Part two of the book Feeding The Demons
Eagle Mountain, Superior National Forrest, Minnesota, 2018
All was cold and silent. He left his car on the road from the nearest settlement and walked almost ten miles off the road, through the woods. In the treeless gloom of the winter evening, faint murmurs suddenly began to claim the silence. Mammoth flakes the size of fish scales began to fall from the sky. It was the kind of slightly wet snow that sticks and crunches so well underfoot. But that was why he had to be careful. This snow wasn’t the right thing for him. He didn’t want to make any sound at all. Even though he was panting as he climbed, he tried to breathe out gently. It was all part of his training. To slow the breath and not move the hand on the trigger. Sometimes for long minutes. And then not to miss. To miss was never an option.
After three hours of climbing up a steep slope that was rapidly snowing in, he stopped. With his binoculars, he checked how far he was in sight of the lone hut that towered high above the cliff. Walking along the path was out of the question. Neither was making a sound. He spread his strength so he wouldn’t gasp out loud at his destination. He knew what awaited him if he made a mistake. He remembered his teacher’s words, “Snow and frost are only for those who don’t make mistakes. Every little mistake you make may be your last here in the mountains.”
He trusted his teacher completely; he said he was born in the wilderness of Siberia and lived in the forest with his parents until he was nine years old, away from civilization.
The man in the white camouflage suit was slowing down. Despite his intense training, he had never learned to love the snow. Stanko, nicknamed The Rider, a member of the Russian Vympel A special forces unit, was from the Balkans and his habitat was the sun and the sea. In his mind, he was trying to overcome his aversion to the crisp, cold ugly stuff. It stuck to his eyes and beard. He stopped, took the huge bag off his back. Opening it, he took the two parts, the stock and bolt carrier and the barrel and bipod. Slowly, as softly as he could, slid them together. He liked the rifle because it was easy to take apart and put together, and the bag was unobtrusive and stable, easy to carry. The cabin was in up there, in plain sight. It was getting dark. They were separated by a distance that seemed safe to him. The tree branches sagged under the snow cover. With the sniper rifle and night sight assembled, he slowly threw a narrow pad under him and buried himself halfway into the snow. Taking the scope, he chewed on a piece of jerky. He waited for darkness to fall. He knew that patience brings results.
As it grew darker, the snow fell thicker and thicker. The flakes were already rustling and slapping against the snowbank quite loudly.
When Grigori Kirov, an officer of the Russian GRU, was returning from the nearby Cascade River, he saw a strange car in the distance in the driveway. He knew all the cars that belonged to locals. You could count the settlers here on one hand. He ran to the side of the road and over the tavern, where he could see the long old road from a small promontory, a beige GMC car climbing up the hill. One glance through the binoculars told him all he needed to know. He had to hurry.
A fire crackled in the cabin, and pleasant red pellets illuminated the wooden beams on the wall from which a few rugs hung for insulation. The walls of the cottage spoke of the unpretentious nature of the owner. No art or ornamentation. Loosely hung hunting knives of all lengths and shapes. Some of the walls were covered with bookshelves. A few ornate tin mugs and a few furs that one assumed had not been purchased at the market. The cottage looked tasteful and cozy, and despite its simplicity, gave the impression that it was not an entirely cheap purchase. Some people just have that kind of taste. Grigori Kirov certainly had it. He bought it half an hour after he first saw it. He hadn’t even negotiate. The cottage was exactly as he’d imagined it. Simple and extremely safe. Here, in the uninhabited heart of the lakeside wilderness, with only one dirt road leading to it, passable only in summer, he felt truly comfortable.
A year after the election of Trevor Kemp as President of the United States, he encountered obstacles within the American Residency that he could no longer maneuver to his advantage. His job as head of operations in Washington and New York was taking blow after blow every day. He felt like he was on a cheap and broken chain carousel. Years of training and experience crumbled under the onslaught of incredible chaos and situations that would have driven a much more hardened character than Grigori to the loony bin or the morgue. After having to accept even working with Chinese intelligence, he decided to resign and retire. He’d had enough of everything. Two years of madness was enough for him.
Kemp, an old man with the intelligence of an third grader and the perfect instincts of a mobster, stood the entire plan of Russian operations on its head. All because the “brainy don”, as Kustic was nicknamed, insisted. And Grigori had to be loyal.
Grigori assumed that sooner or later they would send someone to get him, so as not to jeopardize the operation. The very fact that he had chosen to come here, far out of their sight, was an intolerable risk. The Russian power structure doesn’t know the word retire. The greatest risk Grigori posed was to Boris Kustic himself. Grigori knew too much.
When he saved copies of a rare video showing the supreme leader of the Russian Federation in a hideous compromising situation, he thought of everything. It was to be his life insurance policy. He was a realist, and expected someone to try and kill him. Every week he had to call several people in America and Europe who knew that his voice was a directive to lawyers in Virginia, Florida, London and Paris to leave the tape in the vault where it was. If he hadn’t heard from them in a week, his contact would have had to report to law firms that it was time to publish the video.
He walked slowly out the back door of the cabin through the trees, listening quietly to the sounds of the forest. He knew that not a single living soul lived within a twenty miles radius.
