Silent Crusade - YouTube the trailer for my latest Brand Coldstream book. Have a peek....
The ringing of Ryan’s cell phone interrupted his discussion with Netanya Kalb. Flashing on the screen was the number from the D.C. Bureau office.
“Excuse me a minute,” Ryan ventured away from Netanya and returned to the bedroom for privacy. “Hello. Special Agent Ryan,” he answered.
“Ryan, District Chief Tom Wilkerson. Are you wrapped up in Venezuela yet?”
“Yeah, Pretty much chief. I think I’ve sifted through all the details. I am waiting for a couple of reports from the Venezuelan Police, but I can have them sent to me. Why?”
“Grab your things; we’ve got trouble in the Ukraine. These damn terrorists seem to be methodically destroying the oil supply in every country. I received word that there was an explosion at the natural gas plant near the western Ukrainian city of Lviv. The Donets Gas Cooperative is the hub of gas exports and supplies a quarter of the heating fuel used in Europe." The FBI District Chief paused. "If the estimates of damage are anywhere close to what I've read, the pipeline will take years for them to rebuild and have up and running, the Ukrainian economy will be on the verge of collapse."
Charles Ryan whistled in astonishment at the news, "That is undoubtedly going to play havoc with the short fuel supply Europe has already been facing." Ryan commented.
"Hang on a second.” Ryan heard the chief's muffled voice as the man covered the phone receiver. Ryan listened to a muffled conversation between Wilkerson and another FBI agent. The conversation ended followed by a few seconds of dead air before the FBI chief spoke again.
“Okay, thanks,” the words Tom Wilkerson spoke before he removed his hand from the receiver and resumed the conversation. “Jesus,” he muttered under his breath, “I’m not sure if this case is related now. An update just came across the wire. Ukrainian authorities have discovered the burnt remains of members from the Russian Special Forces within driving distance of the explosions. The remains of fake government vehicles were found in another torched building close to the bodies.” Wilkerson read the details of the report to Ryan.
“Still, I will have the coordinates and a copy of the initial report uploaded for you to read on the plane ride. I've included the name of a Ukrainian Spetsnaz officer who will meet you at the airport in Lviv.” Ryan again suffered the silence as the chief paused. “What the hell is going on?” the chief uttered. “Ryan, we need to get to the bottom of this. If the Ukrainians retaliate and go to war with their neighbors, the disruption to the oil supply will cause severe consequences, not just to Europe but to the entire world.” The District Chief Wilkerson fell silent once again then added as an afterthought. “Have you been in contact with any of the others agencies involved in this investigation? What are they saying? Have any of our fellow agencies caught a lead?”
Charles Ryan updated the FBI Chief, the lack of information or evidence pointing to any particular group still out of reach. Wilkerson stopped the agent once Ryan began flogging his often-repeated hypothesis.
“Evidence. Agent Ryan. We need evidence, not some crackpot conspiracy theory that you concoct to suit your needs.” Ryan’s boss scolded. “Find something in the Ukraine. Whoever is behind this can’t remain anonymous forever.”
“I’ll do my best Chief,” Ryan promised and cut the connection. He returned to hotel suites main room.
“Time for me to pack up, there’s a flight to the Ukraine with my name on it,” Ryan explained the phone call to Netanya Kalb. “I don’t get it,” Ryan said. “Here we are running around like a dog chasing his tale while the environmentalists are blowing every refinery and pipeline to kingdom com and yet everyone refuses to see them for what they are. How can that be possible?” Ryan fumed as he moved about the room collecting his spread out papers.
The sixth of April 2019, two weeks before Agents Ryan and Kalb’s meeting in Venezuela.
Captain Lev Zhernakov, the leader of a small band of Russian Special Forces, stood outside his car a quarter of a kilometer from the Ukrainian/ Russian border. Captain Zhernakov accepted a cigarette from one his men and waited for a light. Drawing heavily on the burning tobacco, he sat on the hood of the car and stared straight ahead at the dim lights of the guard station. Lost in thought, the Captain sat immobile until the cigarette he held pinched between his fingers consumed the thin paper down to the filter and burned his skin.
