There had been signs, and it was more a measure of luck than intelligence savvy that Erika Schwartz was able to put them together in time. For instance, the military counterintelligence office, MAD, could easily have left her off the distribution list for their April 17 report on EU- related anomalies—a list they only added her to because they were preparing to ask for the use of an Iranian source in return. When the report came, it would have been easy to miss number 53, an item from Budapest. In fact, she did miss number 53, and her assistant, Oskar Leintz, had to draw her attention to it. He came into her new, large-windowed office on the second floor of the Pullach headquarters of the BND, the German Republic’s foreign intelligence agency, slapping the report against his palm. “You saw the bit from Budapest?”
She’d been sitting, uncharacteristically, with a salad on her desk, staring out the window where, just over the trees, she could see distant storm clouds. Since her promotion two weeks earlier, she still hadn’t gotten used to having a view; her previous office had been on the ground floor. She hadn’t gotten used to having resources, nor to the look on people’s faces when they walked into her office and shuddered, having forgotten that this obese, ill-humored woman now sat at Teddy Wartmüller’s desk. As for poor Teddy, he was in prison. “Of course I saw the bit from Budapest,” she said. “Which bit?”
“You haven’t touched that salad.”
“Which bit from Budapest, Oskar?”
Of course, she’d seen number 53, but she hadn’t connected the name because she’d only seen it once before, months ago, on another report from the same source, a journalist named Johann Thüringer. Now, with Oskar’s prodding, it returned to her. She opened her copy of the MAD report.
53. JT in Budapest: On the night of 15 April, Henry Gray (American journalist—see ZNBw reports 8/2007 & 12/2007) disappeared. His romantic partner, Zsuzsa Papp (Hungarian), insists he was kidnapped. Her suspicion: either the USA or China. When pressed, though, she refuses to go into details.
“Gray is connected to Milo Weaver,” Oskar helpfully reminded her, now stroking his thin mustache.
“Tangentially,” she said, then noticed that she’d gotten some Caesar dressing on the report. She remembered Thüringer’s observations from 8/2007 and 12/2007. In August, he reported that Mr. Gray had been thrown off the terrace of his Budapest apartment and was in a coma. The December report noted that Gray had woken in the hospital and eventually disappeared on his own. Soon afterward, an AP stringer named Milo Weaver had arrived asking questions
about him. Gray had so far eluded the man . . . until now, at least.
She put in a call to a friend in the Hungarian National Security Office, the NBH, but there was no record of Gray leaving the country. There was, however, an old woman’s bedroom-window eyewitness report of someone matching Gray’s description being stuffed, dazed (perhaps drugged), by an Asian (Chinese?) into the back of a BMW on Sas utca, a five-minute walk from Gray’s apartment. Though the witness didn’t understand a word, she recognized English being spoken.
It was through another friend, Adrien Lambert in the French DGSE, that Erika learned that on the same night as the supposed abduction, at Budapest-Ferihegy’s Terminal 1, someone in a
Plexiglas-covered stretcher had been loaded into a private twinengine plane. The aircraft was registered to a Romanian company called Transexpress SRL, a known CIA front. Passengers weren’t listed, and while its destination was noted as Ruzyne-Prague Airport, there was no record of it ever landing there. Henry Gray had, in a bureaucratic sense, vanished from the face of the earth.
The little mystery gave her an itch, and she called Cologne and asked MAD for direct contact with Johann Thüringer. Their immediate yes was a shock. Life on the ground floor, with requests
taking weeks to be summarily refused, had steeled her for rejection. Acceptance simply wasn’t part of her worldview.
So, giddy with power, she talked to Thüringer on a secure line to the Budapest embassy on Sunday, April 20. As per instructions from MAD, he had stayed most of the previous night with Zsuzsa Papp who, after enough drinks and terrified rants about how no one could be trusted, finally began to open up. She did not open up completely, he admitted, but along the line one name slipped out: Rick. It’s not a secret, I guess, Papp had told him. Not anymore. Henry worked with a Chinese spy named Rick. Spent an entire month with him. But inthe end . . .
