Synopsis – The Crescent Onion by Val Pattee
The Crescent Onion is a riveting espionage thriller, written with a degree of realism only a top insider could deliver. Val knows the workings of the CIA, KGB, military brass, terrorist groups and international governments – and the thoughts of the men and women who make up those organizations – from his years as chief of intelligence and security for the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and for the Canadian Armed Forces.
In The Crescent Onion Val weaves a complex story that could be tomorrow’s headline news.
Retired CIA operative Jim Buchan is drawn into the center of a maelstrom of threats to international security. Moussada Kazim al-Takhta, Buchan’s old nemesis, now needs Jim’s help to avert bombings to Internet server sites around the world and the take-over of Turkistan, a fictional composite of several Central Asian countries, by extremists. Former KGB General Illyich Vladimir Makov is conscripted to access Russia’s intelligence might and help analyze the puzzles. He will also relay messages from the US’s new president directly to Prime Minister Putin.
Beyond a hearty serving of violent action and human frailties, The Crescent Onion is an intelligent examination of interrelated global issues: the spread of Islamic fundamentalism, corruption and violence endemic to Russian and Central Asia business and government, the US’s rapidly evolving political stance in Central Asia, international trafficking in drugs, and Internet piracy and sabotage.
Jim and his computer expert son Mark race against time to unravel the clues, aided by their wives: policy analyst Leigh, and Katrina whose grandfather is General Makov. The plot moves between Washington, Langley and Fort Meade; Sochi, Moscow and St. Petersburg; Monaco and Nice; Turkistan; and on to a highly-armed and authorized-to-shoot F/A-18 Hornet interceptor at 35,000 feet off the coast of Florida. If the good guys are too late, a major US city will be incinerated.
Kodorkov smiled as he raised his glass. “I can tell you that tonight alone will make your journey worthwhile—two lovely young girls await you. But it will be the rubles that follow that will catch your interest.”
Nicholey Mikhail Kodorkov sipped his cognac. He looked over the rim of the snifter at his friend. Light from the fire blazed in the huge stone fireplace reflecting and dancing in the crystal glass. The soft glow from the dark paneled walls highlighted portraits of Russia’s elites: Peter the Great, Stalin, Marshall Zhukov. Kodorkov’s guest smiled at him across the expanse of the thick bear rug, the light glinting off the yellowing teeth of the huge head. The heavy fur skin covered the timber floor between the two men. The huge jaws seemed ready to bite into Kodorkov’s tasty looking Italian shoes just tempting inches away.
“Anatoly Leonid, I need a team of computer experts.” Kodorkov saw the slight smile and nod of the head. He knew Slobodan would be waiting for the pitch, that a day shooting pheasant followed by a delicious dinner with the best of French wines, in a very private, comfortable hunting lodge, didn’t come for nothing.
The two men had the appearance of old friends, perhaps sociable colleagues, but few beyond these walls knew they had any association at all. They never met in public, and rarely spoke on the phone. Contact was always through intermediaries, cut-outs. With Kodorkov’s new wealth and respectability he was not about to be seen with the head of the RBN, the Russian Business Network, a St. Petersburg criminal organization that made the American mafia look like amateurs. Both men had come up the hard way— the only difference now being Kodorkov’s new concern with keeping the Russian government out of his affairs. For this he had to be seen to be a legitimate, highly successful business man, an aura that he cultivated twenty-four hours a day. He had always commanded attention. His six-foot frame, dark eyes, and full head of silver hair accentuated his impeccable taste in clothing. He expected and demanded loyalty and deference by all.
By comparison, Anatoly Leonid Slobodan didn’t care what anyone thought of him. He had power, muscle and wealth. No one dared interfere with him. Kodorkov made Slobodan appear unkempt, his baggy clothes highlighting his barrel-chested, fireplug physique. Slobodan wasn’t looking for respect. He had worked hard to ensure that his appearance elicited one emotion: fear. And over the years, fear and payoffs kept all threats at bay. He lived in a walled palace, a fortress, on the sea just outside his city, St. Petersburg. For this trip to Kodorkov’s dacha in the woods northwest of Moscow he had just walked over to his hangar beside the five-car garage and climbed into his helicopter. He had paid the right people to buy a Kamov Ka-62, the version coming off the line for the Russian Air Force. Some customization provided extra fuel tanks and a plush interior. But it was his passengers who enjoyed the luxurious ride because Slobodan was usually up front, in the comfortable, fully instrumented copilot’s seat. He enjoyed taking over the controls whenever the pilot allowed. At 145 knots the flight wasn’t too long. A little more than two hours after taking off, he was shaking Kodorkov’s hand.
