The Kill Zone (Kirk McGarvey Series #9)

The Kill Zone (Kirk McGarvey Series #9)

by David Hagberg

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From the USA Today bestselling author of Joshua's Hammer

The President of the United States has appointed Kirk McGarvey interim director of the CIA while his nomination winds its way through Congressional hearings. But what should have been the culmination of McGarvey's career, has activated a twenty-year-old Russian plot sponsored by his former archenemy, General Baranov. Now, McGarvey is in the Kill Zone. He finds himself part of a plot that does know the Cold War is over, a plot that comes at McGarvey full throttle--from the grave of an enemy McGarvey had buried decades before.

Step by inexorable step, the assassin—a sleeper agent for all these years—is awakened from a holding state of mind. Brainwashed by KGB doctors to pull the trigger, the killer has unknowingly waited for a signal that has finally arrived.

And as the story races toward its breathtaking climax, it's becoming clearer to McGarvey and his associates that the killer is someone within his inner circle.

A colleague or a friend.

Somebody very close.

Is there anyone McGarvey can trust when trust itself can kill him?

At the Publisher's request, this title is being sold without Digital Rights Management Software (DRM) applied.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781429912419
Publisher: Tom Doherty Associates
Publication date: 12/07/2003
Series: Kirk McGarvey Series , #9
Sold by: Macmillan
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 352
Sales rank: 120,581
File size: 412 KB

About the Author

David Hagberg is a former Air Force cryptographer who has traveled extensively in Europe, the Arctic, and the Caribbean, and has spoken at CIA functions. He has published more than twenty novels of suspense, including the bestselling High Flight, Assassin, and Joshua's Hammer. He makes his home in Vero Beach, Florida.

David Hagberg (1947-2019) was a New York Times bestselling author who published numerous novels of suspense, including his bestselling thrillers featuring former CIA director Kirk McGarvey, which include Abyss, The Cabal, The Expediter, and Allah’s Scorpion. He earned a nomination for the American Book Award, three nominations for the Mystery Writers of America Edgar Allan Poe Award and three Mystery Scene Best American Mystery awards. He spent more than thirty years researching and studying US-Soviet relations during the Cold War. Hagberg joined the Air Force out of high school, and during the height of the Cold War, he served as an Air Force cryptographer.

Read an Excerpt

The Kill Zone

By David Hagberg

Tom Doherty Associates

Copyright © 2002 David Hagberg
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4299-1241-9




Dr. Anatoli Nikolayev was an old man, and the summer heat was oppressive to him as he hauled his thin body up the dark narrow stairs. He wasn't sure that he wanted the answers that he had come here to find. Yet with everything that he'd learned so far he couldn't simply turn his back like an old lover who'd found out he'd been betrayed.

His research was almost finished. He had ground his way through a million pages of old records, starting in 1917 with the Soviet Union's first secret intelligence service, the Cheka, until the breakup under Gorbachev and the dismantling of the KGB in 1991; the kidnappings and terrorism and sabotage; poisons, electric guns, honey traps, brainwashings, intimidation of countless thousands of officials and diplomats from nearly every country in the world. And assassination. The ultimate act of the state other than war. Bodies stretching back almost ninety years; piled to the rafters; more bodies than even Hitler had been credited with, making him wonder why the Soviet Union hadn't been as reviled as the Nazis were.

His boney, blue-veined left hand trailed along the cracked plaster wall, and he could smell the terror in the stifling air like last night's cabbage dinner; urine and shit from the overflowing communal toilets; the accumulated filth of ninety years of negelect.

When the KGB came it was almost always easier to commit suicide the moment the knock came on the door than to endure what would come next. But all of that was finally coming to an end. The money to operate the vast worldwide spy network was drying up.

Sleeper agents in place for years, some of them for thirty years or more, were being cut free from funds. Forgotten about. Their original missions no longer valid. They were the unmentionables. No one at the Kremlin wanted to know about them, let alone speak their names.

That meant trouble was coming. Agents cut off with no way out became desperate men. And desperate men sometimes did horrible things.