“In the end, what?” Erika asked.
“Well, in the end she fell asleep. What I can piece together is that the CIA actually was after Henry because of this Chinese Rick. However, they left him alone for the past month, so why take him now? That’s what Zsuzsa wondered. In the end, she believes the Chinese took him. I do, too.”
Because of the Transexpress plane, Erika doubted that was true, but she didn’t bother to correct him—partly because she didn’t want to share with someone who would quickly report it back to another agency, and partly because of Andrei Stanescu.
Three weeks ago, Stanescu had flown to Brooklyn, New York, to shoot a man named Milo Weaver—payback for the death of his fifteen-year-old daughter, Adriana. Andrei had been helped in his endeavor by a Chinese man named Rick—or, more properly, Xin Zhu.
When names connect so flagrantly, it pays to sit up and take notice.
If asked, Erika would hardly have been able to put her thoughts into words, but she did tell Oskar to keep an eye out for questionable American activity within the borders of Germany, particularly around the Berlin region, where Andrei Stanescu and his wife lived. By Monday morning she received an e-mail that pointed to two American passports—Gwendolyn Davis and Hector Garza entered the country through, respectively, Stuttgart and Frankfurt on Sunday, yet checked into the same Berlin hotel, the Radisson Blu. Neither name rang a bell with her or Oskar, but when the photos came through Oskar pointed at the black woman with large eyes. “Oh, shit,” he said. “That’s Leticia Jones.”
Leticia Jones was one of two known Tourists, members of a peculiar CIA fraternity known as the Department of Tourism. It had for decades been a fable, a myth of a secret American department composed of otherworldly agents, who could enter and leave a city without a trace, but always littering destruction in their wake. It was the kind of tale you told spies before they went to sleep: the bogeyman. At the end of February, however, she had learned that it was more than just an intelligence-community legend, from a man named Milo Weaver, while he was tied up in her basement. Later, she’d sent a five-person team to America to keep distant surveillance. She wanted to know where this department resided, and who its members were.
The results had been interesting. Weaver met in a Washington, D.C., hotel with Minnesota senator Nathan Irwin, members of his staff, and Alan Drummond, the director of the Department of Tourism. Also in attendance were a man and a woman they later identified as Zachary Klein and Leticia Jones. A long night bled into the next day, taking these people to Reagan International Airport, then by car to 101 West Thirty-first Street, Manhattan. That building’s twenty-second floor, they realized, housed the headquarters of the Department of Tourism.
However, this success was short-lived, for a week later secure moving vans appeared, and large men with shoulder holsters, watched over by plainclothes agents wearing more guns, gradually emptied at least three floors of that building so that by now only cockroaches
remained on the twenty-second floor.
Leticia Jones was one of the famed Tourists, just as Weaver had once been. Now she was in Berlin with a man who could be another of them. Berlin, where there resided a Moldovan immigrant the CIA wanted for the shooting of one of their own. Add to that last week’s renditioning of a man in Budapest who was, like Stanescu, connected to both Milo Weaver and Xin Zhu, and this was an arrangement of players that she could not ignore.
She rubbed her face hard, then looked up at Oskar, who was already grinning. He had an Easterner’s joy of watching misery. “I suppose you’re gassing up the car,” she said. “You’re the big boss now,” he told her, “which means I’m more than just an underling. Someone else is gassing it up.”
On the ride, she remembered her last conversation with Andrei Stanescu. Upon his return to Germany after shooting Weaver, she’d had Oskar and a couple of others pick him up at the airport and bring him to a waiting car. Oskar gave him a phone, through which she tried to make herself completely clear:
“I know what you did, Mr. Stanescu, and I do not approve, but if I let everything I disapprove of get to me I never would have made it to my twentieth birthday. We’re receiving calls from the other side of the Atlantic asking for your arrest and your extradition to face American justice.
