A Spy in Exile: Chapter 32

“We’ve got a positive ID on him!” Matthias excitedly exclaimed to Ya’ara. They were on a late-night call. “Your Ivan, as you call him, is a colonel in the GRU, the Russian military intelligence service. In the 1980s, he operated in Paris under the cover of a correspondent for TASS, the Soviet Union’s news agency. And some ten years back now, he served as the press attaché at the Russian Consulate in Munich. The French security services were suspicious of him already back in the late 1980s, and a high-ranking GRU officer who defected to Britain a few years later went on to confirm their suspicions and expose him as one of their agents. When he arrived in Munich, our security service kept a close watch on him and tried to keep him in check. After completing his service in Germany, he disappeared off the radar, and we lost track of him. Considering all the upheaval in Russia, he could very well have been dismissed from the military intelligence service or may even have left of his own accord to become a businessman, selling remnants of the Red Army, like half of the KGB and other intelligence personnel who had worked abroad.”

Ya’ara had yet to tell Matthias what they had found on the computers of the farm gang. She felt it was best to hold back that information from him, certainly at this stage. It was easy for her to keep things to herself, even if she hated doing so with Matthias. “How did you identify him?” she asked pertinently.

“I ran his image through various databases. The computer came back with four highly probable options. A long-serving desk clerk who happened to be passing by my desk at the time glanced at my computer, pointed at one of the images, and said, ‘Hey, that’s Colonel Denis Kovanyov! Where has he popped up from all of a sudden?’ I told her that one of my sources had photographed someone in one of the Baltic states. The source, I said, believed the man to be a Russian intelligence agent, but couldn’t prove it. And now the computer had thrown up four possibilities. ‘Lucky you like to peek at other people’s computer screens,’ I said to her. She didn’t appreciate the jab. ‘You’d do well to take him seriously,’ she said. ‘He’s a mean bastard, and did us a lot of damage when he was stationed in Munich.’ Brigita, the desk clerk, was working at the time for the counterespionage unit that operated out of headquarters, in Pullach.”

“Yes, I know a little bit about elderly desk officers with superpowers,” Ya’ara said. “But, getting back to business, do you know what name he usually went under?”

“Brigita called him Alexander the Great and said he was probably as crazy as his namesake. That was his operational name—Alexander.”

Ya’ara asked if Matthias knew how Kovanyov had entered Germany, and under what name, but he said he hadn’t yet managed to clarify those details. “I assume he’s using a forged passport,” Matthias said. “He almost certainly didn’t come in through an official German border crossing. In all likelihood, he made his way to Amsterdam or Copenhagen, and from there he continued by train or car to Bremen. A familiar modus operandi for the Russians.”

“It’s great that you’ve identified him, Matthias,” Ya’ara responded. “I need to hang up now, but please, please be available in the morning. By then I may have something important to tell you.”

 

  • • •

 

It was after midnight. Ya’ara left the noisy pub so she could speak from somewhere quieter. The temperature had dropped rapidly, well below zero. Her breath felt as if it was turning to ice, but perhaps for the first time since arriving in Germany, the cold wasn’t troubling her.

She took an unused burner phone out of her pocket and called the number that Martina seemed to be using, the same number that had led them ultimately to the remote farm east of the city. She knew she was taking a gamble, and that the stakes this time were very high, but the cool, sharp clarity of her mind gave her confidence in her actions.

“I apologize if I’ve woken you, Martina,” she said in English, in a thick Russian accent, after hearing a female voice answer with a groan. “My name is Nadia. Alexander asked me to call you. He needs to see you right away, tonight, alone.”

“Who are you?” Martina asked, clearly somewhat sleepy still.

“It’s important and urgent. It concerns the customs official in Hamburg, and he doesn’t want the others to know.” Ya’ara was betting that the Russian colonel was still using his old operational name. She had refrained from referring to Matthias by his name. Kovanyov surely adhered to secure communication protocols in his dealings with the German group, and he certainly wouldn’t have mentioned specific names in phone calls. She was convinced by now that Matthias was merely a pawn in the hands of the young woman who was talking to her. She held her breath, waiting for Martina’s response.

“So why doesn’t he call me himself?”

