Authors: Ben Coes
Dewey was there to execute that design.
“Beneath the seat,” said Bond, “grab the scans.”
Dewey reached down and found a manila folder, placing it on his lap. He took his SOG combat blade from his vest and triggered a small light built into the hilt. He put it in his mouth and aimed it at the photographs inside the folder.
“Those are fresh off NGA SAT an hour ago,” said Bond.
NGA, the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, was a key CIA operations support agency, providing real-time imagery of areas of operation, looking primarily for signs of unexpected enemy manpower.
Several of the photos were taken during daytime. They showed a rectangular warehouse, along with a few semitrucks backed up to a loading dock. There were also night shots, from the sky, using advanced holographic-imaging technology. They looked like X-rays. One of the photos displayed a close-up of the side of the building; a red circle had been stenciled around a door.
Dewey finished looking at the photos and tossed them on the seat.
“You’ll approach on foot in a northeast pattern, coming at the building through a side door. The location is on the scan. Eliminate anyone you see, then hit me up on commo. I’ll get down there, we’ll set munitions, then split. We’ll detonate it remotely. We should be able to fly Air America out of Acapulco. SEAL Team 4 is prepared to exfiltrate if things get nasty.”
Dewey stared out the Suburban’s back window. As hard as he tried to listen, Bond’s words sounded like they were coming from a thousand miles away. As hard as he tried to concentrate, he couldn’t.
“Cartels your first desk?” asked Dewey, willing himself back to the present.
“Second,” said Bond. “I spent five years in Russia.”
“I was part of a team that was trying to destabilize Putin before he got elected. Obviously it didn’t work too well.”
Dewey closed his eyes and pictured Jessica. It was the afternoon she was killed. She was on a horse, riding in Argentina. He was riding behind her. For some reason, this was the image that popped into his head as he stared out at the moonlit Iguala countryside.
It had been almost precisely six months to the day since she was killed. He and Jessica would’ve been married. The first bump of a child might’ve appeared on her stomach by now.
He shut his eyes for several moments, then opened them, steeling himself against the sadness he knew would soon come on like a fever.
“I heard you spent some time chasing down the North Valley cartel,” said Bond, referring to one of South America’s most notorious cartels, a group that was now largely gone.
“Yeah,” said Dewey, meeting Bond’s eyes, forcing himself back to the present, to the Suburban, to Bond’s words, to Iguala.
“What was the biggest coke fab you hit?”
Dewey stared at Bond in the mirror. He remained silent.
Stop thinking about her.
“I don’t remember,” said Dewey. “They all sorta blend in.”
“I studied how North Valley was taken down. You were right in the middle of it.”
“If I was, I didn’t realize it,” said Dewey.
Dewey looked at Bond in the rearview mirror.
“Can I ask you something?” said Dewey.
“And not have it leave here?”
“It stays between us.”
“You know someone at the Agency named Gant?” asked Dewey.
Bond’s eyes flashed in the rearview.
“The new deputy director,” he said. “Yeah. Why?”
“Steer clear of him,” he said. “I don’t trust him. Politicians are bad enough, but the guys who get them elected? They’re assholes.”
Bond slowed the Suburban.
“We’re here,” he said as he pulled on a set of thermal night optics, killed the lights, and banked left into the driveway, accelerating down an empty dirt road. After a minute, he came to a stop.
Dewey reached to the seat next to him. He lifted a half-moon-shaped mag and slammed it into the gun. He opened the door and climbed out. He reached to his ear.
“Roger,” said Bond. “See you in a few.”
Dewey started a quick-paced run off the driveway, into a low field of brush and dry scrub grass.
He had night optics, but he kept them strapped to his weapons belt, preferring to let the moon guide him. After several minutes of running, he came to a crest of a hill and for the first time saw the lights of the refinery, just a few hundred feet down a steep slope.
Dewey paused, catching his breath. He checked his weapon one last time. He skulked down the hill toward the near side entrance, raising the rifle as he moved.
At the bottom of the hill, he moved to the side door that had been circled on the scans. He felt his heart racing. He could barely breathe. His hand reached out to grab the door handle. He felt paralyzed, watching as his hand reached for the door. In the dim light, he could see what he already knew was happening, the trembling of his hand as it reached out for the handle. Dewey stared for more than a minute at the warehouse. The minute became two, then three. Yet still he didn’t move.