“I am not going to scold you. I won’t even tell you that you are an idiot for shooting a man who, as I explained before, did not kill your daughter. All that is past. For the present, I will hold off the Americans for as long as I can, but I ask one thing of you, a single condition. You, Mr. Stanescu, will tell no one what you have done. You will not tell your wife, nor your brother. You will not tell your priest. It is the one act of your life that you will have to carry entirely alone.
“If it becomes too much, and you believe that you cannot hold your tongue any longer, then you will call me directly. Because I am the only person on the planet you can share this with.
“If you do not comply with this one request, the penalty will be immediate. You will disappear, and then reappear in America. Your life will be in the hands of strangers who know no empathy and care nothing about what you’ve been through. More importantly, your wife will lose a husband in addition to a daughter. We both know that she wouldn’t be able to take that.”
As far as she knew, he had followed her instructions perfectly, but still here they were.
She and Oskar took rooms in the Berlin Radisson Blu, and later that night, when one of her men in the lobby informed her that Davis and Garza were having a drink in the bar, she and Oskar
went down to find them. She despised going out into the field, but the possibility of someone else getting this wrong was even more hateful. So she went personally to a table against the wall, settled down, and watched as Oskar, flanked by two Saxons who looked far less threatening than they really were, invited the two Americans for a drink. It was a sign of their coolness that they acted as if they’d expected this, which she doubted. Soon, Leticia Jones and
the man known as Hector Garza were sitting across from her, the woman carrying a martini, the man holding something pink and fruity.
Erika introduced herself but didn’t bother asking their real names. What was the point? She wasn’t here on a fact-finding mission but to offer advice. They listened to her slow, measured English with feigned earnestness, and she pointed out that, given that they were on German soil, and given that their mission was now known, they could abandon it without shame. “Really, you can’t expect a rebuke from your department head. Alan Drummond, right?” she asked and got confused stares in reply. “The point is,” she said, “if you want to have a conversation with Mr. Stanescu, it can easily be done here—but in my house, you have to follow my rules. What
you cannot do is shove him into some little plane, as you did with Henry Gray.”
There was no reason to assume that either had been on hand for that abduction, but she noticed something tense in Hector Garza’s features.
She could have shared more, in particular that she knew that these Americans had that morning parked a refrigerated truck painted with the insignia of the HIT grocery store in a private garage in Zehlendorf, but why bother? They would only come up with new plans, something Tourists were rumored to be adept at.
When they smiled and thanked her for the wonderful conversation—confessing, however, that they had no idea what she was talking about—she let them go without argument. Erika’s people had placed two trackers on their truck, and there were now twelve men and women in Berlin whose sole task was to watch this pair.
The next morning—Tuesday, April 22—those twelve people watched as the pair parked their HIT truck outside Stanescu’s Kreuzberg apartment building and followed his taxi as he headed
in for his shift. However, along the way, the Tourists’ pursuit was interrupted by two of Erika’s men who smashed cars into the HIT truck at the corner of Gneisenaustrasse and Nostitzstrasse. Once that was accomplished, she called Stanescu directly and asked him to come to a restaurant along the Spree, the Altes Zollhaus, so that they could have a word. He arrived looking confused, having just witnessed a suspicious-looking three- car pileup on his way, but he was properly submissive. After offering wine and food and receiving disconsolate refusals in his broken German, she asked if he remembered a man named Rick.
Andrei stared at her. “I know one man what is named Rick.”
“Well, the people in the truck that was following you know that you’re acquainted with this man you call Rick, whom they call Xin Zhu. They are very interested in learning about him, and they
believe you can help them.”
“They are CIA?”
She nodded, her jowls trembling.
“But you attack it.”