“He needs to take care of a loan and has important meetings in the morning at three banks.” Ya’ara was hoping that she had added an additional layer of credibility to her story. “If anyone else there is up, tell them that Alexander has summoned you for a final update. Take the Golf. It’s less conspicuous than the Land Rover. Make your way to the truck parking lot alongside the entrance to the port. I’ll take you to him from there. Martina”—she switched to Russian—“do everything quietly and calmly, but come quickly. It’s important. And drive carefully,” she switched back to English, “it’s black outside like a night in December.”

“That’s exactly what it is,” Martina responded in a whisper, sounding wide awake by this time.

 

  • • •

 

Ya’ara breathed a long, quiet sigh of relief on seeing the approaching blue Golf. She motioned for the car to stop, directing it to the side of the road. Martina lowered the window and Ya’ara saw her up close for the first time. She didn’t like the look of the young woman, and that certainly made things easier for her.

“Hi, I’m Nadia,” Ya’ara said, still in her Russian accent, which came to her naturally, after all. “I’ll join you, and show you the way. We’ll be there in a few minutes.”

She opened the car door and sat down alongside Martina. “Security needs to be tighter than ever during the final moments before an operation,” she said. Martina glanced at her and began driving.

They drove alongside a seemingly endless array of shipping containers, turning right at the end of the road into an area of old warehouses. The headlights of the Golf revealed tall weeds growing out of the concrete surface on which they came to a stop. The darkness around them was truly heavy and opaque, almost solid. Ya’ara lit a flashlight and aimed it at the door of a dilapidated warehouse. “Come,” she said, “he’s waiting there for us.” Ya’ara turned on the light when they walked in. Two pale bulbs cast a weak and somewhat deceptive light over the dusty expanse. In the middle of the large space, under the swinging bulbs, stood a plain wooden table with a bottle of vodka and three glasses on its surface. “Sit, please,” Ya’ara said, “he’ll be joining us right away.”

“I don’t like what’s happening here,” Martina said, her voice hostile and suspicious. “I’m leaving.”

In a single smooth movement, Ya’ara pulled the pistol out from behind her back, cocked it, and fired a round into Martina’s left foot. Martina screamed and collapsed. Ya’ara aimed the pistol at her head. “The next one will kill you,” she said. “Lift yourself up, with the help of the table, and take a seat.” Martina whimpered, a look of shock and hatred on her face. She grabbed the table with both hands and managed with a supreme effort to pull herself up, before standing there, shaking, on her good right leg. Her left foot was shattered and bleeding, with its Timberland boot horribly torn, revealing a mixture of flesh and bone. “Good, now sit, slowly, slowly.”

Ya’ara walked around the table, stood behind Martina, pulled the chair closer to her, and pressed the tip of the Glock’s barrel against the back of Martina’s neck. Using a large roll of duct tape, she proceeded to wind a wide strip around Martina’s torso and the back of the chair. Martina couldn’t move. Ya’ara poured out a large measure of vodka for her and said, “Drink it, in one shot. It’ll ease your pain.”

“Who are you? Who are you?”

“We don’t have much time. I’m an officer from the Security Division of the FSB, the Russian Federal Security Service. You and your friends have fallen victim to a plot hatched by subversive and reactionary elements in our intelligence services. The operations you’ve planned are liable to set all of Europe on fire. No responsible state can allow itself to play a part in such a thing. We are aware of your insane plans to murder three of the most senior bankers in Germany in their homes. We can’t allow that to happen.”

“But Alexander spoke to us about the need to shake the foundations of Europe again, a Europe that’s become smug and cruel. That’s alienating the oppressed who are trying to flee there as refugees. That’s turning its Muslim populations into rejected and impoverished people and then wonders why they rise up against it.” Martina’s face was pale and drawn, her pain and rage ablaze in her eyes. “Our previous campaign ended in defeat, the authorities imprisoned my grandmother and murdered the defenseless Andreas Baader and Ulrike Meinhof in their prison cells. But in Europe today there are young and powerful forces that aren’t willing to play a part in this bourgeois puppet show. More and more people know that they’ve seen the truth and have paid the price for doing so. And now you’re telling me that you, too, are cooperating with them. Have they bought you, too?”

“Quiet!” Ya’ara hushed her, seemingly offended by Martina’s words. She dragged back the chair to which Martina was bound. The motion caused Martina to feel the pain in her leg shoot to her head like a bolt of lightning. She moaned in agony. Ya’ara walked around to face her, leaning against the table.

