Publisher: Penmore Press
Formats: Paperback | e-book (Kindle, iBook/Apple, Nook, Kobo)
Pages: 520 pages
When Gorbachev committed his country to purchase at least eight million tons of grain over the next five years by signing the historic U.S./Soviet grain deal in 1991, he knew the country was broke. Inflation in the Soviet Union was almost out of control, the government was losing its iron grip on the population and in March the Soviet parliament votes to dissolve the Soviet Union. Hardliners want Gorbachev out of power and the Iranians see the turmoil as a chance to acquire tactical nuclear weapons.
The U.S. is getting conflicting intelligence on the situation in the Soviet Union and Josh Haman is sent to Moscow to be an independent set of eyes and years. On the day he arrives, a KGB general promises to give him the names and addresses of the man who ordered the killing of his first wife’s parents. While in Moscow, he meets Danielle Debenard, a girl friend he hadn’t seen since 1970 when she was captured and sent to a Laotian re-education camp. She works for the French intelligence serviceHis mission expands from gathering intelligence on the volatile political situation to stopping the delivery of the nuclear weapons to the Iranians all the while he is tormented by the desire to exact revenge.
Taken from Chapter 9 – NUKES FOR DOLLARS
The same day,(June 13th, 1991) 1248 local time, Moscow
Rank allowed General Boris Vavilov the perk of having a driver take him back and forth to Ekaterininskiy Park. It was a great place to take a walk and one of his favorites. It had three man-made lakes, broad paths lined with trees, and benches every few hundred meters. After the ten-minute drive from his office in Znamenka Street, Vavilov told the driver to be back in an hour.
The general took a walk every day. It gave him a chance to be alone and enjoy being outside, rather than cooped up in a stuffy office. Indoors, cigarette smoke always drifted down the hall from the other offices, making his eyes water and his nose run. Whenever Vavilov commanded a unit, smoking was not allowed in his presence.
At the end of the paddle-shaped pond and as far away from the Central Armed Forces Museum as he could get, Vavilov found an empty bench. Before sitting, he deliberately fumbled with his net bag to let a wrapped piece of food fall out. Retrieving it let him look underneath the seat for a hidden microphone.
Satisfied there was not one, he gazed at the cumulus clouds darkening the sky. Later this afternoon it would become noisy and rainy. Vavilov appreciated thunderstorms. Humans could make more noise and lights with their machines, but there was a grandeur to thunderstorms that was primal and exhilarating.
The sight of a Soviet Lieutenant General in uniform was usually enough to deter others from sitting on the same bench, unless they knew him. He gently placed his net bag on the seat, took out a bottle of mineral water and an embroidered napkin, and then removed a paper bag holding a large chunk of homemade dark black bread and pieces of sausage and cheese.
As was his custom, Vavilov laid the bread and cheese on the napkin that his wife of thirty-plus years provided, and used a pocketknife to cut chunks of sausage to fold into pieces of torn bread. As he chewed, the general watched the birds. Pigeons flapped and scurried over, knowing crumbs would soon be on the ground.
The general was halfway through his meal when another man, wearing the uniform of a Soviet Army colonel, sat at the other end of the bench and opened a book. It was Panichev.
Vavilov had cause to thank his mother for the dark olive skin he’d inherited. At a height of 2.2 meters, Vavilov was tall for a Moldavian. His height had kept him out of the tank corps; there was no way he could fit inside one. Panichev had similar skin color and a bushy Stalinesque mustache, as well as broad-shoulders, but he would be at least a head shorter. Vavilov wondered if Panichev had ever been assigned to a tank unit.
Panichev read for a minute or so before he spoke quietly. “General, we are ready to place our order.”
Vavilov looked up at the sky as if to say, God, here we go. “And it is?”
“Twenty-four ZBV2s and a dozen RA-115s. Five million U.S. dollars for the ZBV2s and a million for each RA-115.”
“What’s an RA-115?”
“A small man-portable nuclear device. The GRU has supposedly smuggled them into Western Europe and the U.S.—for use by the Spetznaz, if the Soviet Union ever went to war against the United States and NATO.”
“I know nothing about RA-115s, nor do I control any.” I need to find out who does.
Panichev nodded. “O.K., then twenty-four ZBV2s.”