“They had a car accident, Mr. Stanescu.” She placed a plump hand on the edge of the table. “That is not important to you. Before, I promised you that I would hold them off as long as I could, and I think I’ve reached the limits of my power. I don’t think they’re interested in prosecuting you for what you did to that man in Brooklyn. What they seem to want is information about the Chinese man, your Rick, who they believe sent you to shoot him.”
Andrei leaned back, finally saying, “I can answer. Questions, I can answer.”
“I’m sure you can, and I’m sure you will. However, we will do it my way, and not theirs.”
“What is it, their way?”
She cleared her throat, and a waiter looked over before realizing she wasn’t calling to him. She said, “They would have grabbed you and pushed you inside that truck, where there is a bed and a lot of drugs. You would have woken up in a plane heading somewhere. Perhaps to the United States, perhaps to Turkey—I don’t know. For a minimum of a week, probably more, you would have been interrogated.”
“And what is it, your way?”
She sighed. “I don’t like it when German residents are dragged out of the country by other governments, particularly by friendly governments. You and I will go to a house outside of Berlin for, at most, three days. No drugs, just conversation. I will allow a single American on the premises to ask questions.”
Two hours later, Oskar brought his phone. “It’s the office. They’ve got a Gwendolyn Davis on the line.”
In perfect German, Leticia Jones said, “So, does the offer still stand?”
The conversation lasted for one and a half days in a house off the E51 to Potsdam. Jones showed up early both mornings with a handheld audio recorder while Hector Garza stayed in his hotel room or strolled the shopping avenues, occasionally even buying shirts. Erika was surprised by this, having expected Garza to do the talking. After all, they had no idea how Andrei Stanescu felt about black people, nor how he would deal with a female interrogator. Leticia Jones wasn’t just fluent in German, though; she had a remarkably welcoming presence that encouraged her subject to go deeper than simple answers.
The interrogation was also fascinating because Andrei Stanescu had only spent an hour or so in the company of the Chinese officer. What could he know about Xin Zhu? Leticia Jones hadn’t known this before their talk began. She only knew that Andrei had been handed a pistol in Brooklyn by a member of the Chinese embassy whom Andrei called Li. She knew that Li had been told by Xin Zhu to give Andrei the gun, and so it followed that Xin Zhu, or one of his representatives from China’s foreign intelligence service, the Guoanbu, had been in personal contact with Andrei. Jones showed him a series of photographs until he identified Li as a man named Sam Kuo.
They’d finished dealing with the actual events leading to the attempted murder of Milo Weaver after just a few hours, and then Jones focused on the person of Xin Zhu. A physical description that began with that uncomfortable word “fat,” then grew more detailed, his small eyes, his blunt nose, his full lips, the thin hair on the top of his head and the thicker black locks over his ears. His quiet way, as if by silence he could sap the air of indecision—“He is very convincing,” Andrei said. “A thing in space. Hard . . . no, solid.” Their meeting had been preordained, Andrei believed. He had not been looking for it, nor even wishing it. He’d been a bitter man before Rick came into his life, full of hatred for all his fares and all the faces he saw on the street, and it was Rick who unexpectedly offered him a kind of salvation.
“He believes in order.”
“Sorry, I don’t understand.”
“He said, I believe in order of thing.”
“He believes in the order of things?”
“When did he say that?”
“When I ask if he is religious.”
Knowing of Andrei Stanescu’s Orthodox faith, part of Xin Zhu’s argument had been to quote the Bible, lines of which—Erika knew from experience—could be pulled out to justify most anything. Zhu hadn’t dug too deeply, though, sticking with the old standard. “And if any mischief follow, then thou shalt give life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burning for burning, wound for wound, stripe for stripe.”
“Is he religious?”
“He did not say.”
“What do you think?”
Andrei stared at Leticia Jones deeply, then touched the bottle of water in front of him but didn’t drink. “Maybe,” he said, but refused to commit himself further.