“Listen to me good and proper, Martina,” she said. “I’ll blow your other foot to pieces, too, and then your left knee, and afterward the right, and you’ll pray to the God you don’t believe in and beg to die. I want you to tell me all you know about Matthias Geller, how you met him, and what Alexander instructed you to do with him.” She picked up the Glock and aimed it at her legs. A look of terror flashed through Martina’s eyes. She spat at Ya’ara, to the accompaniment of a poisonous hissing sound. Ya’ara put a bullet in her right foot. Martina yelled and screamed in pain and rage and helplessness. Ya’ara stared at her, her face blank.

“Alexander instructed me to get close to Matthias.” Tears were streaming down her cheeks and long strands of snot dribbled from her nose. “He pointed him out to me at one of the bars near the port. He told me he was a real son of a bitch who worked for the German intelligence service. After we met, Matthias told me he was a customs official. He fell in love with me like a young boy. Did he really think someone thirty years his junior was going to fall in love with him like that? Alexander told me not to tell the others. It was my private assignment. I was supposed to go to him after the operation in Frankfurt. To hide out at his place. I had a whole story to tell him—why I had disappeared like that and why I was back. Like any infatuated teenager, he would have believed me. I was then supposed to kill him and leave enough clues and evidence behind to tie him to the assassination of the bankers. It would have made for an interesting twist in the plot, don’t you think? Just imagine the suspicion and paranoia it would have stirred in the BND.” She sighed, and briefly pursed her lips in pain. “You’re a filthy fucking bitch,” she said with the last of her strength, the pain from her shattered feet pounding and pounding in her chest and head. “A crazy fucking bitch.”

Ya’ara fired two rounds into her head. She stepped out of the cold warehouse and into the freezing black night, adjusting the collar of her coat. She had one thing left to do.

 

  • • •

 

When she reached the center of the city in the Golf, Ya’ara called the police. She spoke in English, with a pronounced Russian accent, from the same cellphone she had used to call Martina.

“Listen up,” she said to the dispatcher. “If you don’t deal with this call quickly and in earnest, your career with the police will be over and done with. Write down every word I say, and then report immediately afterward to the duty officer and make sure, too, that the Bremen police chief is wakened and informed. He, personally, will fire you if you spare his sleep. Understand?”

“I hear you, ma’am.” The dispatcher sounded attentive and alert. Ya’ara knew that their conversation was being recorded, like all calls that come in to the police dispatcher.

“A gang of murderous anarchists, four men and two women, all Germans, are residing currently on a farm east of Bremen.” She provided the exact coordinates of the farm. “They are planning the simultaneous assassination of the CEOs of Commerzbank and DZ Bank and the deputy CEO of Deutsche Bank. Schlein, Haas, and Mannesman. The killings are due to take place between Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve. You’ll find weapons and ammunition hidden in gasoline drums in the farmhouse barn. Kalashnikovs and pistols. One of the computers at the farmhouse contains folders with detailed intelligence about the three objects, their vehicles, and their residences. I know all of this because backing the gang of anarchists is a department of Russian military intelligence that has gone insane. I serve in the GRU and I am not willing to lend a hand to madness that will leave us all wallowing in blood.”

She spoke slowly, trying to create an impression of determination and despair and helplessness.

“Did you write down everything I said?” she asked. “Do you realize just how important and urgent a matter this is?”

“I understand, ma’am. Can you give me your name and a number on which to contact you?”

Ya’ara hung up. She had dumped the pistol she used to kill Martina on the drive from the port area to the city center. She had stopped by the river and thrown it with all her strength into the fast-flowing black current. She knew she hadn’t left any fingerprints in the warehouse. The gloves had made sure of that. Now, she got out of the Golf, leaving the keys inside. She took off her gloves and removed the SIM card from the phone she had used, breaking it into little pieces and scattering them on the ground as she continued on foot. As for the phone itself, she slammed it down onto the sidewalk and crushed it with her foot. She then picked up the pieces and threw them into a drain at the side of the road. She and Aslan had worked together on the text for the call to the police. But the entire episode with Martina had taken place without the knowledge of anyone else at all. It was her initiative, her mission alone. She was painfully aware that Martina had joined the ranks of the people whose lives she had taken—her private Order of the Dead. All were justified, she thought, and immediately pushed the image of Martina’s corpse from her thoughts. Ya’ara knew that the wound this killing would leave in her soul was hers alone. She felt as if she were cloaked in something black and heavy. But she was familiar with that cloak, and knew that at some point, ultimately, she would find solace. She would wrap Martina in it, too.

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