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To Russia for Love

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To Russia for Love

Kenneth Eade

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Times Square Publishing

8484 Wilshire Blvd., suite 515

Beverly Hills, CA 90211

Copyright 2015 Kenneth Eade

ISBN: 1512280526

ISBN 13: 978-1512280524

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publisher. Reviewers may quote brief passages in the context of a review.

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persona, living or dead, business establishments, events or locales is entirely coincidental. The publisher does not have any control over and does not assume any responsibility for author or third-party Web site or their content.

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For my Dad,

Gordon Eade,

Who guided my way

Until I could take care of myself

There is no monopoly on common sense,

On either side of the political fence,

We share the same biology,

Regardless of ideology.

Believe me when I say to you,

I hope the Russians love their children too.

Sting

CHAPTER ONE

Seth Rogan woke up with a feeling that something was wrong this morning. In fact, he had woken up on the wrong side of the bed every morning for the past three weeks, since his girlfriend, Natalia Andropova (nicknamed Natasha) had not been in it. It had been very comfortable in this Hawaiian paradise as long as she had been here, but now she was gone and the room seemed empty – home was not home anymore.

Natasha’s boss had called and had sent her on a special assignment. That boss was none other than Vladimir Putin, arguably the most, or second most, powerful man in the world. Natasha served as an undercover agent for the Russian Federal Security Service, the FSB – the successor to the old KGB.

Seth had woken up in a foul mood every day since she had left, and for the first time since he had settled in this island paradise, he was bored. It didn’t make sense. Who could be bored with a beautiful house on the Kona Coast of the Big Island of Hawaii? He had his biological research to keep him busy, and he talked to her on the phone every day. Still it was not the same.

Since she had left, the first order of business was the telephone, something that Seth normally found to be a nuisance. Natasha was in Moscow presently, which was 14 hours ahead of Hawaii, so hers was the voice that Seth woke up to every morning and the one that put him to bed, but he had not heard from her in four days, and that made sleeping more of a chore than a necessity.

He had spent his waking hours, which were expanding due to his worries, calling her cell phone and leaving messages, texting an emailing, but Natasha had not responded. That was not like her, as she had been regularly checking in with him. Something was not right.

Seth looked at the clock. 9:30 already. That’s odd, by now she should have called. Five minutes later, the phone rang. He rolled over and grabbed the phone.

“Hey baby.”

“Seth, it’s me – Abramov. The voice of Boris Abramov was a familiar one; one he knew from the days when he had lived undercover in Russia.

“Boris, I thought you were Natasha. I’m so glad you called.”

“She’s missing Seth.”

“Missing?” Seth’s heart surged as if it would jump out of his throat. “What are you talking about?”

“Someone has put out an anonymous missing persons report. We are looking for her.”

Seth was in a panic. He could not think. He got up from his bed and paced the floor.

“But Natasha’s supposed to be in Moscow.”

“She arrived in Kiev two weeks ago. She was to attend agricultural conference.”

“I know, I know, I was going to the same conference. But the conference was in Moscow. Why was she in Kiev?”

“They sent her there on assignment.”

“What kind of assignment?”

“I can’t talk about it over phone. Can you come to Kiev?”

“I’ll be on the next plane. How do I reach you?”

“Not me. You will meet Victor Godinov, our man with Russian Embassy.”

“What about the police? Are they working on it?”

“They say they are – Detective Ivan Petrenko is in charge of case. I’m not sure what help he may be, but I would like you to be on ground in Kiev in case we need you – in case Natasha needs you.”

“Of course, I’m there.”

Seth frantically wrote down the information, fired up his laptop, and booked a ticket to Kiev. It was over 21 hours of flying with layovers in San Francisco and Munich – 21 hours more that Natasha would be missing, and every second of that would count.

CHAPTER TWO

On the way to the airport, Seth’s mind was racing. Was she still alive? The feeling of helplessness was paralyzing, but once he got on the ground in Kiev, hopefully that situation would change for the better. Seth looked at his cell phone. Suddenly, he received a cryptic text message from Natasha. Now, at least something. The message read: I am the Captive Knight.

What did it mean?

He tried calling back, but there was no answer. He texted. All the way to the airport, he frantically dialed her number, over and over again, to no avail.

Natasha had invited Seth to give a talk at an international agricultural conference on genetically engineered foods. Contrary to the United States, Russia had enacted legislation requiring GMO labeling and safety testing. There was a ban on the import of genetically engineered foods and they would not be introduced into the environment unless and until significant studies had been completed in the future.

Seth was called to the conference as an expert on GMOs. As a biologist who had worked for Germinat, the largest biotech company in the world, he had discovered a lot of information during his tenure at the company which had convinced him that the current technologies were not safe at all, and the absence of any safety testing by the FDA was undeniably negligent, in his opinion.

Ukraine had similar legislation but, even in the face of that, Germinat had established offices there, had invested $140 million in a non-GMO seed plant, and was in the midst of a “social development program” which offered rural Ukrainians up to $25,000 in grants to provide educational opportunities, community empowerment and small business development. The company had also purchased large amounts of farm land in Ukraine, known for its rich soil and agricultural importance as Europe’s “bread basket.” Seth knew that his former employer had no interest in the social development of Ukraine or in producing non-GMO seeds. It was a chemical company, whose strategy in seed development was to develop seeds for crops that would resist its famous pesticide, Cleanup, or (as in the project Seth had worked on for the company) crops that generated their own pesticides.

Seth kept calling Natasha’s number until the flight attendant told him to turn off his phone. After the plane took off, Seth fired up his laptop and studied the reports he had downloaded from the Internet. He picked at his meal while reading, then finally dozed off.

The waves lapped gently against the black sand beach as Seth watched Natasha emerge from the ocean, smiling. She ran up to him, dripping water onto his sun-soaked body. The drops were soothing, but not as cold as the intermittent rain showers that he had gotten so used to during their days on the Big Island. Seth tackled her onto the blanket.

Careful! You’ll break the shell!”

She produced from her hand a beautiful pink conch shell.

I just found it. Isn’t it beautiful?”

Seth looked at the shell, then Natasha’s innocent looking, young face. She had been through more than anyone should have this past year and a half. Originally introduced to him as a 20-something English teacher right out of the university, she had an air of maturity about her that made her wiser than her years. Perhaps that was why they had enlisted her in the Federal Security Service. Nobody would suspect this innocent looking, exquisite creature was really an undercover agent.

Seth woke up with a warm feeling, only to realize that it had only been a dream. He reached into his pocket and pulled out the conch shell and felt its smooth surface against his fingers. For the past six months they had spent their days in the endless summer of the islands of Hawaii, exploring each hidden waterfall and deserted beach. During that time, their budding romance (which had started when they had met in Russia) had bloomed into a full blown relationship, and Seth’s single days no longer had a place in his memory. It was as if he was another person then, and as though Natasha had always been in his life.

The reports Seth reviewed indicated that Ukraine had entered into an agreement with the European Union, which paved the way for $17 billion in aid from the International Monetary Fund. This agreement contained a little-known clause about the development of biotechnology which committed Ukraine to cooperate to “extend the use of biotechnologies.” It may as well have said that Ukraine would agree to allow the production of genetically engineered foods.

Seth was not an investigator, but had (more or less) been forced into that role when he had worked for Germinat. During that experience, he had developed a full blown “secret agent” toolset, not out of desire as much as out of necessity. Those skills helped him, at first, to steal crucial records from his employer which exposed the dangers of their genetically engineered foods, and later those same skills saved his life.

The United States had put $5 billion into the opposition that ousted President Yanukovych from office and forced him to flee to Russia, and had planted their own operatives into key business and government positions in Ukraine after the election of the new president, Petro Poreshenko, who, Seth learned, had been an informant for the United States since 2006. In April 2014, Vice President Joe Biden’s son, Hunter Biden, and Devon Archer, a close friend of Secretary of State John Kerry, had been appointed to the board of directors of Ukraine’s largest natural gas producer. The U.S. State Department’s Natalie Jaresko had also been transplanted into the Ukrainian government as their Finance Minister, and was granted Ukrainian citizenship on the day of her appointment.

As Seth looked at all the pieces, Natasha’s disappearance began to make sense. He didn’t know what her undercover assignment had been, but if it was in Ukraine, it had to have something to do with the current unrest going on there. And she wasn’t just missing-she was in real danger.

CHAPTER THREE

After passing through customs and border control, Seth saw, on his right, a man holding a sign with the name “Rogan.” He was about 28, nicely dressed in a conservative suit, and appeared to be Russian. To his left, two American-looking businessmen, conservatively dressed in suits in different shades of grey, stood with another man who appeared to be their driver. They made eye contact with him, and he understood that they were also waiting for him. A tinge of panic tingled his cerebral cortex as he recalled the last greeting he had had in this country, which was not so welcoming. Hopefully this one would be less dramatic. One of the men in the suits approached him.

“Mr. Rogan?” he asked, in a perfect American accent.

Seth ignored him and approached the driver holding the sign.

“Hello, Mr. Rogan,” said the driver, in a strong Russian accent. “I am Victor Godinov from Russian Embassy. I have instructions from Ambassador to bring you safely to embassy.”

Seth looked over his shoulder. The two suits were watching them. He shook Godinov’s hand, and Godinov took his small carry-on suitcase.

“Nice to meet you, Godinov.”

“For me too, sir. We should probably hurry.”

Seth matched Godinov’s quick pace as they exited the arrivals area with the two suits and their driver not far behind.

At curbside, a black Mercedes 600 pulled up.

“This is our car, sir, please…”

Seth got in, and looked behind him to see the two suits also getting into a black Mercedes land cruiser. As the 600 pulled out and accelerated, the land cruiser followed. But, just after the 600 took off, an old blue Volga pulled out into the lane, blocking the land cruiser’s pursuit. The Volga puffed out a large plume of black smoke as it stalled in the middle of the lane. Seth could hear the horn of the land cruiser blazing as he looked through the rear window.

“We made sure this time your airport transfer would be more comfortable,” said Victor. Seth could see by now that Victor was obviously an FSB agent. It wasn’t long before the black Mercedes was securely behind the gates of the Russian Embassy.

***

Seth sat in the familiar waiting room where he had began his first excursion into espionage long ago. It looked like a museum, with its classic oil paintings, richly wallpapered walls and antique French furniture. He looked at his cell phone to see if there were any emails from Natasha or the police, but there was no signal.

“It won’t work here,” said Victor as he entered the waiting room. “Secure area. We will give you Wi-Fi code to use.”

“Thank you.”

The door to the Ambassador’s office opened and they were beckoned in by a beautiful blonde girl. The Ambassador rose to greet them, extending his hand, which Seth took in his.

“Ambassador Petrov, it’s good to see again you, sir.”

“Likewise, Mr. Rogan, but I’m afraid that this time is a little more dangerous than the last.”

“Hard to imagine that, sir,” said Seth, as he and Victor sat down in front of the Ambassador’s desk.

“Mr. Rogan, Victor here is one of our best men. He is in charge of the investigation for Miss Andropova, and he will give you a full briefing on what we know and what we don’t know.”

“Thank you both,” said Seth.

“But you must let us handle this,” said the Ambassador. “You don’t know this country and, as you probably have realized by now, the CIA already knows you are here. It is not safe for you.”

“With all due respect, sir, I have been in these situations before, and…”

“You are in over head here,” interrupted Godinov.

“Victor, please,” said the Ambassador. “Let me explain. Since the coup that ousted President Yanukovych, things have been on a heightened alert here and in Russia. There is an escalating civil war that the current government of the United States wants nothing more than to blame on Russia to advance the business interests of their own oligarchy.”

“Yes, I’ve been reading about this.”

“The oligarchy in control of Ukraine has many American business partners. The Minister of Finance is from the U.S. State Department. The last time you were here, there was less of a CIA presence. Now, they are everywhere.”

“You can’t trust police, or anybody, right now,” said Victor. “Please, let us handle situation.”

“Victor, you’re talking about my girl. She’s not a situation. How did she get involved in the first place? She was working on agriculture.”

“We cannot discuss her assignment,” said Victor.

“American agriculture has a big stake here,” said the Ambassador. “John Deere, and your company, Germinat – they have a lot to gain here, especially with a government that will do whatever they want.”

“My ex-company,” Seth interjected.

“We think Miss Andropova got too close. Hopefully, she is just too far undercover to communicate and they have not exposed her as FSB agent,” said Victor.

“But what does her message mean?” asked Seth.

“It’s a poem by Lermontov,” said Victor. “Called Captive Knight. In it, the knight describes his prison. We think she was trying to indicate to you that she had been taken captive.”

“But why use a poem; why not just say it?”

“Maybe to disguise message. Maybe because she didn’t have time to leave proper message. They were most likely monitoring her communications,” said Victor. “She must have sent message on her phone before they took it.”

“Mr. Rogan, you are free to do as you choose,” said the Ambassador. “But both your safety and that of Miss Andropova depends on you letting us take the lead on this.”

“If you can’t even discuss her assignment with me, how can I trust you? She may be your agent, but she’s my life.”

“We understand,” said the Ambassador. “You have to trust that we are doing everything in our power to locate Miss Andropova.”

“But what if that’s not enough?”

“We are dealing with very bad people,” said Victor. “Same ones who glorify role of Nazi partisans in World War II and call them “freedom fighters.” The fascist parties of Ukraine have gained lot of power recently, and they have their own members already in government. You have to let us do our job and stay out of way.”

“I can handle myself.”

“They know you are here. You stick out like big thumb,” said Victor.

“Sore thumb.”

“Yes, sore thumb. By spying around, you will only bring danger to Natalia.”

“Look, I will lay low for now. But, let me ask you something, Mr. Ambassador. If it was your wife who was missing, would you just sit by idly and do nothing?”

Petrov looked at Seth and frowned. “I see your point, Mr. Rogan. But I am afraid that national security must take a front seat to your personal interests. I am sorry. Victor will give you as much information as he can on the case. Then, you will be on your own. “

Petrov rose and extended his hand, which Seth took in his. “Please stay in close communication with us. We may need you.”

CHAPTER FOUR

Seth left the embassy and checked in to the Premier Palace Hotel in the center of Kiev. He was certain that the gut feeling he had that he was being followed was genuine, rather than paranoia, but he wasn’t sure if it was the Ukrainians, the Russians, or both of them. He realized how much he had taken his privacy for granted, now that so many others seemed so preoccupied with destroying it.

Seth tapped into the hotel’s Wi-Fi to check his email which, not surprisingly, had no message from Natasha, then looked up the location of the police station on Google Maps. Since he assumed that all his internet activity was being monitored, he didn’t bother to slip out of the room undetected. He took the elevator to the first floor and flagged a conventional taxi to the station, which was called the “Main Department of Internal Affairs.”

It was an impressive and massive white building with a façade of Corinthian columns which bore both a Ukrainian flag and, curiously, a European Union flag, even though Ukraine was not a member of the European Union. Once inside, Seth did not have to wait long for Detective Petrenko. In the waiting room, he checked his cell phone for the available Wi-Fi connections and made a note of them. There was a secured active connection that appeared to serve this section of the building. This information may come in handy for snooping later.

Finally, a man in shirt and tie approached him, smiling, with his hand outstretched. “Mr. Rogan, I am Detective Ivan Petrenko. You called me on phone,” said Petrenko, offering his hand.

“Yes, thank you for seeing me,” said Seth, standing and completing the handshake. Petrenko was 30-something, with short blonde hair in a “bowl” haircut and light green eyes. Petrenko led Seth into his office, which was right down the corridor from the waiting room.

Petrenko’s office was plain and sparsely furnished. Seth noted the vintage desktop computer monitor, which he surmised was connected to a tower CPU. Given the amount of people in the building, he knew that an onsite hack of the computer would be virtually impossible. Seth took a seat in front of Petrenko’s steel desk.

“Mr. Rogan, I can assure you that we are doing everything possible to locate Miss Andropova.”

“Do you have any leads on her whereabouts?”

“Nothing concrete and, in any event, we cannot share them with you, as investigation is classified.”

“Why is it classified?”

“I am not at liberty to say.”

“Then what can you tell me?”

“I can tell you that there is nothing you can hope to accomplish here, and that we will find her and inform you straight away.”

That sounds so helpful. “Forgive me, Detective, but that’s not much of a comfort to me. You seem to be no closer to locating her than I am, and time is running out.”

“I can assure you, sir, that we are doing everything in our power to find her. Do you have a mobile telephone on which I can reach you?”

“Actually, by email is probably best.”

“Very well then.”

“I have to leave soon for Moscow to attend an agricultural conference, but I can return anytime you need me.”

“Alright, Mr. Rogan. We will stay in touch.”

Seth knew that time was of the essence. At the same time, he may as well be wearing a neon sign on his back, telling everyone that he was an American looking for his lost girlfriend who just happened to be an FSB agent. This visibility would slow him down considerably. Seth would need an untraceable cell phone (or perhaps two of them), a different passport, a car, and a driver’s license – and all of that in a hurry.

He located the nearest internet café and checked in to one of the booths. He logged on to his secret Gorilla Mail account and contacted Boris Abramov. Boris gave Seth the name and number of Nikolai Bondarenko, a local merchant in Kiev, and told him that Nikolai would be his one-stop shop for everything he needed, but that it would not be cheap.

Upon leaving the café, Seth bought two cell phones and two prepaid SIM cards in a little shop inside a street underpass. He activated one of the phones and used it to call Bondarenko to arrange a meeting in the sleazy little pawn shop that Bondarenko ran.

Seth walked into the store, past the glass displays of old (estate) jewelry and watches and shelves of various cameras and video equipment. He approached the young man at the cash register, who was busy playing a video game on his phone. He was a big man, about six and a half feet tall, who looked to be in his twenties.

“Excuse me, I’m looking for Nikolai Bondarenko.”

The man looked up from his game, appearing perturbed. “Americanitz?”

“Yes.”

“Wait minute,” he said in broken English, and went into a back room. He returned less than a minute later.

“He coming, you wait,” said the man, and went back to playing his game.

Nikolai Bondarenko was about 60, with grey hair, a grey beard, and a belly that popped out from his sweatshirt as if he were nine months pregnant.

“You have passport?” he asked.

“No, I need a…”

“Shhh! Answer question please. You have passport?”

“Yes, of course.”

“Show me please.”

Seth pulled out his blue U.S. passport, and handed it over to Bondarenko, who flipped through the pages and gave it back.

“Come with me,” he said, turned, and walked into the back room with Seth in tow. The room was cluttered with electronic gadgets and a workbench with various metal parts and a large overhead light.

“Please put hands up.” Seth complied and Bondarenko frisked him, taking out the two cellphones he had just bought, and his iPhone. One at a time, he switched the phones off and put them on the desk.

“Sit please.”

Seth sat down in an old steel chair with a vinyl chair cover across from the ancient metal desk which was covered with papers and electronic parts. Bondarenko took a seat behind it.

“Sorry for precautions. This is dangerous business.”

“I understand. Mr. Bondarenko, I’m going to need a car.”

“Go with Slava here, he give you car.”

“Thank you.”

“Two thousand dollar.”

“For the car?”

“Full service. One week. You have trouble with anybody, get stopped by police, or get in accident, call this number and everything will be fixed.”

Bondarenko handed him a card with a phone number scribbled on it. Seth dug twenty one-hundred- dollar bills out of his wallet and gave them to Bondarenko.