Vavilov pursed his lips and shook his head. “My good colonel, twenty-four is not possible. ZBV2s aren’t the same as the 203mm high-explosive artillery shells I sold you before. We never release more than six ZBV2s at any one time. I can get you six, at fifteen million each.”
“We think twenty-four is possible. We can get them other ways. I came to you first as a courtesy.”
“Any release order has to be signed by me. Attacking storage facilities can be very messy. You might get the weapons, but you’ll never get them out of the Soviet Union.”
“A dozen at eight million.”
“Six is all you’re going to get. And the price is fifteen per warhead.”
The colonel didn’t say anything. Not hearing a response, Vavilov finished his mineral water and neatly folded the three sheets of off-white butcher paper that had held his lunch.
“Six at ten,” the colonel said finally.
“Comrade, your Russian is rusty, and your hearing is faulty. I said fifteen. You’re not the one who will be in the basement of the Lubyanka, looking at a wall and expecting a bullet in your brain at any second.” Vavilov put the bottle in the net bag and made it appear he was ready to leave. “However, for you, I will come down to twelve.”
The man wearing the colonel’s uniform gritted his teeth. “Six at twelve. Half when we get the paperwork and half when we take delivery.”
“No, half before I start on the paperwork and half when you get the documents.”
“We won’t agree to payment before delivery!”
Vavilov stood up. “Then you won’t get any ZBV2s.” He was ready to walk away. Without the money, he was ready to report the man as a spy. Does this make me a capitalist?
“We agree to your terms,” Panichev ground out.
“Excellent. When the money is in my account, I’ll start on the paperwork. I’ll get in touch the usual way when I have the documents ready. If the money isn’t there by this coming Monday morning, the deal is off.”
Vavilov let a slip of paper fall to the ground in front of the colonel. On it was the name of the Swiss bank and an account number set up by a relative in Finland. Once I have the money, my retirement is secure and I can leave this god-forsaken country and all its troubles.
Taken from Chapter 11 – OLD FLAME
Saturday, June 22nd, 1991, 1945 local time, Moscow
In a formal letter, General Grant ordered all of the attachés to attend the embassy’s reception honoring the fiftieth anniversary of the day the Soviet Union entered World War II on the side of the allies. The reception was held at Spaso House, the historic building that has been the U.S. Ambassador’s residence since 1933. Originally built in 1913 by the industrial magnate Nikolay Vtorov, the structure got its name from Spasopeskovskaya Square across the street. In 1917, Vtorov joined the Bolshevik Revolution and was assassinated by an unknown attacker in 1918. Spaso House and all of Vtorov’s factories were seized by the Bolsheviks, and some are still operated by the Soviet government.
General Grant’s order had specified wearing mess dress. Josh had known he’d be expected to have a full suite of dress uniforms for formal events, so before flying out from Washington, he’d called Rebekah. With his guidance, she’d found all the miniature medals, wings, studs, cummerbund, cuff links, blouse and pants for all his uniforms and had shipped them by Federal Express to Moscow. The gear had arrived the next day at the Marriott Hotel in Crystal City.
Now, as Josh approached Gunnery Sergeant Velasquez in the Hotel Rossiya’s lobby, the Marine came to attention. Since Josh was wearing his dress blues and white hat, Velasquez rendered a proper crisp salute, with his tucked thumb aligned with his fingers and touching his eyebrow, his elbow parallel to the ground. Velasquez was a Marine, and saluting was a sign of respect to a fellow warrior. “Good evening, Captain.”
Josh’s return salute would have made a drill instructor proud. “Good evening, Gunny. Are you ready to do battle with the buffet table, wine, and vodka martinis?”
Velasquez smiled. “Sir, I prefer a good shot of José Cuervo Silver tequila myself. Sergeant Brown is waiting in the car.”
On the back seat was a notebook with pictures and biographies of the Soviet and allied officers Josh was supposed to meet and greet. He’d already spent an hour with the book earlier in the afternoon; after a few pages, the faces began to look alike. Putting it on the seat was Velasquez’s hint to study more.
At the entrance, Josh paused as he handed his bridge cover to a woman from the embassy staff. She gave him a plastic card with a number so he could retrieve it later. He tucked the card into a pocket, then proceeded into the reception.