He stopped on the third floor landing in the rundown apartment building a few blocks north of the Bolshoi Theater and stared at the small, dirty window at the end of the hall. He waited patiently to catch his breath. His longish white hair was plastered to his neck. His research was finished and he was afraid to think about what he had uncovered. What might be about to happen. He needed names. A way to stop the madness that he had been a part of a long time ago.

Last of three doors in the corridor. He'd asked at the Pivnoy Bar around the corner on Stoleshinkov pereulok for the exact address. General Gennadi Zhuralev lived alone with his books; no friends, no lovers, no trouble except his lights, which were always on until dawn. No one had thought to ask why.

"Tall man, was he? Broad shoulders, big ears, scar on his forehead?" "No taller than average, but he always carries a canvas satchel. Heavy. Books maybe, certainly not money."

Dr. Nikolayev tried to dredge up a personal memory of the face from his own days as a psychologist with the KGB. But he could not. Zhuralev worked for General Baranov and the crowd in Department Viktor; assassinations, executive actions, they were called; wet affairs, mokrie dela, the spilling of blood; formerly the Thirteenth Department or Line F. It was Division 17 now though no one outside the SVR's First Chief Directorate was supposed to know it. He would recognize the man's face, though, from the photographs, and his voice, which had sounded gravelly on the phone.

He walked to the last door. The building was not quite silent; a radio or television played softly in one of the apartments, and in the other it sounded as if someone was practicing on a piano, tentatively, unsure of the notes. He hesitated out of old habit to listen for trouble sounds; the snick of a pistol slide being drawn back, sirens down on the street, boots on the stairs. The light filtering through the window was pale yellow, and his eyes were drawn to it like a moth to flame. The ceiling and walls angled inward to him, crushing his breath; he longed to escape to the clean air on the street.

There was someone inside the apartment who didn't belong there. He was hearing hard-soled shoes. At the Pivnoy they laughed and said that the old man always wore his bedroom slippers outside.

Nikolayev turned and went silently to the end of the hall, where he flattened himself in the corner next to the small window in the darker shadows. He hadn't brought a pistol.

The door opened, and two men came out. They were very large, their heads were shaved and they wore shiny leather jackets despite the heat. One of them carried a canvas satchel. Nikolayev's legs felt like straw. They closed the door, turned away and headed to the stairs. He watched the doorway until they were gone and he could no longer hear them on the stairs, wondering what he would have done had they turned around and seen him.

Zhuralev was part of the Baranov crowd. If anyone had the answers it would be him. Someone who had been there, someone who knew if the bridge still existed between then and now. He waited for a long time, thinking that he could walk away. The August heat seemed even more oppressive now.

He let himself into the overstuffed two-room apartment. Books and magazines and newspapers were strewn everywhere, but not as if the place had been searched. This was the way the man lived. The rooms were like a furnace, but filled with the odors of musty books, pipe tobacco and something else. Unpleasant. The hairs on the back of his neck bristled.

He went to the bedroom door. Gennadi Zhuralev, his blood-filled eyes open, lay on his back on the bed. He was fully clothed, carpet slippers on his feet, a silenced pistol in his slack hand. It had been made to look as if he had shot himself in the temple with the gun. But suicides did not usually go to the trouble of using a silenced pistol so that their neighbors would not be disturbed by the noise.

Nikolayev was conscious of his heart arrhythmia, a fluttering in his chest that made him dizzy and empty. With a feeling of deep despair he knew that he was utterly alone. He was an old man, and he valued his peace, but at what cost, he wondered, looking at Zhuralev's body. Lie down with the lions but don't expect to remain safe forever. He couldn't make his wife understand that; she loved the perks that his KGB colonel's rank brought them; food, apartment, dacha on the Istra, a car; until she bled to death on the surgeon's table. A simple gallbladder operation. But nothing was as simple as all that, not even in Moscow.

What was it that they hoped to cover up by killing a retired KGB officer who couldn't sleep nights and who wore carpet slippers? Nikolayev tried to feel some sorrow for the man, but he could not. Zhuralev had been a murderer.

What had died with him up here under the eaves? Nikolayev thought he knew the answer now, and he was frightened. Some important Americans were going to get killed if he was right and unless he did something. He could not turn away. It was far too late for that, no matter how dearly he valued his peace.

