As the sun began to set over Beirut, the temperature dropped from eighty degrees to a comfortable seventy-four. Brick Autry sat on a cot in a CIA safe house in the eastern portion of the city and worked his way through a meal of tabbouleh, hummus with pita bread, kibbe, and stuffed grape leaves. He had spent most of the last twenty-four hours flying from Andrews Air Force Base to Lebanon by way of Spain, Greece, and Israel. Although Ben Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv was only 120 miles south of Rafic-Hariri airport in Beirut, the last leg of Autry’s trip was on an Air America aircraft, which flew far out over the Mediterranean Sea and then circled back into the Lebanese airport from the west. Airplanes coming directly from Israel were normally shot at by various Islamic groups at war with the Israelis.
Brick’s hosts were five CIA agents who only referred to each other in code names while Brick was in their presence. They all looked like indigenous citizens of the region, but when they spoke English, it was clear that the agent in charge, referred to by his colleagues as Dog, was an American of Lebanese descent. Before serving dinner, they had prepared Brick for the hostage exchange that was supposed to take place that night and gave him an in-depth briefing on Hezbollah’s operations in Beirut, Southern Lebanon, and Syria. For the rest of the evening, they would wait for the message from CIA headquarters, which would give them clearance to complete the exchange. As Brick was reviewing the folder given to him by his boss back in the West Wing, he thought of a question about the details of the hostage swap.
“In return for the kidnap victims being released, we are delivering a large shipment of equipment to the Iranians. What’s in this shipment?”
The senior agent shrugged his shoulders and informed Brick that the contents of the shipment were classified. It was information that the CIA didn’t think Brick needed to know.
Brick set down the folder he was holding and looked directly at Dog. “Let’s get something straight. In a little while I’m going to become the star of this show, and any information I have that will help me to talk my way out of a tough spot on the other side of the green line is information I need to have. Now, what the hell is in the shipment?”
Dog looked around at his fellow agents, and since no one seemed concerned about giving Brick more information, he casually answered the question, “Weapons, Colonel Autry. We are giving them automatic rifles, pistols, hand grenades, machine guns, rocket-propelled grenade launchers, and small mortars. All the stuff they need to continue to fight Saddam Hussein’s troops on the six-hundred-mile border they share with Iraq.”
“We’re selling arms to the Iranians? The United States has been part of a United Nations arms embargo against Iran since 1979. How can we violate the terms of an international coalition we put together?”
“I’m just a foot soldier, Colonel. Those decisions get made well above my pay grade.”
“OK, so we’re getting paid for these weapons, and the money is wired to Washington; what does CIA do with the money when they get it?”
Dog laughed at the question. “Colonel Autry, I haven’t a clue as to what they do back in Langley. I’m just trying to keep myself and my guys alive while we figure out what the psychos in this country are up to.”
“Was this deal negotiated when my boss, Mr. Woodson, was over here last week?”
“I wasn’t part of the negotiation, Colonel Autry, but my sense is that the deal was driven by Woodson and the head honchos from Langley. They were desperate to find a way to get the Iranians to intercede with Hezbollah and free up our station chief and some other hostages. Since I may get snatched one day by the bad guys, it seems like a damned good idea to me. When you figure that we actually get paid for the stuff we give the Iranians, it smells like a pretty good business decision.”
Brick made a mental note to ask Elliot Woodson about this strange arrangement when he got back to the White House. If certain members of Congress knew about the sale of weapons to Iran, they would really be on the president’s case. Iran had been declared a terrorist state, and the Reagan administration had always talked tough when it came to dealing with terrorists. This could be a scandal if it hit the newspaper headlines.
Brick went back to studying the information in the folder when there came a knock on the door, followed by the entrance of a young woman. She spoke to Dog and the other agents in Arabic and then quickly left.
“OK, Colonel,” said Dog, “it’s show time. Let’s saddle up and get you to the rendezvous point.”
Brick was pushed into the backseat of a small car with Dog driving and another heavily armed agent sitting in the front seat on the passenger side. They raced off toward the western part of this war-torn city. As they got closer to the Green Line, the buildings and homes they passed showed increasing amounts of damage from the fighting that had plagued Beirut for the past five years. When they reached a street that paralleled the Green Line, they parked the car and walked down a narrow alley between adjacent three-story buildings. At the end of the alley was a barricade of sandbags and fifty-gallon drums filled with dirt. Two men were standing on the metal drums and looking over the top of the sandbag wall. Dog exchanged several words with the men and then turned to Brick.
