Eight months earlier
ROSS METFORD LOOKED UP from his computer and through the glass partition. He could see a full waiting room. The Consulate office was busy this morning with people looking for Visas, and inquiries as to travel. Metford was a career diplomat who’d been assigned to Havana by the previous administration. It was an interesting post given the change in politics between the United States and Cuba; this non-recognition to somewhat recognition for some situations such as human and drug trafficking, health, and environmental issues. The First United States Consulate opened in Cuba in 1902 and closed after Castro’s revolution and the Cold War increased in 1961. It was under Obama in 2014 that relations were re-established, after a fashion. There were a lot of business that couldn’t wait until things fully normalized. Metford was dealing with a request of a minor baseball league to visit the country.
Metford looked at his coffee cup. It was half full of cold coffee. Time to visit the staff room. Given the fact that Cuba produced great coffee, the stuff they served in the embassy was mediocre at best. He hoped the Keurig he ordered came soon. As Metford pushed his bulk away from his desk, he felt a wave of dizziness wash over him. A hum penetrated his ears and he crumbled to the floor. He could hear thuds and cries coming from outside his office. His head was pounding worse than a migraine. He felt his stomach heave and he vomited on the floor. He closed his eyes and breathed slowly. What the hell was going on? He vaguely heard the thump of someone falling. Someone screamed. He opened his eyes. His vision blurred. Darkness swept over him.
* * *
THE HIGH HEDGES and greenery on Avenue de Pearson disguised the concrete wall that protected the beige, three-story square concrete building with the columned portico that was the Russian Federation Consulate. A metal gate with security cameras and ID readers blocked the drive leading up to the building and the parking lot.
Above from the corner office on the top floor Director Viktor Apagov looked at the quiet street below and thought about the May Day party the consulate was going to have. This was an easy posting. His wife Maria liked living here. It was a far cry from the greyness of Moscow. The streets in the summer were alive with outdoor cafes, good wine, and music.
There was a knock on the door. His secretary, a lovely thirty-year-old named Marina poked her head in. “Sorry to disturb you, boss, but Oleg is here. Says he wants to talk to you.”
Apagov nodded. God knows what the Security head wanted, or in some cases, didn’t want Apagov to know. Oleg Medvedev was the FDR security head at the consulate. He was a sulky bear of a man, a former GRU. He kept to himself and the few agents under him. Apagov knew skullduggery was usually a foot, but as long as Oleg didn’t embarrass him or the consulate, he said little.
Oleg entered wearing a rumpled black suit, white shirt, and grey tie. The man had no taste or style. He was a hulk of a man, balding and his remaining hair was cut very short.
“You wanted to see me?” asked Apagov.
“Yes, I wanted to review security arrangements for the May Day celebration and diplomat dinner.”
“You have concerns?”
“I would like to see the guest list before so we can do background checks,” said Medvedev.
“All right, but be discreet,” said Apagov.
Suddenly a wave of nausea erupted over Apagov. The room spun. Before his eyes. He clutched his stomach and looked around for somewhere to heave. He saw his wastepaper basket and lunged for it. Apagov fell short and spewed on his carpet, right before he fell. His face landed in the wet carpet. He turned his head and watched as Oleg doubled over and crashed to the floor. What was happening? Blood dripped from his nose and spotted the cream-coloured carpeting. The floor closed on him.
* * *
SIDNEY CHONG WALKED briskly through Hong Kong Park on his way to the United States Consulate near Garden Road. It was a hot humid day and the clouds hung low over stretching towers. His lightweight suit jacket was already clammy, but he wasn’t going to take it off, revealing the 9mm automatic he wore whenever he left the consulate. Chong had been a CIA station chief at the American Consulate near Garden Road for the past ten years. He’d gotten a signal from one of his contacts, and rather than sending a local field agent, he’d decided to meet the man on his own. But the man had failed to show up. Chong had waited an extra ten minutes, even buying coffee from a vendor. Chong realized that something must’ve happened. It was better, and safer to get back to his secure office.
He crossed the street and went up the hill. The consulate was a modern five-story building. He entered, flashed his ID, and bypassed security. The Marine guard nodded to him. It wouldn’t do for alarms to go over when he went through the metal detector. There, several people queued, waiting to get in for Visas and other requests. Chong took the elevator up to the fourth floor. A Marine guard sat at a small desk in the floor foyer The stone-faced Marine guard double-checked his ID and nodded. Chong passed by and walked down the hall to his office.
Once in his office, Chong took off his jacket and hung it on the coat rack behind the door. He slipped off his shoulder holster and put it in his bottom right drawer. His office was organized. The wood veneer double-pedestal desk was clean except for a landline phone, laptop and a picture of his wife, Connie, and their daughter seventeen-year-old daughter Lisa.
Chong was in his late forties, just the beginning of a paunch from too many cocktail meetings and dinners. He liked to walk and cycle, but often did not have the time he would have liked to indulge in these healthy pastimes. Being close to China, there was a lot of intelligence that had to be gathered and sifted through before passing it forward to Washington. The man he was supposed to meet had told him it was important, but wouldn’t go into detail on the phone. His informant worked in Chinese intelligence.
As Chong sat down at his desk, a high-pitched whine invaded his hearing. Suddenly he felt sick and grabbed for his wastepaper basket. He vomited. A wave of dizziness passed over him and he felt himself tumbling out of his chair as a pounding headache launched him into unconsciousness.
* * *
DAMIEN WYNTER SAT in a battered pickup truck perched on a low hill. It was a cool July evening with just a few wisps of cloud in a star-filled night. Moonlight bathed the meadow below. Cattle lay or stood quietly. Behind the wheel of the pickup was Carol Monroe, a fifty-five-year-old widow and owner of the Triple-M ranch. She was an attractive woman, with blonde streaked auburn hair and grey eyes.
“There’s a full moon. This thing comes every month on the full moon, and it’s been killing my livestock. I can’t afford it. Lena says you deal with shit like this. I want answers. I want to shoot the sonofbitches that are stealin’ and killin’ ma cattle.”
“And you say you’ve seen helicopters shortly after the sighting?” asked Wynter.
“Yep, big black military-grade helicopters.”
“And you know this?”
Carol shot him a hard glance. “My late husband, Brad, was an Army copter pilot.
Did two tours in Afghanistan before he was shot down and murdered by local Taliban. I’ve been on an Air Force base. I know what Army helicopters look like.”
“I’m sorry,” said Wynter. “Sorry for your loss, but this is what I do. I need to be sure of what people see. I didn’t mean to insult you.”
Carol nodded. “I suppose you see your share of crackpots.”
“What did Lena tell you about me?”
“You work for the government. You were dating her daughter Michelle. Said you’ve been having a hard time dealing with her death. You’ve been on leave. She figured you could help me. Said you were good at investigating weird shit.”