He surveyed it as he would a battlefield. Josh was surprised by how many Soviet officers were in attendance, as well as officers from U.S. allies in Europe and Asia. Nearly everyone he’d met at the embassy was present. In all likelihood, General Grant had assigned the junior most attaché to take attendance, and anyone who didn’t show would be chastised. The general himself had not yet made his entrance, nor had the ambassador. No doubt, Grant had arranged to meet the ambassador in private first—face time with the ambassador and making a grand entrance together were more important than greeting each guest when they arrived.
Most of the Soviets were clustered around the two buffet tables in the center of the room. Josh deemed that the tables held enough food to feed the residents of a Russian apartment complex for a week. One table bore a majestic prime rib, along with fish, poultry, pork, and vegetable sides. The other had a selection of cold cuts, cheeses, and fruit. Against each end wall, bartenders served European and American beers, wines, and whiskeys along with the best gins and vodkas. Velasquez said the toasts would begin once the dessert tables were rolled out and the ambassador was sure everyone had a drink in his or her hand.
Between the buffet tables and the walls, the embassy staff had set up rows of small bar tables along with larger tables with chairs. Each was covered with starched white tablecloths bearing the seal of the United States.
Josh said, “Care to join me for a drink on Uncle Sam’s nickel, Gunny?”
“My pleasure, sir.” Only Marine guards who could speak Russian were invited. The others were assigned guard duty.
Drink in hand, Josh turned to the sergeant. “I guess I need to follow my orders and mingle with our Soviet guests. Learn what I can.”
“Yes, sir. You’re learning the new attaché drill. The Soviet officers know you just arrived in Moscow, so they’ll try to get you to tell why you’re here. Think of yourself as a new toy just given to a roomful of five-year-olds.”
“Sounds like fun.”
“Expect to be approached by sharks smelling fresh blood in the water. Your best move is to initiate conversation with a Soviet officer of your rank or higher. That tells the rest you’re ‘taken,’ so to speak. The Russian will invite others to come and join you as he sees fit. If you need help, just give me a nod. By the time I get to you, I’ll have come up with a reason to pull you away.”
“Deal. Wish me luck.”
“You won’t need any, sir.”
Two hours later, Josh looked at his watch. He’d survived conversations with a Russian admiral and two captains and he was ready to leave. He spotted Velasquez and waved him over. “Gunny, let’s have another drink before I head to the hotel.”
They were halfway to the bar when Josh stopped abruptly. He stared as if he’d seen a ghost.
“Something wrong, sir?”
“Velasquez,” he said, and cleared his throat, which had gone suddenly dry. “I’m either about to make a fool of myself or to reintroduce myself to a woman I haven’t seen since 1970. Can you find us a private table for two?”
Josh didn’t wait for acknowledgement. He headed in the direction of a Eurasian woman wearing an emerald green cocktail dress. She was at the buffet table, putting a piece of chicken on a bed of rice.
A single word came out of Josh’s mouth as his heart pounded. “Danielle?”
Danielle Debenard looked at the six-foot tall American who’d addressed her. He looked familiar. Could it be…? She’d never seen him in mess dress, or with hair graying along the temples.
For a moment, Josh’s heart sank, afraid he was wrong, or worse, that she didn’t remember him.
“Mon dieu. Josh Haman.” There was no questioning in her voice, just the well-controlled recognition of a fact.
Josh nodded. “C’est moi…”
“It’s been a very long time.” Hand trembling, Danielle put her plate down between trays on the buffet.
“Yes, it has,” Josh said. “It must be twenty years since I saw you last.”
Josh stepped forward and they hugged tightly. When they separated, Danielle stepped back awkwardly. “The years have been kind to you.”
“And you as well. You’re just as beautiful as I remember. How’s your father?”
“Older and as difficult as ever, but he’s well. Papa lives in the south of France near Toulon. He says he needs the warmth to keep his old bones from getting cold. Really, it’s because he’s living near his girlfriend.” Her black eyes still sparkled, just as Josh remembered.
He’d been captivated by Danielle from his very first sight of her. They’d met in 1970 at a cocktail party in Singapore. The dress she’d wore then was almost the same color as the one she wore now: an elegant contrast with her brown skin, exotic eyes, and Eurasian features.
“Danielle, do you have time to talk?”
“Of course. I’m here with the French attachés, but if they need me they’ll find me.”
Josh searched the room and spotted Velasquez. “Gunnery Sergeant Velasquez has a private table for us over in the corner.”