“You also need new hotel, and probably new name.”

“What is my new name?”

“For hotel, you have no name. Just key. One thousand dollar.”

“One thousand?”

“You want police up your asshole?”

Seth dug out another ten one-hundred-dollar bills.

“New name is different story,” said Bondarenko.

Bondarenko handed Seth his cell phones and a key to Room 219 at the Bratislava, a three-star hotel with rooms that rented for 24 Euros a night.

“You have iPhone also?”

“Yes.”

“Don’t use it. Use these crappy phones instead. Who knows who is following you – FSB, Ukrainians – but for sure they find you on iPhone.”

CHAPTER FIVE

Seth’s two thousand dollar rental car was a silver 2005 Chinese Geely CK. It was no luxury car, but it was sufficient for the job he needed to accomplish. Seth began this job by parking inconspicuously outside the police headquarters, waiting for Detective Petrenko to leave work. He trained his military grade tactical and surveillance binoculars on the main entrance and exit to the building.

At about six o’clock, Seth’s patience paid off, as he spotted Petrenko leaving the building, and getting into a white Toyota Corolla. As the Corolla pulled out, Seth followed it, making sure to stay far enough behind. The Corolla crossed the bridge over the Dnieper River and Seth followed it to the Desnaynski region of town, where it turned left into the courtyard of an old apartment building and parked. Seth quickly found a vantage point and focused his binoculars on the windows which exposed the staircase, and watched Petrenko walk to the second floor and enter into one of the four doors on the right. It would be another 12 hours before Seth had the chance to do any snooping inside his apartment. Seth returned to his hotel. There was nothing more that could be done without more information.

***

In the relative safety of his hotel room, Seth thought about Natasha’s strange, cryptic message. She must have left it right before her phone was taken. But what did it mean? There must be a particular reason she chose this poem. He looked up the poem and read it, over and over, line by line.

By a loophole I sit in my prison. That means she is being held prisoner. But what is the loophole? She is the captive knight, he thought, as in the title of the poem. Could see the blue of heaven from there. That has to mean, from wherever she’s being held, she can see the sky. A skylight? A window maybe?

I feel sharp pain and a shame at the vision, of heedless birds, freely playing in air. Seth repeated this phrase, over and over. Pain. What pain? Are they torturing her? She must see birds from the window or the skylight, whatever it is. He read the poem over and over again.

By a loophole, I sit in my prison,

Could see the blue of the heaven from there,

I feel sharp pain and a shame at the vision

Of heedless birds, freely playing in air.

 

On my dry lips, I’ve not any prayers,

Nor any songs, that have ever to fly on,

But I remember the ancient battles,

My heavy sword and my coat of iron.

 

My stony armor – the cross I’m to bear,

My stony helmet compresses my brow,

My shield’s worn from a sword and a spear,

My horse takes roads – I don’t know how.

 

Time is my horse that stays always my own,

A helmet’s mask-visor – the grate on a hole,

The walls are my armor that’s made of the stone,

 

My permanent shield is the door’s iron fold.

 

Time! I desire to speed your hooves’ rattle!

My stony armor is heavy to rise on!

Death, when we’ve come, will help me by the saddle;

 

I will dismount and rise up my visor.

The poem was selected to tell him something, but what? She’s in prison by a loophole. What loophole? She can see the sky, and heedless birds, playing in the air.

Birds were everywhere, so Seth could not figure out how that could give a hint about her location. He paced the room, and suddenly, he had an epiphany, and immediately called Victor.

“Godinov.”

“Victor, it’s Seth, I have to speak to you. It’s important.”

“Not by phone. I will pick you up at your hotel.”

“Okay, it’s the…”

“You think we don’t know where you’re staying?”

“What time?”

“Ten minutes.”

CHAPTER SIX

Seth recognized the black Mercedes 600 that pulled up to the Bratislav Hotel. He exited the lobby and got into it. Victor was alone.

“Never say anything by phone,” he cautioned.

“Alright I won’t. I just had to talk to you. It’s very important.”

“What?”

“Did anyone ever see Natasha after she arrived?”

“No, but how do you know that?”

“I didn’t. I was just thinking about the poem. Wherever she’s being held, she can see the sky.”

“Yes, so?”

“And there are heedless birds flying all around.”

“And what?”

“Don’t you get it? What’s slang for airplanes? Birds! And in what particular place can you see a lot of them coming and going?”

“Airport!”

“Right!”

“It doesn’t mean she still there. They could have moved her.”

“I think she is – or was – in some kind of holding cell there.”

“Good work, Seth. If you ever want job, just learn Russian and you can work for us. But you must stop this. You are amateur and you’re going to get killed.”

“Didn’t you just say it was a good job – figuring out the poem?”

“That was, but following Petrenko, that is what I talk about. Don’t you think we know every move you make? And if we do, they do.”

“Why don’t we work together?”

Victor did not even acknowledge the suggestion. “We have a man undercover in immigration office. We will see what he can find out about airport. In meantime, no more spying.”

The sound of jet engines shook the building as planes screamed overhead, taking off and landing in a steady stream. Natasha’s captors watched her carefully through a two-way mirror. She looked up at the ceiling and could see the blue sky through the skylight, as well as the planes on approach to the airport, and wondered why they had brought her here. They must be planning to move her by plane.

She touched her earring, and left her cryptic message, “The Captive Knight,” making sure to move her lips as little as possible. Suddenly, one of her guards burst through the door.

Who you are talking to?” he demanded, in Ukrainian, which Natasha barely understood.

Nobody.”

You lie!” he shouted, and slapped her across the mouth.

A second guard entered.

You have transmitter! Where is it?” he shouted.

I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

Then we strip you naked and look everywhere you can hide it!” he responded.

Take off clothes!”

Natasha reluctantly peeled off her clothing, feeling violated by the eyes of these two men and who knows how many others behind the mirror.

Give me earrings!” demanded the second guard. Natasha took them off and handed them over, and continued to stand in front of them, covering herself.

The guard examined the earrings carefully. They were diamond earrings, but seemed to contain strange colored inclusions.

This is transmitter!” he screamed. Natasha cringed as the guard dropped the earrings and crushed them under his heel.

You dirty FSB pig!” he shouted, and raised his hand to Natasha, then apparently changed his mind. Both guards turned to leave the naked Natasha, standing and shivering with fear.

CHAPTER SEVEN

Seth set out for Detective Petrenko’s apartment and waited for him to leave for work. It looked like most of the apartment buildings he had seen while living in Russia. When he was sure that Petrenko had gone, Seth waited for some kids to come out of the apartment building to play in the courtyard, and slipped inside the open door.

Once outside Petrenko’s building, Seth removed his tension wrench and lock pick from his bag and proceeded to crack the lock. He had had a lot of experience with lock picking, making bump keys and impressions of keys since being forced into this second life of espionage, and, as a result, could get into almost any locked door.

As he wrestled with the lock, he heard footsteps on the stairs above him and stopped working. It was a middle-aged woman, on her way out of the building. Seth kept his back to her, as if he were locking or unlocking the apartment door, looked over his shoulder at her, and said, “Zdrastuyte,” which means “hello” in Ukrainian.

“Zdrastuyte,” replied the woman, and kept walking without slowing.

Seth finally heard the last cylinder click and he was in the apartment. He donned gloves from his bag and wiped the front door clean before he closed it behind himself, slipping on a ski mask from the bag in case there was anyone at home.

He scanned the small, one bedroom apartment. It had not seen a repaint in decades, and the furniture seemed even older than the paint. Police detectives must not do very well in Kiev. He entered into a small corridor, passed the bedroom and kitchen, and entered the small living room. There was no sign of a computer there.

Back in the bedroom, Seth discovered a desk with a small desktop computer, sat down in front of it, and fired it up. He pulled his mask up over his forehead, set up a new user, and cracked the password right away. He then eliminated the new user designation and installed a spyware program which would give him remote access. He shoved a small flash drive into the USB port and proceeded to download the contents of Petrenko’s hard drive. Suddenly, he heard the front door open and close.

Seth dove into the closet for cover, as he watched the blinking light on the flash drive from a crack in the closet door. He could see that there were women’s clothes hanging over him, so he surmised that the “intruder” must be Petrenko’s wife or girlfriend. Seth decided to stay in the closet until he heard the girl going into the living room or kitchen, then grab the flash drive and fly out the door.

He listened as she hung up her jacket and took off her shoes, then heard her slippered feet padding toward him. Then she opened the closet door.

Seth had no time to think of what to do – only how to react. He pulled the mask back over his face, ripped some hanging clothing from the closet and pounced on the woman, destabilizing her and knocking her onto the floor. He put his knee down on her pelvis and pinned down her left arm with his left hand, pointing his right fist within striking distance of her throat. She panicked and started screaming, and Seth flipped her over, pinning her down with his knee against her lower back. He reached for a piece of clothing which had fallen on the floor, and quickly tied her hands and gagged her, which muffled her screams. Then he tied her ankles together.

Seth had to get the flash drive without her seeing it, and escape before the neighbors (or even worse, the police) came in response to the screams, which were now muffled. He flipped her over on her back, picked a scarf out of her closet, blindfolded her with it, grabbed the flash drive from the computer, and then removed her blindfold and put his index finger to his lips and said, “Shhh!” as he slowly backed away from her.

Once outside the bedroom, Seth had to think and move quickly. Petrenko would be looking for a motive for this break-in. He quickly gathered all the electronics he could find – the television, stereo – and placed them randomly in the corridor, as if he had been surprised during a burglary, and then slipped out the front door. Seth walked calmly down the stairs and out the door without being spotted by anyone. He felt bad for pinning down and tying up the woman, but there had been no choice. He got into his car and drove away normally, like nothing had happened.

CHAPTER EIGHT

Seth felt bad for scaring the wits out of the woman, but if she had seen him, it would have blown his cover. Moreover, if he had left the flash drive in the computer, Petrenko would know that someone had been looking for information. It was better that it appeared as a thwarted burglary. The burglar sought to rob the apartment, was surprised by the woman, and aborted his mission because of her resistance and the noise.

Ukraine gave Seth an interestingly familiar feeling. It felt, well – Russian – and reminded him of the time he had spent in the Far East of Russia, where he had met Natasha. He supposed that this feeling was normal, since a great deal of the Ukraine had been part of the Russian Empire for centuries, and it had been a vital part of the Soviet Union for 70 years. The Ukrainian people, in fact, reminded him of the Russians, not only in their look, but their similar attributes, their customs, and even the manner of their speech.

Seth took a circuitous route back to his hotel, to shake any tail that may be following him. When he arrived, there was a message waiting from Victor which read, meet me in the lobby at 1300 hrs. It was only 10:30, so Seth went to his room and downloaded the contents of the flash drive to his laptop. The pickings were not very fruitful because they were written in Cyrillic, which appeared to be Ukrainian and not Russian. He would need help translating the data.

At 1:30, Seth descended the stairs to the lobby, where Victor was waiting for him.

“We have news from our man at airport.”

“Did they find her?”

“She was there, but she has been moved.”

“Moved? Do you know where?”

“We’re working on some leads.”

“Let me help.”

“Don’t you have conference in Moscow to attend?”

“Yes, but this is more important.”

“Mr. Rogan, please, leave this to professionals. We will find her.”

“I think a team effort would bring us better results,” said Seth, holding out the flash drive.

“What this?”

“The contents of Ivan Petrenko’s computer.”

“Are you crazy? How did you get it?” he asked, as he took the drive and slipped it into his pocket.

“Let’s just say one of your own taught me. I think you knew him – Yuri Streltsov?”

“Yuri Streltsov was double agent. But I see he taught you well. Those skills can make a man dead, you know?”

“I’m aware of the danger.”

“I’m not so sure you are. The people you are up against are very dangerous, and they will stop at nothing to get what they want. These are neo-Nazis. Anything and anyone in their way will be eliminated.” Victor stood up to leave.

“Go to your conference, Mr. Rogan. Let us handle things from here.”

CHAPTER NINE

Seth had no intention of backing down now. He immediately headed to straight to Bondarenko. He pulled up to the pawn shop and hurried inside.

“I need this disc translated,” he said, and handed Bondarenko a duplicate of the flash drive from Petrenko’s computer.

“That will take time.”

“I don’t have any more time. Please get it done for me right away. Can you also get me a gun?”

“Guns are illegal. And not cheap.”

“Everything you sell is not cheap. I’m going to have to put you in my Will.”

“Hopefully, Mr. Rogan, you won’t need to make Will anytime soon,” said Bondarenko. “Come back tomorrow for translation.”

“I need it today.”

“Then come back tonight. And bring more money.”

Seth grimaced. “Of course. I also need a new hotel. FSB has trailed me to the one you gave me. I can’t take the chance the Ukrainians have done the same.”

“Slava will put you in new hotel. And different car.”

“Thank you,” said Seth, shaking Bondarenko’s hand.

***

There was not much Seth could do without more information. He anxiously waited in his new hotel room, watching the clock. Whatever information Seth could glean from Petrenko’s computer files would already be known by the FSB, so he would be one step behind them. Finally, Seth headed for Bondarenko’s shop.

Bondarenko handed over the flash drive and said, “Rush job. Two thousand.”

“Two thousand?” Seth complained.

“Spy work expensive,” he said, shrugging his shoulders.

Bondarenko opened his desk drawer and pulled out a cloth package.

“This gun is considered sporting gun, so it’s not illegal,” said Bondarenko as he unwrapped the cloth, showing a handgun in the palm of his hand. “But, if you carry it without permit, you will be arrested.”

“Can I get a permit?”

“Mr. Rogan, I am magician, not God.”

His eyes looked up at Seth, with a furrowed brow. “You still want gun?”

“Yes, I still want it.”

“Three thousand dollar.”

Seth grumbled and paid.

“One more thing.”

“More money?”

“No. I get that in time. You are hot. As long as they know Seth Rogan is in Ukraine, they will be looking for you. You need new identity.”

Seth left Bondarenko’s shop with his wallet a little lighter and retired to his hotel room to study the translation of Petrenko’s files.

***

Seth studied the translation of the data on the disk. Petrenko’s files were full of clues, but they were all stale. However, since they were the only clues Seth had to go on, he decided to run with them. He would start at Natasha’s last known location – an apartment across the river.

Seth breached the front door of the building easily, by pushing all the buttons on the security intercom and claiming he had a delivery for somebody. The front door of the apartment itself was unlocked. It looked like it had been broken. Seth let himself in.

His eyes scanned the small studio apartment, which was supposed to be a safe house. It had been turned upside down.

CHAPTER TEN

Three masked men smashed through the door of apartment 87. A startled Natasha sprang up from the couch and screamed. One of the men pulled a gun out while another tackled her back onto the couch. The third man rifled through her open suitcase on the floor, throwing clothes out of it randomly as he ransacked it.

Seth examined the contents of Natasha’s open suitcase for anything which may present itself as a lead. Her clothes had been scattered all over the floor. He picked up a blouse and felt the material between his fingers. It still has her scent, he thought, sadly. On the coffee table, which was piled with personal items that must have been dumped from her purse and scattered there, he found an Employee ID for the company she had been working for – it was Germinat, Seth’s ex-employer. Nice of Victor to mention this, he thought. Germinat had set up offices in Kiev, obviously planning on taking its GMO agenda as far as it could. GMOs were banned in most of Europe, but Germinat must have been planning to exploit a loophole in the Ukrainian legislation. He had also read that they had been buying up large plots of farmland.

After tackling her, the mask man flipped Natasha onto her stomach and handcuffed her.

Who are you? Why are you doing this?” she asked, her voice muffled by the couch cushions.

You are under arrest,” was the response.

For what? And by who’s authority?”

They didn’t answer. Instead, they continued their search, one tucking her laptop computer under his arm.

Where is your phone?” the man with the gun demanded.

In my purse.”

The man pulled Natasha off the couch and frisked her, while another turned her purse upside down, spilled its contents all over the coffee table, and quickly pocketed her iPhone and her Russian passport.

We know you work for FSB,” said the man with the gun.

No, I’m just a teacher.”

Spy teacher.”

I teach Russian and sustainability to Americans at Germinat. You have the wrong person.”

Seth continued to search the room for clues. The thought of Natasha’s last message to him kept tugging at his brain. Surely, since she was not grabbed at the airport, they must have taken her cell phone, so how could she have sent the message? There must have been something, or maybe more, that Victor was not telling him. Angrily, he whipped out his phone.

“Why didn’t you tell me she was working for Germinat?”

“I told you, not by phone,” said Victor.

“You have to come clean with me.”

“We meet for coffee.”

“No thanks, Victor. I’m not thirsty.” Seth hung up. He thought about the reasons why Natasha could have been sent to Germinat, and whether she was really being held by the Ukrainians, or his former employer. The answer was waiting for him at his next lead – the Kiev headquarters of Germinat Corporation.

Seth exited the apartment building, his head full of thoughts about Natasha and what she could have possibly been doing at Germinat. That must have been why she called me to the agricultural conference. Seth had exposed Germinat’s collusion with the U.S. government; the fact that the company and the heads of the USDA and EPA had colluded with the company in hiding studies that the company’s genetically engineered foods were dangerous to the public.

Seth should have been paying attention as he walked to his car, but he was more of a scientist than a spy. That proved to be a disadvantage to him as he approached the parking lot, where he was grabbed by two guys and thrust into a black Mercedes, which took off.

“That my point,” said Victor Godinov, who was seated in the back of the car.

“What?” asked Seth.

“You’re untrained and sloppy, and that makes you liability.”

“And you’re not telling me everything.”

“I tell you what you need to know,” he shouted.

Seth shouted back, “I need to know where she is before they kill her, and you know! I don’t understand why she was sent to Germinat. I thought it was the military industry who wanted to join the party here in the Ukraine.”

“Military, yes of course. They want to sell their bombs and military equipment to Ukraine, and get Europe to pay for them. Scary part is that your country’s wars always produce demons. They try to make Afghanistan into next Vietnam for Russia, and they get Jihad. They lie and say there are weapons of mass destruction so they can invade Iraq and they get ISIS. Do I have to go on?”

“No, but why Germinat?”

“Let me explain something to you. We are at war. War is not on battlefield. It is in boardrooms of companies that control your United States of America. They want to be number one provider of gas to Europe, and put in factory farms to be number one provider of GMO food for Europe.”

“And what is their interest in Natasha?”

“She speaks English, the Americans who work at Germinat need to learn Russian, and we need to learn what they know about Ukraine’s plans to break away from Russia.”

“So how was she exposed?”

“We don’t know.”

“Where is she now?”

“We don’t know.”

“For God’s sake, Victor, stop lying to me and tell me the truth. I’m not going to stop looking for her!”

“I make you deal. Go to conference in Moscow. When you come back, if we don’t have Natasha yet, we will work together to find her. This is only chance you have to see her again. I’m sorry to tell you, my friend, but you are not very good spy.”

“I never said I was. I’m a scientist!”

“Then go back to your test tubes and let me handle this.”

CHAPTER ELEVEN

The best way to get a new identity was for Seth to accept Victor’s suggestion. Seth Rogan had to leave for Moscow and a different person had to return.