He got in his old BMW without windshield wipers, parked around the corner, and headed toward the Lefortovo Prison on Moscow's northeast side. They had gotten to Zhuralev, and he would be next because he had tinkered with the old files. He had to move decisively now — surprise them, give them pause long enough for him to get out. But he needed the proof first; otherwise, no one in the West would believe his fantastic story. What was in the satchel they'd carried out?

He was stuck, caught between a rock and a very hard place with no simple way out. He hadn't meant to uncover the operation. Hadn't meant for that to happen at all. But now it was far too late for him to turn back. Like an insect caught in the spider's web, the more he struggled, the more terrible his situation became.



The director of archives, SVR Captain Aleksei Budakov was speaking to three junior grade clerks, all of them pretty young women from the country. He looked up through bottle-thick glass as Nikolayev came in and gave him a nod. Budakov said something to the girls and walked over.

"Finished with the interview so soon?" The KGB's old case files were open to the public like an old whore's thighs, and no one knew why he cared as much as he did, but he was almost always angry, and frightened. At least in the old days a man knew who his enemies were.

Nikolayev shook his head as he took a half-dozen request slips from the wooden tray on the counter. "There was no answer over there." He had been perfectly open about his research to this point.

"Will you try again tomorrow?"

"I'm not going to waste my time," Nikolayev said, filling out the request slips for six specific operational files from the Baranov days. "I still have fifty thousand pages of reading to do, and perhaps five times that many to review." He looked up and smiled tiredly. "I'm not getting any younger." He pushed the slips across.

"None of us are," Budakov replied snappishly. He scooped up the slips without looking. His mood was explosive, but Nikolayev politely pretended not to notice. "This may take a while unless I'm lucky and everything is in its place."

Nikolayev shrugged. "I have the afternoon." He offered a tentative smile. Budakov might know what was going on, but if he did Nikolayev couldn't see it in his eyes. No suspicion there — simple anger and boredom with a stupid job in a stupid place with nowhere for his career to go. This was a dead-end job in any army. But it was Russia, too, where almost every career was a dead end. The girls helped some, he supposed.

The reading room was large, with tall imperial ceilings, sturdy oak tables and broad uncomfortable chairs. Several historians like himself and a couple of well-dressed men who were probably Western journalists were at tables on opposite sides of the room. Nikolayev took his usual table near a side door to the bathrooms. He'd made no secret that he had bladder problems.

Russia was a dark, brooding nation of suspicions. Nikolayev had always felt eyes watching him. Legmen behind him; artists who could shake down a second-story man's apartment with such a light touch he'd never know that he'd been violated; opened mail, wiretaps; KGB psychiatrists so adept at reading facial expressions and body language that they could almost read a man's thoughts. Who better to watch a spy than another spy? So he had made his preparations. Who better to slip past a spy than another spy?

Network Martyrs. General Illen Baranov's final legacy. Delving into the files had been like descending into the dark realms of fantasy and insanity. But he'd been there himself; been a part of it thirty years ago when they experimented with LSD and a dozen other mind-altering drugs. Brainwashing brought to the peak of awful perfection so that the subject continuously teetered on the brink of insanity but could be made to do anything for their control officer. The ultimate kamikaze weapon. Baranov had gone forward with the experimental program even though he'd never formally applied for authorization. Zhuralev had been the chief of operations and he would have known the details then and now.

His death proved that Martyrs was still active.

"Who should care about this old news," Budakov said twenty minutes later, wheeling a pushcart filled with thick files up to the table, a scowl on his chubby, pink baby face.

Nikolayev looked up. "It's a matter of history, Aleksei."

"This lot will take the rest of the day."

"Longer than that." Nikolayev opened his battered leather briefcase and took out paper and pens. He picked the first thick file folder marked with four stars to designate highly sensitive, though not top secret, material and opened it to the promulgation page. It was titled: BUDGET PROPOSALS: UN OPERATIONS: FISCAL 1971–72. He looked up again, but Budakov had gone back to the adjacent computer center, a large glass window separating it from the reading room. He could see the back of the director of archives's head.