Suddenly, he heard a faint whisper in his ear.
“How we doing?”
It was Bond.
Dewey reached for his earbud. His arm remain paralyzed, extended toward the door, shaking like a leaf.
“Dewey, you okay?” whispered Bond.
“I’ll be right down. Stay where you are.”
Dewey took a step backward, then another, moving slowly away from the warehouse. He heard the engine. His eyes turned to the driveway. The Suburban barreled toward him, skidding to a stop. Bond climbed out, submachine gun raised, and charged toward the front door of the warehouse, around the corner from Dewey.
Bond glanced at Dewey just as he was about to open the front door. He flashed Dewey a smile. Then he raised the SMG and pulled the door open.
The staccato of automatic weapon fire thundered from inside the warehouse. Dewey stood still, not moving, for what seemed like an eternity. Finally, Bond emerged. He walked to Dewey. When he came to within a foot, Bond reached out for Dewey’s rifle, pulling it from him.
“You think you can help me carry the bomb?” asked Bond.
“Yeah,” he said.
Bond stared for one last moment at Dewey.
“You’re not the first,” said Bond reassuringly. “You won’t be the last. Now let’s torch this place and get the fuck out of here.”
Cloud parked the Porsche on a side street, behind the Elektrostal train station. He had on dark black sunglasses. Behind the lenses, his eyes were bloodshot and red rimmed from a lack of sleep. He wore black leather pants, boots, and a green T-shirt. He was gaunt, so thin he appeared unhealthy. He walked quickly, stopping at a building several blocks from the station. Glancing in both directions, he made sure he hadn’t been followed, then inserted a key into a large steel door.
The building was four stories high, constructed in mustard-colored brick. Like most buildings in Elektrostal, it long ago took on a look of dilapidated resignation, its exterior stained in rust and mildew. It had once contained the administrative offices of a steel pipe manufacturer who’d gone bankrupt in the 1970s. It was the fourth location over the course of a ten-year period for Cloud.
The locations shared certain characteristics. Each was inside a city large enough to provide a level of anonymity and infrastructure, yet small enough to be off the radar screens of intelligence agencies. Each was within a few hours of Moscow and accessible by train. All the cities were economically depressed, guaranteeing plenty of vacant office buildings.
Elektrostal was a small industrial city located an hour’s drive east of downtown Moscow. A handful of heavy equipment manufacturers, metallurgical plants, and chemical processors were located in the grayish city. The streets of Elektrostal were laid out in a mathematical grid, with straight, sweeping blocks of concrete apartment buildings and half-empty strip malls that ran in precise lines for miles. Other than an underground nuclear waste storage facility at the northern outskirts of the city limits, Elektrostal was unimportant, a minor place that produced little of great consequence. At least a quarter of the city’s low-rise concrete office buildings were dark and empty. There wasn’t a single warehouse that wasn’t partially covered in rust.
Cloud didn’t like or dislike Elektrostal. For him, the dirty city, its shabby, woebegone people, its lousy restaurants, its crappy weather, and its foul mood were all irrelevant. Elektrostal was the entry into the world he actually lived in. The way a scientist might live deep within the infrastructure of a cell, Cloud lived within the digital pathways of the Internet.
Inside, Cloud climbed the stairs. The first two floors sat dark, empty, and unused. The third floor was dimly lit. Glancing through the fire door, Cloud could see that fully half the floor was taken up by high-powered computer servers, fifty-eight in total, enterprise-class, Chinese-made Huawei servers, all in steel cases that could be wheeled and repositioned. They’d been stripped and sanitized of all digital identifiers that might enable remote tracing or real-time location discovery. A half dozen large industrial air conditioners were kept on around the clock, no matter the time, weather, or season, to moderate the heat generated by the servers. Even in the dead of winter, the temperature in the room never fell below eighty degrees.
Cloud arrived at the fourth floor. The space was cavernous, open, brightly lit, and immaculate. All interior walls had been removed. At the center of the room, a series of tables were set up in a large U shape. On top of the tables sat computer screens, long lines of them, and before the screens were chairs. There were thirty-six separate computer screens in all.
Every square inch of the floor, walls, windows, and ceiling was covered in a thin layer of copper mesh, epoxied like wallpaper and designed to prevent eavesdropping or other forms of electronic signals capture from outside the building.