He took the 2:05 p.m. nonstop to Moscow on Aeroflot Airlines. He checked in through immigration and passport control with his US passport. This would show, to anyone who was tailing him, that he had left Kiev and arrived in Moscow. After going through customs, he walked through the maze of people meeting people, brushed off taxi drivers who were soliciting fares, and found his ride at curbside – another black Mercedes. Boris Abramov was waiting inside.

Seth got into the car and shook his hand.

“Good to see you, Tavarish,” said Abramov. He was fifty-something, with long graying hair and a grey moustache, but a larger-than-life presence, like a classic movie star.

“Good to see you too.”

“Is my man in Ukraine taking good care of you?”

“He’s expensive.”

“Well, these things aren’t cheap,” said Abramov, running his hands through his long hair, pulling it back.

“Do you have anything for me?”

“Not much. They are holding back details of the report from you, of course.”

“Of course.”

“But it is true that Natasha has been moved and they are looking for her.”

“Good. I was hoping they wouldn’t back off to try to avoid a potential scandal. Is she?”

“Alive? Yes, from what we know, she is still alive.”

Seth sighed with relief.

“What do they want from her?”

“She is low level FSB agent, but she was sent on undercover assignment. I think they are holding her for bargaining.”

“Bargaining?”

“This is high stakes game now. Ukrainian oligarchs have taken over country and they want money and support from Europe and United States. If they expose Russian agent found undercover in their country, it could be embarrassing for Russia.”

“But won’t Russia refuse to acknowledge her as anything but a teacher?”

“Correct. That why we have to be very careful. Once they think she is no use to them, she will be in more danger than she is now. You want Russian driver license and passport, or Ukrainian?”

“Which one is quicker?”

“They are same. I suggest Russian, because you don’t speak Ukrainian language. Do you speak any Russian?”

“A little, enough to get around.”

“A lot of foreigners come to live in Moscow and get Russian citizenship. We will get Russian documents.”

“Forgeries?”

Abramov frowned.

“You think I would give you, my friend, forged documents? No, of course they will be genuine. And your friends at Embassy will never find out until it is too late.”

“My friends?”

“We need to take biometric photograph. But first you need new look. Change color hair, grow moustache and beard.”

“A new look, I get it – I’ve done that before. Not sure how long it’ll take to grow a moustache and beard. Boris, there’s one thing that has me really puzzled.”

“Tell me.”

“If they had her cell phone, how did they get me the message?”

“Tiny transmitter in her earrings.”

“Brilliant. But it must have had GPS.”

“I’m sure it did. Either it wasn’t working, or your friends at embassy didn’t tell you everything.”

“Could be a little of both. One more thing, Boris.”

“What?”

“I need help in Ukraine. I don’t speak the language, and I feel, well, like a one-armed blind man.”

“I tell Bondarenko to give you man to help. And Seth – ”

“Yes?”

“Don’t trust anybody.”

“Thank you. What about the conference?”

“Our man will attend as you.”

“But if they follow him, they’ll know it’s not me!”

“Oh really?” asked Boris, showing a photograph on the screen of his phone. It was of a man who bore a striking resemblance to Seth.

“It’s amazing!” he exclaimed, staring at the photograph. “He could be my twin.”

Boris smiled. “With every generation, our toys get better.”

***

Seth was dropped off at a photo shop in a sleazy neighborhood on Leninsky Prospect. There his disguise was completed.

“Stand here, foot on line,” instructed Sasha Bedrov, another one of Abramov’s contacts. “You look like different guy. Black hair look good on you too.”

“Look at camera, no smile,” he commanded.

Bedrov clicked a couple of times and then said, “That’s it. Ready by end of day. Ten thousand US dollar.”

“Ten thousand?”

“That is discount for Abramov. Regular price fifteen thousand.”

Seth spent the rest of the day with Abramov, learning as much as he could about Natasha’s assignment to Ukraine. It was really very simple. She had been sent as a teacher to teach Russian language, as well as a class on sustainability. But that was her cover. Several messages of hers to the FSB had been intercepted and that was how she had been exposed.

CHAPTER TWELVE

“Mr. Rogan, or I should say Mr. Rostov, here are your documents.”

Seth took the red passport which bore the name Andrei Rostov, and handed over ten thousand in crisp 100 dollar bills. At this rate, the stash of cash he had brought from the States was not going to last very long.

Seth bid good-bye to Abramov, and proceeded to Sheremetyevo airport. Almost immediately after exiting the car, he began to have a creepy feeling that somebody was following him. He casually looked over his shoulder and scanned the crowd behind him. Nobody stood out in particular, but, as an extra measure of security, he doubled around the airport, and then took a coffee in the Chocolodnitsa café.

As Seth sipped his coffee, he casually scanned the other patrons, who were sitting at the tables, from time to time, as well as people loitering nearby the open air café. He made a mental note of the appearance of each person who was a constant presence in the area.

Seth took off again on another airport tour, and glanced behind himself to see if anyone in the crowd looked familiar. His stomach jumped as he recognized one of the patrons from the café. Although it could be a coincidence, he couldn’t take any chances, so he slipped into an electronics and internet store and pretended to browse. His follower took a seat on a bench not far from the store. He was wearing a light brown coat and had dark brown hair.

Seth had to put the Follower through one more test to ascertain if he was truly being tailed. He exited the store and went to the nearest men’s room. Seth took a stall in the restroom, crouched down, removed a mirror from his carry-on bag and positioned it so he could see around the bathroom outside the stall. The Follower was there, pretending to wash his hands. Seth knew at once that he was, in fact, being followed, and started to panic.

The Follower finished washing his hands, turned around, and pulled open the door of the empty stall next to Seth, letting it fall closed after he had ascertained that it was empty. He then tugged on the door on Seth’s stall gently. At that moment, Seth made his move. Unlocking the door, he shoved it outward with all his might, knocking the Follower down, and ran past him. As he did, the Follower grabbed his left ankle, and pulled. Seth smashed his right heel against the Follower’s fingers as hard as he could, and the follower let go. Walking as quickly as possible, Seth exited the airport, grabbing the first taxi he could see, and headed for Vnukovo airport. It was too risky to fly out of Sheremetyevo.

***

Once he arrived at Vnukovo, Seth bought a ticket for the night flight to Kiev with his Russian passport as Andrei Rostov. To mask his American accent, he pretended to have a sore throat. The conversation was simple, and consisted of only one question – Do you have luggage? Seth had taken a business class ticket to keep conversation to a minimum and speed his way through passport control and security.

Fortunately for Seth, passing through passport control and security in Russia was not difficult. The officer at passport control didn’t speak a word to him – just looked at his passport, looked back up at him, scanned it and handed it back. Seth told him, “Spasibo,” which means “thank you” in Russian.

Passing through security was a one-way conversation. He was asked for his boarding pass, and told to enter and then exit the screener. After a brief repose in the business class lounge, he was on his way back to Kiev.

CHAPTER THIRTEEN

Upon his arrival back in Kiev, Seth was sweating with anxiety. He had gone over all the possible questions that the border police may ask him, and had rehearsed all his answers in his “sore throat” voice. After a brief wait in line, he approached passport control with his new Russian passport. The policeman looked at Seth, scanned his passport, and looked up at him again, with a stern look and asked in Russian, “Where are you coming from?”

Seth responded, “Moscow.”

The agent slid Seth’s passport back to him. He was free to go. At the arrivals area, a grinning Slava was waiting for Seth.

“What are you doing here?” he asked Slava.

“I’m your new assistant.”

Were they kidding? The guy with the video games? Great, thought Seth.

Slava took Seth’s carry-on and led him to yet another old, broken down car.

“Secret agent car,” said Slava, grinning.

“Yeah, just like James Bond’s Aston Martin.”

“What?”

“Never mind.”

Seth got in as Slava threw his bag in the trunk and climbed into the driver’s seat. He took off, leaving behind a cloud of smoke and screeching rubber like a bat out of hell.

“Whoa, what’s going on?”

“I shake tail.”

“There’s no tail!”

“If was, he gone now,” said Slava, exiting the airport in a flash.

Brilliant. Now I’ve got to worry about this guy always being underfoot. Maybe, at the very least, I can use him as a translator.

“Where to, boss?”

“First my hotel. Then, I’ll tell you.”

Now in his fourth new hotel room, Seth and Slava planned to infiltrate Germinat’s Kiev headquarters. Unfortunately, about all they knew about the Kiev headquarters was its location. The layout of the building, as well as its security system, were unknown factors. Seth could be sure to expect that, after he had broken into his superior’s offices at their main headquarters in St. Louis, tough security measures had been put in place for all the company’s offices.

***

Slava turned out to be not as much of a burden as Seth had thought. In fact, he was quite an asset. An avid computer hacker, he was able to get into the Germinat Human Resources Department and generate an employee badge for himself and for Seth, copied from the files of two other male employees. The security system was pretty basic. Once inside, they would simply blind the security cameras in the corridors where they sought entry to any room, and do the same once inside the room. Slava searched as many files as he could on the Germinat computers for information that may expose a lead on Natasha, to no avail. They would have to dig deeper.

CHAPTER FOURTEEN

In the dead of night, Seth and Slava entered the offices of Germinat’s Ukrainian headquarters and presented their badges at the security checkpoint. Slava said hello to the guard, who was playing with his cell phone. The guard glanced up from his phone, uninterested, and buried his face back into it, so the two passed his desk with seemingly no effort at all.

“Chekati!” said the guard, ordering them to wait.

Seth and Slava froze in their tracks. Seth’s pulse quickened.

“Pidpisati,” said the guard, annoyingly.

“Da, Ya zabuv,” said Slava, who turned and signed a clipboard on the guard’s counter, then handed the pen to Seth. The clipboard contained a sign-in form. Seth quickly and carefully examined the sheet where Slava had just signed it, and did so in the same manner.

Slava and Seth had roughed out a plan to search the offices of the higher executives of the company, but they had no idea what they were looking for. From Slava’s intelligence, he had learned which office belonged to whom, and he ran cover for Seth, who was to break into the offices of the English-speaking executives, who were mostly Americans.

They walked the corridors as if they were well acquainted with them, heading for the executive offices. On the way, they noticed a night janitor asleep, slumped in one of the chairs in the break room. Taking advantage of this fortuitous event, Slava pulled a hypodermic syringe from his bag and gave the janitor a shot of propofol. That would keep him out for a while. Hopefully, the guard would not be making rounds and would be more interested in the video games on his phone than what Seth and Slava were up to.

Once he was sure the drug had taken effect, Slava donned the cleaning man’s apron and locked the slumbering custodian away in a nearby utility closet.

Slava used the janitor’s keys to access the first office, which he proceeded to pretend to clean. Then he pointed his laser marker at the lens of the interior security camera as Seth entered the office and took a seat at the desk.

“That’s a handy bag you have there,” whispered Seth.

“Every secret agent should have one.” Sasha grinned.

Seth hacked into the computer with little effort, using the same method he had used to break into his boss’ computer at Germinat’s headquarters in St. Louis. All of the records were in English. Nothing stood out as particularly revealing during his search, but there wasn’t enough time for a thorough examination of everything, so he made a copy of all the data on his external hard drive. He also installed a backdoor program which would allow him to access all of Germinat’s computers on the network. He searched through the desk drawers and filing cabinets in the office as well, but found nothing which could indicate the whereabouts of Natasha or the identity of her captors.

“Let’s move on to the next one,” he instructed Slava. Seth slipped out of the room with his cleaning tools, and Slava switched off the laser and rolled his custodian cart to the next office.

“Wait,” said Slava, as he examined the door. “This one has security system.”

Slava pulled a small black instrument from his bag. It had a small antenna with a round base and a USB cable attached to it. He removed a small pad device from the bag and plugged the USB cable into it.

“Hold these while I disable door sensors,” he instructed Seth, as he handed Seth the pad and antenna.

“If this is a jamming device, then why worry about the sensors?” asked Seth.

“In case jamming doesn’t work,” Slava replied.

Slava slipped a thin piece of metal in the door jamb on the top and bottom where he had located the sensors, then cracked the lock, and they were in. He pointed his laser at the security camera and, just as Seth was about to enter, Slava put his hand out.

“Stop.” Seth froze in his tracks. “Motion detector on wall. Point your laser at camera.” Seth followed Slava’s instruction, as Slava removed another item from his bag of tricks. It was a large piece of cloth, like a sheet, folded into a small square. Slava unfolded the sheet and held it up with his hands. He was so tall that the sheet reached almost all the way to the ceiling.

“Put radio down, close door and follow me, but keep laser on camera.”

Seth set the pad and antenna on the floor and closed the door behind them. He walked slowly behind Slava as Slava held the sheet to fool the motion detector. Once Slava was in position in front of the motion detector, Seth had the room to himself.

The office was a large one that appeared to be that of a high level executive, with plush leather chairs, a fine wooden desk, and a large adjoining conference room.

Seth found nothing useful from his search of the office, so they moved on to the conference room, repeating the process of bypassing the security system. The motion detectors there appeared to be set to guard one particular wall, which Seth thought was odd. He removed a painting from the wall and found a wall safe. He removed a stethoscope from his briefcase.

“I see you have bag of tricks too,” said Slava.

“Safecracking was one of those skills I had to pick up in my alternate life.”

“How you learn?”

“Internet.”

Seth put on the stethoscope and placed it near the combination dial on the safe, rotated the dial, and moved the bell of the instrument around the dial in different places until he could clearly hear the mechanism. Then he rotated the dial clockwise until he heard two clicks, and repeated the procedure, rotating the dial until it was 180 degrees opposite the position where he had heard the two clicks. He slowly turned the wheel in the opposite direction, noting the number of clicks in his notebook, which corresponded to the number of wheels in the combination lock. That told him how many numbers were in the combination. Now he just needed to find out what those numbers were.

Seth scribbled a graph on his pad with two lines.

“No time for making pictures. We have to go,” warned Slava.

“Not until I get into this safe.”

Seth set the combination to zero and listened for the safe’s drive cam to connect to a wheel as he turned the device clockwise. Two clicks told him that he had found the range for the first number, which he wrote on the graph to be between 25 and 31.

“Hurry up!” Slava called out.

“I’m almost in.”

Seth kept listening, resetting the lock, turning it and writing down numbers in his graph.

“We’re out of time!”

Just as Slava said that, the safe engaged and Seth popped open the door.

In the safe were stacks of US dollars and two external hard drives. Slava’s eyes opened widely.

“Take money!” he said.

“We can’t.”

“Good ploy. They will think is burglary.”

“First of all, we’re not thieves. Second, they’ll know we broke in.”

“If we get caught, same penalty,” Slava insisted.

“We have to make a copy of these disks and put them back where we found them.”

“Hurry up then,” Slava said, disappointed. “We are out of time. Guard will be making rounds soon.”

They moved slowly back to the office room, where Seth hooked up the disks to copy the data onto his own. Minutes dragged on like hours as they waited for the data to load. Finally, they were on their way out the door and back to the break room to return the janitor to his original napping position. As Slava prepared to drag the unconscious custodian out of the closet, the guard appeared.

“Sho ti tut rubbish?” he barked at Seth.

CHAPTER FIFTEEN

Seth froze. He had studied basic Ukrainian phrases, but nothing that could have prepared him for this situation. Slava was still in the utility closet, dressing the janitor. Seth had to respond, and it had to be loud enough for Slava to hear, so as to warn him not to pop out of the closet, so he said the only thing he could under the circumstances.

“Kavi!” Seth said loudly, with a big smile, as he went for the coffee pot and a Styrofoam cup. The guard stared ahead as Seth poured a cup and offered it to him.

The security guard grunted, “Humph,” and walked away.

Abruptly, Slava sneaked out into the room, laughing.

“Shh! Be quiet! Seth whispered. “And why are you laughing?”

“Coffee! Brilliant!” Slava snickered.

“What’s happening with the cleaning guy?”

“Sleeping. I put him on floor, poured vodka on him and put bottle in his hand. The guard will think he got drunk.”

“Let’s get out of here before we get caught.”

***

The records from the safe were the most revealing. They didn’t yield any clues of Natasha’s whereabouts, but they did show very clearly what Seth’s ex-company was up to in Ukraine. Ukraine had the most fertile land in Europe, but Ukrainian law forbade farmers from growing genetically engineered crops. As a result of Germinat’s lobbying efforts in Ukraine since 2007, in 2013, several large agricultural associations had drafted amendments to Ukraine’s law on genetically modified foods for the creation, testing, transportation and use of GMOs, which, not coincidentally, came at about the same time as the association agreement, proposed by the European Union, which contained the hidden clause for development of new biotechnologies.

When then President Victor Yanukovych rejected the European proposal in favor of a $15 billion aid package from Russia with a discount on Russian gas, that ignited the Maidan uprising, which was funded by the current president, Petro Poroshenko, one of the richest oligarchs in the country, who was known as the “chocolate king” because of his candy empire.

The files contained classified reports from the CIA, indicating that Poroshenko was an American “insider,” and had been as late as 2006. Poroshenko, who had previously served as Minister of Foreign Affairs from 2009 through 2010, as well as Minister of Trade and Economic Development since 2012, reported regularly to the US Ambassador to Ukraine during his tenure as Foreign Minister.

The United States had long suspected Poroshenko of backing efforts to undermine the rise of former Prime Minister Tymoshenko to power, something which the candy man had stalwartly denied. Poroshenko had thrown in his hat behind the newly elected president, Victor Yanukovych, and happily reported that Yanukovych intended to make clear to Europe that he intended Ukraine to secure an association agreement with the EU. When Yanukovych reversed his path toward Europe in favor of Russia, Poroshenko funded the bloody coup that forced Yanukovych to flee the country, and now Ukraine was embroiled in a civil war in which Poroshenko had aligned himself with the United States, which was already sending “non-lethal” military aid to Ukraine and had levied economic sanctions against Russia, which had crippled its economy.

Natasha’s lips were dry and cracked. She tried to swallow, but her mouth was too dry. She opened her eyes to darkness and felt the pinch of the handcuffs tugging against her wrists, as she realized she was hanging from them against a cold plaster wall. She had been moved. She pulled at the chains that held her to the wall and felt a pang of pain as the handcuffs dug into her wrists. Suddenly, a blinding light flooded the room as she strained to see two of her captors, silhouettes standing in the doorway.

Are you thirsty?” one of them asked. She could not see his face, but his voice was gruff and unpleasant.

Yes. May I please have some water?”

You want water? We have plenty of water for you.”

They seemed to charge at her. One of them unlocked her handcuffs and her limp body crashed to the ground, while the other dragged her by her feet to a small steel table, and hoisted her legs up as the other lifted her by the arms onto the cold metal surface, and fastened the handcuffs to the table as his partner lashed down her ankles. They slapped a damp, moldy smelling rag over her face.

Here’s your water!” Gruff said, laughing as he poured water over the rag and onto Natasha’s nose and mouth. She gasped for air, she couldn’t breathe.

Tell us what you are doing here, you communist pig!” demanded Gruff, as he poured another bucketful of water on her face. Natasha choked and tried to speak, but she couldn’t. The ugly man pulled the cloth from her face and she coughed and breathed in…

I’m just a teacher! I swear!”

It was clear to Seth now that Natasha had been caught up in something much bigger than he ever could have imagined. The question was whether she was taken by Germinat or whether she had become a pawn in the new cold war between the West and Russia. Either way, she was in serious danger. Seth decided to hold off releasing the material to the public until after he could assure Natasha’s safety.

