I started writing my action thriller, Cochabamba Conspiracy, shortly after leaving a tour of duty in the U.S. Embassy in La Paz Bolivia. Years later, I turned that book into a series with the publication of Chita Quest. Both novels are international thrillers with political and military undertones. Both feature U.S. Air Force Colonel Tom Callahan and his family and associates. The characters are all fictional, products of my fevered imagination and composites of people I had the pleasure (sometimes misfortune) of serving with during my twenty-plus years in the Air Force.
Homeland Burning (coming Jan 25, 2018)
Spring of 2000: Wildfires destroy mountain watersheds and municipal water systems, breached dams release tidal waves of water to obliterate farms and towns, and stone-cold shooters target helpless civilians as USAF Colonel Tom Callahan struggles to convince a skeptical U.S. intelligence community that enemy attacks on American soil are not only possible, but inevitable.
Callahan suspects that Kurt Wallerein, the world’s foremost terrorist-for-hire, feared, hated and hunted by every intelligence service in the West, has unleashed a terrifying campaign against the American Heartland to undermine the legitimacy of the United States government.
Callahan has to rally support to stop the attacks, but his political enemies in Washington conspire to distract the President and ridicule evidence, forcing Tom to go rogue. He’ll need all the help he can get from aviators of the National Guard, the Civil Air Patrol and the Ninety-Nines.
In Homeland Burning, Brinn Colenda delivers an epic story about the conflict between good and evil. You will love his characters and find yourself on a dizzying roller coaster ride of action and suspense. Be prepared to lose sleep over this one. Highly recommended.
–Joseph Badal, Tony Hillerman Award Winner and Amazon #1 Best-Selling Author of Sins of the Fathers.
Flowing with urgency, Homeland Burning plays out a frantic cat-and-mouse quest to stop a shadowy foe from setting America on fire. When Tom Callahan practices a touch-and-go landing near Chesapeake Bay, he stumbles onto the trail of a terrorist believed to be dead but who not only is alive, is on his own path to burn the American homeland, to kill its leaders, and to get his own revenge against Callahan.
Homeland Burning is written with pace and detail reminiscent of Gayle Lynds’ The Assassins and with the complexity of Vince Flynn’s Mitch Rapp series, a page-turning thriller to read deep into the night.
–Jack Woodville London, Military Writers Society of America Author of the Year, 2012, French Letters Series
The writing in Colenda’s books is always nuanced and characteristic of someone, who does exquisite research on his subject matter. He brings his own experiences into many of the situations but has expanded and supported his exciting story with terrific background work.
Particularly with his pilots – both male and female – he makes the situations realistic and compelling. The man knows what he’s talking about when it comes to aviation scenarios. It is tremendously satisfying to see his connection for his female pilot-characters to The Ninety-Nines, the world’s oldest and largest organization for female pilots.
Jacqueline B. Boyd, PhD, Amelia Earhart Memorial Scholarship Fund, The Ninety-Nines
Brinn hit a home run with his latest! He knows pilots, politics, and weaving an intriguing story well…”Homeland Burning” takes us on an international flying adventure, that shows the impacts of international relationships–right where we live!
Tim Hale, Colonel, USAF (Retired) Former Secretary, New Mexico Department if Veterans Services
Were American POWs left behind at the end of the War—either by accident or design?
Colonel Tom Callahan is driven to find out—his own father is still listed as Missing In Action. What Callahan doesn’t understand is how politically explosive the issue is, domestically and internationally. As Tom begins his journey, friends and associates meet violent deaths. The new ultranationalist Russian president is projecting Russian power into Asia and alarming regional governments. Will the threats of Russian military actions become a factor?
