07:50 (04:40 GMT)
Blake awoke with a crick in his neck. The dirt floor in the tiny shed he’d found didn’t provide much comfort. He cracked the door and a dust filled beam of light shone through the small opening. A spotted crake called and echoed over the lake nearby.
A flannel shirt hanged from a rusty nail on the far wall. His all black attire wouldn’t be the best thing to walk around in. He whacked the shirt a few times and more dust filled the air. A dead spider dropped to the floor. Flinging his pack over his shoulder, he left the shed.
After a short walk into town, he found a men’s clothier in the middle of the block. A small bell above the door rang as he stepped inside and an older woman came out behind a row of mostly bare wooden shelves. The old wood floors creaked as she approached.
She welcomed him.
“Do you speak English?” He asked.
“I need some new clothes. Can you help me?”
She nodded. A kind smile creased her face. “American?”
“You are in Belarus, because?”
“I’m doing a documentary on the plight of the Belarussian people and how it’s the last dictatorship in Europe.”
She wagged a finger at him. “Careful. KGB is all places.” She opened her arms wide. “You see I have little.”
She started to say something else, but stopped. Blake suspected it might be out of fear. Instead, she waved him back to the little inventory she had.
“Come, let us see f we can find you something.”
Thirty minutes later, Blake changed into his clothes and purchased them with Euros because she didn’t take credit cards. She originally refused the Euro’s but when Blake handed her more than twice as much as the value of the clothes, she gladly accepted.
“Thank you for your help. Can you tell me if there is a place where I can hire a car?”
She pointed to Blake’s left. “Three blocks. But they are old cars. Junk.”
Blake smiled. “That’s okay. What about breakfast?”
She gave Blake a furrowed brow.
“So, you speak Russian?”
“Around the corner to your left when you leave. There is a small café.”
“It is Sniadanak in Belarus,” she said as Blake walked out the door.
After Blake finished his meal, he found the old car rental business. It was just as the old woman said. They had three cars and one small bus to choose from. Two of the cars were Volga’s from the mid-eighties, which were known for their horrific reliability. The last car was an early eighties, light blue Mercedes 300D. It had dented doors, mismatched wheels and its diesel engine belted black smoke, but it seemed strong enough for the short ride into Minsk.
Blake drove the one hundred and forty kilometers to Minsk and checked himself into one of the best hotels the city had to offer. The Hotel Belarus was located in the city center and on the banks of the Svislach River.
The Executive Suite was vast with Persian rugs covering the marble floors and a large leather couch spread out almost as wide as the room in between the two fireplaces. The bookshelf was like a small library with books ranging from Russian poetry by Tolstoy to American classics, like Gone with the Wind and Moby Dick.
Double French doors led out to a balcony that stretched the length of the two room suite. Blake stepped out and took in the view of the city. A glance at his watch revealed it would be a while before he heard from Mike. An excursion through the city to get his bearings, and possibly something about the Belarusian interest in the weapons would be time well spent.
The streets were crowded with cars and people on sidewalks as he made his way to the presidential palace on Pobedetelei Avenue, then to the president’s office at The Palace of the Republic on Oktabratska Square. Touring the Partizansky, Central districts and other government buildings, he hoped it would clear his mind and give him some kind of an idea for what the prime minister was planning. After a few hours, he found himself sitting at a café admiring the enthusiasm of the people as they decorated the streets for Independence Day. On his way back to the hotel he passed through Victory Square. A large stage had been erected in the center.
Upon entering the hotel, he stepped up to the concierge’s desk. A young woman with black straight hair and long bangs sat behind the desk. Her hair accentuated her high cheekbones and her bright red lipstick highlighted her white teeth as she smiled.
Blake leaned against the tall counter. “Hi, there.”
“I noticed all the decorations outside for Independence Day.”
“Yes, sir. It is in two days.”
“Right. What’s that huge stage in Victory Square for?”
“President Solonovich speaks there every year.”
Ah-ha. Blake had an epiphany. “Right. Thanks.”
He picked up his pace on the way to the elevator. Once on his floor, he ran down the empty hallway to his room; his phone already out, he pressed call as soon as he stepped into his room.
It was only six-thirty in the morning back home, but Mike picked up on the first ring.