CHAPTER SIXTEEN

The records Seth had stolen from the safe contained all of Germinat’s plans to take over the rich farmland of the Ukraine and become the sole seed supplier to Ukrainian farms. The company had purchased a large “non-GMO” seed plant for $140 million, and had been buying up land by the millions of hectares at fire sale prices, taking advantage of the crashing Ukrainian economy. There were also records of Germinat money pouring into the campaign coffers of local and national politicians. Buying favors was old hat for the company – they had been doing it in the States for years.

Germinat was also buttering up farmers and local politicians with its social development program – giving grants up to $25,000 to help rural Ukrainians. With an average income of $100 or less, these loans would make the rural Ukrainians virtual slaves to the company. Germinat’s ultimate goal was to turn the rural Ukrainian farm economy, which now consisted of small 4.2 hectare farms, into a factory farm economy, producing wheat and corn. They even had a covert name for it – Operation Breadbasket.

Germinat had also invested heavily in a new organization called “The International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-Biotech Applications,” or ISAAA, an organization who had a seat on the U.S.-Ukraine Business Council, along with Germinat, Dupont, Cargill, Syngenta, and the “who’s who” of biotech. As Seth read on, he discovered that the ISAAA was directly sponsored by the U.S. State Department and the U.S. Department of Agriculture. This was not the first time that Seth had discovered collusion between his ex-employer and the US government. The last time he exposed such corruption almost got him killed.

Now Natasha had been caught up in this quagmire. With her cover blown, the FSB denouncing her as not one of their own, and her questionable value to the Ukrainian side, her time was becoming more and more limited. Maybe exposing them now would blow the whole thing open and lead to her release, he thought. Then again, it may backfire. He had to find her first.

Seth pulled a list of Germinat’s properties from the secret files, and mapped them. If the company had Natasha, they could be holding her in one of their newly purchased facilities. There were the main offices that they had already covered, several small farm buildings, and a large seed plant. He and Slava would check out the farms first, as they were the low-lying fruit, then hit the seed factory.

***

The farms were in various regions surrounding Kiev, so Seth and Slava decided to split up the surveillance. There was other farmland throughout the country, but they could not cover every one in the time that they had, and it made more sense to eliminate the ones closest to Kiev. If they eliminated all the closer farms, they would have no choice but to cover the rest of them.

CHAPTER SEVENTEEN

As Seth approached the small farm, there did not seem to be any security; just a small fence that had been newly erected – perhaps after the company had purchased it. Seth approached the barn first. With the help of a pair of strong bolt cutters, he breached the building with ease. The original wooden barn had been augmented with a prefabricated aluminum structure to increase its capacity.

What appeared to Seth to have been a place for animals and small farm equipment had now been converted into an equipment storage facility. He shined his flashlight into the building, and in the shadows stood dozens of metal giants. The new John Deere tractors and combines were lined up like an equipment showroom floor in Indiana. All the machines were secured. Seth quickly searched the inside of the barn for places where a hostage could have been held. Finding none, he exited the building in fear that a security patrol would surprise him if he took too long.

Seth peeked into the windows of the old farmhouse and imagined the families who had lived there through the years, waking up at dawn to begin their farm chores and settling down in the evenings together to enjoy meals that were the fruits of their labor. He examined the kitchen, which still appeared to function as such, and the living room, which had been converted to an office. A man in uniform in the living room was slumped in his chair, sleeping. Must be the security guard, thought Seth.

In order to make a thorough search, Seth would have to break into the house to check the bedrooms on the first and second floors. From his bag he pulled out a canister of gas. The security guard could peacefully keep sleeping as Seth searched; unless, of course, he set off an alarm.

Seth checked the front porch. It appeared as if the door had been replaced because it was solid new wood and did not seem to match the rest of the house. Décor was obviously not a concern of the new owners.

Seth pulled on the door handle. It was locked. He pulled out his lock pick equipment and made haste in opening the lock. As he pushed the door open, a new alarm panel started to beep. Seth donned his gas mask, activated his signal jammer, and bent down to the valve to release the gas. As he straightened up, the gun was the first thing he noticed, pointed directly at his face.

***

Slava crept through the outbuildings like a ghost, breaking into each one and sweeping them with his flashlight. He saved the occupied ones for last. They would be examined with special care.

Slava sneaked up behind the night watchman, shot him with a dose of propofol, and took his gun away in a coordinated, concerted effort. The guard rose to confront him, but slowly fell back into his chair as the drug took effect.

***

Seth had only seconds to react. He remembered the self-defense lessons that Yuri, the FSB agent, had given him in the far east of Russia. He turned his head out of the guard’s aim, and at the same time, grabbed the barrel of the gun with one hand and struck the guard’s wrist, rotating the barrel and putting pressure against the trigger finger. He heard Yuri’s voice in the back of his head. Now break finger! Break finger!

The guard cried out in pain as Seth broke his finger, rotated upward, shifted his body and threw him on the ground, depriving him of his weapon and bearing down on him with all his weight as the gas finally took effect. Seth thought about the nasty skill set he had acquired since his first time on the run. It was not the person he wanted to be, but it was essential for his survival.

CHAPTER EIGHTEEN

Seth and Slava had no idea of the barriers they would encounter at the seed plant, so they dressed as workers and wore new security badges. As they entered the main building and flashed their badges to the security guard, Seth noticed three American men in business suits near the executive offices, talking. One of them looked over in Seth’s direction, and he averted his gaze. At first glance, they appeared to be just ordinary businessmen, but Seth had a strange feeling about them. They looked awfully familiar for some reason. They were too stiff to be businessmen – and were not preoccupied like executives usually were. In fact, they seemed to have nothing in particular to do. Not only that, they had “G-Man” written all over them. They also looked somewhat familiar.

“The CIA is here,” Seth whispered to Slava.

“I saw them too.”

“It may be the same guys I saw at the airport on my arrival to Kiev. I think we’re on the right track.”

“Did they see you?”

“I’m sure they wouldn’t recognize me, looking like this.”

“To be sure, don’t ever let them get close look at you.”

If the seed plant was an area for CIA covert operations, Seth was bound to be caught. His Western looks and lack of skill in the Ukrainian language would give him away instantly. Seth kept his head down and let Slava take the lead.

They wandered through the plant in a semi-organized fashion, undeterred by any of the factory’s security men, who mostly seemed to be occupied with their cell phones. They passed by offices with open doors, factory rooms filled with stainless steel cylinders and clean, shiny metal electronic panels. Then they came upon an area with a locked door and alarm panel with a prominent sign posted on the entrance.

“What does it say?”

“Says, “Laboratory – Authorized Personnel Only.”

They heard footsteps echo far down the corridor and slipped into a nearby break room. Slava poured himself a cup of coffee and Seth sat down at one of the plastic lunch break tables.

The three CIA men they had seen in the front of the plant approached the door. The one in the lead punched the code into the security panel and pushed open the door, and they all entered.

“I have a feeling this is it,” said Seth. “But we can’t just go snooping around here. We must have a plan.”

“I get us jobs here. We work, and on break, we spy.”

“But I can’t speak Ukrainian.”

“You are American guy – this is American company. And you are scientist. You work in lab – perfect!”

Slava’s crazy plan appealed to Seth. Besides, it was the only one they had.

CHAPTER NINETEEN

From the stolen disks, Seth had also found secret diplomatic cables showing that the U.S. State Department had been lobbying worldwide for Germinat and other biotechnology corporations like DuPont, Syngenta, Bayer and Dow.  They showed how the State Department promoted Seed Industry’s global agenda.   The cables revealed that the State Department had lobbied the Ukraine to adopt pro-agricultural biotechnology policies and laws, operated a rigorous public relations campaign to improve the image of biotechnology, and challenged commonsense biotechnology safeguards and rules – even including opposing laws requiring the labeling of genetically engineered foods. This was beginning to stack up like a previous battle Seth had waged against his former company and the government to expose the danger of GMO foods.

The records showed that Germinat had hired a big law firm in Ukraine who successfully found loopholes in a moratorium on Ukrainian agricultural land sales. The firm suggested a two-pronged approach to circumventing this moratorium.

The first step is to lease Ukrainian land instead of purchasing it, a practice that basically provides ownership when combined with legal purchases of industrial spaces alongside the same land.

The second step to bypassing the moratorium is to buy large amounts of shares in leading Ukrainian agribusinesses and then change these companies from the inside out. The records revealed that Germinat had bought a five percent share in the largest land bank in Ukraine.

Seth could see that it would not be long before Ukraine, which currently enforces a ban on GMO products, became a card-carrying pro-GMO member, just as the United States had become, without the people even being aware of it. The stage was set for the removal of this ban when Ukraine and the EU had signed their association agreement in 2014.

Germinat had already invested hundreds of millions of dollars into the construction of their seed processing plants in Ukraine. And this was no overnight development. Over the last twenty years, they had been forging a strong business foundation within the country. These foundations had been laid so deep that international agribusiness companies can be found on the board of members of the national Ukrainian Seed Association, including members of Germinat. The goal of the Seed Association was to “implement new technologies” and “the best new varieties and hybrids in Ukraine.”

The Ukrainian Seed Association also sought to “take active part in the development of legislation of Ukraine concerning the improvement of seed market.” This probably explained the 2012 repeal of compulsory GMO labeling in the country.

Seth’s phone rang.

“It’s Slava. All ready for new job tomorrow? We start at nine. I will pick you up at eight.”

CHAPTER TWENTY

Natasha awoke to a hammering in her head. She had no idea how long she had been out. It was cold and dark and her wrists ached where the metal bit into them. Her lips were parched and she had pangs in her stomach.

Suddenly, a burst of light stung her eyes, which she closed instinctively, then opened slowly so they would be accustomed to the light. Standing before her were three different men. They spoke in English.

Good evening, Miss Andropova,” said one, an average-looking, dark brown-haired man with a neatly trimmed beard, about 35 years old.

Who are you, and why am I still being held against my will?”

Ms. Andropova,” said the man. “You have to learn the protocol. We ask the questions and you provide the answers. I think you will find that, in comparison to your previous hosts, we can be a little more…well, persuasive.”

The man flashed a phony smile of perfectly white teeth as he removed his jacket, unbuttoned his shirt sleeves, and began to roll them up.

***

The following morning, Slava and Seth entered the building separately, and each took a seat in the waiting room in the human resources department. Slava was escorted from the room first, completed his paperwork, and was put on the job immediately as a security guard.

Seth was greeted by a short, plump American woman who spoke in a Southern accent.

“Hello, Mr. Darning,” she greeted him. “I’ve heard so many good things about ‘chu.”

The woman’s phony cheeriness was nothing compared to her hideous makeup. The cakey white powder all over her face gave her the appearance of one whose blood had been sapped by a vampire.

“You’ll be working in our biotechnology department, in the lab,” she said, as she ushered Seth into her office and offered him a seat.

After presenting Seth with his badge, the woman accompanied him to the same door in the same corridor that he and Slava had seen the day before, and showed him the security code for the entrance.

“This is our lab,” she told him. “It has all the most modern equipment. She approached a young man in a lab coat who was examining some microscope slides. He looked up from his work and smiled. “This is John Darning,” she said, introducing Seth. “John, Brad Dunlevy.” Dunlevy was a pleasant-looking American man, with light brown hair and black glasses. He looked kind of like “Clark Kent” from the Superman movies. As he rose to shake Seth’s hand, Seth noticed his unusual height. He must have been about 6’4”. Of course, that was nothing compared to Slava.

“Welcome to the mad laboratory,” he said, smiling.

“Thank you,” said Seth, who took a liking to him right away.

“John will be your immediate supervisor,” said the Cake Woman. “I’ll let him show you around.” She shook Seth’s hand, turned, and left.

John took Seth on a tour of the small lab. It was well equipped with a small staff of about seven people – six Americans and one Ukrainian.

“Most of us in here are working on the superweed problem,” said Brad. “Are you aware of it?”

“Yes, but why would you be doing that here, where GE foods can’t even be grown? Wouldn’t that be a better suited project for the States?”

“That’s what I thought. But they tell me that it won’t be long before the law changes and we’re producing GE seeds right in this plant.”

“Superweeds” were weeds which had developed a resistance to the glyphosate-based Cleanup, the most widely used herbicide in the world. Crops such as corn and soybeans had been engineered to withstand large doses of Cleanup, which allowed industrial farmers to spray their entire fields instead of just the weeds they wanted to kill. As a result, it was easier, faster and cheaper for them to control the weeds. The problem for the farmers was that, in time, certain weeds developed a resistance to glyphosate and began to choke their fields all over again.

The dilemma for the consumers was more complicated – as well as unknown to them. Glyphosate was systemic. It took up residence in every tissue of the plant, and was now even showing up in breast milk in recent studies. The company was getting a bad reputation from farmers because of the failure of its herbicide-resistant crops, and it would be Seth’s job to work on the team which was re-engineering the corn to resist not only glyphosate, but also dicamba and 2,4-D; other deadly chemicals which were contemplated to be mixed with glyphosate in a deadly chemical cocktail to resist the superweeds.

Brad introduced Seth to the other members of the team he would be working with. Then, he briefed Seth on the progress of their work. As Seth was seated at Brad’s desk listening, he noticed the three CIA men entering the lab. He watched them walk down a separate corridor lined with reinforced glass windows that ran parallel to the lab.

“Who are those men?” he asked Brad.

Brad looked at the men in the corridor. “Those are high level company big-wigs,” he said. “We haven’t even been introduced to them.”

As Brad was speaking, the three men disappeared into yet another security-controlled area.

“Where are they going?”

“Who knows? Not even I have security clearance to that area. Some of the guys call it the “dungeon.”

The thought of a secret dungeon in the seed plant made Seth shiver uncomfortably.

“It’s some kind of top-secret area,” said Brad. “We don’t even know what they’re working on in there. And those three seem to be the only ones who ever go in there.”

CHAPTER TWENTY-ONE

With each day that passed, Seth’s sense of hopelessness grew stronger and stronger. He struggled with his uneasiness and anxiety and tried to stay positive. It became more difficult as the days sped by. Each day, Seth awoke and reluctantly went to his newly found job for the old company and did the work for them that he found not only distasteful, but downright evil. And each day he watched as the same three CIA agents entered the “secret area” every day and left about one hour later. Twice a day, several different technicians would also come and go, rolling carts of what looked like lab supplies.

There was a sense of competition among his new co-workers that Seth had no interest in. Consequently, he had little contact with them, except for Brad, whom he found to be interesting. Seth took his lunches with Brad, but he proved to be only good company; not a source of new information. He met with Slava every day after work. The feeling of monotony began to creep into those meetings as well.

Seth exited the building, depressed and discouraged once again, and waited for Slava in the new designated meeting place – a coffee shop not far from the plant. As Seth walked in, he couldn’t see Slava at first. It took a while to find that shit-eating grinner, hidden in an obscure corner of the café. His relentless enthusiasm was also beginning to grate on Seth’s nerves.

“Tavarish!” said Slava, as he sat down at Seth’s table. “Why you look like cat who ate rotten mouse?”

“That’s because I think we’re just spinning our wheels here.”

“Spy work takes time. You have to learn to walk before you can run.”

“That’s just it – we’ve run out of time.”

“Cheer up. I have surprise for you.”

“What?”

“Shhh, look!”

Slava directed his gaze to the front entrance, where the three CIA agents entered and took a seat at another obscure corner.

“The G-Men!”

“I tell you, it is no accident I pick this place.”

“You little devil!”

Seth began to feel guilty for the way he had thought about Slava. The next visitor to the café was a real surprise. He slipped in and took a seat with the three Americans.

“Victor Godinov!”

“Yes. In my country, we say trust, but verify. Make sure he does not see you.”

“I look different.”

“Godinov is expert. There is no fooling him. Here, listen.”

Slava handed Seth an earpiece as the waitress delivered three coffees to the CIA men and the earpiece crackled to life. Slava grinned.

“Walls have ears. Today they belong to us.”

What progress have you made?” asked Victor.

I think she doesn’t know anything,” said the brown-haired agent in the grey suit.

“They’re talking about Natasha,” said Seth.

“Yes.”

Agreed. We’re wasting our time on this one. We should dispose of her.”

No,” said Victor. “She still may be of use to us.”

To the Kremlin, maybe.”

I’m not talking about Kremlin. Poroshenko and you both need to know what she knows.”

Why don’t you tell us what we need to know? We pay you enough money.”

“That bastard!” said Seth.

“Double agent.”

Victor, she’s your problem – not ours. We can’t spend much more time on this.”

Give it three more days. Then I will take care of problem myself.”

After the meeting broke up and everyone left, the waitress came over to them and put the check and Slava’s tiny transmitter on the table.

“She needs big tip,” Slava instructed.

Seth paid the bill and left an extra 2200 hyrvnia, the equivalent of about $100. Timing was now more critical than ever. They needed to formulate a plan and to do it right away.

CHAPTER TWENTY-TWO

Miss Andropova, your time is running out. You must tell us about Project Maidan.”

I don’t know what you’re talking about. I told you, I’m a teacher.”

Who is your superior? Who do you report to?”

Nobody.”

That is a lie! We have intercepted communications between you and the Kremlin.”

Oh? So then you know about my affair with Vladimir Putin?”

The bearded agent slapped her hard against the face. A thin blood pool formed at the corner of her mouth and trickled down to her chin. Then the bearded maniac leaned forward and whispered to her. His bad breath made her want to gag.

I’ve grown quite tired of you, Andropova. If you continue to waste our time, yours will be even more limited.”

The bearded one waved his hand to the others, who unlocked Natasha’s handcuffs. She crumpled to the ground. She had been hanging there so long, she couldn’t feel her arms. Then, they started to tingle.

We have some fun games planned for you today,” he said.

The two other men lifted Natasha onto the steel table, and strapped down her arms and legs. Then, the bearded one looked down on her with a smile. It was obvious that he really enjoyed this.

I’m going to miss our little times together,” he said. “But everything has its end.”

He dunked a towel into a large barrel of water and threw the towel across her entire face.

You know, if you weren’t on the wrong side, we might have made good friends.”

Natasha wondered if this horrible little man had a wife and kids, or a girlfriend perhaps. How could he go home to them after the unspeakable acts he had done to her?

I couldn’t be friends with anyone as evil as you!” she said in her muffled voice.

Miss Andropova, you probably haven’t heard. We are at war. Sometimes one must do unspeakable acts in the name of God for the common good.”

You really believe that, don’t you? That God is on your side?”

Of course He is. We are God’s country after all. This conversation is over. Now, I will ask all the questions and, if you want to live, you will answer them.”

Natasha felt the water being poured on her face and then, suddenly, she was drowning and gasping for air. She tried not to panic and she held her breath.

Who are you working for?” asked the bearded sadist.

Natasha knew that there was a thin line between her getting out of this alive or not. The U.S. Government would deny the CIA presence in Ukraine, but they may want to eliminate her to be on the safe side. Her only hope was that Seth would find her, and quickly.

CHAPTER TWENTY-THREE

Victor Godinov parked his Mercedes in the garage across from his apartment building in downtown Kiev, walked to the front entrance, and entered the four digit security code on the security pad. He pushed open the door and entered the space which separated the staircase from the double draft doors.