Aided by his Australian-born wife, Colleen, Tom’s quest to find his father takes him halfway across the world, through Vietnam, China, Mongolia and ultimately, Siberia. He is helped and hindered by unexpected friends and cunning—and deadly– enemies.
|The wall of thunderstorms towered out of the troposphere, reaching up sixty thousand feet and still climbing. Colonel (Brigadier General-select) Sean Callahan, USAF, had always thought the thunderstorms generated in the heat of a West Texas summer were impressive, but thunderstorms in this part of Vietnam were truly awe-inspiring…except when flying; then they were terrifying. Like all pilots, Callahan feared thunderstorms, their strength, their ferocity and their sheer unpredictability. Leading a flight of two McDonnell-Douglas F-4D Phantom II fighters, Callahan was in no mood to dawdle. His mission was clear: help rescue a downed Air Force pilot, one of his own men shot down earlier that afternoon. Now he was surrounded by thunderstorms, climbing to the heavens like the galleries of Valhalla, the seemingly solid walls of storm cells spewing lightning in all directions. Winds slashed at the aircraft as he searched for a way through. (click for more)
The wall of thunderstorms towered out of the troposphere, reaching up sixty thousand feet and still climbing. Colonel (Brigadier General-select) Sean Callahan, USAF, had always thought the thunderstorms generated in the heat of a West Texas summer were impressive, but thunderstorms in this part of Vietnam were truly awe-inspiring…except when flying; then they were terrifying. Like all pilots, Callahan feared thunderstorms, their strength, their ferocity and their sheer unpredictability.
Leading a flight of two McDonnell-Douglas F-4D Phantom II fighters, Callahan was in no mood to dawdle. His mission was clear: help rescue a downed Air Force pilot, one of his own men shot down earlier that afternoon. Now he was surrounded by thunderstorms, climbing to the heavens like the galleries of Valhalla, the seemingly solid walls of storm cells spewing lightning in all directions. Winds slashed at the aircraft as he searched for a way through.
“Fats,” Callahan said over his intercom, “can you find us a hole through all this shit?”
“No, sir.” Callahan could hear the fear in the voice of his navigator, a chubby lieutenant from Minnesota, inevitably dubbed Minnesota Fats by the squadron. After a few combat missions the moniker had quietly changed to Mike Foxtrot, phonetic alphabet for the letters M and F, with the expected double entendre. Callahan had overheard someone call him a cowardly dirt-bag and now he knew it was true. That’s it for Fats, he thought. He’s on the next plane back to the States.
“General, are you sure this is a good idea? Maybe we should abort.”
“Fats, listen to me, you worthless son-of-a-bitch. There’s one of our guys down out there and we’re going to go find him. Is that clear enough?”
Callahan checked his wingman, flying in a loose tactical position off the left wing. He punched his mic button. “Two, got any ideas?”
The answer was immediate, as he knew it would be. “Lead, suggest heading two six zero…and lower.”
“Roger. Coming left two six zero.”
Callahan saw the rip in the wall of clouds. He gently retarded the throttles and let the nose drop slightly as he made the prescribed turn. His muscles tensed as the two F-4s descended through the broken deck of rain, clouds, and lumpy air, carefully working the canyons and valleys within the cloud system, finally breaking out over the mottled green of the Vietnamese jungle. From three thousand feet the jungle stretched out under the clouds to the horizon, with a narrow river slicing through the foliage. He could see occasional fields gouged out of the trees. To the north and west, smoke rose from burning targets, probably trucks that had been hit by the downed Phantom. The locals would be alert, armed, and angry.
Against the cloud background, Callahan picked out the OV-10A Bronco of the forward air controller (FAC) working the area and made radio contact. The FAC directed Callahan’s flight to the west, closer to the ill-defined border, while two Douglas A-1E Sandys finished their bomb runs. The broccoli tops of the jungle foliage slipped by under his nose as he eased into a gentle climb.
He expected antiaircraft fire, or small arms fire at the least. “Keep your eyes peeled, Fats.” He tapped his rudders and sent his wingman out wider. He maneuvered the formation through the mild buffeting from the rising thermals, anticipating that the FAC would send them in quickly. He glanced over his instruments one more time to ensure everything was working and checked his compass. They were heading west towards Cambodia—he thought—or at least hoped. The border in this area was as crooked as a politician—sometimes west, sometimes northeast. He didn’t know where he was except that the Cambodia and Laos borders were close, too close. And he was saddled with an incompetent, cowardly, worse-than-useless navigator.