Now Slobodan raised his glass with a nod to Kodorkov. “That could be arranged. What kind of computer expertise are you looking for? What do you have in mind?”
“I need to jump-start my recent investments in the Internet and distribution networks. They would have to be good, expert computer techs, to do what I will ask.”
Kodorkov was pleased that his careful planning for this quiet meeting would pay big dividends. He was not concerned about publicity or security. His compound was isolated and guarded, an accepted and normal arrangement for a man of his stature. He had bought the log house years ago as a place to retreat to when he had to disappear for a while. Now it was an excellent facility for doing business: warm, comfortable, reassuring in an uncertain world. The family of caretakers that had come with the house had been on the property for two generations. He owned them just like he owned the estate. They heard and saw nothing that went on, and nothing is what any curious or interested outsider would learn if such a person ever tried to interrogate the couple about the owner or any of his guests.
That afternoon they had been out on the estate shooting pheasant, sure of success since the forest was stocked each season. They had enjoyed the winter beauty of the snow-laden forest and had each quickly bagged two birds. Now the remains of those four pheasants had disappeared into the kitchen as the cognac was served. It was time for business.
Kodorkov had planned his strategy with Slobodan well. He had done the preliminary testing of his grand plan in Afghanistan just two weeks ago, so knew that he had to make significant improvements before he could achieve his goal. The breathless CNN reports had described the horror of death and destruction at the US compound in Kandahar: the Army computer site aflame, hundreds killed and injured. That part of the operation went off without a hitch. The timed explosive device hidden in the fuel tanker truck worked perfectly. It was precisely calibrated to detonate after the truck had arrived at the fuel depot, parked next to the enormous tanks, tanks which held thousands of gallons of fuel used to run the entire military operation. The combination of the fuel and explosives was certainly a success that could easily be built upon.
On the other hand, the second part of his plan was a complete disappointment. The Internet had hardly missed a beat, the military systems quickly picking up the slack in the system. He now knew that he’d not only need better explosives but also a cyber component to slow the Net enough to succeed. Smiling to himself, Kodorkov was also particularly pleased with the other successful part of the operation. Everyone believed that the Taliban had dealt another blow to the infidels. There was not a hint of suspicion directed his way. Kodorkov smiled in satisfaction as Slobodan replied.
“I could make available the best in the business. Laventia Morozov was trained by the KGB and has been in business for himself since our empire collapsed. He has many experts at his fingertips and performs magic on computers.” Slobodan grinned as he spoke, giving Kodorkov the impression that he was happy to share a closely guarded secret with his good friend. “He has arranged that I be forewarned of any threat from officials. They are always either surprised by my generosity or concerned about their safety, unable to figure out how I can read their minds.”
“My friend, Morozov sounds like just what I need. Could you arrange that I meet him?”
Kodorkov knew that Slobodan was always careful with his communications. He was sure that Russian authorities tapped into his phone lines and computers. He was not surprised at his friend’s response.
“He will be in touch. I will tell him to contact you initially by courier. Until he sets something up to speak with you securely, that is the best way.”
“True,” Kodorkov agreed. “I would certainly not trust this to our mail or telephone services. Of course, I would want our contact to be confidential.”
“He was trained by the best. He will not betray you.” Slobodan paused a moment. “Why don’t I cover your expenses with him?”
“Excellent.” Kodorkov knew that whatever Morozov did for him was going to be expensive, but he didn’t have to ask why his friend Anatoly Leonid would be so generous. It went without saying that their arrangements to transport opium from Central Asia in oil drums amongst the tons of legitimate cargo that Kodorkov’s companies shipped back and forth would continue. Kodorkov was not concerned about the opium. It came out of Afghanistan, and was controlled by well-hidden companies that no one could trace back to him. The routes were offshoots of the old Silk Road from the Far East to Western markets, trade that had been going on for millenniums, in times of war and in times of peace.
