|Mr. K: Vladimir Kryuchkov|
Former KGB Chairman
I reached Edward Howard at his Dacha.
He answered, but something appeared wrong with the telephone connection.
I hung up, touch-keyed again.
Howard answered. Nothing wrong with the line. It was him, incoherence-squared. "Call me to-mor-row," he finally managed.
When I reached him next afternoon, Howard was still plastered, in the midst of what must have been a colossal binge.
Either I could not hear him, or he could not talk, I wasn't sure which, so I disconnected, re-dialed.
Howard answered after eight rings.
"Is that you, Ed?" I asked.
"It's me, Robert."
"Ed, you don't sound well."
"I lost my biz-i-nez."
"How? What happened?"
Howard lapsed into incoherence.
"When should I call you again?" I asked.
"Yeah. One day."
I tried him next day.
Howard was no longer drunk, but suffering a mammoth hangover. "I was drinking," he said, like a schoolboy caught cheating on an exam.
"For how long?"
"Four days. Man, I need some aspirin."
"What's happening with your business?"
"I lost my office, had to move out."
"Is that why you were drinking?"
"I had a fight with my girlfriend," said Howard.
"Sorry to hear that. Look, here's the deal on your book. National Press will kill it unless you forego the rest of the advance."
"Okay, I'll tell my agent to back off."
"And you're still gung-ho on Spy’s Guide?"
I phoned John H, clued him in.
"For a few minutes there," I said, "I thought Howard was dying."
"That would have put you out of a job," said John H.
"It's not the way this story is supposed to end," I said.
In keeping with Bob B’s wishes to improve operational security, John H gave me a new telephone number, a ghost line with a 202 area code, created specifically for my calls to him.
"I'm coming to Washington," he said. "We have a new problem."
I met John H inside Le Bon Pain on 10th Street, opposite the Hoover Building, from which only problems emanated. I ordered a latte to-go, and we trudged across the street, up to the fourth floor where John Q and Jim S awaited us.
Their new problem in a nutshell: The Justice Department was waffling, as usual, and holding up a rendition until they could be certain of the evidence stacked against Edward Howard. Part of the evidence consisted of a financial log Howard kept that showed how he had laundered cash payments received from the KGB through his wife. John H possessed a photocopy of the log, but it had been obtained improperly, so a judge might rule that it could not be used as evidence.
So the assembled G-men wanted me to travel to Moscow, stay in Howard's apartment, find the log, and photograph it as acceptable evidence.
Their legal rationale: I would be acting in Moscow as an extension of John H which, in effect, would serve as a search warrant.
"This has never been done before," he said. "We're on the cutting edge, a legal precedent. The question is, can we serve a search warrant like this. Usually, we have to leave an actual warrant behind."
I was incredulous. The Bureau wanted me to risk my neck to collect something they already had in their possession!
Photography of the financial log was just Part One.
Part Two: gaining access to Howard's computers and sucking them dry.
"Uh, let me ask you a question," I said. "What happens if I get caught?"
"Ah," said John Q, "that's between you and him."
John Q excused himself so that John H could address this issue.
"I don't have diplomatic cover," I said. "If I got caught, they'd throw me in prison, right?"
John H nodded. "The government would negotiate to get you out."
Curiosity propelled me onward: Down a floor to the photo-lab, where an expert determined that the best camera for this assignment was not a miniature Minox, but a run-of-the-mill Olympus Infinity. He showed me the right distance for snapping documents.
Next, a computer-sucking lesson.
For this, a trip to Fort Monmouth in Eatontown, New Jersey, the FBI's northeast region computer center.
Tom M, the best in the Bureau, awaited me.
Tom M had sucked the hell out of Aldrich Ames's computers.
He pulled a rectangular gizmo from his bag and plugged it into a laptop. "This is it," said Tom M. "You just plug it into the parallel port. Then you insert this special laser disk, hit a few buttons, and bang! It sucks everything out."
Clair George gasped when I told him what the FBI wanted next.
"This is starting to sound like a shitty novel," he said. "What about your wife and children? Are the feebies planning to look after them if you get thrown into the slammer for five years? No. You'll be on your own. Just tell them you've lived up to your end of the bargain. You're in this to lure Howard out, not to photograph evidence in Moscow."
Meanwhile, National Press and Howard had resolved their advance dispute: Howard would accept a few extra (pie-in-the-sky) royalty points in lieu of immediate money. The manuscript had been readied for publication and galley proofs dispatched to Howard for final correction.
I phoned Howard for a status update.
"I have some exciting news!" Howard bubbled, out of character. "Don't tell a soul, it's just between you and me."
"My friends here, you know who I mean?"
"They've read the galleys. And they are very impressed with how it turned out. I told them, this book closes a chapter in my life. And they said, no, no, no, we want you to do more of this."
"They want to get information out through me."
"They have book projects they want me to handle," said Howard. "Starting with the man whose name starts with K."
That would be Vladimir Kryuchkov, the former KGB chairman.
"This would be ideal for us," added Howard.
"I'm in," I said.
It was Presidents Day, a federal holiday. I found John H at home.
"I Just spoke with The Author," I said. "He has some interesting news."
"He told me not to tell anyone." I paused. "But I suppose I can tell you."
John H chuckled.
"His patron, Mister K. You know who he is?"
"Of course," said John H.
"He wants to write his own book. And he wants The Author and me to help him."
John H sighed. It meant new administrative hurdles, for sure, but he was game. Anything to keep Howard happy and playing with us until we had a green light to cuff his wrists with hard steel.