Callahan glanced at his wingman off his right wing. Bright flashes winked from the trees as strings of tracers reached for them. “Break left!” he screamed on the radio as he dropped his wing, rammed the throttles full forward and pulled hard on the stick. Gravity sank him into his seat. His G-suit clenched at his legs and torso as he honked the Phantom around. He grunted into his oxygen mask, fighting the Gs. After about ninety degrees of turn he rolled wings level. Suddenly his canopy exploded as shells slammed into the aircraft. Both engines stopped and angry red lights lit up his panel.
“Eject! Eject! Eject!” he shouted into his mask as he pulled the ejection handle. The Martin-Baker seat exploded him into the air. The wind-blast spun him and he tumbled. His world rotated gray and green around him. The man-seat separator flung him out of the madly gyrating seat. His chute snapped open and he bounced in the harness, leg straps cutting painfully into his groin. The gyrations continued until he managed to pull on his risers and dampen the oscillations. He yanked off his oxygen mask and threw it away. As Fats’ chute drifted toward the hills, Callahan looked around.
There! More tracers off to the right. He pulled on the risers and tried to sideslip away from the bad guys. Not much time. He knew that every farmer in a three mile radius was rushing to capture him, following his descent. He looked for a good landing area. Nothing. Damn! He was going into the trees. He clenched his legs together and covered his face as he crashed through the branches. His chute caught and he slammed into a tree. He fought off his dizziness, disconnected, and dropped the last eight feet to the ground.
He tried his emergency radio. Not even static. He ran and kept on running.
As darkness fell, the rains turned into a tropical torrent. His energy was draining away with the chilly downpour. Chest heaving and nearly exhausted, he tried to get oriented. Have to keep moving. Keep moving! Using the rain and the dark of night for cover, he sloshed through rice paddies, jungle, and several small streams. He had started his trek with only a vague idea of where he was, but was certain that he was somewhere well west of where he wanted to be so he headed in what he hoped was an easterly direction towards friendly territory.
For two days and nights he stumbled through the thick jungle vegetation. The trails were steep in places, slippery from the rain, and the daytime heat was debilitating. The terrain was rugged; the declines were short and the inclines long. Exhausted and hungry, he knew he was getting careless but he had to keep moving.
Suddenly he popped out of the jungle into a clearing. Several thatched roofed hooches were in a cluster with villagers milling around. Damn! He ducked back into the trees. Not quick enough. Behind him shouts, a gunshot. He panicked and ran, stumbling through the ferns and vines.
The villagers were on him in minutes. One man tackled him, then the rest, punching and screaming. Someone shouted an order and the beating abruptly stopped. Four men held him down as another quickly stripped him of all his survival gear. They tied his hands with vines, jerked him to his feet, and pushed and shoved him through the jungle back to the village, where he was instantly surrounded by angry villagers who shouted and hit him with sticks. One old woman punched him in the stomach, a blow that sent him to his knees. That seemed to invite others who jostled and pushed for a chance to strike the hated American prisoner. An ancient man, apparently the village boss, shouted something and the crowd reluctantly moved back. A girl threw one last rock that hit Callahan in the head and nearly knocked him over. The man yelled at the girl, who backed away.
A new group emerged from the woods and joined the crowd. They were Montagnards or “mountaineers,” the indigenous tribesmen of Vietnam. Very tough. The Viet Cong had been terrorizing them for years into cooperating. Callahan’s heart sank. The leader exchanged words with the village boss; then two Montagnards hauled Callahan to his feet and shoved him towards the jungle.
