Chapter 1 Miles From Nowhere (excerpt)
The clickety-clack of the Trans-Siberia Railway was equally hypnotic and torturous. I woke up half-naked in my compartment, with a throbbing, two-day, drug-induced headache and a note taped inside my briefcase that read, “If I can do this, think of what the FSB and CIA are capable of.” My thoughts ran to self-preservation rather than the mind-numbing sounds.
So much of my odyssey had been a living combination of Monty Python meets Dr. Strangelove that I had almost forgotten I was dealing with superpowers, real people, and telling a secret that would change the world. I entertained the notion that if I could concentrate, the migraine would dissipate.
I reached for my backpack and pulled out my notes. I spread them on the bed and tried to make some sense of what I learned on my journey thus far. After sorting through them aimlessly for a while, I decided there had to be a system: put each prong of the story in one pile rather than trying to make a single, convoluted epic from four diverse groups who had no idea any of what the others were trying to do. The participants sounded like a bad joke. What if the Soviet Union, the US, a small European prince and an angelic African leader were all trying to save their countries at the same time?
The first portion of the story came from the data I had collected about the Russians-Soviets, as they were known at the time. I’d uncovered a lot of information about the inner-circle of the Kremlin. I read it and re-read it, unable to believe what I knew from experience was true. There was no way these megalomaniacal buffoons and paranoid apparatchiks could have run an empire that spanned major parts of three continents.
As was always the case, the worker bees were the competent ones, brave and able to work under pressure. Much of my information had come from former KGB operatives who had been involved all those years ago,
Damn, I kept thinking during the five-thousand-mile journey each way from St. Petersburg to Vladivostok, this can’t be true.
My piles of notes kept shifting with the movement of the train on antiquated tracks. I grumbled and stood, opening the door of my compartment to recapture the ones that slipped under the door.
A beautiful conductor bent over to help pick them up, and her skirt rode up to show spectacular legs. She smiled as she handed me the stack of papers. I struggled to remember my rudimentary Russian, finding her beauty distracting. “Are you writing a book?” she asked me with a brilliant smile.
Oh shit, had she read my notes? I swallowed against the sudden dryness in my throat. “No, I’m helping with some research for a university.”
“How interesting,” her eyes sparkled.
The train shimmied, and she fell into me. I wrapped an arm around her to steady her, or so I told myself. Her smile grew to almost feline proportions. Man, this was more of a test than any other I had thus far. I couldn’t cheat on my girlfriend. More importantly, no matter how cute she was, I couldn’t let this conductor see what I was doing. For all I knew, she could be FSB.
“Th-th-thanks. I need to get back to work,” I said, releasing her and clutching the notes to my chest.
“If I see your papers in the corridor again, I’ll knock on your door,” she smiled and walked away and into the next car.
I closed the door, sat on my small chair, and took a deep breath. Looking in the cabinet for water, I discovered only a bottle of vodka. I drank it straight from the bottle like a true Russian.
Fortified by the liquor, I returned to my review, starting on the next stack of notes: the scant of information referencing the United States. As I read through it, I couldn’t help but laugh. Doonesbury wasn’t a cartoon. It was a documentary.
I gagged on my next slug of cheap vodka. The idiots in charge of the United States were every bit as crazy as the Soviets.
I found that the American team left a land of Victoria’s Secret, Monday Night Football, and shopping malls for Russia, a country of perpetual gray skies, no hot water, and umbrella-wielding babushkas. The KGB was omnipresent, and the Americans could be shipped off to enjoy the Siberian winter if they were caught. Hell, if someone caught them, being sent to Siberia would have been downright lenient. I doubted any of the Americans would have made it to the next street corner. Stealing Soviet national secrets was understandable during the Cold War. But how could anyone have come up with this crazy plan?
I understood why the world’s superpowers were so frustrated and willing to try anything, but their plans weren’t what really ended the Cold War. In the geopolitical world, as in the real world, accidents often create the greatest results. I needed more vodka and sucked down a third of the bottle in one swig.
My notes blurred, and my head spun as I considered the two men central to my journey. The key players in this farce couldn’t be more different. No amount of vodka could possibly make this make any sense, but I had met them and knew all of this was real. Insane, wild, crazy, but real.
Of course, I had to change the names of countries other than America and the USSR. The names of the players had to change, also. For my own safety and the safety of everyone involved.
The next player in this mad story was President Mbangu of Madibu, who has often been considered a living saint. Hell, he’s known as The Great Man throughout the world. During a time when Africa suffered through brutal civil wars, dictatorships, corruption, and economic unrest, his idyllic island nation was poor and happy. He was a much better man than I ever could hope to be. However, his nation’s successes were waning and he had to come up with a way to turn Madibu’s fortunes quickly or chaos could ensue.
Although it was against his better angels, he tricked the U.S. and U.S.S.R., but no one lost, and his people benefitted greatly. How could he ever know that his beaches, hotels, a cargo/cruise ship port, rhesus monkeys and new-found libation production would help end the Cold War?
Mbangu’s friend, and polar opposite, was Prince Claude of Luxenstein. All anyone needed to know about him was his nickname: The Pied Piper of Pussy. As outrageous as it may sound, it was a gross understatement of his life. Casanova was a virgin compared to the Pied Piper, and the Pied Piper was real. He was a one-man good year for casinos around the world. But this time he had gone too far, he only had a short time to fix it or his fairytale nation would be gobbled up as a province of France or Belgium to protect the public from his excesses. His family’s five-century-old principality would be history. He couldn’t hold back. If he had to be dangerous and crazy, so be it. Who would take him seriously anyway? So, he jumped in full force, hoping he would succeed against all the odds.
The last notes I organized before putting them back in my briefcase for the evening were the perfect ending point for the night. They came from Petey, an eighty-five-year-old former pit boss in Vegas, who had seen the Pied Piper in his wildest days.
“You gotta promise me one thing,” Petey had told me.
“If you find out the real story before I die, you gotta tell me.”
A huge smile lit his wrinkled, ancient face, “When you come to tell me, make sure I give you my will first.”
“Because when I hear what he did, I’ll probably laugh my ass into the big one. It’ll be a helluva way to go. Die with a smile on my face. Man, I haven’t been this excited since that hooker in ’83. You’ve made this old man very happy. I’ve got something to look forward to now. Thank the Pied Piper for me.”
“You’ve got it, Petey,” I said with a snicker.
Perfect. I let the vodka and clickety-clack of the train put me to sleep. I smiled to myself with that one last thought.
When your kid asks, “How did the Cold War really end, daddy?” You can tell him, “This is how. Don’t believe what you read in the history books. Sit back and read the real story.”