The President’s Dossier Excerpt
Max Geller (Posing as Richard) Goes Aboard Victor Lukovsky Yacht at the London Docks
I didn’t know what magic Sherri worked with Viktor Lukovsky’s mother, but I received a call early the next morning that Viktor’s Rolls Royce would pick me up at 10 a.m. The car arrived on the dot. The driver opened and closed the door for me and didn’t say a word until we got to South Dock at Canary Wharf in East London. He stopped the car, looked in the rearview mirror and said, “Go with Ivan.”
A tall, crew cut, bruiser in a dark overcoat opened the car door for me. As he did, I glimpsed some serious artillery under his coat and noted a receiver in his ear. Ivan motioned for me to follow him. As the Rolls rolled away, Ivan—Mr. Silent-but-deadly—led me up the gangplank of a stunning, eighty-foot yacht. The hull and superstructure were black, contrasting beautifully with the blond wood decks. If this is how the mafia rolls, where do I sign? The problem is that the mafia, like any society, has its princes and paupers. Lukovsky had risen to princely status by climbing over lots of dead bodies. I was damned sure I didn’t want to sign up for that.
Awaiting me at the top of the gangplank was another big fellow in white from head to toe, hair to shoes. His white hair was slicked back into a ponytail, accentuating a broad face that matched his prizefighter’s body. He smiled and extended his massive hand. “Richard, I’m Viktor Lukovsky. Welcome aboard the good ship Payback.”
“Thank you for seeing me, Mr. Lukovsky.”
“Viktor! Nobody calls me Mister except servants.”
“Call me Ricky.” I picked a nickname that was soft and non-threatening.
Viktor led me under the shelter provided by an extension of the superstructure. A table had been set for two, just out of the sun, and there were sleek electric heaters to keep us comfortable in the chilly breeze. We paused to enjoy a great view of the harbor.
“Usually on Sundays,” explained Viktor, “I take my party girls sailing. I make exception today because my mother asked me to see you.” Viktor, like his mother, did not embrace articles—such as ‘an’ and ‘a’—as essential elements of English grammar.
“I never deny my mother anything . . . If my mother had told me to kill you because you interrupted her tea, you would be dead now.”
I believed him. “I’m glad I didn’t displease her. I approached your mother because I’m desperate. I would like your help—”
Viktor waved me off. “We talk business later. First, we eat. I have good Russian dinner for us.” He smacked me in the gut with the back of his hand. “You could use few more pounds.”
* * *
After dinner, Viktor said a jovial, “Come inside, Ricky. We have drinks.”
I followed him into the cabin. We sat at a large driftwood cocktail table that didn’t match the décor, but if you own this boat, you can have whatever you want.
Again, through the miracle of invisible communication, a jacketed staff member appeared—this time, Mr. Silent-but-deadly—with a decanter and a plainly visible belt-holstered Glock. He put the decanter on the table. ‘Vodka’ was carved into the crystal.
Viktor said to him, “Give the boys a couple of hours on the dock.”
Ivan disappeared below deck. Minutes later, the stewards who had served dinner left the boat. Witnesses were jumping ship. Ivan and his Glock were still aboard. What did that mean?
Viktor poured us shots of vodka and raised his glass. “To the best president Russia ever had . . . Ted Walldrum.” Walldrum was the current president of the United States. Viktor downed his vodka and laughed like a mental patient. I was still holding my shot glass in the air while Viktor convulsed and turned red. Between gasping for breaths, he managed to say, “You . . . you should see your face!”
Well, ha, ha, ha. I smiled and downed my shot.
Viktor poured us another couple of rounds and downed his shots in one gulp. There was a brown leather box on the table, the size of a laptop computer, but two inches thicker. It had two covered compartments that ran the length of the box. One was long and narrow.
My host pressed one of two brass buttons on the side of the box. The top on the narrow section popped open to display a row of cigarettes and Cohiba cigars. Viktor took a cigar, snipped the end, and lit it with a gold lighter. He rotated the box to me.
“Thanks. I don’t.”
Viktor rotated the box toward himself, popped the top on the larger compartment, and removed an automatic pistol with a silencer attached. He blew smoke into my face and said, “Secondhand smoke can kill you just as quick.” He wasn’t laughing.
I raised my arms in a gesture of surrender. “I’m not here to cause trouble. I just wanted to ask for your help.”
“You can bullshit my mother. You don’t bullshit me. Give me your wallet.”