Again he was pushed and dragged through the thick undergrowth. He stumbled, fell to his knees many times until they were bruised and bloody. The trail led past a grass and bamboo hooch that evolved into a well-camouflaged encampment with a few more Montagnard troops and some women. As Callahan collapsed, the women gathered around him. A few made angry gestures; more made laughing comments, no doubt about his filthy appearance. They poked with sticks, spat on him, beat him. Eventually, the crowd dispersed, leaving Callahan immobile, gasping in pain. Two men stuffed him in a bamboo cage like the ones he had seen on mink farms in Denmark. He tried to make himself comfortable, but soon discovered that was impossible. The cage was designed to prevent him from sitting up or stretching out in any direction.
At sunrise an old crone spat on Callahan and stuffed a golf ball-sized lump of dirty rice through the slats. Before he could pick it up, a detachment of North Vietnamese Army soldiers appeared out of the jungle. The NVA troops pulled him from the cage, pushed him to his feet and shoved him towards the jungle. They prodded him into a dead run. They ran and walked him into the hills for what seemed like hours. Finally they reached another well-concealed encampment even deeper in the jungle.
That night they tied Callahan to a tree. The rain beat down again, turning the camp into a mud bog, and making the cold of the jungle night even more excruciating. They kicked him awake at first light, and the group was back on the move.
They maintained a steady pace through the forest. Enormous trees maybe a hundred and fifty feet high surrounded them. Callahan despaired. Jungle cover and low rain clouds meant no search airplane could spot him through that canopy. He was unable to keep directions straight, though he knew they were certainly heading away from American and South Vietnamese positions. Every day, he was farther away from friendlies. Every day, his chances of escape sank even further.
The trail climbed through the rugged terrain, sometimes so steep that steps had been carefully and laboriously cut into the path. Day after day, the soldiers kept moving into increasingly rugged country that Callahan guessed was the Co Co Va Mountains, parallelling the Laotian border. Thirsty, dizzy, and feeble, he could barely keep up. But he willed himself to keep moving, to stay alive. He stole a drink from a creek even though he knew that ground water in these areas could be contaminated from lack of natural filtration in the porous aquifer. Some hours later, he felt ominous rumblings in his stomach and something foul running down his leg. If they didn’t stop soon, he would die.
As the sun set, they came upon a small prison encampment carved into the hillside, surrounded by the jungle, well concealed. Like a Vietnamese version of Devil’s Island or Alcatraz: even if an inmate escaped from the camp, the surrounding environment would kill him.
Ironically, the first thing the soldiers did was strip off his aviator boots. He could hardly walk, much less run away.
Confined alone in a small hut with no blanket and a bed that was just a board about a foot wide atop two bricks, Callahan was left alone except for occasional visits from the camp doctor. Between the doctor’s rudimentary French and his West Point French plus the little bit of Italian he had learned from his Tuscan-raised wife, they could communicate. The doctor forced Callahan to eat the sticky, marmalade-like pulp of a green, baseball-sized fruit that he had never seen before. A few hours later, the dysentery seemed to be cured.
He was often cold due to the surprisingly chilly rain. Downpours continued for days, making the camp a foul smelling cesspool that stank of pain, of fear. He was fed only starvation rations, occasional rice balls mixed with dirt and vermin, no meat or vegetables. Never heavy, he began to shed weight.
Through cracks in his hooch, he glimpsed eight or ten other Americans in the camp, but he was kept separate from them. He knew exactly what the guards were doing: using standard Communist brainwashing technique. Solitary confinement deprived prisoners of a community of peers so they had no one to talk to, no one to support them, no one to act as a filter for their thoughts or a check on their reasoning. When a prisoner was lead into an interrogation, it would be easier to get him to talk. About anything. And everything. Knowing that one day the interrogator would arrive with his list of questions did not make it much easier to survive in a filthy room infested with bugs and the occasional rat.
His daily task was simple: survive this day, then survive the next. One day at a time. The war would be over for the U.S. military pretty soon, perhaps by spring. All he had to do was survive. That was his job now, to stay alive. He was the fourth generation of Callahans to serve the military of the United States. He was valued. His government would do everything it could to get him back to his wife and kids. This one thought, this central ideal Callahan knew in his soul. His job was to keep the faith and survive for however long it took. His country would rescue him.