Nikolayev selected several other files, which he laid out on the table, before pulling out the folder marked with three diagonal red stripes from the bottom shelf of the cart. NETWORK MARTYRS: MOST SECRET, with a need-to-know list on the inside front cover that included only seven names; among them Baranov, Zhuralev, a couple of KGB generals, two ministers and Brezhnev himself. The file, which was contained in a buff gray accordion folder fifteen or sixteen centimeters thick, was bound with a heavy red ribbon. One of the other files he had pulled was just as thick, and contained in a buff-colored accordion folder, but this one was tied with a green ribbon and marked with only one star, meaning low-grade confidential material. Making sure that he wasn't being observed, Nikolayev switched files. When he was finished he got up, took the one star file now containing NETWORK MARTYRS and stepped out into the corridor to the bathrooms. He propped the door ajar with a chair as he usually did so that he would arouse no suspicions; so he could get back into the locked reading room without going all the way around to the front of the building.

He moved slowly, nonchalantly, as if he didn't have a care in the world, though his heart was racing impossibly fast; the fluttering in his chest was very pronounced, his knees were weak and his stomach was sour. His jaw and left shoulder ached, and he tried to ignore it. The pain would go away, it usually did.

He passed the rest rooms and at the end of the corridor turned right past the guard, who looked up, smiled and waved, then went back to the television program he was watching.

Nikolayev went to his car and tossed the folder on the passenger seat. There was no guard at the front gate. No one to challenge him. In the old days it would not have been so easy. He drove directly to Komsomol Square, with its crowds of beggars and drunks and its three fantastic train stations: the Yaroslavl art noveau monstrosity, which was the start of the Trans-Siberian line; the rather Asian-looking Kazan Station on the south side of the square, from which trains bound for central Asia and western Siberia departed; and the Leningrad Station, Moscow's oldest, with its grand soaring clock tower where trains started for St. Petersberg and beyond to Finland.

Later, on the Finnair flight from Helsinki to Paris, Nikolayev thought that by now his abandoned car would have either been stolen or certainly stripped to the bare chasis. It would make it more difficult for the SVR to pick up his trail when Budakov reported him missing. A lot would depend on how soon they discovered that he'd switched files, but in the meantime he was able to relax for the first time in days with a glass of good white wine, safe for the moment.

There had been no one to notice him parking his car two blocks from the Leningradsky vokzal, packing the file in his overnight bags in the trunk, destroying his old passport and papers after retrieving his new identity from a hollow behind a body panel and going the rest of the way on foot.

Just another old man on a journey; with a serious heart problem and the fear that he might be too late to stop what could well turn out to be a bloodbath from which no one would come out the winner; not the United States and certainly not Russia.

Everything depended on what was in the file — names, operational details, timetables. All that would have to wait until he reached Paris, and safety. But Martyrs had lain dormant for all these years, another day or two would not make a difference.




The self-hatred that destroys is the waste of unfulfilled promise.

— Moss Hart




It was the beginning of one of the coldest, snowiest winters in Washington, D.C.'s history. The house backing on the fifteenth fairway of the Chevy Chase Country Club was long, low; a modern colonial with a swimming pool, covered now, the patio snowbound; but with long lawns and bright flowers in hanging baskets from the broad eaves in the summer. It was at the end of a cul-de-sac of similar houses seven miles north of the capital. A few minutes before noon of a Sunday morning a stereo softly played Vivaldi's Four Seasons. Kirk Cullough McGarvey was seated at his desk in his study reading copies of some never-been-published letters of François-Marie Arouet — Voltaire — that an old friend at the Sorbonne in Paris had sent over on loan. Kathleen, his wife, was at church, and he was waiting for her to come home. As had happened several times in the past hour, his concentration was broken, and he looked up, his wide, honest, gray-green eyes narrowing in concentration. Had he heard something? He listened intently, but there was nothing except for normal house sounds; the rush of warm air through the vents, the music. Falling snow blanketed sounds from outside. No one was sneaking up on them from across the golf course as had happened before. There was no reason for it this time.


Excerpted from The Kill Zone by David Hagberg. Copyright © 2002 David Hagberg. Excerpted by permission of Tom Doherty Associates.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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