Flicking the butt to the ground, Zhernakov calmly slid off the hood of the car and stomped out the smoldering filter.
“Comrade.” Zhernakov addressed sergeant Konstantin Yeleshev. “Our contacts. You have apprised them of our arrival?”
“I have taken care of that, Captain,” Yeleshev replied. “We are to meet a day and a half from our destination near the western edge of the country. New transportation and the supplies you requested will be waiting.”
Captain Zhernakov nodded his approval. He lingered at the front of the late model Ukrainian made ZAZ Tavria; his mind still focused on the risky operation that would take him deep into the Ukrainian territory. If anything, Captain Zhernakov left little to fate. He had survived countless assignments for his country because of meticulous attention to detail.
The once rigid border leading into the Ukraine had disappeared a decade ago when Russia annexed the Western half of the country, but his team had to enter this part of annexed Russia as Ukrainian nationals, the façade they traveled under must be complete and beyond reproach once they crossed the Ukrainian border.
The first leg of the mission his unit faced was to move through the Russian-annexed part of the Ukraine not as countrymen but as Ukrainian nationals. This fact was vital if Zhernakov completed the task asked of him by the Russian government. Captain Lev Zhernakov was well aware of the hatred that burned between the two warring countries. Crossing through the often fought over territory had its hazards depending on what nationality a person represented.
Dressed in the civilian garb of the local Ukrainians, the border, now manned by Russian soldiers could prove to be a tense situation, setting the tone for the rest of the campaign.
The journey started that morning once Zhernakov and his two colleagues left the small Russian city of Shebekino shortly after breakfast. At the hotel, the men had changed into their disguises leaving all traces of their Russian culture behind. The risk of being identified as Russian military or even a citizen of the mother country could cause a backlash resulting in dangerous consequences for the faltering Russian hierarchy.
The timing of the drive from Shebekino, through the Belgorod Oblast and to the crossing planned for a mid-morning arrival, a time of day that the working people of this region would regularly use the passage while attending to the day's business.
The sun peeked thru the early morning mist pointing the direction west. Zhernakov requested the car be stopped short of the crossing to allow a few moments of mental rest before resuming the operation.
Kicking at the groundout cigarette butt, Zhernakov painstakingly reviewed with his men their part of the task. Satisfied with the responses he walked to the passenger door, kicking the hated Ukrainian car before settling into the cramped front seat.
Private Roman Kourov, the third man in the small crew knew the Kharkiv Oblast region better than his fellow Russian comrades. Kourov had grown up in the city of Izyum, south of the crossing when the region was still under Ukrainian rule. Born to Russian parents, Kourov suffered in the Ukrainian province until his late teens when he left his parents home and signed up to join the Russian military. Kourov’s command of the Ukrainian dialect was natural and without the Russian accent making him the best candidate for taking the car thru the Russian-controlled section.
On his captain’s command, Kourov shifted the car into gear, edged into the line of traffic and in turn rolled to a stop at the crossing barrier. Lowering the driver's window, Private Roman Kourov sat looking at the red and white striped barricade blocking the cars path as he waited for the Russian soldiers.
“What’s your business?” a bored guard questioned as he bent to survey the cars interior.
“Driving to Cherkasy. My friends and I are to work there,” Kourov replied accentuating his Ukrainian accent. Kourov handed the Russian soldier a packet containing false Ukrainian I.D.’s and forged work papers. The crossing guard’s bored expression changed when he heard Kourov’s accent. He mumbled a derogatory tirade about the arrivals to his partner than with disgust turned back toward the car and spit, the fluid dribbling down the side of the car.
The pair of guards eyed the cars occupants than the line of vehicles backing up at the gates. “Go before I change my mind. Do not come back this way. We do not need any more of you Ukrainian lichinki in our great country. Now, quickly before I step on you.” The guard growled tossing the packet into the car and motioned for the barrier to rise.
With his eyes glued to the road ahead, Kourov shifted the car into drive and rolled slowly forward. Once past the bar, he glanced at Captain Zhernakov. “This assignment will certainly test our patience.” Zhernakov nodded, he let out a breath and removed his fingers from the butt of his Ukrainian made fort-12 handgun, a firearm manufactured in the Ukraine for its militsya.