Weeks passed—how many he wasn’t quite sure. He exercised his body with short workouts of isometrics, alternating with pushups, sit-ups, and pacing the small hooch for aerobic conditioning. He occupied his mind, imagining an art gallery opposite the plaza in Taos, New Mexico, the dream of his artist wife. He had already mentally surveyed the existing historic property, conducted negotiations with the owners, and completed renovations. He was visualizing the arrangement of artwork when two guards burst into his room, dragged him across the camp, and dumped him on the floor of the largest hooch.
The room was empty except for a rough desk, chair, and a stool. Ah, the infamous interrogation room. He steeled himself for the encounter. The rear door opened and in walked a tall man dressed in unmarked fatigues. Callahan’s first impression was how clean and well fed he looked. With a start, he realized the man was Caucasian, not Oriental.
The man sat at the desk and motioned for him to sit on the low stool. Each surveyed the other like boxers before a match. The man took a packet of cigarettes from his shirt pocket and offered one to Callahan who shook his head.
“General Callahan, I am Lieutenant Colonel Alexy Petrovich, Soviet Air Force. I have come a very long way to meet you.”
Petrovich spoke in Russian. Callahan remained silent.
“Come, General, I know that you speak some Russian. It would be best for both of us if you cooperated with me.”
Callahan answered in English with his name, rank, and serial number.
Petrovich smiled. “Excellent. So you haven’t lost the ability to speak. I was afraid that the—how to say—the lack of hospitality shown to you by our socialist comrades would have injured you in some way.”
Callahan repeated his name, rank, and serial number, again in English.
Petrovich smiled again. “Thank you, General, but I already knew all that.” He opened the dossier on the desk and handed Callahan an official USAF document. “It seems this announcement was a bit premature.”
Callahan looked down at the document. His own face stared back out of the official photograph, a face he could scarcely remember: clean, hair neatly cut, in Class A uniform adorned with his wings and medals. Most impressive. It was the official announcement of his selection to brigadier general and included his biography, the name of his wife and number of children, a list of his past assignments and honors. It seemed so unreal.
Petrovich said, “Perhaps you would like to look through this.” He handed Callahan the dossier. The folder contained dozens of clippings, covering Callahan’s career, his completion certificate from Test Pilot School, even his West Point graduation announcement. More chilling, it had information about his family—a surprisingly detailed genealogy of his White Russian émigré, Chinese-born wife, and worse, photos of his kids.
“So, you can see that we know quite a bit about Brigadier General Sean Thomas Callahan, United States Air Force. Perhaps now we can dispense with the stubbornness.”
Callahan, still in shock from the photos, said nothing.
“General, I am sorry that you refuse to speak to me. I regret that my English is not good enough for an in-depth discussion. But I do have someone from my staff who can help. His English is excellent.” He turned to the door. “Comrade!”
Through the door walked another Caucasian, wearing unmarked fatigues and a smirk.
Callahan froze, then leapt to his feet. “Fats! You sonofabitch! You—”
The man punched Callahan in the face. The force of the blow knocked him down and blood spurted from his broken nose. He hit the wall so hard that he lost consciousness.
When he opened his eyes again, the man stood over him. “Nobody will ever call me Fats again. Thank you, General, for providing me the opportunity to do that.”
The Russian officer motioned to Callahan to sit. He struggled to his knees, took a deep breath, and lurched onto the stool.
“Now, General, shall we begin again?”
Between 12 February and 4 April, 1973, 591 American POWs were freed and returned home to the United States to parades and the arms of their families. The name Sean Thomas Callahan was absent from all lists provided by the government of North Vietnam. No explanation was ever provided. No responses were ever received from the governments of Cambodia or Laos. His status continues to be listed as MIA.
