There was a knock at the door.
“Come.” I assumed it was staff. The door didn’t open. “Come,” I said more loudly. The door opened and a large, old man walked in carrying an attaché case. He turned stiffly and closed the door behind him.
I recognized Elvin Krongartten from testimony he’d given before the committee. He was well past retirement but was said to run a CIA shop of his own that the Company referred to as the “Family Business.”
Legally, the Business had been taken down after the Church Committee dismembered CIA in the 1970s. But Krongartten was eternal. Legality and reality were his stage props, simply another layer of cover, an opportunity to be more artful. The play’s the thing.
As a young man, during the Seventies, he had infiltrated Stasi headquarters in East Berlin. He exposed their whole network in the West. Those on the outside called him The Kron. Those on the inside called him Sir. If he had come to my office, it meant I was in tall grass. Riley was just a setup man, the appetizer.
Both Riley and I were on our feet, and Riley immediately and diffidently offered Krongartten his chair.
“Take your seat, Mr. Guild,” Krongartten said, leaving Riley to stand against the atrium window. He held the attaché case in his lap.
He shot Riley a look of disdain, up and down, and then pointed to me. “I want you to give this man all your respect, Riley. No FBI by-play. Is that clear?”
He sounded like the actor, John Huston. They didn’t make voices like his anymore, breathy with authority.
Krongartten was so old that his neck bent forward under the weight of his over-sized skull. A cloud of hair had landed atop the back of his head. He bleached the hair-patch black. The white roots showed. He was still playing stud.
He picked up the conversation where Riley left off. “Listen, Mr. Guild,” he began, pronouncing my name correctly, “a lot of people are involved in this whom you will not meet. Ever. That means everybody in the WMD business, every fucking acronym in the alphabet, including any nation that considers itself ‘civilized.’”
He dropped his voice an octave. “Some number of them, like Tom here from the FBI, is focused on you. But don’t get a big head. Bigger things are happening in L.A., Chicago, New York, Seattle, all at once. Washington’s shit. We can evacuate everything that matters in this town in less than half an hour.
“Now, I’ll tell you another thing. My people believe the Russians are behind the bomb deal, and I’m in full agreement with their estimate. I know that’s a real shocker, but remember, they ran Aldrich Ames. The world is their chess board, at least when they have hard currency.”
He paused to catch his breath. “I’ve got dollars to donuts that says no way any Muslim proxy gets this weapon. I can’t imagine the Russians letting the Chechens near anything like this.”
I told him that I thought the Russian mob held the weapon.
“Never undersell Moscow. They’re imperialists. The FSB is still the KGB which was still the ghost of Dzerzhinsky, Beria, the whole Bolshevik bowel movement.” He stared at me quizzically for a moment, then pushed his head forward. “Go ahead. Ask away.” He knew I had questions.
I hesitated, bewildered. “Why would the Russians take the risk?” Simple as that.
He racked his answer back like the slide on an automatic pistol. “Kill off an American economic node with a nuclear weapon? Why? They’d set us back a decade. We’d become an economic gimp, and they’d pick our pockets. They’ve got it set it up like a Moslem terror attack, and they’ll lay the blame on Islam. It’s a win for Moscow because they avoid suspicion. They’re safe in their dachas, home free.”
What he described sounded like a done deal.
His speech was as dry as a Texas summer. “Their motives? Plutocrats and oligarchs like in the West but without the illusion of Democracy. They lack any ideology. They’re as screwed up as the Chinese. They’re not communists, they’re not socialists, and they’re not democrats. They’re imperialists. Breaking Washington’s gears opens a world of influence.”
After a moment’s pause, he turned confidential, his fingers locked atop the attaché case. “The oligarchs see this fifth bomb as a rich business deal, an opportunity. It’s an idea as elegant as a king-in-the-center mate, if you know chess. Take out the U.S. and Russia becomes the number two power in the world.” He paused.
“Hold that in your mind a moment.” He let me gather myself. “Take out a U.S. commercial node like the Port of L.A., and America is back on its heels, a third-rate power.” He rubbed his hands together. “The Russians can take their own great leap forward. It’s Cold War redux, but now it’s about Consumerism.”
“You’ve become a closely-watched train,”Mr. Guild. Our guys and the bad guys all think you’re Granov’s inside-government butt-boy. You’ve cracked the code, in a manner of speaking. I’m not talking about ciphers. I’m talking about Granov’s secrets. We’ve known about him for years. He’s been an asset, but no one on the outside knew that. Then you came up with your white paper.”
“You called me a butt-boy. A butt-boy is a toady,” I told him. “But I’ve been told I’m a bait-boy, which is a small stinking fish. Do I have to prefer one or the other?”
Krongartten turned toward Riley and sharpened his gaze, asking, “Did you make that up?”
Krongartten shook his head in disgust. “You’ve got a job to do Mr. Guild, forget the rhetoric.” He mumbled something under his breath about the FBI.
He placed his attaché case on my desk. “Take this. It’s leather, handmade in Florence. Have a look.” The attaché case felt empty, but there at the bottom were two bound packs of bills, U.S. currency.
I reached in and turned one up. “President Grant.”
“Well, you’re a drinking man, aren’t you?”
“Fifties are bad luck.”
“This is not Las Vegas, Mr. Guild. That’s ten thousand dollars. Don’t be superstitious.”
“I don’t take bribes.”
“It’s not a bribe. It’s street money. You may need it.” He stopped, stared at me. “The bills are non-consecutive but they are marked. Do look. You won’t find the mark. The fifties have to be sniffed. And be assured, this exchange of cash does not mean that you are working for any government agency other than the Foreign Relations Committee. This is no payment and no stipend. You are not working for CIA, DIA, FBI. You don’t have to sign anything. No thumb prints. No wires. You don’t have to mention it to the IRS. No 1099s. You might even look at it as a reward.”
“For your white paper.” He twisted his whole body to look around at Riley as if he were about to say something but thought better of it and turned back to me.
He spoke more quickly, and with a touch of drama. “You know Granov was no mom’n’pop operation, Mr. Guild. Only the press saw it that way, right? We steered them. The fools saw the iceberg, and everything was clear. It was a Ponzi scheme. They called Antarctica an ice cube. But you were different, weren’t you? You didn’t buy in. Maybe you’re good. I think it was just luck, but who cares? Everyone stared at all that shiny ice, but you dove in to check its belly. Now you’re the iceberg. You’re all the inside-people still see floating on the surface. You, particularly you, Mr. Guild, know a great deal about Granov’s operations, and too much more, I think, but time’s running short. You’re gonna need that walking around money.”
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