Without warning, Slava wrapped his strong arms around Victor as Seth held a compact stun gun against his neck and incapacitated him. Slava quickly frisked Victor and disarmed him, and the two of them carried him out between them. Slava and Seth wrapped their arms around the limp Victor’s body, pretending to be carrying a drunk to their car.

After they tossed Victor into the back seat, Seth handcuffed his hands behind his back and bound his ankles with a twist tie. Then he gagged Victor and put a dark hood over his head.

“Keep your head down, Victor,” he commanded.

Victor protested, and wrestled in the back seat to break loose.

“You’re wasting your time, Victor,” said Seth. “You’re no Harry Houdini.”

Victor responded with muffled groans.

Slava drove them to a deserted warehouse. He stopped the car in front of the warehouse, got out quickly, and rolled up the warehouse door. After pulling the car in, Slava secured the door, dragged Victor out of the car and removed his hood and gag. When the gag came off, he spewed a colorful combination of insults and outrage in Russian that Seth recognized to be not a very pretty collection of words.

“Malchish, Victor, unless you want rags back in mouth.” Victor reluctantly ceased his tirade.

The two shackled Victor to a thick pipe that ran the height of the warehouse from ceiling to floor. Slava ripped off his hood and gag. Victor stared down Seth with contempt.

“You don’t realize the trouble you are in,” spit Victor.

“Actually, Victor, I think it’s you who doesn’t realize the trouble you are in,” replied Seth.

“You think you can fuck with me, an FSB agent, and get away with it?” screamed Victor, furiously.

“You mean double agent,” said Slava.

“I’m deep undercover, you idiot!”

“Then I’m sure your friends at the Kremlin won’t mind that you’ve been taking money from the CIA,” said Seth.

“What you are talking about?”

Seth pulled a miniature tape recorder from his pocket and hit the play button and the machine crackled to life.

Agreed. We’re wasting our time on this one. We should dispose of her.”

No,” said Victor. “She still may be of use to us.”

To the Kremlin, maybe.”

I’m not talking about Kremlin. Poroshenko and you both need to know what she knows.”

Why don’t you tell us what we need to know? We pay you enough money.”

Victor’s head hung limp from his neck as Seth clicked the device off.

“What do you intend to do?” he asked.

“If anything happens to either one of us, a copy of this tape will be sent to the Ambassador and the Kremlin. But, if you cooperate, nobody will ever know that you betrayed your own.”

“What do you expect from me?”

“You’re going to help us break Natasha out, and get us all to safety in Russia,” said Seth.

Victor grimaced. “You think I am God? How you expect me to do that?”

“Whatever it takes. First, you will make a report to the Ambassador that you have located Natasha and identify her captors as CIA. Then, you will lead a task force of agents to free her from the seed plant and bring her safely to the embassy.”

“That’s impossible. Kremlin will never approve a break-in to Germinat’s seed factory and confrontation with CIA.”

“Then, you’ll do it with us.”

“You don’t know who you are dealing with. This people will kill you if your eye blinks.”

“In the blink of an eye.”

“Yes, this is dangerous business for somebody with no experience and no training.”

“I left hope you like cozy spot, Victor,” said Slava.

“Now, if you excuse us,” said Seth. “We have to go to work.”

The two of them left, locking the door behind them.

CHAPTER TWENTY-FOUR

Seth’s frayed nerves churned his stomach as his head spun its own version of vertigo. He couldn’t concentrate on anything he was doing, let alone the work at hand, which was work that he abhorred. But, he managed to trudge through the day with the promise that this night would be the night that he and Slava, with the reluctant help of Victor, made their move. Until then, Seth just sat at his desk, going through the motions of pretending to work, which was impossible because of his lack of concentration.

Victor was the wild card in this hand of sorts. They were holding enough over his head to force him to follow their instructions, but his behavior still held an uneasy degree of unpredictability.

“John, are you feeling alright today?” asked Brad.

Seth, not accustomed to his new name, didn’t react to Brad’s question.

“John?” he asked, a little louder.

“Oh, um, yes, Brad?”

“I asked if you were feeling alright today. Do you need to take some rest time?”

“No, no, I’m fine, just fine.”

“Okay, because if you need to, just let me know.”

“Thanks Brad, I will.”

Seth managed to trudge through his day until the daily 5 p.m. exodus. As the others filed out the door, Brad came up to Seth.

“Staying late tonight?”

“Yeah, I just wanted to finish correlating this data in peace and quiet, you know, so I can concentrate.”

“That’s dedication, John. You’re a real company man. Hope you don’t have your sights on my job,” Brad quipped.

Seth smiled. “No, Brad, you’ve got nothing to worry about.”

“I wasn’t worried.”

Brad patted Seth on the back and said, “See you tomorrow.”

Seth studied the data on the new superweed resistant corn strain and thought how ironic it was that he was, again, working for the company who had forced him to flee the United States two years before

Now they would wait until the employees vacated the buildings and left the plant with a skeleton crew. Then, Slava would release Victor, who would enter the restricted area with the CIA and set up the subsequent ambush by Seth and Slava. Slava had accessed the main security room, rigged the security cameras to operate on a continuous taped loop for the evening shift, and had disabled the alarms on their alternate escape routes. The security detail on the night shift were generally lazy, and would be sleeping most of the time on the job. Every element of the rescue and escape was carefully planned. Hopefully, Natasha was actually being held in the secured area, or all this organization and the upcoming drama would be for naught.

“John Darning?”

The strange-sounding voice drew Seth’s attention from his desk, and he looked up to find the three CIA men standing right in front of him.

CHAPTER TWENTY-FIVE

Seth looked up at the three suited men. The one on the left was a young man, in his thirties, with a boyish, innocent face. The middle man was the brown haired spook he had seen before, who had a rough look, like a boxer. The third was a wiry fellow with dark hair and a dark beard, who looked like he was pretending to be older than his age. Perhaps he had something to prove.

“Yes, how can I help you?” Seth asked, his heart pounding in his chest as if it wanted to break through the ribs.

“We work for the executive department of the company, Mr. Darning,” said the wiry one. “Part of our job is to insure adherence to company policy.”

“I’m sorry, I didn’t get your names, gentlemen.”

“Our names are not important,” the wiry one continued, while the middle man flashed a grin without teeth.

“Well, I don’t know about company policy, but I know my work is very important to the company, and I really do need to be getting back to it, so…”

“We only need a few minutes of your time, Mr. Darning. Do you want to go sit down and have a cup of coffee?”

“Actually I’m not that fond of coffee, and I’m really very busy.”

“Then why don’t we talk here?”

“Very well.”

Two of the agents sat down in the plastic chairs adjacent to Seth’s desk, while the wiry agent pulled up an extra chair from a nearby table.

“It says in your resume that you’re an MIT grad,” asked the wiry, bearded one.

“Yes.”

“Well, we’ve checked, Mr. Darning. Nobody at MIT seems to know you.”

“It was a long time ago. I’m not very active with the alumni association.”

“Still, you would expect someone to remember you. I guess you were just one of those guys who just blended into the walls.”

“I guess I was.”

The young, boyish one continued. “There’s more than just MIT. Although you have a record at every job listed on this resume, nobody seems to remember you from any of your employers.”

“I guess I’m not very memorable.”

“It’s more than that, Mr. Darning. It seems you’re a ghost,” said the wiry one. “This is a very high security area and we have to be careful.”

“Want to have a chat with my boss?” asked Seth. “I think he knows who I am.”

“Not necessary, not necessary, Mr. Darning,” said the wiry one. “This is just routine. We’ll finish up the investigation and get back to you. But if there is something you’re holding back that you think we should know or that we will find out, it would be better if you would just tell us now.”

“Better for whom? Are you threatening me?”

“No, no, of course not, Mr. Darning,” said the young one. “We never do that,” said the bearded one as they all rose from their seats in unison, and the big one smiled.

“John, you look familiar,” said the Beard. “Have we met before?”

Seth tried to hide his nervousness, and kept eye contact with him.

“Nope, don’t think so.”

***

“We have to make our move tonight,” said Seth.

Slava sipped at his coffee and appeared to be immersed in thought.

“We are not ready.”

“They’re onto me. We have to do it now.”

“What do you mean, they’re onto you?”

“I had a visit from the three amigos today. They were questioning my background. Said I was a ghost.”

“You don’t look very scary to me. More like friendly ghost – Casper.”

“Be serious, Slava. I think one of them recognized me, even with my dark hair, beard and contacts.”

“Sorry. Spy game is no fun without humor. Okay, I have all the security access. Let’s go over the plan one more time. And Seth…”

“Yes?”

“This is our only chance. If we’re wrong and she’s not there, or if we mess anything up and they move her, we may never rescue her.”

“I know,” said Seth, as he sighed heavily.

***

Seth’s primary emotion had turned from determination to fear. On a basic level, he had seen first-hand how his government used the element of fear to accomplish its objectives; the same element of fear that had been used as an excuse to engage its huge war machine in conflicts for the profits of America’s oligarchy. Seth feared for Natasha’s safety more than anything else. Since Victor Godinov, the very person who was supposed to be seeking her freedom, had turned his back on her, Seth and Slava were her only hope.

Slava had escorted Victor to his home, where Victor had freshened up and got into a worn, but relatively fresh, suit.

“You’re going to get us both killed,” he said to Slava.

“Just do what I told you, Victor, so I don’t have to kill you.”

CHAPTER TWENTY-SIX

Natasha awoke again from the headache that refused to go away. Her mouth was parched and dry, and she ran her tongue over her chapped lips. She opened her swollen eyes to darkness. She thought of Seth and hoped he was safe, and she wondered if her next visit from the Americans would be her last.

Slava handed Victor the phone, and put his ear next to it so he could hear what was happening.

Alo. It’s Victor.”

What do you want, Victor?”

I need to see girl, tonight.”

What for?”

You want to know what she knows, right?”

Yeah, so?”

Well, I think I can get that for you.”

There was a pause of silence on the phone.

Meet us there in one hour.”

Slava took the phone from Victor’s hand and switched it off.

“Good job, Victor.”

“You have given me death sentence.”

“Victor, you exaggerate.”

***

Seth sat anxiously at his desk, going over the plan in his mind. It was a dangerous plan, but better than none at all. He stared at his computer screen, then looked at his watch.

A burst of light flooded the corridor, and Seth watched the three CIA officers as they approached the secure door. The wiry, bearded one composed the entry code and they all filed in. Minutes later Victor appeared, with Slava in tow. Victor pushed the intercom button on the security panel.

“Who is it?”

“It’s Victor.”

The door opened with a loud buzzing sound and the two of them entered. Seth took his position outside the door. His legs were like rubber and a bead of nervous sweat poured into his left eye.

“What is he doing here?” asked the bearded one.

“Security. I couldn’t get into factory without him. He insisted to accompany me,” Victor replied.

“Well we insist that he leave.”

“Idi otsyuda!” Victor commanded.

“Get out!” said the bearded one.

As Slava pushed on the door, pretending to exit, he turned and pulled his gun, and Seth entered, doing the same. The three officers turned to look at what was going on and found themselves looking down the barrels of Seth and Slava’s weapons. They glanced over their shoulder and saw Victor, also with his handgun trained on them, moving closer to Seth and Slava.

“Et tu, Victor?” said the bearded one, laughing. “And you – American. I just realized why you look so familiar.”

“Shut up. Just put hands on head. Do it now!”

The three agents complied, but the bearded one was still smiling, like he was enjoying himself.

“How do you think you’re going to get out of this, Victor? You’ll never leave the plant alive,” he said.

“Down on knees. I won’t ask again!”

The agents got down on their knees.

“Now lie on floor – face down! One move and I kill all three of you.”

As the agents lied down, Seth handed his revolver to Slava and secured their hands behind their backs and their ankles together with twist-ties. He then frisked the agents, disarming them of their revolvers, and emptying their pockets.

“Check ankles.”

Seth found an ankle holster on the bearded one, and deprived him of the small revolver he held there.

“You’re a traitor,” he said to Seth.

“And you’re a kidnapper and a murderer.”

“No talk!” barked Victor. “I ask questions, you answer. Where is girl?”

“You’re a dead man, Victor,” was the only reply, from the bearded one.

“Get keys. And tape that idiot’s mouth.”

Seth gathered the men’s keys and put a generous amount of duct tape around the bearded one’s head, taping his mouth shut, and getting as much of the beard in the sticky tape as possible. He taped the other’s mouths as well, and recovered his gun from Slava.

“Give me gun, Victor,” demanded Slava.

“You don’t trust me?”

“Victor, you make joke!” Slava said, while making a motion with his hand for Victor to hand over the gun.

“Butt first.”

Victor reluctantly handed over his firearm to Slava, which Slava took into his left hand, de-cocking it and slipping it into his pocket.

Seth began frantically searching the walls for signs of an opening.

“Natasha!” he screamed, as he covered every inch of every wall. He heard a muffled sound behind the east wall, which seemed to be coming from a filing cabinet. Moving the cabinet out of the way, he noticed a hidden door with a singular concealed lock. He tried all the agents’ keys, one by one, until one of them turned in the lock. Inside, Natasha hung from chains attached to the far wall.

“Natasha! Baby!”

Natasha looked up at Seth and whimpered as the tears poured from her eyes. Seth found the handcuff keys on one of the key rings, unlocked the cuffs, and Natasha fell into his arms, gasping and sobbing.

“No time for kissing,” said Slava. We need to get these three pieces of shit into room and go.”

Seth placed Natasha in a chair in the ante room and held a gun on the three as Slava lifted them, one by one, and dragged them into the space that had been Natasha’s prison. As he lifted the bearded one last, the little man righted himself, and slammed his head backward into Slava’s nose with a loud crack, spattering blood all over as Slava lost his hold and his gun clacked to the floor.

In seconds, the wiry little assassin snapped his wrist ties open, grabbed Slava’s gun, and held it against his head, as he got his neck in a headlock, using Slava’s body as a shield. In one strong motion, gun still in hand, he ripped the duct tape off his head, waxing a great deal of his beard, with seemingly no pain, and let out a war cry, as if he were a demented demon from a horror film.

“Amateur hour is over! Now you all die!”

Seth covered Natasha with his body as a shield, and kept his gun pointed at this crazy man, but it was impossible to take a shot without the risk of fatally injuring Slava. He aimed, as close as he could, at the bearded man’s left eye.

“Whatever happens, it all ends badly for you,” Seth said.

“Oh yeah?” said the bearded one, spitting with fury. “Who’s gonna bring me down? Your impotent KGB agent here with no gun, or maybe you, lab-boy? Did you do two tours as an expert marksman in Iraq before becoming the top shot at Quantico? I didn’t think so. Now drop your gun and I promise I’ll kill you last.”

Seth kept his stance and aim. He was determined not to be the one to lose this standoff.

“You’re Seth Rogan, aren’t you?” asked the bearded one.

“I don’t hear you,” said Seth. “Dead men can’t speak.” He kept aim on the bearded one’s left eye, waiting for the opportunity to get a clear shot.

“How about I just kill you now and take my chances?” asked the bearded one, as his finger slowly pulled the trigger.

Suddenly, and with lightning speed and precision, Victor withdrew a concealed knife and threw it at the bearded agent, hitting him in the neck. Almost simultaneously, the agent turned the gun in Victor’s direction and shot back, hitting Victor in the chest while he dropped Slava to the floor. Seth took aim and fired three rounds to the bearded man’s head and chest, connecting on all three. As he fell in a spray of blood and brain matter, Slava grabbed his gun and stood in a defensive ready position, sweeping the entire room with his gun. The other two agents were still on the floor, tied up. Seth looked at the carnage and vomited.

Slava ran to Victor, who was slumped on the floor, but still breathing, while Natasha and Seth comforted each other. He tried to lift Victor, but he cried out in pain.

“Leave me, Tavarish.”

“No, Victor, you come with us. We take you to hospital.”

“It’s too late for me,” Victor sputtered. They’re coming for you – you have to go now. They will be here any second, and, if I am still alive, they will save me.”

A thin line of blood seeped from Victor’s nose as the life slipped out of him and he lost consciousness.

“He’s right, we have to go!” said Seth, as he draped an arm around Natasha, lifting her up, and the three exited the room.

CHAPTER TWENTY-SEVEN

As Slava, Seth and Natasha burst through the corridor, they met a security detail running toward the secret room with their guns drawn. They yelled at Slava, asking him if he knew the code to open the room, and questioning what they were doing there.

“What’s going on in there?” screamed a lieutenant guard.

“FSB double agent – killed one of our security men. This woman has been badly injured and we need to get her to a hospital!” said Slava.

“The code – do you know it?”

“No.”

The ruse worked, at least temporarily, and the guards ignored the three and, instead, struggled with the door code in an attempt to open the door.

As the three turned the corner, Slava pulled on the fire alarm, which blared a siren and activated the overhead sprinklers. The people who were on duty poured out of their offices and ran, panicking, for the nearest exit.

Once in the parking lot, they jumped into Victor’s Mercedes and took off, with Slava in the driver’s seat. Slava wiped the drying blood from his eye and floored the Mercedes.

Seth, looking out the back window, noticed that there was a Germinat security vehicle and another unmarked car in pursuit.

“Slava, they’re following us!”

“Don’t worry, Victor’s car is fast, we will lose them!”

Slava careened through the streets of Kiev, using evasive maneuvers to escape their pursuers.

“Get GPS blocker out of bag,” said Slava. Plug into cigarette lighter.”

Natasha rummaged through Slava’s bag and pulled out a black and yellow device that looked like a hard disk or web router.

“Vot eto?” she asked, showing him the small device.

“Da, Da.”

She plugged the blocker into the cigarette lighter in the back panel and it blinked to life.

“Throw out all phones with GPS. No iPhones.”

“None here,” said Seth. He had already removed the chip and battery from his iPhone and had turned off both of his Androids.

“Good, but once we are out of city, we will not be able to hide from helicopters,” said Slava. “I call Bondarenko, he get us different car.”

Slava was right. A black Mercedes 600 would not exactly “blend in” to the Ukrainian countryside, where Mercedes were about as rare as berries in a pumpkin patch.

“Slava, where are we going?”

“About 10 hours to Crimea, 11 hours to Luhansk Have to make decision.”

“To Luhansk, we would be going through heavy fighting,” said Natasha.

“Then Crimea it is,” said Seth.

“You will like Crimea,” said Slava. “Nice place to take vacation.”

“Just what we need right now, Slav.”

Slava smiled and threw himself back into evasive driving, as he made a course out of the city for Crimea.

CHAPTER TWENTY-EIGHT

A little more than an hour from Kiev, in the outskirts of Bila Tserkva, they reached a family farm that Bondarenko had directed them to change the cars. Upon entering the farm they were guided to a garage, where they left the Mercedes. Pavel Vynnychenko, their host, greeted them, along with his wife, Lyudmila, who invited them into their home.

Slava, Seth and Natasha were ushered into the small farmhouse, where Pavel’s 14-year-old daughter, Anna, ventured out of her room, full of curiosity, to take a peek at the their guests. Lyudmila showed Natasha to the bathroom, where she took a quick shower and tended to her scrapes and cuts.

While the three accepted Pavel’s offer to use the restroom to quickly clean up, they had to decline his invitation for a home-cooked meal. Instead, they opted for a generous meal to go, and were sent off in Pavel’s green Toyota Corolla under cover of darkness.