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The year is 1999: Cochabamba, a quiet, progressive Bolivian city seems an unlikely location to launch an attack to destabilize Latin American governments. But Kurt Wallerein, feared, hated, and hunted by every intelligence service and law enforcement agency in the West forms a partnership with an embattled Fidel Castro to do exactly that. Wallerein, a graduate of the Baader-Meinhof School of Terrorism, blends his ex-Stasi and KGB operatives with Castro’s own Dirección General de Inteligencia (DGI) to take over and bleed drug cartels in Colombia, Peru and Bolivia for the funds needed to re-ignite the flames of communist insurgencies throughout the region.
Lieutenant Colonel Tom Callahan, USAF, on his way to command an F-15 squadron, is suddenly diverted and assigned to the US Military Group-Bolivia where he stumbles on Wallerein’s network. Callahan and his friends in the MILGROUP and the Bolivian military are all that stand in the way of Wallerein and Castro’s success. Life is further complicated for Callahan by the emergence of yet another terrorist conspiracy in Cochabamba, this one organized by Americans– equally violent and vicious.
Murders, bombings, and mayhem mark the trail of the twin conspiracies as they weave deception and violence across Latin America. Wallerein’s hatred of the United States leads him to attempt the unthinkable—an attack on select American cities. Tom Callahan, his wife, and an Army lieutenant colonel unravel the plan but have precious little time to convince skeptical authorities of the danger to thousands of American citizens and the very fabric of the American government.
I was lucky enough to serve in the US MilGroup-Bolivia and able to fly into many of the places that Tom and Colleen Callahan visited in this book.
|The deaths began on the ninetieth day. They were gruesome, messy, and necessary. This year, the monsoons came early and stayed late. Soaring temperatures burned off the clouds, leaving bright blue skies and a heartless sun. Ninety days of over one hundred degrees. Rats by the million fled the parched fields for the cities. With them came their fleas. With the fleas came the bacteria, Yersinia pestis. The plague. (click for more)
Godhra, India, 1995The deaths began on the ninetieth day. They were gruesome, messy, and necessary. This year, the monsoons came early and stayed late. Soaring temperatures burned off the clouds, leaving bright blue skies and a heartless sun. Ninety days of over one hundred degrees. Rats by the million fled the parched fields for the cities. With them came their fleas. With the fleas came the bacteria, Yersinia pestis. The plague.
Dr. Nikolai Yazov drove through the panicked crowds, leaning mercilessly on his horn. He dodged yet another loud-speaker van vainly exhorting people to stay inside and remain calm. The roads from the city were swollen arteries, sluicing the living away from the dead and dying.
He navigated through the milling crowds to the barricades surrounding the city’s main hospital, parked, and strode through the mob jamming the hospital doors. He flashed his identification badge, and impatiently brushed aside the Indian policemen.
Inside, the smell of harsh disinfectants. He tied on a surgical mask as he followed the arrows on the wall to the main administrative offices. The fresh paint and gleaming tile shouted Ministry of Health showplace. All the better. Three minutes later, a distraught senior Ministry official rushed up.
“Dr. Yazov! Thank you for coming.” The Indian offered a latex-gloved hand, then snatched it back, bowing nervously instead.
Yazov smirked behind his mask and nodded. Nothing like a virulent epidemic to discredit the local medical authorities and force the opening of doors for Russian assistance.
“The patients are this way.”
Yazov observed the chaos as he pulled on a gown and gloves. Medical people scurried everywhere. The Ministry doctor looked terrified. So did the nurses. No backwoods bumpkins these, but medical professionals overwhelmed by the viciousness of this disease.
Stacks of lab reports teetered on the desks of the central administration area. He knew what they said. He had spent several years of his life developing this particular strain. As First Deputy Director of Biopreparat, the huge, ultra-secret Russian biological warfare agency, Yazov supervised hordes of scientists working on biological weapons. During the twentieth century, over twelve million people had died of plague on the Indian subcontinent. Yazov attributed nearly one hundred thousand of those deaths directly to his research. The people here served as his test subjects, sophisticated laboratory rats.
One of the Russian Ministry of Defense’s theories held that meat consumption might increase human capacity to manufacture antibodies against infections, since antibodies can only be produced from the chemical building blocks proteins supply. Indians consume little meat compared to the richer Western democracies—and their armies—so this country provided an ideal testing ground for pathogens carefully released by Yazov’s team.