Leticia Jones did not bother to tell him that the man he had shot was not his daughter’s murderer. It was beyond Leticia Jones’s mandate—which was, as far as Erika could tell, to find out everything about the person of Xin Zhu from people who had met him personally, even briefly. What this told Erika was that the CIA knew embarrassingly little about the man, and it was desperate to learn anything.
Leticia Jones saved the most crucial question for the second day, and when she asked it, her tone was exactly as it had been the previous day: calm, welcoming, almost seductive.
“Why do you think he did it?” A pause. A gentle smile. “Why do you think he helped you—a stranger—take revenge for the murder of your daughter?”
Andrei didn’t need to think about that; he’d thought about it ever since March 28, when he’d picked up the big Chinese man from the airport and listened—at times exasperated, other times
hypnotized—to his story. “Rick, his son was murdered. He know what it can do to a father. He know how going back to the murderer can make a father good when he is terrible. No, not good. Better.”
“Better than good?”
“Better than terrible. He know this man that kill my Adriana. He sees injustice, he wants order. He believes in order of thing.”
“So Rick is a man who makes order where there is no order.”
“You like him.”
“He give me gift. He don’t know me, but he give me gift.”
A gift, Erika thought, that will ruin you once you’ve gotten past this wonderful high.
Before calling the interview finished at 1:18 p.m. on Thursday the twenty-fourth, Leticia Jones rested her hands on the oak table that had separated them all this time, palms down so that each of her long, red-painted nails glimmered under the ceiling lamp, and said, “Herr Stanescu, after hearing all this, it strikes me that you really like Rick. Am I right?”
Andrei nodded. “He is very good man, for me.”
“Which makes me wonder,” she said, “why you would be so open with us. Certainly you realize that we don’t mean your Rick much good. We’re not his friends. In fact, he’s done some terrible
things to us, and we don’t forgive easily.”
“Don’t you worry you’re betraying him?”
Andrei smiled, then intoned, “Give to Caesar what thing is for Caesar, and to God the things what is for God.”
You just take what you like from that book, thought Erika.
She walked Jones out to her car, and from beyond the trees they heard traffic humming down the highway. “So what did he do to you?” Erika asked in English. When Jones didn’t reply, she clarified. “Xin Zhu, I mean. Kidnapping people off of foreign streets is no small thing.”
Jones still didn’t reply, only smiled, her feet crunching twigs.
“Tell Alan Drummond that if he wants to be a little less secretive, then I could have a look in our files. We might have something.”
“You haven’t heard,” Jones said, shaking her head. “Alan Drummond’s out of a job.”
“That’s why they cleared out the offices of the Department of Tourism?”
To her credit, Jones didn’t flinch. “All I know is he’s in the unemployment line. Anything else is above my pay grade.”
“Like what Xin Zhu did to you people?”
Jones shrugged; then Erika put a hand on her elbow, finally understanding. They looked at each other.
“He destroyed it, didn’t he? The department. That would be . . .” Erika took a breath, wondering what this could mean, and how it might have been done. It was quite nearly awe-inspiring. A legendary department that had struck fear in the hearts of spies all over the planet for at least a half century, felled by a single angry man in China.
Leticia Jones wasn’t going to affirm or deny a thing. She said, “You’ve been very kind, and the American people appreciate it.”
“I doubt that.”
Jones opened the door, then, as an afterthought, placed a hand on Erika’s shoulder. “Well, I appreciate it.”
“Not enough to tell me what Xin Zhu did to deserve this personality analysis?”
Jones got into her car and rolled down the window. “Xin Zhu did nothing, and everything, if you know what I mean.”
A shrug, then Leticia Jones drove away.
By evening, both she and Hector Garza were on flights to New York. Erika asked a team to watch them, but somewhere on the road between New York and D.C., the two agents vanished into the cool American night.
Excerpted from An American Spy by Olen Steinhauer.
Copyright © 2012 by Olen Steinhauer.
Reprinted with permission from the publisher.