That’s why he bought this cabin. It limited the number of people who could get close to him. He knew who they were likely to be anyway. He trained them all himself. Even the one whose face he saw in the beige GMC. The Russian Secret Service had several people for operations in this terrain, and Grigori had personally taught each of them to recognize these types of snow.
It was getting dark. He got up and went to make tea in a tiny mug with herbs his mother had made in Siberia. He knew he had less than an hour, just before dark.
Stanko staggered uneasily. It was an hour after dark. For a moment, he thought he saw something flicker behind the cottage. It had stopped snowing a moment ago and every detail was visible in the windows, which had no curtains. The sound of the flakes had ceased, and with them the tiny rustling too. Stanko hoped to deal with it remotely, the uncurtained windows provided a dozen good opportunities, all he had to do was wait. Inside, the lights were on and Stanko could almost read the titles of the books on the shelf in the scope. Below the bookshelf was a table with a chessboard.
“That fool is playing chess with himself…” he thought, suddenly realizing that he had a strange feeling. A hunch. Somewhere deep in the pit of his stomach he felt that something was wrong. He staggered slowly in the snow and strained his hearing. Nothing. He stilled again and pressed his face to the scope.
The whistle of a knife cut through the silence. Stanko felt a sharp pain in his chest. He took his hand off the trigger and reached in astonishment into the snow beneath him. It was wet and warm.
“How…did I…? How did I…” he was still trying to get the words out.
“There’s an echo. Falcon’s not good for this job, you’re charging so loud the squirrels would go deaf.” Grigori said, unholstering his pistol and putting his pupil out of his misery.
The monotonous beeping of the monitoring device slowly cut through the hospital silence. The drops in the thin tubing moved softly and soothingly. The only other sound was the quiet shuffling of the hospital slippers of a man approaching the bed.
The room floated in white tufts of cotton and smelled of cherry orchards. There were little golden dots squeaking everywhere. The face of the man who was bending over her motionless body grew larger and larger, until he became two great mule eyes, composed of a thousand pupils. The eyes sat on the blanket beside her, making an annoying buzzing sound. No, it wasn’t his eyes, it was hers. Her arms were terribly distant from her body, it was almost impossible to see her fingertips as her arms lengthened until her fingers seemed so small, as if they were lying at the other end of the hospital corridor. She couldn’t feel her body. Her head detached and she could see the whole long-legged body on the bed from ceiling above. Someone said her name. Then she fell into a deep sleep.
The noise came back. She had a dried-up dish sponge in her mouth instead of a tongue. Her tongue scraped and tore at her palate. The man’s eyes were still there. They suddenly shrunk and moved away from her, beginning to look completely normal behind the large glasses.
“Mrs. Tereshchenko? Oksana?”
Someone said her name.
“No, I’m not your father Oksana. But I wish I had a daughter like you.”
It was the only word she said. She didn’t have the strength for more. Then she fell asleep again.
Inspector Jeremy Aplleby sat by the hospital bed for two hours. The attending doctor had called him because they were about to wake a badly injured woman from her artificial sleep for the first time in four weeks. Appleby knew there was little chance of her survival. He prayed almost daily that she would survive. She was something extraordinary.
One day, a package arrived by express mail in his name. It contained the laptop of one of the most dangerous members of the Russian mafia in London. Because the laptop was heavily guarded and had never been connected to the internet, its owner believed he could use it for confidential accounting records. He was a nitpicker and kept lists of sums owed, the names of offshore companies, bank accounts, safes with African diamonds and the names of people he had corrupted in the security services and the royal family.
When the laptop was opened by the special cyber unit, its contents shook not only the police force and the Home Office and the Ministry of Justice. It was a time bomb.
Attached to the laptop was a letter in tiny female handwriting. The owner of the laptop, Sergei Kravchuk, a member of the Russian mafia, was arrested two days later on his way to Scotland. Because he ran a worldwide network of brothels for the Russians and dealt in drugs and stolen cars, the police first turned their attention to girls in London brothels. It was going nowhere.
The day after Kravchuk’s arrest, Appleby received a report on his desk of a strange suicide. More accurately, an attempted suicide. It was a young woman with the Ukrainian name. Her body was found on the sidewalk below her luxury apartment. Barefoot, in her pajamas, broken in a way no one would have expected.
Her work permit and business license said something about a masseuse. Appleby knew this one. All the Call-Girls used by the Russian mafia in London had the same paperwork. Except none of them had fallen out of the window yet. Since falling out of windows was a specialty of the Russian GRU’s demonstration reprisal killings, it was first investigated as murder. Oksana was lying in an undisclosed location in the intensive care unit in an artificial sleep, unaware of the world.
Thirty days after she was operated on and put to sleep, her body began to show signs of slow improvement. That morning, a cell phone buzzed on Appleby’s desk.
“It’s unbelievable, Chief Inspector. Good morning to you. The girl has the nine lives.”
“Doctor, this is the news of the year! Will you be able to wake her up?”
“If you drop by this afternoon, you may already have your Catwoman talking. But I can’t guarantee anything.”
Appleby dropped everything, picked up his thermos of coffee and some paperwork, and drove off. He wanted to be there when Oksana woke up. Upon arriving at the hospital, he had the room security doubled.