Kodorkov reached over, gently placing the now empty snifter on the polished table. Standing up he gestured to his friend to follow him. He smiled as he saw Slobodan’s face light up.
“Nicholey Mikhail, I look forward to what I will find awaiting me in your guest suite.”
Far to the southeast in Central Asia, Nicholey Mikhail Kodorkov’s secret business partner was also at work. Rachman Kasi Asarbayevske had an election to win, and unless he acted very quickly it was clear that the Islamic Freedom Party of Turkistan was about to do him out of a job. As one of the last survivors of the old Soviet dictators, Asarbayevske considered that he owned the position he had held for years. He had done whatever it took to stay in power. His thugs did whatever dirty work needed doing, eliminating the few willing to challenge his power. Asarbayevske had always prided himself on being the one true Soviet successor to Stalin. He cultivated the bushy mustache, chain-smoked cigarettes, and emulated Stalin’s ruthlessness. Like Stalin, his choice of clothing gave the impression of a military man reluctantly out of uniform.
He waited anxiously for the phone to ring. When it did he spoke just one word, “Dah?”
For Asarbayevske, continuing as President of Turkistan was good, but even better was the opportunity that the position provided that had led to untold wealth. Now, with Kodorkov’s plan to increase his opium shipments and get a bigger cut on each barrel of oil, his partnership with Kodorkov was about to become even more lucrative. He wouldn’t let that slip through his fingers. In good old-fashioned Soviet style, he had taken decisive action, the kind that had kept him at the top in a brutal world.
Asarbayevske smiled to himself as he listened to his agent’s simple but graphic report: his only viable rival in the election assassinated by his Iranian friends. A single shot to the back of the head put the outcome of the election in the bag.
The big fighter planes rolled to the launch pads. Dancing figures ran under each plane, attaching the chains to the catapults. As the arms snapped down, the aircraft blasted into the black of the night. The whole operation took only short minutes.
Wildcat lead was immediately in the void, flame from the afterburners streaking behind the aircraft, Breckenridge on the dials, accelerating, establishing a climb. Wildcat Two blasted into the night sky right behind him.
“Vector 165, make angels 35,” said the controller’s voice into the headset, indicating that they were to climb to 35,000 feet. “Target on the nose 150,” which meant they had 150 nautical miles to go.
The lead worked his radar and infrared looking for the Condor. Lieutenant Hernandez was busy sweeping the skies for threats. In afterburner, it took them only minutes to gain altitude and cover miles across the dark ocean.
“Wildcat lead, I’ve got him, the only activity in miles. He’s almost at the coast.” He glanced across the cockpit, flipping a switch, selecting missiles. Strapped on the wing was an AIM-120 AMRAAM, the Advanced Medium Range Air-to-Air Missile, the Slammer. Lieutenant Commander Breckenridge had done lots of dummy runs, with a few real ones in the Middle East, but this was the middle of the night over the United States and the missile hanging on his left wing was telling him that it was armed, locked on, ready to go.
“Uh, Eisenhower, confirm I’m really going to do this?”
In the eerily quiet glow of the ops room, an observer would hardly have known that there was anything unusual going on. Competent, well-trained people did the jobs that they trained for full time, no difference between practice and the real thing.
“Wildcat Lead, the Condor broke radio contact with ATC and he’s just started a descent. He knows we’re onto him so he knows he’s got to act fast. We figure he’s going for Miami. You’re cleared live.”
The weapons screen in the cockpit told Breckenridge that the Slammer was ready. He had spent fifteen intense years training for just this moment. There wasn’t a second of hesitation as he pushed the button. In the dark of the night the big shape dropped off the wing, the aircraft gave a lurch, and the flame from the engine ignition streaked away. The missile screamed out front of the fighter.
“Fox Three,” Breckenridge said quietly into his mic. The missile was on its way. At mach four, it didn’t take long.
The sky lit up horizon to horizon.
“Holy Shit!” This was Lieutenant Hernandez.
“Eisenhower, you sure they didn’t have a nuke on board? That was one hell of an explosion. Whoever was in that aircraft is already meeting the promised virgins.”
“We can see it from here. Good thing we got it now because in another few minutes it would have been over the city. Come on home, Wildcats.”