Yazov entered an open bay ward, trailed closely now by three Indian doctors. The first patient was semiconscious, his face a mass of angry blotches like an obscene case of acne gone wild. His chest rose and fell heavily and, despite the morphine drip, he moaned with pain.
A nurse handed Yazov the chart: pustules, headaches, nausea, exhaustion, fever, cramping. He flipped back several pages. Tetracycline, the drug of record for plague, the best drug they had, wasn’t working. He knew it wouldn’t. Yazov had genetically engineered this plague to both resist tetracycline and burn hot. The trick was to get it hot enough so that it ran its course rapidly, limiting its spread. This grotesque-looking life form had been a normal, healthy human being only four hours ago—and should be dead just hours from now.
With his escorts, he marched from ward to ward and reviewed case after case. The top four floors of the hospital contained only the patients with the new strain of plague—the strain the Ministry of Health officials vehemently denied existed in the country. He saw India as a country posturing as a modern, technology-based nation with a thriving modern middle class, instead of the overpopulated, backward cesspool that it was. Ordinary plague scares were bad enough to deter foreign investment. A new, drug-resistant, and more deadly plague was something this government simply would not admit to the world.
Yazov’s engineered outbreaks caused India to turn to Russia for covert medical help just as it had done with the old Soviet Union for its secret nuclear weapons program. It was his job to control the new plague while the Indians dealt with the “normal” plague epidemic.
Several members of his research team, each one hand-picked, met him on the top floor. Yazov watched with approval as they moved through the wards, carefully taking blood samples—very carefully—samples that would not make it to the laboratories of the Indian health authorities but would be on the next flight to Moscow.
The Ministry doctor accompanied Yazov downstairs for decontamination. “What now?” asked the Indian. His thin voice grated on Yazov.
The Russian bit back an impatient answer. “I have considerable faith in your judgment, Doctor. Your people are doing superhuman work. The rate of admissions has diminished. In my opinion, this outbreak will end quickly, just as the other sub-strain did two years ago. Continue to burn everything, including—no, especially—the bodies.”
The Indian nodded. “It will be so.”
Yazov left for his own lab on the far side of the city. The goal was near: a bioweapon to return Russia to its rightful place of dominance. Soon, Yazov’s allies in the Duma would either be able to muster the votes to get rid of that drunkard Yeltsin, or manage another lead-induced “heart attack” for which Russia was so famous. Then they’d replace him with someone with the courage, the khrabrost, to actually use this research. Yazov thought ahead to even more powerful weapons. The most exciting new possibility was the Machupo virus recently discovered in Bolivia. It caused a particularly virulent hemorrhagic fever that seemed to melt victims’ organs. He had ten times the people working on it than all the American government researchers combined,: a 1990s version of the space race, one that his beloved Russia would win.
Yazov knew that time was running out. Unless his political cronies succeeded, the glory days of Russian science were about to come to a dead halt. Gorbachev and Yeltsin had already gutted the military. Soldiers and sailors roamed the streets hungry: uniforms in tatters, unpaid, often forced to sell military equipment to survive. Downsizing the Biopreparat was next. Rumors had percolated throughout the Russian scientific community for months now: the newly elected, democratic politicians planned to sacrifice his programs to the Americans for trade credits and political points. In the USSR, a supposedly classless society, scientists had held remarkably high status: the best food—after the Politburo, of course—trips abroad, good schools for the children, spacious housing. The largesse had continued even after The Fall. Yazov still had his dacha in the forest outside Moscow. But now the future was clearly in the hands of the politicians and, sadly, Nikolai Yazov was no politician.
He parked and entered the wooden warehouse on the outskirts of the city. Technicians in clean white coats tended the small cages lining the wall by his desk. Immediately the smell of dung and disinfectants enveloped him—laboratory animals mixed with medicines—like a pet store in a hospital. He loved the irony. He hurried to his desk and picked up a sheaf of messages.