“Blake, glad you called. I’m actually in a meeting with the president, the Joint Chiefs, Director Slocum and Director Thomas are all here as well. I’m putting you on speaker. Hold on.”
After the brief pause, Mike continued. “Go ahead, Blake.”
“Good morning, Madam President—everyone else.”
The president answered, “Mr. MacKay, Mike has filled us in on what you have told him so far. Do you have anything else?”
“I do, Madam President. I think, and this is just a hypothesis, but I think that Prime Minister Shorets is planning to assassinate President Solonovich and then blame it on al Hamwi. I just don’t know his plan or have any proof yet.”
“Can you get proof to back-up this assumption?” she asked.
“I’m working on it. There’s definitely a connection with the stolen metal storm weapons and al Hamwi, but I need to find a way to get closer to the prime minister.”
Director Thomas said, “Blake, I have an idea, but I need to make a quick call first. If it is all right with the president, I’d like to step out. I should only be a moment.”
“Go ahead,” she said. Blake heard the shuffle of the chair and the click of the door as Director Thomas left the room.
The president then asked, “Blake, can you describe to us what you saw and heard when you eavesdropped on the PM and al Hamwi.”
Blake described in detail about the meeting Prime Minister Shorets had with al Hamwi. He described the men hiding in the woods and the description that al Hamwi gave about the weapon. He told them how Shorets’ men shot down al Hamwi and his men and took the weapons to the nuclear power plant and how he overheard the mention of operation spear garden. As he finished, he heard the door open and someone come into the room.
“Blake, this is Julian, I think I have a solution for you. The prime minister hosts an invitation only party at his home on the eve of each Independence Day. There are all kinds of dignitaries from around the world that come. The call I made was to Canadian Intelligence. They’ve got much better diplomatic relations with the Belarusians than we do and I’ve made arrangements to get you an invitation. You’ll be going as the new Minister for International Cooperation.”
Blake chuckled. “Is that a real position?”
“Yes, you would responsible for overseeing the Canadian international development strategy. This is actually perfect because it is a brand new position; one the Canadian’s haven’t actually filled yet. It will make building your background cover simple. But there’s one more thing. You’ll need to complete one small mission prior to going.”
Blake asked, “Ok, what’s that?”
“You’re going to have to find a date.”
There was brief laughter coming from everyone in the room. After the laughter died down Blake asked, “Seriously, is that required or something?”
“Unfortunately, yes. The prime minister insists that it be for dignitaries and one other. It’s unavoidable. We suspect that it is so he can do full background checks on both people that are attending. It’s much more difficult to get an asset in there under cover if you have to build a full background dossier on not only them, but the person they’re attending with as well and make it look as if they’ve been together for years. We don’t have any female field agents anywhere near you that we could get there in time, so I’m afraid that you’re on your own. I know that you have connections all over the place. Does one come to mind that is close by and you can trust?”
Blake thought for a second. “Yes.”
“This is most unconventional. I don’t like this. Are you telling me that we don’t have any female assets within a day’s travel?” the president asked.
“Madam President,” Veronica said. “We do have assets in the area, but based on their current mission status, there is just no way to get them away. It would compromise them and their objective. I know this is unconventional, but I can assure that this won’t be a problem. We’ve used connections from foreign intelligence agencies many times in the past. Our people work quite well with others for these types of situations.”
Blake heard a brief moment of silence and hoped the president wouldn’t shoot down the idea. He knew exactly who he was going to get and was looking forward to it.
“Blake, this is Mike. Let us know who you get to be your escort. We can build a full background on both of you. Julian, are there specific details that he might need to know?”
“None currently that I can think of. Again, since this is a new position, we have a blank slate to work with.”
They gave Blake the particulars of his contact; where and when to meet him to get his invitation. As the call was winding down, the president chimed in.
“Mr. MacKay. This is somewhat unconventional, but due to the circumstances, I feel that it is warranted. If at any time, a situation arises where you need immediate action, don’t hesitate to call me directly or my head of staff at the secret service. Understood?”
“Yes, Madam President.”
“Good luck, Mr. MacKay.”
The line went dead.
Blake immediately dialed Randy.
“Hello, this is Randy.”
“Randy. Bring Adriana to Minsk.”