Josh’s head was swimming, so he didn’t notice Danielle’s awkward pivot. As they walked to the table, however, he saw her pronounced limp. He held his tongue as a smiling Velasquez pulled out Danielle’s chair for her, then disappeared toward the bar. As soon as they were seated, Josh picked up Danielle’s hand. “I heard you were captured by the Pathet Lao. Then nothing. I tried to find out what happened to you but never had any luck.”
In fact, Josh had barely been restrained from barging into Laos and committing an act of war with a rescue mission.
Danielle struggled to find middle ground between emotion and sounding too cold or clinical. “When the Pathet Lao attacked our plantation, I was shot when I went to help my mother. After two weeks in a field hospital, we were taken to Re-Education camp #3 near what was then North Vietnam. My father and I were kept there three years.” She let her voice trail off rather than reciting the exact number of days. “But we escaped. Eventually. When I returned to France, I sent letters your fleet post office box, but they all came back stamped ‘Addressee not at this address.’”
“Sorry. By then, I was back in the States. How are your brothers and little sister?”
Danielle’s jaw tightened noticeably before she spoke. “My brothers are fine. One lives in Paris and the other is in Singapore. How long will you be in Moscow?”
Josh knew better than to point out what she’d omitted. “I’m here a month or two. Are you still a translator?”
“I’m an assistant commercial attaché. At least that’s what I am officially.” She casually glanced around, making sure no one was close enough to overhear, and raised her hand to her face as if patting her hair, half covering her mouth in the process, so that no one would be able to read her lips. “When we got back to France, the Corps Diplomatique suggested I go into intelligence. I’m now an analyst for France’s General Directorate for External Security. At events like this, I’m both an interpreter and an analyst.” Lowering her hand, she resumed a normal voice. “My tour in Moscow ends in December. Now tell me about you. Did you ever marry?”
“I did. I have three children: Sasha is sixteen, Sara is fourteen, and Sean is ten.”
“And your wife, is she here?”
“No, Rebekah is back in San Diego.”
A French officer came up to the table. After a short conversation, Danielle turned to Josh and fished through the small purse. “I must go, but here’s my card. Call during the day and I’ll give you my apartment phone number. We have much to talk about.”
Josh watched Danielle limp off. He sat at the table for a few minutes, studying and twirling the half-empty wine glass in front of him. Knowing Danielle, she wants to tell me something, but couldn’t or wouldn’t do it here. So, what is it?
Velasquez approached the table. “Captain, who was that?”
“A very old…” Josh started to use the word flame but stopped. “…friend.”
Life in Moscow had just got even more complicated.
San Francisco Review of Books, July 11, 2018 by Grady Harp
Author Marc Liebman, a retired U.S. Navy Captain and Naval Aviator who is a combat veteran of Vietnam, the tanker wars of the 1980s and Desert Shield/Desert Storm, retired as a Captain after twenty-four years in the Navy and a career that involved his working with the armed forces of Australia, Canada, Japan, Thailand, Republic of Korea, the Philippines and the U.K. He has been a partner in two different consulting firms advising clients on business and operational strategy; the CEO of an aerospace and defense manufacturing company; an associate editor of a national magazine, and a copywriter for an advertising agency. Marc has written five novels in the Josh Haman Series and MOSCOW ADRIFT is the sixth book in that series.
It is obvious why Marc’s expertise in the military aspects and espionage shadings of his created character is so keen and accurate: Josh Haman is a navy pilot flying helicopters in Navy special operations in Vietnam and the first two books of this series concentrated on Vietnam while subsequent volumes placed Josh in Germany in the 1970s then Russia and other locales. In this Book 6 Josh in involved in intrigue in the Soviet Union.