Annoyed, Yazov looked up from his papers and half-turned in the direction of the speaker, a short, overweight man in the wrinkled suit of the Russian bureaucrat. Yazov vaguely remembered him as the consul. His companion was an arrogant-looking man whose appearance shouted KGB, or whatever it was calling itself these days. Undoubtedly a colonel. Nobody of consequence. He turned back to his work.
“Dr. Yazov, we’re from the embassy. You are ordered back to Moscow, sir.”
“Go away. Can’t you see I’m busy? I am working on a project directed by the Politburo.”
“Those orders are rescinded. Colonel Godunov will escort you home.”
Yazov looked into Godunov’s smirking face. His blood ran cold. His loyalty to the hard-liners must be suspected. This was no ordinary recall to Moscow.
The colonel straightened up, tugged on his tunic as if to erase an imaginary wrinkle, then reached out to take Yazov’s arm. “Come along,” he ordered, “we have airline reservations for you.”
Yazov pulled away and slipped on a heavy leather glove. He reached into a cage and turned back toward Godunov, thrusting a squealing, wriggling rat into the startled man’s face. “Don’t you touch me, you arrogant bastard!” he snarled as he maneuvered the now frightened colonel into the corner. “How would you like to get to know my little friend here? In just hours, you would be writhing in agony and leaking fluids from every opening in your puffy little body.”
He stepped back, a crooked smile on his face, allowing the colonel to escape.
“Come back tomorrow evening. I’ll be ready then.”
Godunov gave Yazov a look of hatred like only a KGB colonel could do as the two men stalked out.
Yazov laughed out loud. It wasn’t every day he could terrorize a KGB asshole by waving around a laboratory pet. He walked to his office, settled back into his chair and tried to organize his thoughts. He couldn’t go back to Russia tomorrow or ever. He was a communist and a scientist in a country that no longer valued either.
But where to go? His life belonged to science. He didn’t know anything else, and choices were limited for a scientist with a doctorate in offensive biological weapons. Back to Iraq? Saddam Hussein had a sizeable bioweapons program, one that Yazov had helped get underway. Yazov had done his best at the Al Hakam facility, producing over eight thousand kilos of anthrax in the six months prior to the outbreak of the war. Those damned weapons people hadn’t completed the work on the delivery systems and screwed everything up. Yazov had nearly convinced Saddam to simply drive trucks loaded with the spores across a line upwind of the advancing Allied attacks. Then Saddam’s nerve failed and the damned Americans bombed Iraq back a hundred years
No, Iraq was out. Despite the scientific opportunities, he simply did not like the place. Besides, he couldn’t function under the pervasive eye of Al Mukharabat.
America? Yazov cursed. He’d rather die. His hatred for the Americans was more virulent than his most exotic virus. Anyway, he hated defectors.
One socialist country had a decent, even world class, biomedical industry: Cuba. Was leaving one socialist country for another really a defection? He paused as he considered his question. Then he smiled to himself.
Yes. The Cubans could use him. They would be delighted to have someone of his skills and stature, especially since the Soviet Union, and now Russia had left Cuba to its fate. Fidel would accept him, even welcome him, for his talents with deadly microorganisms. Fidel would love to stick his cigar in the eyes of both the Americans and the Russians. And Yazov had always preferred rum to vodka.
About the Author
After my career in the Air Force, we moved to New Mexico to raise The Boyz. Massive adventure! Spent a lot of time on the slopes, first teaching the boys to ski, then watching in amazement as they started blowing me off the mountains. I remember one National Championship at Northstar-at-Tahoe, skiing the blacks as fast as I could go and seeing the boys ski/snowboard through the black glades, dodging trees and accelerating away from me!
As the boys grew older and (finally!) moved away for college, I found more time to write. I joined a writers group in Taos and started attending writers conferences. I am an avid reader of political-military thrillers so I decided to follow that path. I published Cochabamba Conspiracy, then Chita Quest. I’m on track to get out the third book of the series by Fall 2017.