***

Seth took over the drive with Natasha as his copilot, as Slava fueled up on the delicious sack dinner that had been prepared for them and took a nap in the back seat. Despite her best intentions, Natasha’s heavy eyelids forced themselves closed. She opened and closed them slowly, like a cat, then dozed off as Seth drove on until the wee hours of the morning. No helicopters, no tails. It seemed as if they were out of danger.

He glanced over at Natasha. She looked so peaceful sleeping, like a little doll. He stroked her hair and cherub cheeks. Her sweet lips formed a smile in her sleep as she sighed. Whatever happened next they would handle together. Seth never wanted to be apart from her again.

***

As they passed through Nova Odessa, the sun rose above the horizon, blasting the inside of the car with light. The sun stung Seth’s eyes. He wiped the tears from his swollen eyelids. They had reached the halfway mark, so he pulled over so Slava could take over driving and Seth could get some much-needed rest.

On the outskirts of town, a lone policeman sat at a control point alongside the road. He had a long day ahead of him and, for no particular reason, decided to flag down the Toyota. He held a red stick in front of the car and directed Slava to pull over.

“What’s going on?” asked Seth from the back seat.

“Police stop us. I think routine,” Slava replied as he brought the car to a stop.

The policeman asked Slava for his license and the papers for the car. He handed over his license, but, of course, they had no papers for the car. The policeman directed him to wait, and went back to his vehicle with Sasha’s driver’s license.

“Should we just take off?” asked Seth.

“That would arouse suspicion.”

“He’s right. Let’s wait,” said Natasha, now completely on alert.

The cop returned, and gave Slava back his license.

“You were speeding,” the policeman told him.

“Officer, I’m from Kiev. That’s a long way to come to pay a fine. Maybe I can see the judge now to pay it. I have money.”

Slava showed a handful of hryvnia, indicating that he was ready to pay the fine.

The cop opened his ticket book in front of Slava.

“The fine in this case is 1,000 hryvnia,” he said.

Slava placed 1,000 hryvnia in the officer’s ticket book and smiled. The policeman closed the book, told Slava to drive safely, and walked away.

After the Toyota pulled out, Seth exclaimed “That was close,” and they all breathed a collective sigh of relief.

***

As the cop walked back to his car, satisfied with the first pickings of the day, he received a call on his police radio. The check on Slava’s license had come back with a warrant to locate and detain Slava and his two companions, who were believed to be armed and dangerous, and to notify the Ukrainian Security Service immediately. The cop fired up his police car and took off in pursuit, as the pictures of the three appeared on his onboard computer.

CHAPTER TWENTY-NINE

Natasha called her counterparts in Crimea, who would be waiting for them on the Russian side of the border checkpoint in case there was any trouble. They were about four hours away, and feeling as if the worse was behind them. That sentiment did not last for long when Slava noticed the police car in the rear view mirror.

“We have cops,” he said.

“Maybe they’re not for us. Let’s see if they pass us,” said Seth.

“Has to be same. Not many cops out here in middle of nowhere.”

Slava floored the Toyota. They would need a change of cars, and quickly, but first he had to get away from the pursuing police car. Time was of the essence, as it would not be long before the nearest helicopter joined the chase, and then there would be no escape.

Slava took the Toyota to its maximum speed, passing Ladas and Jigulis like it was a Formula 1 racecar. After he had put about ten slow-moving cars between himself and the police, he could no longer see his pursuer in the rear view.

“We take next road we see,” he called out to the others.

Slava hooked a screeching left at the next crossroad, and the peeling tires left a small plume of black rubber smoke behind them.

“Look for car,” he said. “Any car!”

The first car they spotted was an old pickup truck by the side of the road, with half a load of hay in the bed. Slava pulled alongside it, they exited the Toyota, and Seth and Natasha transferred their things to the truck as Slava got into the truck and looked for the keys. Finding none, he quickly hot-wired the truck and it came to life with a choke of exhaust.

“We are good. Seth, you drive, I take care of Toyota.”

Slava grabbed a stone from the side of the road, ran back to the Toyota, started it, and placed the stone against the gas pedal. Leaving the door open, he pushed his foot on the brake, put the car in drive, slammed the door, and it took off down the road.

“Drive!” Slava called to Seth as Seth accelerated back to the main road, and Slava jumped in the back of the truck, concealing himself in the stacks of hay. The Toyota careened off the road and into a nearby field, where it soon became lost in a row of corn.

They could hear the sounds of an approaching helicopter in the distance, but they couldn’t see it yet. As Seth hung a left onto the main highway, all appeared to be normal. Morning traffic had begun to smatter the road and there was no sign of the pursuing police car or the helicopter.

***

There was now one short hour between them and the Ukrainian/Russian border in Kherson. Slava was driving, and would take them through the checkpoint. Natasha called ahead again to the Russian side with a description of their truck and an estimate of when they would be at there.

“Seth, if we don’t make it…”

“Baby, don’t say things like ‘if we don’t make it.’ Of course we’re going to make it.”

“I mean, I just wanted you to know. What sustained me when I was held prisoner…what kept me sane…was knowing that you were coming for me. I was certain of it.”

“Of course. It couldn’t be any other way.”

“And I just wanted you to know that I love you.”

“And I love you. Don’t worry; there will be plenty more times to say it.”

Natasha smiled as Slava turned to them and said, “Vso! No more love talk. There are children here.”

They all laughed nervously as they realized that the most precarious part of their trip lay just ahead.

CHAPTER THIRTY

They could see the Kherson checkpoint was just in front of them about 200 meters. They queued the pickup in a line of about twenty cars and waited as the cars inched toward the new Russian border of Crimea. Seth could see red and white striped concrete blocks in the middle of the road, with two hand-opening red and white gate arms and a small stop sign between them, in front of the concrete blocks. Just ahead of the blocks stood two sentries in military fatigues, holding machine guns. Behind them was a long line of trucks and a makeshift guard shack. It appeared that the border checkpoint, having been moved several hundred meters, was in the process of reconstruction.

“Looks like funny,” said Slava as he approached the checkpoint.

“Fun,” Seth corrected him.

“Dokumenti,” demanded the guard as Slava reached the checkpoint. The guard looked at all three passports and instructed them to wait. Two men in western attire emerged from the guard shack. As they approached, Seth could see that they looked familiar.

“Mr. Rogan!” the young, brown-haired CIA agent declared as he approached the pickup. “I would say it’s good to see you, but…actually it is good to see you.”

“Now that you have, you must know that I haven’t committed any crime, so back off.”

“On the contrary, you kidnapped three of our officers, and one was murdered in the process. I think they call that murder back home.”

“Whatever you want to call it, there’s nothing you can’t do anything about it,” responded Seth. “If the locals have no warrant for my arrest, you have to step aside.”

“This is a political situation. You have to let us pass,” said Natasha.

“ We’re checking on that now,” said the gruff- speaking agent, leaning through the window. “Seems there’s a warrant out for your buddy Slava here.”

“And I think it would be better if you came with us, Seth,” said the young one. “Let’s go the American Embassy and sort things out.”

“No thanks,” said Seth. “I think I’ll stay right here.”

“I know, I know, we can’t extradite you from Russia. But, if you get manage to get across that border, we’ll just have Interpol pick you up the next time you get on a plane.”

“Step back and let us pass. Everybody knows Interpol is just an information agency. It doesn’t pick up anyone.”

“Tell that to the next border guard when he sees a red notice on you,” said the agent, smiling.

Finally the agent backed away and the sentry made his move.

“Vyyty v mashini!” The guard ordered them out of the car, brandishing his weapon.

“Slava, go!” yelled Seth, whereupon Slava punched the accelerator and the pickup crashed through the makeshift gate arm. Both guards raised their weapons and began to fire. They crouched down in their seats, Slava maintaining speed.

They heard bullets pinging off the back bumper and lodging in the hay. Then they heard the pop of the rear tires exploding, and Slava continued to press the truck forward on flat rubber and bare steel wheels which screeched and sparked against the asphalt. They had now made it to the Russian side.

Two military helicopters rose above the Russian checkpoint and the Ukrainian guards stopped firing.

“Nobody shot?” asked Seth.

“Watch me next time I drink,” said Slava.

“Speaking of drink, I think one may be in order,” said Natasha.

As they were helped out of the truck by the Russian guards, Seth realized that he was shaking so badly that his legs wouldn’t support him, and he almost fell.

This was Russia; a part of it he had never seen. Natasha put her arm around him and his legs found their balance. Suddenly, Seth realized that he was home. Home was wherever they were together, and it felt good.

AFTERWORD

Of course, the story of Seth Rogan is fictional, but it is based on solid historical contemporary research. If you care to read on, I have summarized some of that research. If not, I would like to ask you now to please leave a review. If you scroll to the last page, you will be prompted to do so and also to share the fact that you have read this book with your social networks. I would greatly appreciate it if you would do both. Also, there are excerpts of my other novels which you are free to check out – or just scroll through them to leave your review.

In late 2013, the then-president of Ukraine, Viktor Yanukovych, rejected a European Union association agreement tied to the $17 billion IMF loan, whose terms are only now being revealed.  Instead, Yanukovych chose a Russian aid package worth $15 billion plus a discount on Russian natural gas.  His decision was a major factor in the ensuing deadly protests that led to his ouster from office in February 2014 and the ongoing crisis. The current government of the Ukraine pursued the IMF loan and a European Union Association Agreement.

On July 28, 2014, the California-based Oakland Institute released a report entitled “Walking on the West Side: the World Bank and the IMF in the Ukraine Conflict,” which revealed that the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF), under terms of their $17 billion loan to Ukraine, would open the country to genetically-modified (GM) crops in agriculture. 

According to the Oakland Institute, “Whereas Ukraine does not allow the use of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in agriculture, Article 404 of the EU agreement, which relates to agriculture, includes a clause that has generally gone unnoticed:  it indicates, among other things, that both parties will cooperate to extend the use of biotechnologies.  There is no doubt that this provision meets the expectations of the agribusiness industry.  As observed by Michael Cox, research director at the investment bank Piper Jaffray, ‘Ukraine and, to a wider extent, Eastern Europe, are among the most promising growth markets for farm-equipment giant Deere, as well as seed producers Monsanto and DuPont’.”

The Oakland Institute also revealed that the terms of the World Bank/IMF loan to Ukraine have already led to “an increase in foreign investment, which is likely to result in further expansion of large-scale acquisitions of agricultural land by foreign companies and further corporatization of agriculture in the country.”

Ukrainian law bars farmers from growing GM crops.  Long considered “the bread basket of Europe,” Ukraine’s rich black soil is ideal for growing grains, and in 2012 Ukrainian farmers harvested more than 20 million tons of corn.

In May 2013, Monsanto announced plans to invest $140 million in a non-GMO corn seed plant in Ukraine, with Monsanto Ukraine spokesman Vitally Fechuk confirming that ‘We will be working with conventional seeds only” because “in Ukraine, only conventional seeds are allowed for production and importation.”

However, by November 2013, six large Ukrainian agriculture associations had prepared draft amendments to the law, pushing for “creating, testing, transportation and use of GMOs regarding the legalization of GM seeds.” The president of the Ukrainian Grain Association, Volodymyr Klymenko, said in a November 5, 2013 press conference that, “We could mull over this issue for a long time, but we, jointly with the [agricultural] associations, have signed two letters to change the law on biosecurity, in which we proposed the legalization of the use of GM seeds, which had been tested in the United States for a long time, for our producers.” The truth is, of course, that GMOs have never undergone independent long- term testing in the United States, which accepts the testing of the industry and considers them GRAS, or “generally recognized as safe.”

The agricultural associations’ draft amendments coincided with the terms of the EU Association Agreement and IMF/World Bank loan. The website sustainablepulse.com – which tracks GMO news worldwide – immediately criticized the agricultural associations’ proposal, and its director Henry Rowlands stated: “Ukraine agriculture will be seriously damaged if the Ukrainian government legally allows GM seeds in the country.  Their farmers will find their export markets reduced due to consumers’ anti-GMO sentiments both in Russia and the EU.”  Rowlands predicted that Monsanto’s investment in Ukraine “could rise to $300 million within several years.  Does Ukrainian agriculture want to totally rely on the success or failure of one U.S.-based company?”

On December 13, 2013, Monsanto’s Vice President of Corporate Engagement, Jesus Madrazo, told the U.S.-Ukraine Conference in Washington, D.C. that the company sees “the importance of creating a favorable environment [in Ukraine] that encourages innovation and fosters the continued development of agriculture.  Ukraine has the opportunity to further develop the potential of conventional crops, which is where we are currently concentrating our efforts.  We also hope that at some point biotechnology is a tool that will be available to Ukrainian farmers in the future.”

Just a few days before Madrazo’s remarks in Washington, Monsanto Ukraine had launched its “social development” program for the country, which it called “Grain Basket of the Future.” It provides grants to rural villagers so they can “start feeling that they can improve their situation themselves as opposed to waiting for a handout.”

Actually, the real “handout” is the one going to big U.S. Agribusiness through the terms of the IMF/World Bank loan, which, besides opening the country to GM crops, will also further lift the ban on the sale of Ukraine’s rich agricultural lands to the private sector.

As Morgan Williams, president and CEO of the U.S.-Ukraine Business Council, told International Business Times in March: “Ukraine’s agriculture could be a real gold mine.” But he added that there are “many aspects of the business climate that need to be changed.  The major item would center around getting the government out of business.”

 

In August 2011, WikiLeaks released U.S. diplomatic cables showing that the State Department had been lobbying worldwide for Monsanto and other biotechnology corporations like DuPont, Syngenta, Bayer and Dow.  On May 14, 2013, the United States- based non-profit organization “Food & Water Watch,” after reviewing these cables from 2005 through 2009, released its report entitled “Biotech Ambassadors: How the U.S. State Department Promotes the Seed Industry’s Global Agenda.” The report stated that the State Department has “lobbied foreign governments to adopt pro-agricultural biotechnology policies and laws, operated a rigorous public relations campaign to improve the image of biotechnology, and challenged commonsense biotechnology safeguards and rules – even including opposing laws requiring the labeling of genetically-engineered (GE) foods.”

Consortiumnews.com reported in March 2014 that, “Morgan Williams is at the nexus of Big Ag’s alliance with U.S. foreign policy.” Besides being president and CEO of the U.S.-Ukraine Business Council, Williams is also Director of Government Affairs at the private equity firm “SigmaBleyzer,” which touts Williams’ work with “various agencies of the U.S. government, members of Congress, congressional committees, the Embassy of Ukraine to the U.S., international financial institutions, think tanks and other organizations on U.S.-Ukraine business, trade, investment and economic development issues.”

The U.S.-Ukraine Business Council’s 16-member Executive Committee is packed with representatives from U.S. agribusiness companies, including Monsanto, John Deere, DuPont Pioneer, Eli Lilly, and Cargill. These organizations are at the forefront of introducing GMO products into an agricultural sector that they increasingly control. Also on the board of directors and working alongside with these corporations is the ubiquitous USAID, under the banner of the ago invest program.

The Council’s twenty “senior Advisors” include James Greene, the former Head of NATO’s Liason Office in Ukraine; Ariel Cohen, the Senior Research Fellow for The Heritage Foundation; Leonid Kozachenko, the President of the Ukrainian Agrarian Confederation; six former U.S. Ambassadors to Ukraine, and Oleh Shamshur, the former ambassador of Ukraine to the U.S.

Shamshur is now a senior advisor to PBN Hill + Knowlton Strategies – a unit of the PR giant Hill + Knowlton Strategies (H+K).  H + K is a subsidiary of the gargantuan London-based WPP Group, which owns some dozen big PR firms, including Burson-Marsteller, a long-time Monsanto advisor.

On April 15, 2014 Toronto’s The Globe & Mail newspaper published an op-ed piece by H+K assistant consultant Olga Radchenko, which criticized Russian President Vladimir Putin and “Mr. Putin’s PR machine” and stated that “Last month, a group of Kiev-based PR professionals formed the Ukraine Crisis Media Centre, a voluntary operation aimed at helping to communicate Ukraine’s image and manage its messaging on the global stage.”

The PBN Hill + Knowlton Strategies website stated that the company’s CEO, Myron Wasylyk, is “a Board member of the U.S.-Ukraine Business Council,” and the company’s Managing Director/Ukraine, Oksana Monastyrska, “leads the firm’s work for Monsanto.”  Monastyrska also formerly worked for the World Bank’s International Finance Corporation.

On the Russian side of the GMO coin, Russia’s Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev stated in April 2014:  “We don’t have a goal of developing GM products here or to import them.  We can feed ourselves with normal, common, not genetically modified products.  If the Americans like to eat such products, let them eat them.  We don’t need to do that; we have enough space and opportunities to produce organic food.”

Ukraine has been making headlines during the past two years, from the trail of western intervention and subversion that lead to a violent coup in 2013 to the devastating civil war which has torn it apart. These stories have provided the perfect cover for international corporations to exploit Ukraine’s resources.

Since the declaration of its independence in 1992, international companies have been colonizing its agricultural sector. International agribusiness and biotechnology firms have lobbied for reform of Ukraine’s agricultural laws in order to eventually allow for an explosion in the production of genetically modified organisms.

Recent efforts to speed up this annexation of Ukrainian agriculture have been documented by the Oakland Institute. Their fact sheet on the “Corporate Takeover of Ukrainian Agriculture” shows how the law firm of “Frishberg and Partners” found loopholes in a moratorium on Ukrainian agricultural land sales, and suggested a two-step approach to circumventing this moratorium, which remains in force until January 1, 2016.

The first step is to lease Ukrainian land instead of purchasing it, a practice which provides ownership when combined with legal purchases of industrial spaces alongside the same land. The second step is to buy large amounts of shares in leading Ukrainian agribusinesses and then change these companies from the inside out. This is a strategy that international agribusiness giants such as Cargill, Monsanto and DuPont have employed. In 2014 Cargill bought a five percent share in the largest land bank in Ukraine.

These loopholes are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the multinational effort to subdue and mold a potentially lucrative agriculture market for maximum profit. While Ukraine currently enforces a ban on GMO products, it has become apparent that this is a temporary state of affairs. The stage was set for the impending removal of this ban when Ukraine and the EU signed their association agreement in 2014.

  It becomes clear from requirements such as those listed in the association agreement that Ukraine is not being set up for economic prosperity and independence, but rather for multinational exploitation.

It could be argued that these developments are open to interpretation, as indeed multinational corporations would prefer Ukrainian farmers and the civilian population to believe. But the links between government organizations and agribusiness are clear.

The entry point into these connections can be found on the board of the US-Ukraine Business Council (USUBC). On the board of directors are a plethora of multinational US business giants. Of particular interest to this report are the agribusiness board members. These include Monsanto, Cargill, DuPont and a less prominent organization known as the International Service for the Acquisition of Argi-Biotech Applications.

Dupont, Syngenta, Monsanto and other companies and organizations have made their way into several key areas of Ukrainian agriculture, piecing together a multifaceted plan which will ultimately culminate in the implementation and monopoly of GMO products in Ukraine.

Monsanto, Cargill and DuPont have already have all already invested hundreds of millions of dollars into the construction of seed processing plants in Ukraine. Over the last twenty years, these companies have established a strong business foundation within the country. These foundations have been laid so deep that international agribusiness companies can be found on the board of members of the national Ukrainian Seed Association. This association, which includes Monsanto and DuPont, aims to implement new technologies” and “the best new varieties and hybrids in Ukraine.”