With a degree of intensity Marc includes historical information about the time of his novel – ‘Long after most of us are in the ground, 1991 will be viewed by historians as one of the most eventful and significant years in world history. Seven events relating to the Soviet Union that either culminated in or happened during 1991 had a significant long-term effect on the history of the world. All were woven into Moscow Airlift‘s plot. When the year began, the Soviet Union was financially, economically, culturally and politically in trouble. Its citizens, emboldened by Gorbachev’s policies of perestroika and glasnost and the declarations of independence by its own republics and the defections from the Warsaw Pact, were becoming more vocal in their opposition to Communist Party rule. They clamored for better quality Soviet made and Western consumer goods along with an improved standard of living. Shortages of everything from food to medicine were part of the daily fabric of life. The problems the Soviet Union faced in 1991 were the culmination of years of attempting to compete with the West while dedicating twenty to twenty-five percent of its economic output to defense. By contrast, the U.S. spends less than four and NATO nations are required by treaty to spend two. The core of President Reagan’s strategy to end the Cold War was to bankrupt the Soviet Union by forcing it into an arms race it couldn’t afford. The Soviet Union didn’t have the resources—money or technology—to keep up with the West.’ That is indicative of Marc’s commitment to his readers.
The story is complex and lengthy but never for a moment does the suspense rest as the plot outline suggests – ‘In 1991, Gorbachev signs the historic US/Soviet grain deal, committing the Soviets to purchasing eight million tons of grain over the next five years. In response, inflation in the Soviet Union rises almost out of control, the government loses its iron grip on the population, and the Soviet parliament votes to dissolve the Soviet Union. Hardliners want Gorbachev out of power, and the Iranians see the turmoil as a chance to acquire tactical nuclear weapons. The United States realizing it was receiving conflicting intelligence on the situation in the Soviet Union sends Josh Haman to Moscow as an independent set of eyes and ears. On the day he arrives, a KGB general promises to give him the names and addresses of the man who ordered the killing of his first wife’s parents. Almost immediately, Haman’s mission expands from gathering intelligence on the volatile political situation to stopping the delivery of the nuclear weapons to the Iranians, all the while tormented by the desire to exact revenge.’
It is rare that an author can infuse so many levels of involvement on the political and military and espionage levels and make the story so human as Marc manages in this excellent novel. The immediate response is to look for the other five books in the series – Josh Haman has captured our attention and leaves us eager for more of his intense adventures.
ROTOR REVIEW, Winter 2019, by LCDR Chip Lancaster
This is the sixth in the series of Josh Haman novels by Marc Liebman. Marc’s development of Haman has spanned a career from JG to CAPT with insight into previous novel plots as this book plot moves along. The first half of the book is a kaleidoscope of action and characters around the world from SE Asia and the Middle East to San Diego, DC and NYC to Moscow. The book then centers up in Moscow, delving deep into Russian society and politics. Marc’s dense but rich tableau of characters stretches around the globe with in depth characterization and down to the nuts and bolts research. By the way, you’ll probably be able to say Russian names with ease by the time you’re done, not to mention ample Google support for Russian military equipment.
The action starts in South East Asia with a harrowing bullet riddled escape from a Pathet Lao concentration camp in the 70’s. A tight timeline takes the reader to Beirut in the 80’s before ending up in the Persian Gulf in the 90’s where it settles into a steady stream. More like a running river actually, complete with rapids, boulders and plenty of pitfalls and even some helicopter action in the Gulf for you rotorheads out there. Josh is after all a helo pilot and no light-weight by a long shot, with a career peppered with special ops involvement, he is a force to be reckoned with.
The main action settles into a plot of some familiar bad guys to acquire some Ruskie nukes. The reader gets entrenched into a Russia suffering from severe food shortage, on the verge of bankruptcy and with a military coup threatening to blow the whole thing up. Josh’s very hush-hush mission is to intercept the nukes. Sounds pretty straight forward, but side plots involving murder, suicide bombers, ex-Nazis and a cast of international hit-men, bad guys, moles and general reprobates keep the action and intrigue swirling. From the concrete canyons of NYC to the political halls of DC and through the mean streets of Moscow to the desolate plains of Uzbekistan, Josh has both bad guys and good guys gunning for him; Iranians and Russians are bad enough but U.S. bureaucrats rounding out the adversaries keeps you guessing who’s going to pop up next.
What makes Marc’s novel a cut above the typical spy story and especially interesting is his in-depth look into Russian life. His insights from army, politicians and street hoods to family and religious life really round the story line out. I think it’s the best insight into Russian police activities that I’ve read since Gorky Park. His characterizations and visualization are rich and colorful, bringing the action to life, with the reader wanting more Josh Haman in the future. Marc even includes a synopsis at the end of Russian historical facts that all of the events in novel are based on. Moscow Airlift is a great read and worth the price of admission. Check it out.