Inwardly he seethed, any other day he would have shot the soldier who called him and his men maggots. Zhernakov released another slow breath. For the mother country he reminded himself and for that, he would put up with the insults from the Russian occupied territory and, God have mercy, the time he was to spend with the appalling Ukrainians.
“Our next stop?” he asked Kourov, the man responsible for guiding the trio through the hostile no man’s land that separated the two countries and then for his knowledge of the country for their travels across the Ukraine proper and on to the far west border the country shares with Romania.
By the end of the first day, the trio stopped at the city of Cherkasy, close to the center of the Ukraine, one-third of the way to their destination. Accounting for strategic stops along the way the Captain Zhernakov expected to be across the country in three days, four at the most allowing for unscheduled setbacks.
Mid afternoon on the second day, Private Kourov steered the car into a small out of the way garage on the outskirts of Uman. A prearranged signal with the cars horn resulted with the opening of a large overhead door. The three men remained in the vehicle until the door sealed off the interior of the roadside garage from the outside world.
Roman Kourov climbed from behind the steering wheel and in Ukrainian talked with the lone visible occupant of the building, a mechanic clad in greasy overalls. Captain Zhernakov watched warily as the two men conversed before Kourov flashed the all-clear sign.
A short discussion and then a predetermined transaction took place. From the trunk of the Tavria, the Captain retrieved a worn black satchel. Inside the bag were bounded stacks of hryvnia, the Ukrainian national currency. The garage attendant took his time counting the money before tugging his cellphone from his overalls and relaying a coded message. When the call ended, the mechanic walked to an old fashioned fridge that stood alone in the corner of the cluttered garage bay and returned with four beers.
Surprising Zhernakov, the man handed him one of the beers and addressed him in Russian. “The others will arrive under the cover of darkness.”
Truck engines sounded through the cinder block walls of the garage on the edge of the Ukrainian city of Uman. Zhernakov glanced at his knockoff Timex watch. Eight forty-five the illuminated dial read. From his position inside the building he had watched the sun set, the last streaks of light had disappeared from outside the grimy windows an hour ago. The shop attendant stretched, emptied the last of his beer and lit yet another cigarette before he idly walked to the smaller man-door facing the gravel parking lot.
With an alert mind, Zhernakov tracked the vehicles as they turned off the main road, coasted toward the garage and then idled right out front of the building. He detected three engines, the quiet running diesels incorporated in the Electron EM. A Ukrainian manufactured multifunctional truck that was in wide use across the country by all facets’ of government departments from military to ambulances. For that reason, he had requested these particular trucks for this mission. Zhernakov banked on the trucks going unnoticed by the traveling public because of the widespread use these vehicles received throughout the Ukraine.
A muffled conversation leaked into the garage before the small door opened and several men followed the mechanic into the bay. Zhernakov’s hand rested close to his firearm, his eyes alert to any deception that may arise from the newcomers. Inside the door, the men stopped. The mechanic pointed toward the Russian Captain as he spoke to the group.
A grim faced leader of the second group left the others and crossed the floor toward Zhernakov.
“Dimitri Amelin,” the man introduced himself before asking the Russian Captain a question. The man spoke Ukrainian and laughed as Zhernakov returned the greeting with a puzzled look. Switching to Russian Amelin became serious. “We are in the Ukraine, are we not?” he said with a smile before continuing in Russian. Amelin outlined the part of the mission his team was to provide.
Zhernakov listened stone-faced to the Russian sleeper agent until the man finished his briefing. Mentally checking off each item as Amelin reported, Zhernakov nodded at the end of the update and turned to face the small band of men now gathered inside the garage.
“Mount up men,” he said as he split the group into three and assigned trucks. Zhernakov decided to ride with Dimitri Amelin. A large part of the plan remained on a need to know basis and he would tell his Russian counterpart the necessary details as the time unfolded.
A new Canadian Author with too many ideas in his head. Surprising even himself with where his stories go.