Sascha looked up at him as he came inside, barely registering his entrance.
“What about Malnikov?” asked Cloud. “Has he been contacted by the Central Intelligence Agency?”
“Not that we’re aware of.”
Not that we’re aware of
’?” snapped Cloud rhetorically, annoyance in his voice. “What does that mean? I thought we are intercepting every phone call and electronic communications Alexei Malnikov makes.”
“My only point, Cloud,” said Sascha sheepishly, holding up his hands, “is that we technically wouldn’t be aware if someone walked up to him and started talking.”
“We just acquired a nuclear bomb,” said Cloud. “Don’t be so fucking literal. You scared the shit out of me.”
“It’s okay,” he said. “You always were the boy who cried wolf, weren’t you? I should’ve left you at Saint Anselm.”
Cloud walked to Sascha at the far end of the room and stood next to his chair. He glanced at one of the screens in front of him. It showed an online chess game.
Cloud did a double take.
“You took one of my rooks,” he whispered, shaking his head in disbelief.
“You’re distracted,” said Sascha. “Otherwise I know you would not allow me to get within a hundred miles of your rook, Pyotr.”
Cloud stared at the screen.
* * *
Sascha was one of the few people in the world who had known him back before Cloud existed, when he was Pyotr Vargarin, little Pyotr, son of the famous scientist Anuslav Vargarin, who’d killed himself and his wife in a motorboat for reasons no one knew, leaving Pyotr an orphan.
They met at the only home he could remember, a dank, dreadful place in Sevastopol called Saint Anselm by the Sea, the city’s only orphanage, a cruel and horrible place, run by an alcoholic priest named Father Klimsov.
“Pyotr,” said Cloud. “I haven’t been called that in a long time.”
A memory flashed.
“Pyotr, please come in,” Father Klimsov said one day.
It was raining. Whenever it rained at Saint Anselm, there would be small puddles everywhere from the holes in the roof. On Father Klimsov’s desk, a tin bucket was half filled with water.
“Pyotr, this is Dr. Tretiak,” said Father Klimsov as he stepped into his office.
After more than six years at Saint Anselm, it was his first time in Father Klimsov’s office.
Pyotr didn’t like Father Klimsov. He was an obese, cruel old man.
“Dr. Tretiak is the president of Moscow Technological Institute. It is the most prestigious educational institution in all of the Soviet—I mean, in all of Russia.”
Tretiak had a kind smile on his face. He extended his hand to shake Pyotr’s, but Pyotr did not return the gesture.
“I heard you were shy,” said Tretiak, laughing. “It’s all right. I don’t bite.”
“Dr. Tretiak brings good news,” said Klimsov.
“Yes, Father,” said Pyotr.
“You have been granted entrance to Moscow Technological Institute,” said Klimsov. “Next fall, you shall move to Moscow.”
“You’re a very smart young man,” said Tretiak. “But then, you know that already, don’t you?”
Pyotr didn’t move, but not because he was scared, or rude, or indifferent. Instead, it was because he was transfixed by the sight of an object on Klimsov’s desk.
“Yes, I know,” said Pyotr, staring at the object.
“What do we say when someone compliments us, Pyotr?” asked Father Klimsov.
Pyotr didn’t look at Klimsov or Dr. Tretiak; instead, his eyes remained fixed on the thing on Klimsov’s desk.
“It’s not a compliment if it’s the truth,” said Pyotr.
* * *
That night, after curfew, Pyotr snuck into Father Klimsov’s office, where he turned on the computer, only to be thwarted by its demand for a password. It took almost a month’s worth of nights for Pyotr to guess it. But once he did, it was like stepping out of a cave and suddenly seeing the world for what it was. He read and read and read for what seemed like forever, newspapers and magazines from all over the world. He stared mesmerized at photos of places he had never heard of. And then, at some point, at the sight of an error screen, he went behind the Web site into its code base. He studied it for hours, then returned a night later and studied it more, going back and forth between the code and the Web site. He could never explain what happened then, but one night, at the sight of the white screen filled with meaningless symbols, words, and spaces, he suddenly felt it all coalesce. He could see vague outlines in the code of what was being created visually. Soon, he could pore over a wall of computer code and know exactly what would be created by its code.