The Ukrainian Seed Association also seeks to “take active part in the development of legislation of Ukraine concerning the improvement of seed market.” What this shows is that multinational agribusiness giants have the ability to not only introduce their technologies into Ukraine, but actively seek to change Ukrainian legislation to benefit their implementation.

Within this increasingly layered picture of corporate intervention into Ukraine’s agriculture can be found the key player in Ukraine’s current state of affairs – the U.S. government. While telling the world it is simply brokering a transaction in Ukraine, it is in fact playing a central role shaping the nation’s economy. The ISAAA, which claims to be “small, responsive, non-bureaucratic, international network,” is, in fact, sponsored directly by the U.S. State Department, the U.S. Department of Agriculture and USAID.  The ISAAA is instrumental in organizing the dissemination of biotechnology into “developing countries through public-private partnerships.”.”

Through its sponsoring of the ISAAA, which sits on the US-Ukraine Business Council and works to introduce GMO’s into Ukraine, the U.S. government is directly facilitating the corporate takeover of Ukraine’s agriculture.

  The concerted campaign of these corporations, with the help of USAID and even direct U.S. government assistance, is already paying dividends for the future profits of these companies. The Ukrainian Minister of Agricultural Policy and Food, Mykola Prysyazhnyuk, announced in 2013 that GMO feed trials for livestock had begun.

Ukraine is renowned for its “black soil,” which is extremely fertile and high-yielding. It has long been used by local farmers to supply much of Europe and the world with corn and wheat. For the immensely wealthy international corporations, this is the chance to make more money and, with the current situation in Ukraine, it will be relatively easy to do so. Once the biotechnology and GMO laws are altered it will be too late for small farms and businesses to compete on a local scale, let alone an international one.

Ukraine is in dire need of less foreign-led ‘rebuilding.’ The idea that Ukraine needed to choose a U.S./EU-led intervention is what has led to much of the chaos. On top of the conflict this has caused, it has paved the way for companies like Monsanto, DuPont and Cargill to take full advantage of this instability.

Unless more light is shed on the domination of struggling nations by international corporations, this trend will continue. The eventual costs of biotechnology and the potential health detriments will lead to a Ukraine that is unable to recover. It will instead continue to be used as a colonial business outpost for the many companies and governments seeking to exploit its natural resources.

That Ukraine’s unique soils may be ruined is tragedy enough, but it is a fact that the benefits of this corporate invasion will only be shared by the corporations and their shareholders, along with the handful oligarchs who will own the land. Ukraine, and its people, as a whole will receive little to no benefit in the long term. For a country already ruined by a war with no end in sight after decades of corruption, this spells disaster on a grand scale.

In March 2015, the Ukrainian Parliament passed a bill entitled  “On the Legal Status and Honoring of Fighters for Ukraine’s Independence in the Twentieth Century.” The bill was one of several centered on the country’s troubled history in the 20th century that were approved by parliament on Thursday. One of the other bills would open up the archives of the Ukrainian wing of the KGB, the Soviet-era intelligence service, and another of them would ban the display of both Nazi and Soviet imagery in the nation.

Poroshenko has yet to sign any of the three bills into law, but they’re already drawing criticism from pro-Russian separatist leaders, Russian politicians, and their supporters on social media. The bill recognizing Ukraine’s nationalist partisans, many of whom fought against both Nazi and Soviet occupiers during World War II and the postwar years, has attracted the biggest backlash.

The bill would recognize groups such as the Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA) and Stepan Bandera’s so-called Banderite as legitimate combatants in World War II and as freedom fighters who fought for Ukrainian independence. Some of those partisan groups are believed to have participated in the ethnic cleansing of Poles and Jews in Ukraine, as well as bombings and kidnappings against the country’s postwar Soviet government. If the bill were to become law, it would grant veterans of these groups social benefits and make them eligible for state awards. It would also make it illegal to deny the legitimacy of their actions, according to UAPosition, a Ukraine-centered media site.

 

Ukraine’s current nationalist elements such as the Right Sector strongly identify with Bandera and his fellow partisans, who they say laid the foundation for Ukrainian nationalism. While most far-right Ukrainain groups are fragmented and remain largely on the fringe of Ukrainian politics, the Right Sector[* *]was visible in the Euromaidan movement, and it participated in a handful of volunteer paramilitary brigades that played decisive roles in Ukraine’s fight against pro-Russian separatists in southeastern Ukraine during the past year. Critics of the Euromaidan movement alleged the nationalist presence was indicative of the fascist, anti-Russian principles of the movement and the pro-European government that came into power as a result of it.

Of course, the United States has more interests to promote in Ukraine than just GMO foods. Its military industrial complex stands to benefit from the Ukrainian civil war, and the push to supply the country with lethal weapons will be to its benefit, while at the same time creating a dangerous situation for the entire European continent. The U.S. also favors a gas pipeline to Europe to bypass Russian gas. In furtherance of the U.S. oil and gas industry’s interest in Ukraine, Hunter Biden, the Vice President’s son, has been appointed to the Ukraine’s largest natural gas producer, along with Devon Archer, a close friend of Secretary of State John Kerry to the board of directors of Ukraine’s largest natural gas producer. In a sign of direct intervention by the United States into Ukrainian government affairs, the U.S. State Department’s Natalie Jaresko has been appointed to the position of Ukraine’s Finance Minister.

One more thing…

No matter what side of the GMO or Ukrainian controversy you are on (or if you are not on a side at all), I hope you have enjoyed this book. If you turn to the last page in the Kindle version, Kindle will give you the opportunity to rate the book and share your thoughts through an automatic feed to your Facebook and Twitter accounts. If you believe your friends would enjoy this book, I would be honored if you would post your thoughts, and also leave a review. Don’t miss the full novel prequel to this story, “An Involuntary Spy”. And [+ click here+] for a free copy of one of my Brent Marks legal thrillers.

Kenneth Eade

http://kennetheade.com

[email protected]

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

John Grisham is famous for saying, “I always try to tell a good story, one with a compelling plot that will keep the pages turning. That is my first and primary goal. Sometimes I can tackle an issue-homelessness, tobacco litigation, insurance fraud, the death penalty-and wrap a good story around it.” That is exactly what I try to do in my books. Not only do I want to tell you a thrilling story that you will love to read, I also hope you come away with it having learned something important. 

My first bestseller was “An Involuntary Spy,” a fictional spy thriller about a rogue scientist working for an American biotech firm who goes on the run from authorities after stealing information from his employer which proves government collusion and a cover-up of fraud surrounding the dangers of the company’s genetically engineered foods. My second novel, “Predatory Kill,” is the first of a legal thriller series in which the series character, lawyer Brent Marks, tackles a wrongful foreclosure lawsuit against a major bank that turns into a murder investigation. My third novel, “A Patriot’s Act,” is a prequel in the Brent Marks Legal Thriller Series, which matches Marks against the United States government in an attempt to free a naturalized U.S. citizen from detention at Guantanamo Bay Detention Camp. It will be published conventionally in hardcover and paperback, and will be launched in U.S. bookstores, Walmart and Costco stores this year.

OTHER BOOKS BY KENNETH EADE

[++]

Seth Rogan was a bad spy. That’s because he wasn’t a spy at all. Just a guy trying to do the right thing. As a biologist for the largest biotech company in the world, he had a great job, and enjoyed all the perks. But when asked to do some tests on the company’s genetically engineered (GMO) foods, he became entangled in a trail of corruption, fraud and conspiracy that he wanted no part of, but could not escape from. In an espionage story of mystery and suspense so true to life it could almost be from today’s newspapers, Seth, having bit the hand who fed him, is on the run from CIA, the FBI, and the full overreaching strength of the United States Government, not as a whistle blower, but as a fugitive, charged with espionage, who finds temporary refuge with an old enemy of the U.S. But his peace is about to be broken as he finds himself in the role of an involuntary spy.

Excerpt

As they exited the plane, Yuri made it clear to the police to back off – this was not their affair. But Seth looked back and could see Jack Singer on his radio, and it didn’t look like he was calling his guys to tell them they lost the game. He had no reason to trust this Yuri Streltsov, but his choices were limited; liberty, albeit temporary, or death. He chose liberty.

Just outside the jet way, Yuri shoved Seth through a door with a red “circle sign” on it that Seth supposed meant, “No entry,” or something like it.

“Can you run?” Yuri said.

“I’m still trying to put this vest on.”

“You wanted to be spy, learn to multi-task.”

“I never wanted to be a spy. I just wanted to warn people of…”

“We talk later. Have to go now.” Yuri grabbed Seth by the shoulders, buckled on the vest, then gave him a shove. “Run!”

And Seth ran. Following Yuri, he ran as fast as he could. He ran so fast he could feel the stinging sweat pouring into his eyes. Through one door, then another, down one set of stairs so fast his feet barely brushed each step, then through a tunnel. Finally, they smashed through a set of double doors and Seth felt the shock of the cold, outside air filling his lungs. But only for a second, as he was shoved into an already moving black Mercedes, head first, like a criminal under arrest or a kidnap victim.

Yuri jumped in next to him, gun in hand, and the Mercedes took off, through the parking lot and out the gated exit. The driver accelerated as the man next to him began yelling something in Russian. He looked panicked.

“What is he saying?” asked Seth.

“He says they are after us.”

Seth looked in the rear window, but didn’t see anything unusual. “How does he know?”

“Look.”

Just then not one, but two cars emerged from the parking lot, the first one breaking through the gate arm, and the other right behind it. They were both swerving in and out of the line of traffic like maniacs, which is what their own driver was now doing.

“We will be at Embassy in ten minutes,” said Yuri.

“Can’t we call the police – for backup?”

“Look, Seth, you are not very good spy, are you? Police have no official business to stop us, but they are not going to help us. Once we get to Embassy, Russian Special Forces – Spetsnaz – they will be all backup we need.”

“Why don’t they come now?”

“This is Ukraine, no longer same country as Russia. On Embassy ground is only place they can act.”

The pursuing car behind them on the right, a black Mercedes jeep, sped up to catch them, and played a game of tag with their car, which lurched forward to avoid being pinned.

“Windows are bulletproof, but get down anyway,” yelled Yuri. Seth obeyed.

Their driver swerved evasively, as the pursuing jeep caught up. The driver of the jeep motioned angrily for them to pull over. Then the guy in the passenger side of Seth’s car pulled his gun out, rolled down the window and fired back their answer.

“What’s going on?” asked Seth, hearing the gunshots, and peeking out of his hiding place.

“He tries to shoot tires.”

The pursuing jeep swerved, and its occupants shot back multiple shots, which Seth could hear pinging against the metal sides of their car.

Yuri pushed Seth down further behind the driver’s seat, yelling “Get down!” and rolled down his window, shooting at the jeep. One shot, two shots, then the third blew out the jeep’s left front tire and the jeep lost control, hurling into oncoming traffic. Most of the cars swerved out of the way like a synchronized swim, but a truck hit the rear side of the jeep, sending it into an uncontrolled spin, and another car smashed into its passenger side, completely crushing the jeep and most likely its occupants. The second pursuing car, a silver Mercedes sedan, was stuck behind the resulting jam.

“What happens when they find dead CIA agents in that jeep with guns?” said Seth, rising from his hiding place.

“All will be clean. There will be no guns, no agents. Just American tourists involved in traffic accident,” said Yuri.

Just as it seemed they were out of danger, the silver Mercedes emerged, and pushed itself up on the shoulder of the road, away from the jammed up cars.

“They’re back,” yelled Seth.

Their driver accelerated, weaving through cars, making evasive moves.

“How many times do I say get down!” said Yuri, and pushed Seth down again. “We are almost there.”

The silver Mercedes was again on their tail. Seth’s driver floored it, swerving into the right lane, and almost hitting the car in front of them. He comes right up on the rear bumper of another car, hits the brakes, downshifts and powers around it.

“Embassy is here,” said Yuri.

One more screeching sharp right turn, and they were at the gates of the Embassy, which was opened by two Spetsnaz soldiers. The gates closed behind them, and the pursuing silver Mercedes rolled by slowly.

Yuri was an agent of the Russian Federal Security Service, or FSB. His assignment was Seth – to keep him alive, deliver him to Russia and monitor his ongoing safety pending the decision on his application for asylum. So far, it was a task he had not failed. As their Mercedes entered the grounds of the Russian Embassy, several armed guards took their watch posts behind it. A steel garage door opened and closed behind the Mercedes and Yuri ushered Seth inside.

Yuri took Seth into a waiting room. The room, and the entire building, was a classic throwback to the days of Imperial Russia. Original oil paintings hung from the richly wallpapered walls, framed by wood cornice. Seth sat down in one of the classic cushy French armchairs that ordained the room. He was offered water by a beautiful Ukrainian brunette, which he gladly accepted.

After gulping a fair share of water, Seth was led in to the ambassador’s office. The ambassador, a man in his early 60’s with graying hair, met Seth with outstretched hand. “Good morning, Mr. Rogan, I am Gregori Petrov, the ambassador to the Ukraine.”

“Good morning.”

“I know that Kiev was not your final destination, but we would like to welcome you here just the same.”

“Thank you, Ambassador. It seems I owe you my life,” said Seth.

“Gratitude is not necessary. Your safety is of utmost concern to us. On the other hand, your government seems intent to harm you, Mr. Rogan. Have you decided what to do with your documents?”

“First, I want to make sure the public knows the dangers of genetically engineered foods and how the government allowed them into the market despite the danger.”

“And the other matter?”

“That I have not decided yet. Can you tell me the status of my petition for asylum?”

“That is being considered by the president himself right now. But we have been instructed to give you safe passage to Russia and to protect you during your stay there. Mr. Streltsov will be your point of contact and I can assure you, he is very good at what he does.”

“I have seen that.”

“You will dine with me tonight, here at the embassy, and we have prepared one of the apartments for you for your brief stay with us. Tomorrow, we will escort you to the airport for your flight to Moscow with a full diplomatic motorcade of security.”

“Thank you.”

The Russians had always been the enemies to Seth as long as he had known, although the U.S. never had the war with them that everyone had anticipated. They had always been the enemies in every movie, and he remembered one day in high school when the entire school was ushered into the gym for an assembly, where they were lectured on the dangers of the “evil empire.” “Their newspaper is called Pravda, which means truth,” they had said, “but it’s filled with lies.” Seth had no reason to trust his new protectors, but his choices were limited to them and them alone at this point. He had willingly placed himself, ironically, in the hands of the enemy.

Excerpt

1

A glint of orange bounced off the arched windows on the building across Anacapa Street, as Brent Marks exited through the tall wooden doors of the Santa Barbara courthouse. The old courthouse seemed to have a soul. The soul of every jurist who’d ever made an argument between the tall walls of each formidable courtroom. The soul of every man who’d ever sat before a jury of his peers in judgment since 1927, when it first opened its doors.

How he dreamed of doing another grand trial in the old Spanish colonial building. Brent had spent the first 15 years of his 20 year career paying his dues leading up to that moment, with bankruptcies, divorces and drunk driving cases, but since then he had earned the right to take the cases he wanted – cases of social importance.

As he strolled down De La Guerra to the small office on quaint State Street where he had hung his shingle 20 years earlier, Brent inhaled the fresh ocean air and thanked himself for deciding on Santa Barbara. It was a refreshing break from the bustle of smog-bound Los Angeles, where he would have been an ant scurrying amongst thousands of other ants, each trying to make a name for themselves in the law business. Santa Barbara was a small town, which can sometimes be an impediment to a newcomer, but during his “dues paying days” he had made a name for himself, and established a thriving private practice.

Brent turned left on State Street, feeling the privilege of being able to walk to and from his work. He imagined State Street 100 years ago, with the Wells Fargo stage coach barreling through, and the town growing up around the route. It was the perfect match for his heritage.

His father was an immigrant from Spain. Jose Marquez had changed the family name to Marks, to avoid the stereotypes that he felt were cast on the family by people who thought they were Mexican. Brent could have passed for Mexican himself, with his dark brown hair, but he was much taller than most Mexicans. He was fluent in Spanish, which had helped him in the old days when he was a “poor man’s lawyer.” The Spaniards had tamed this land and now it was Brent’s turn. He loved Santa Barbara.

He had made it to his State Street office just in time to check messages and make sure everything was in order for the big weekend. No work, only play and relaxation for the next 48 hours. As he entered the office, Melinda Powers, his secretary, looked worried. It was unusual for her to be there past quitting time on a Friday.

“Hey Mimi, what’s wrong?” Brent asked her.

“You’ve got a call waiting. I told him you weren’t in, but he said he’d wait.”

“Who is it?”

“I don’t know, he won’t say. He’s really weird, Mr. Marks.”

“Why don’t we let him just die on hold then?”

“I think you should answer.”

Brent entered his office, sat down behind his plush mahogany desk, and picked up the phone.

“Hello, this is Brent Marks.”

The eerie voice on the other end was cold and inhuman. “Do you know how fast a bullet goes, Counselor?” it asked.

“Who is this?”

“Seventeen hundred feet per second. At that velocity, it will crack open your skull and splatter your brains all over your wall like a watermelon being hit by a sledge hammer.” The caller cackled like a wounded chicken.

Brent quickly switched on the recording device to the receiver. He had bought that baby to record threats from ex-husbands whose wives had obtained restraining orders against them, but which Brent had always refused to dismiss, even in cases of so called “reconciliation.”

“I don’t think I got your name, mister?”

The voice responded with a maniacal chuckle, which turned into a full blown belly laugh, like Vincent Price in the final stanza of Michael Jackson’s Thriller.

“No judge in the world can stop a bullet, Counselor. No piece of paper can do that.”

“This conversation is really interesting, but if I don’t have your name, I…”

“Think hard.”

“I’m not going to play games with you.”

“Oh, this is not a game. I assure you. I’m just giving you a little preview. Wherever you go, I’ll be there. When you’re at the corner at Starbucks, having your mocha grande in the morning before going to court, I’ll be there. You won’t see me, but I’ll be there. All it takes is one shot – one shot in the head.” The phone vibrated from the maniacal laughter.

“And why would you want to shoot me?”

“I am a servant of the Lord, Counselor. I do His work.”

“You’re saying that you’re going to kill me, because God told you so?” Without answering, the caller went into a sermon, like an evangelist preacher trying to convert a world full of infidels.

“Vengeance is mine, I will repay, sayeth the Lord! When justice is done, it is a joy to the righteous but terror to evildoers. I am your terror, Counselor. I am the hand of the Lord and I will strike you down!”

Suddenly, Brent realized who this character could be. Last year, he took on a case for Felipe Sanchez, who had rented a house from a crazy religious fanatic named Joshua Banks. When Banks found out that Sanchez had moved in his girlfriend, all hell broke loose. “I won’t have fornication in my house!” Banks decreed. Sanchez ignored him and three days later, came home to find himself locked out of his house and all his furniture thrown out on the street. When Brent succeeded in getting the police to open the house, Banks turned off the utilities, and Sanchez sued. Thanks to a little known provision in the Civil Code, daily damages were awarded to Sanchez at trial which allowed him to take his judgment, levy it against the house, and become the owner of it. Justice can be hell for some people.

“Threatening my life is a felony, Mr. Banks,” said Brent, “Do you really want to go to prison?”

