I hope to.” replied Yuri who actually knew nothing whatsoever about theatre but he knew Broadway to be a short distance from his hotel and he wanted to be sure that his taxi was not being followed.
Satisfied after the short diversion that he had no tail, he paid the driver using cash and walked up the steps of the hotel carrying his baggage which consisted of a single large rucksack weighing fifty pounds. He went up the steps two at a time and through into reception where the blonde woman on the desk greeted him with a pleasant smile. Soft jazz music played in the background and the marble floored room was filled with an impressive array of plants.
“Mr Romanski, a letter arrived for you” she said, handing him a brown envelope with what felt like a greetings card inside, as he filled out the form. He set off for his room choosing to take the stairs after his long internment on the aircraft.
“Can I take your bag for you sir?” enquired a bellboy
“Thanks – but I think I can manage okay myself.” The man’s expectant puppy like look turned almost to a scowl which Yuri returned with a beaming smile before jogging up the stairs to his room three floors up. The man had been after earning a tip.
One of the keys he recovered from the piece of corrugated cardboard in the envelope opened the locker matching the number printed on it at the nearest Subway station and Yuri took the cardboard shoebox contained within back to his hotel room to open. The contents included a 9mm Glock pistol with silencer, a box containing 200 rounds of ammunition, a small transponder device or bug and a portable hard drive. In addition there was a modified but ordinary looking cell phone, several maps of locations in the city and of a small town just to the North, some photos of a smartly dressed blond man and ten thousand dollars in cash. More curiously there was a small plastic bag containing a large number of what appeared to be small lights similar to those used on a Christmas tree though they were not connected by a wire. Yuri had absolutely no idea as to their purpose.
As he wondered at the lights he noticed a map showing an area far to the North East and close to the Canadian frontier – almost certainly the second part of the mission; maybe the lights were for use there. Yuri wondered more about what it involved as the kit he’d received made it fairly clear what was expected of him here. He glanced at the photographs – he would have to think about Bergman soon but first of all he would get his bearings and have a look at where he was staying…
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