I rotated my left hip toward him so he could see that I was going for the wallet. As I slid it across the table, Ivan appeared. He was leading Sherri by the arm. Her hands were bound behind her and she was gagged. Ivan sat her in a chair next to me. She appeared intact, but there was concern in her eyes, not panic.
“Are you okay?” I asked.
She nodded that she was.
Viktor tossed Ivan my wallet and he took it below. As I sat there looking at Viktor’s gun, the words of FBI Special Agent McNeill came to mind: “Don’t be fooled by his good ol’ Ukrainian peasant act. Viktor Lukovsky is a made man in the Russian mafia and a stone killer.”
Viktor wasn’t talking. I guessed he was waiting to receive my credit score from below deck. I began inspecting as much of the yacht as I could see.
Viktor asked, “You like this boat?”
“It’s very nice.” I was looking around for something to throw at Viktor, if Ivan returned with bad news.
“This?” he looked around it with some disgust. “This just payback.”
“Everything. In 1933, Stalin starved millions of Ukrainians to make political point. My grandparents died, so did my wife’s. Friends took in my mother and father and fed them. Ten years later, my father fought Germans at Stalingrad. He was hero. A year after war, agents from Ministry of State Security came to our home. They accused my father of being counter-revolutionary. They take him away. We never see him again. My mother was afraid. She moved us to Leningrad where secret police screwed us again.” Viktor looked around the yacht and made a grand wave with his cigar. “That’s what this is for.”
I sat in uncomfortable silence until Viktor addressed me in Russian, “My mother tells me you speak good Russian. Where did you learn?”
I answered in Russian. “For as far back as I can remember, I had Russian nannies and Russian tutors. My father wanted me to be able to speak to my mother in her native tongue . . . if I ever met her.” That was my legend. The truth was I studied Russian for three years in college and another year at the CIA, adapting it to the spy business. That CIA year was prep for my posting to Moscow Station.
Ivan reappeared. He gave Viktor two sheets of paper and put my wallet on the table . . . in front of Viktor.
Switching back to English, my host said, “So, you are CEO of auto parts supply company?”
My legend is holding. Good old Rodney. “No. I’m a school teacher. My father was the CEO. He died. I’m running the company until we find a CEO who knows the business.”
Viktor gave Ivan a satisfied nod. Mr. Silent-but-deadly withdrew.
“What you want from me, Ricky?”
“Help me find my mother. She’s Russian. She lived in St. Petersburg in 1987. You were there then.”
“Why not go to Russian embassy?’
“My situation is complicated.”
“Make it simple,” ordered Viktor. He was listening, but held the gun steady.
“My father worked in St. Petersburg in 1987. He frequently used the services of a prostitute . . . the same prostitute. She got pregnant and had a child . . . me. My father made plans to smuggle me and my mother out of Russia. Someone found out and my father had to leave the country in a hurry. He smuggled me out in a suitcase and promised to return for my mother. The Cold War was in full swing. He couldn’t get back into Russia because of the politics. Even if he could, my mother couldn’t get into the States with a record of prostitution. My father tried for years. He was unsuccessful. Finally, he gave up and married my stepmother. On his deathbed, my father made me promise to find my mother and bring her to the States.”
“What your father doing in St. Petersburg in 1987?”
“He never talked about his work, only about my mother.”
Viktor took a thoughtful drag on his cigar and said, “So, you came looking for a Russian who was pimping flesh in St. Petersburg in 1987?”
“There’s plenty of old Russian pimps in New York City and it’s closer to your home. Why you don’t go there?”
“I don’t have police contacts there. Even if I did, it would be dangerous to ask about Russian mafia in New York.”
“And not dangerous here?” He thumbed the safety off his pistol.
“Less so. I have friends here.”
“How did you find me?”
“As I said, I have friends here. I told one of them the kind of . . . experience I was looking for. My friend knows a policeman, who knows someone at Scotland Yard.” I was making up the lies as I went along. “Some money changed hands and I was told that you might be able to help me.”
“Who are these friends?”
“I promised not to reveal their names.”
“Maybe if I shoot Sherri, you tell me?”
If there’s one thing mobsters hate, it’s an informer who gives up his friends. Even if I gave Viktor a phony name, I was a rat, and he might kill us both. If he didn’t kill us for giving up our friends, I doubted he would help me.
“Viktor, I promised my friends that I would not say who helped me—”
Viktor pointed his gun at Sherri’s head.