“Do you think I care about your court? Your prison? There is only one lawgiver and judge, and that is the Lord God! Judge not, that you not be judged, sayeth the Lord. Man does not have the right to sit in judgment of his fellow man.”

“You’re not God, Mr. Banks.” Ignoring him, Banks pressed on.

“Your judgment has been pronounced, Counselor. And I’m afraid there is no chance for a pardon. The punishment is death.”

Brent heard a click, followed by the dull dead sound of dial tone. It was now after 5:30 p.m. on a Friday. There was no way he could get a restraining order until the court opened on Monday morning, and the police would refuse to do anything about it unless he had one.

“Mims, I’ve gotta work you this weekend.”

“Oh, boss, it’s my sister’s birthday tomorrow and we planned to go to Solvang to see Legally Blonde. Do I have to?” she pleaded, batting her eyelashes over her powder blue eyes. Melinda was 20 something, attractive, with auburn brown hair, and had a huge crush on the boss. But Brent had long since made it clear that their relationship would be strictly business. Still, that did not prevent her from using her feminine wiles whenever she had the occasion, or, in this case, the need.

“Sorry, but if I don’t get a restraining order against this crazy Joshua Banks, I’m afraid you may not have a boss by Monday.”

“That was Banks? Oh, I remember that guy. He’s nuts.”

“You can do it at home. I’ll dictate it now and drop it by your house in about two hours. But I need it by Sunday night. Court opens at 8:30.”

“Okay boss, you can count on me.”

It was a good thing that Brent had not yet made any plans for the weekend, because this weekend would be reserved for writing up a motion for a restraining order and trying to stay alive long enough for the Court to grant it and the Sheriff to serve it.

2

Two years earlier…

April Marsh knew when she rang the bell at the security gate outside her parent’s lavish home in Hope Ranch that something was wrong. The drive from L.A was a long one, and she had been stuck in slow weekend traffic all the way from Thousand Oaks. She was tired and worried. Mom and Dad had not answered her calls, and would usually check in with her if they were planning on going somewhere, at least to ask for a dog sitter for their two mutts. All was still and quiet – no dogs barking – just the gentle sound of the waves lapping against the shore in the back of the property. An eerie fog had begun to shroud the large home; a heavy shadow that seemed to hide it from the rest of the world. As she stood outside the grounds of the estate, April looked more like a real estate agent than an investigative journalist from Los Angeles, via New York, where she had learned the trade. She was dressed in a stylish skirt, and perched on high heeled Christian Louboutins, as she brushed her long blonde hair out of her turquoise green eyes, trying to make sense of the silence.

April rang the gate bell again – no answer. She pushed against the gate and it creaked open, giving way. Strange, she thought. Mom and Dad always keep the gate locked. April walked through the unkempt garden, once finely manicured by a team of gardeners. Since Dad lost most of his money in the stock market crash of 2008, the gardeners were the first to go. What was once a series of plush flowerbeds bursting with color was now patches of flowers with wild vines and weeds weaving through them. Mom wasn’t much into gardening, with all the added responsibilities of cleaning a house once maintained by maids.

April proceeded through the courtyard, to the once grand entrance, which was now collecting curled paint chips from the decaying door. As she reached out and knocked on the door, it squeaked open slowly; a sound you would imagine a coffin with rusty old hinges would make in a horror film; and that sound, combined with the dead silence that followed brought on a creepy chill and adrenaline rush from that uneasy feeling that something was not quite right.

“Mom?” she called, as she entered the travertine paved foyer. The call seemed to echo and reverberate throughout the house. Maybe they’re out in the back, she thought. There was a lot of land out there, which led all the way to the cliffs overlooking the ocean. It would be virtually impossible to hear anything from the end of the property.

“Dad?” she called, her voice once again meeting with dead silence. Then her shuffling toe made contact with something soft and fleshy. She looked down in horror at the lifeless body of their German shepherd, Baron, who looked like his head had been crushed. She recoiled in horror, dropping her purse. Surging, panicking, she ran into the living room, almost spraining her ankle, as she landed on the side of her right heel. She kicked off her shoes and ran into the family room. “Mom!” she yelled, crying, trying to cover as much ground in the big house as she could. Why did they ever get this big house? was just one of the thoughts flying through her head, as her eyes quickly scanned each room she ran through in panic. Then, realizing she had dropped her purse, she quickly ran back to get it, sweeping it up with one arm and continued her search. How stupid it was to drop it.

“Mom!”

“Dad!”

Nobody was in the kitchen, the dining room, the downstairs guest bedroom. April turned and headed for the stairs. There, at the landing, was the limp body of Daisy, their Weimaraner, her tongue hanging out loosely, surrounded by a slick pool of her own blood. April screamed, but her fleeting grief for her precious Daisy was overpowered by the panic she felt for her parents. The realization that they were probably dead was competing with the hope that they were still alive, somewhere, and that they could be helped.

April bounded up the stairs, and into her parents’ bedroom, and came face to face with the battered remains of her mother, propped up against the wall like a rag doll, Her lifeless eyes were open with her face frozen in her last moment of terror, her bruised and battered arms lay to the side, and her legs were splayed out in front of her bloodied torso. April could hardly recognize her mother, whose reddened bloodied head resembled that of a voodoo doll. She turned away from the scene, the blood drained from her brain, and she turned a pasty white. Hunched over with her hands on her knees, April choked and threw up. The blood returned to her brain, she stood up and tried to catch her breath, hyperventilating and exhaling with every profound sob, like she had a chronic case of the hiccups.

Turning from the ghastly grotesque scene of her mother’s murder, April screamed from the gut for her father, stretching the one syllable into an entire sentence, “Daad!” and ran into the corridor, bumping her arm on the door frame as she did, her purse sliding from her shoulder down to the crook of her elbow.

She found him in his study, slumped over his computer desk. He had been bludgeoned and his blood was spattered everywhere. “Oh, dad…” she expelled, sadly, summoning the courage in her grief to feel around his bloody neck for a pulse as a last expenditure of hope.

A faint pulse! She thrust open her purse, snatched her cell phone and punched 911, while the purse fell to the floor, and spewed the rest of its contents.

“911, what is your emergency?”

“My…mother…has been murdered….my dad…is still alive…please send someone fast! 5689 Marina Drive…please help us!”

Predatory Kill: A Legal Thriller

BRENT MARKS IS BACK IN BOOK TWO OF THE BRENT MARKS LEGAL THRILLER SERIES

When a naturalized American citizen turns up missing in Iraq, Brent Marks fights the Goliath U.S. Government’s Patriot Act with its own Constitution. Santa Barbara accountant Ahmed Khury responds to the plea of his brother, Sabeen, a suspected money launderer in Iraq. Before Ahmed realizes what has happened to him, he is sent to Guantanamo Bay Detention Camp as a suspected terrorist, and is subjected to torture to extract information that he doesn’t have. The courtroom drama mounts as the drama outside the courtroom explodes, and when murder, corruption and cover-up enters the picture, nobody, including Brent, is safe. This novel will challenge everything you think about patriotism, the war on terror, justice, civil liberties and freedom.

Excerpt

CHAPTER ONE

Ahmed felt the butt of the rifle strike his spine between his shoulder blades as his knees buckled, and he hit the floor. The sensation of falling was even stranger because he couldn’t see anything. It was as if he were in slow motion, spiraling out of control.

His hands were shackled behind his back, so there was no way to break his fall. He landed on his side, slamming his shoulder into the cold concrete floor. He could feel the fibers of the black hood against his lips, and smell the sweat of the last person who had been forced to wear it. He stood up and started to walk again.

“Move faster Haji!” commanded an authoritative voice in a Southern American drawl. Ahmed felt the rifle butt hit hard against his spine again and he shuffled faster, within the confines of his ankle chains, which allowed only a minimum of movement. Thoughts of his wife Catherine, her silky brown hair, soft brown eyes and captivating smile, and their two small children, Karen and Cameron, back in their home in Santa Barbara, flooded his brain. These thoughts were the only thing lately that kept him sane.

“Up against the wall! – Stop there! Up against the wall I said – now!”

Ahmed stopped and did as he was commanded.

“Listen up!” barked a mechanical voice in the darkness, “My name is Sergeant Brown. You have been placed in my custody. You’re here because you have refused to cooperate in interrogations. The decision has been made to execute you by firing squad.”

“Wait!” said Ahmed, “I’m an American citizen.”

“Sure you are, A-hab.”

“My name is Ahmed.”

“Your name is A-hab. A-hab the A-rab and the only thing I need to hear from you today is whether you want your mask on or off.”

“Off.”

Ahmed felt the black bag ripped from his head and, for the first time, faced his aggressors. The man who had ripped off his bag was a young man in military camouflage fatigues, holding an M16 to his chest. In front of him was an eight-man firing squad, also in camouflage fatigues, with rifles at their sides in ready position. Standing at their side was obviously Sergeant Brown, a hefty black man with huge hands, the only one not holding a weapon. For a 25-year-old man like Brown, who was always inept in every way outside the service, power was orgasmic. He basked in it like the sun, as if he was on a white sand beach in Maui.

Brown was proud to be in United States Army, the finest military service of the greatest country in the world, a beacon for freedom, the leader of the New World Order. The Army was his life, a life that had so much more depth, meaning and importance than it did before. He was entrusted with the valuable task of shaping young men and women under his charge to destroy the enemy and wipe terrorism from the planet. The enemy was the low-life, stinking Arabs, those sand niggers, the little maggots who had strapped bombs to themselves and had blown his comrades to bits in Iraq. They were like a disease, a plague that had to be wiped out.

“I have the right to talk to an attorney,” Ahmed pleaded.

“You what? You don’t have any rights, A-hab,” said Brown, “You’re a terrorist. The only right you have is to choose to wear the mask or not, and you already exercised that right.”

The young soldier fastened a leather strap around Ahmed’s waist, pinning his spine to a wooden post. He turned his head to look behind himself at the canvas wall, pocked with gunshots. The soldier then strapped his ankles to the post.

“Please, let me call my lawyer. This is all a big mistake!”

“Yeah, yeah, a big mistake. I’ve heard that one before. All you fucking Hajis say the same goddamn thing – it’s programmed. You should have cooperated when we asked about your superiors in al Qaeda.”

“I don’t know anyone in al Qaeda.”

“Don’t bullshit me, boy!”

Brown, like a machine, pivoted, walked a few paces, and then pivoted again, so he was face to face with Ahmed, took a piece of paper from his pocket, unfolded it and recited in a military monotone, “You have been found guilty of terrorism. The penalty is death by firing squad. Do you have any last statement?”

“But I…”

“I repeat, do you have any last statement?”

“Yes, please, I want to cooperate, I really do, but I don’t know what you want from me. I don’t know anything!”

The young man with the M16 then approached Ahmed, pinned a white heart onto his chest, and moved back. Brown marched off to the right of the firing squad.

Sweat was dripping into Ahmed’s eyes, stinging them. He said a silent prayer, thought about his wife and children, then looked at Brown with defiant eyes.

“I’m not a terrorist. I am an American citizen. I have the right, like any other American citizen, to a lawyer and a trial before any execution. I have been denied these rights. You will answer to God for your crimes.”

“To hell with your rights, boy. We got all the rights here,” said Brown, who raised his arm and shouted, “READY!”

The eight marksmen cocked their rifles.

“AIM!”

The eight pointed their rifles at Ahmed, who shivered uncontrollably. His knees gave way and he hung on the post like a man crucified.

“FIRE!”

The deafening explosion of the eight rifles was the last thing Ahmed heard. He felt the bullets hit his flesh and his body crumpled forward, hanging lifelessly from the post like a scarecrow.

CHAPTER TWO

Catherine Khury sat in the plain-wrap waiting room of the FBI’s Santa Barbara field office, fidgeting in her purse for her phone. Hold it together, Cate! she told herself. She had been living in hell the past few weeks. She was an attractive woman, but her ordeal made every one of her 30 years appear as if she had lived her life without sleeping. She looked at the time. Only five minutes had passed since the last time she had checked. A friendly looking, pretty young woman entered the room.

“Hello, ma’am, I’m Agent Wollard,” the woman said, extending her hand, which Catherine shook.

“Catherine Khury.”

“Would you please come in?”

Catherine sat in a small steel and vinyl black chair and Agent Wollard behind an aluminum desk with a false wood veneer surface.

“How can I help you, Mrs. Khury?”

“My husband, Ahmed, is missing.” Catherine’s bottom lip began to quiver, as she fought back tears. She had to remain strong; strong for her husband, and especially for her children.

“Mrs. Khury, we don’t really look for missing persons here at the FBI.”

“That’s not what I heard.”

“Well, we do maintain a database of missing persons, but unless it’s a child, and foul play is suspected, we don’t really get actively involved.”

“Agent Wollard, I don’t know where else to go. My husband and his brother have been missing since my husband went to Iraq to help him.”

“Your husband is in Iraq?”

“The last I heard. But nobody has seen or heard from him in days,” Catherine sobbed, struggling to keep her composure.

Angela handed her a tissue from the box on her desk. “Is your husband a United States citizen?”

“Yes, he has been for many years.”

The tears finally made their way over the spill gates, and Catherine emptied them into the tissue.

“Have you tried to find him in Iraq?”

“Yes, but the only person I know there is his brother and he’s not answering. I don’t have anyone else to call.”

“Well, the best I can do is to take a missing persons report and make a couple of phone calls.”

“Would you please?” Catherine felt instant relief. Even though this Agent Wollard didn’t promise a solution, just having any kind of help made her feel less hopeless.

“Yes, of course. Please, fill out these forms and, when you’re done, I can enter the information into our missing person’s database.”

“Thank you Agent Wollard.”

“I’m sorry I couldn’t do more.”

***

After Mrs. Khury left, Angela processed the report, and then called Bill Thompson, one of her contacts in Washington.

“Bill, I’ve got a missing persons case that I may need your help on.”

“Since when does the bureau really ever work a missing person’s case?”

Angela chuckled. “I’ve been known to do it from time to time. Listen, he’s an Iraqi born, U.S. citizen, who went to Iraq last month and nobody has heard from him in about a week. His wife is worried to death.”

“Send me an email and I’ll make some calls.”

“Thanks Bill.”

CHAPTER THREE

Ahmed opened his eyes to complete blackness. Am I alive? Panicking, he put his hand in front of his face and he couldn’t see it. He moved his fingers. Still nothing. Ahmed’s frantic eyes moved back and forth and there was not a sliver of light. I’m blind, he thought. A sudden surge of adrenalin compelled him to action. His brain sent a signal to stand up and, as he did, the pain shot from his feet to his head like a hammer hit on a high striker in a carnival. Gravity pulled his broken body to his knees and he collapsed. He felt his body: No clothing.

What happened? Am I dead?

No, he thought, I must be alive. He was in too much pain to be dead. He felt his chest for bullet wounds, but found none. Except for some tender spots on his chest and back and some scrapes on his knees, there was nothing. They must have used rubber bullets.

Ahmed strained to see, but it was no use. He felt his face: It was swollen and bruised. They must have blinded me in the shooting, he thought. As his other four senses came to life, he realized that he was sore all over. He tried to stand again, but his legs would not cooperate. He felt them with his new eyes; the bones felt straight and unbroken. Must be sprains, but why am I blind? He struggled to control the panic and the terror. Think, think. Have to think.

Ahmed crawled on his hands and knees and propped himself up against the wall, which was as cold and damp as the floor. He felt along the walled boundaries of his confinement. One, two, three, four, five, six, about seven feet in one direction. One, two, three, four, about five feet in the other direction. Next, he negotiated the circumference on his hands and knees.

How did he get himself into this mess? From his cozy home in Santa Barbara, to the battered and occupied Baghdad, to this. His brother, Sabeen needed his help, so he went. It was as simple as that. The next events were a blur to him; The raid, his capture. Now he was in some kind of military prison.

Since his capture, Ahmed had been stripped naked, cavity searched, shaved bald, beaten, kicked and spat on. And then the mock execution. It made his current confinement in this dark cage somewhat of a relief, not at all what it was designed for. The walls were as cold as a headstone. He felt around them until he came to a steel door.

He thought of his wife, Catherine. She must know he was missing by now. But even if he was to be rescued, what good is a blind husband? An accountant by trade, there was no way he could work with figures as a blind man. He would be a complete burden on the entire family. The best thing to do is to kill myself, he thought. He had some life insurance, and wondered if it would pay off in the event of his suicide.

***

The time passed, but Ahmed had no way of measuring it. How long have I been like this? Ahmed concentrated on his other senses, but there was no input, save the sound of the pounding of his own heart. His mouth was as dry as a slab of jerky, so he tried to wet his broken lips with his tongue. In despair, he dropped to the floor. Lying there on his back, he rubbed his eyes and, suddenly, he saw tiny stars above him in the blackness. Light! I can see light!

The tiny stars spread out in a geometric pattern, like symbols in a matrix. Those can’t be stars. They’re not random. Ahmed’s accountant’s brain analyzed the patterns of light, but then they turned into eyes, angrily staring at him. Stop! Stop! Please, somebody help me! Then the eyes pulled back to reveal a miniature firing squad, with their rifles trained on Ahmed. He heard the blast of their rifles, almost in slow motion, and felt the bullets ripping through his flesh as his brain switched off.

“Bless the Bees: The Pending Extinction of our Pollinators and What You Can Do to Stop It,” written by Kenneth Eade, and illustrated by Valentina Eade, can be considered a manifesto for the survival of bees. The pressing issue of bees’ extinction is something that should concern the entire population of planet Earth, given that each and every individual’s life depends on the fate of our bees. Were it for pollination to disappear, a whole natural cycle would be broken, and thereby our lives would change dramatically.  Jo Ammons, New York Book Examiner.

 

"Bless the Bees" is a formidable resource for anyone who is concerned or wants to learn more about the unclear future of bees as a species. This book is informative, well written, well-researched, and highly resourceful. I applaud the author Kenneth Eade for compiling such an excellent reference for readers. -  A.C. Haury, Bibliophile Book Reviews

  This beautifully illustrated book should be read by each and every individual living on this planet as the fate of our bee population is of global concern. Without pollination a whole natural cycle would be broken, thus strongly impacting our lives." -  Top Books Worth Reading

 

“The book suggests ways of `fighting back’, from buying organic, avoiding GMOs, to working against the powerful chemical lobby and supporting conservation. Getting even more personal, the book takes the resolution to the problem directly into our homes and lets us know what each of us can do to reverse this tragedy.  This is a very important book and one that belongs in the hands of everyone who cares about ecology and the preservation of the bee population that in turn means the preservation of life as we know it on this planet.” Grady Harp


To Russia for Love

Book two of the controversial bestselling eco-thriller/espionage series by the author critics hail as 'one of our strongest thriller writers on the scene'. Ukraine is perched at the beginning of a bloody civil war. Involuntary spy Seth Rogan finds himself back in Russia when his Russian secret agent girlfriend disappears while on an undercover assignment in Ukraine amidst the political upheaval and unrest. How does his former employer, the giant chemical company and GMO seed king Germinat, stand to benefit from the war and how involved is the company in her disappearance?

  • ISBN: 9781370309412
  • Author: Kenneth Eade
  • Published: 2016-08-04 12:05:26
  • Words: 32397
To Russia for Love To Russia for Love