Edge of Apocalypse: pages 156-159 (Chapter Twenty-Eight)
We’re now in Moscow, and Hamad Katchi has business there. If you all need a memory refresher, he featured last in Chapter Twenty as a supposedly reformed arms dealer who was in Davos to have a chat with Cesar Demas.
What’s he up to now?
“Hamad Katchi threaded his way down a back alley littered with broken bottles and scraps of trash. It was right around midnight. For most people, in that particular neighborhood and at that particular time of night, it would be a hair-raising experience.”
He’s apparently been busy in his old career as an arms dealer rather than a reformed one:
“But not for Katchi. He wasn’t afraid of the Russian mobsters who controlled that part of town. Many of them had done business with Katchi in the illegal arms trade. And for those who hadn’t, they had certainly heard of him.
Over the years, Katchi had risen to the level of an international celebrity in the underworld. Who would have thought a ‘conversion’ to global peace would give him the ability to continue to secretly negotiate with national leaders behind the cloak of legitimacy. This was a man no one wanted to cross.”
It turns out that Katchi is Pakistani, and he’s about to meet with a guy named Vlad, a former KGB agent who is now in the FSB. They meet in a small cafe for this purpose; the cafe’s empty, having already been closed for the night.
“‘Good to see you again, Vlad,’ Katchi began.
The other man, Vlad Levko, was a former KGB agent and now an aging member of the Russian Federation’s newest spy agency, the FSB. He smiled and motioned toward a bottle of vodka flanked by two shot glasses. Katchi shook his head no. Levko helped himself anyway, filled up a shot, and then tossed it down.”
The Russians want a modification to their deal to get the RTS-RGS by hook or by crook, and to be honest, it makes perfect sense. As a nuclear power they’d prefer to have MAD parity with the USA rather than the USA having an asymmetrical advantage in nuclear warfare.
“Okay, but there is a slight adjustment since we talked last.’
Katchi was prepared for some last-minute treachery from the Russians. What he was not prepared for was a deal breaker.
Levko took another draw on his cigar before proceeding. ‘We want the exclusive rights to the RTS. We don’t want the system being sold to our competitors.’
‘That’s not an adjustment, Levko–that’s a complete overhaul. You should have informed me before I wasted a trip.'”
Skipping ahead, Katchi agrees.
“Katchi replied, ‘What you are asking is going to be a very hard sell to Demas.’
‘We are, of course, prepared to compensate you for exclusivity. You are, however, going to have to guarantee that you will be able to deliver all the necessary information regarding the details of the RTS laser-reversal protocol to make it worth our while.'”
It looks like the original plan might have been to dribble it out to the Russians piece by piece. This is consistent with an in-text comment about “not wanting to wait a year”.
The Russians are obviously not stupid nor fanatical. They want to stay around for a long time and if the price of that is going back to the old Soviet pattern of stealing advanced Western technology, they’re not going to flinch from it.
“‘One more thing. We cannot under any circumstance be traced back to your efforts to obtain the RTS design. Are we clear about that? We are not looking for a world war with the United States. At least not yet. Can you guarantee that you will keep us out of the spotlight?'”
Keeping in mind that this covert plan is running in parallel with careful overtures by the USA to try and trade the RTS-RGS for oil, or to get money for it, Katchi points out how to keep the US government distracted:
“‘That won’t be a problem. In the meantime, I suggest you increase the U.S. allotment of oil above what you are currently offering, to make it look like you’re helping to prop them up economically. You will continue to appear like a friend, and the U.S. does not become suspicious.'”
Then Katchi starts to almost make the same mistake that did in Banica, the Romanian.
“‘We have someone getting the RTS for us who is world-class. The best there is. Maybe the best there ever was. I am certain he will keep all of us out of the spotlight.’
But then Katchi caught himself. Had he said too much? He did not want the Russian spy-masters to know whom they had hired for this project. The Russians had long memories. Atta Zimler’s execution of three of their top agents had left a festering sore.”
The undercurrents in the spy-thriller part of this novel are actually crafted fairly decently, I’d say. We have murky background people like Cesar Demas, Hamad Katchi, the Russian FSB and Atta Zimler who may or may not be working at cross-purposes to one another in their scramble to get the RTS-RGS.
Katchi saves himself with a throwaway lie about a South American agent (which calls to mind Carlos the Jackal, oddly enough, but then I’ve read the “Bourne Identity” series of books by Ludlum), and we end with the Russian agent agreeing on the new payment terms:
“Just before exiting the cafe’s back room, Katchi added almost offhandedly, ‘For exclusive possession of the RTS design, you will have to pay double.’
Levko didn’t flinch. Russia’s oil reserves were at an all-time high. And the Federation had successfully taken control of all private oil production. Another billion dollars was no big deal.
‘Be safe, my friend,’ Vlad Levko muttered to Katchi as he made his way through the dim cafe and out onto the street. ‘The world can be a dangerous place.'”
A billion smackers is a lot of dough to fork out for this thing, but given the Russian Federation’s well-known dependence on oil sales throughout the 2000s it’s reasonable to assume they can afford it.
And with that, we’ll move back to the Roundtable next chapter.