“Once you’ve squeezed through this crack between the building and the sandbags, you’ll be in the Green Line. There’s a lot of freelance gunfire exchanged across this area, so there’s no guarantee that Hezbollah can prevent anyone on the west side of the street from firing at you, just as we don’t have complete control of our side of the street. It’s best for you to stay low and move at a steady pace toward a blinking flashlight the Hezbollah fighters will be illuminating from a point about one block away. Don’t run, but don’t spend more time in the open than you have to.”
One of the men peering over the sandbag wall advised Dog and Brick that the Hezbollah signal had commenced. “OK, Colonel, good luck. We will be waiting here for your return.”
Brick turned sideways and forced his way through the sandbag opening. He crouched down and looked northward where he could see a small light blinking in his direction from eighty yards away. He stayed low and moved at a consistent speed in the direction of the light. The street was filled with rubble, weeds, and potholes, and even though it was dark, there was enough moonlight to see that the buildings on both sides of the street were marked by bullet holes and damaged by cannon or mortar fire. When he got within twenty feet of the blinking light, he could see the figure of a man guiding him to the entrance of another alley. Someone called out to him, “Hey, man, right here—come here quick.”
When Brick ducked into the alley, several men immediately seized his arms. “Are you Autry?”
Brick confirmed his identity, someone placed a black hood over his head, and he was hustled down the alley to another waiting car that took him on a chaotic ten-minute ride through the streets of western Beirut. When his captors pulled him out of the car, he could hear seagulls screeching, so he assumed they were now fairly close to the Mediterranean waterfront. Brick stumbled his way from the car and into a house with the aid of the two men holding his arms, and he was thankful to be placed in a chair and no longer moving around without the ability to see. The hood was removed from his head, and he found himself sitting in a dimly lit room surrounded by at least eight soldiers standing in the shadows. One Hezbollah fighter came forward and held up a photograph next to Brick’s face. “You’ve aged, Colonel Autry—you were much younger in this picture.”
Looking around the room, Brick noticed that each man surrounding him was wearing a kaffiyeh, the traditional scarf that covered the head and the face. However, the fighter speaking to him was relatively young and made no attempt to disguise his identity. He wore jeans and a military fatigue jacket and had a Kalashnikov automatic rifle slung over his shoulder.
“So, you are here to pick up the two old men who teach the useless ideas of the West to our young people and the criminal killer who works for your CIA. I would prefer to return these men as dead bodies, but I will cooperate with our Iranian friends and let you walk out of here with the infidels.”
“Thanks for sticking with the deal. I’m ready to escort Roger Winfield and the two college professors back to eastern Beirut at this time. Can you please take me to them?”
The Hezbollah fighter sneered at Brick and motioned for him to stand up and follow him into the next room. When Brick entered he immediately saw three men sitting on a couch with worried expressions on their faces. The two professors from American University no longer resembled the men in the photographs that had been included in the Brick’s mission dossier. They had lost weight and hadn’t shaved or had a haircut in over a year. Brick knelt down in front of the two bearded professors and asked their names.
“I’m Richard Coltrane, and this is my colleague Steven Sinclair. Who are you?”
“I’m Colonel Brick Autry of the United States Air Force, and I am here to take you home.”
Brick looked over at the kidnapped CIA station chief and asked him if he was OK. It was a rhetorical question since a quick look at Winfield’s swollen and bruised face was clear evidence that the last ten days as a guest of Hezbollah hadn’t been an easy time.
Winfield responded in a calm and quiet voice, “How is it that an air-force officer gets the duty to spring us from Hezbollah?”
“I’m a deputy national security advisor to the president, Mr. Winfield. I guess the boys at Hezbollah wanted to be treated like major leaguers and insisted that someone from the White House come over to take you guys out of here. Some of your people are waiting for us on the other side of the Green Line. We need to get rolling.”
Brick helped Winfield to his feet and was relieved to see that the two professors had no problem moving about. He ushered the three captives back into the other room, where the Hezbollah fighters covered their heads with hoods and walked them to the car that had brought Brick to the meeting. As Brick started to move toward the exit, the man without the kaffiyeh stopped him. “Not so fast, Colonel Autry. There is someone here who would like to speak to you.” He pointed to a tall, burly soldier, who stepped out from the shadows.
“Hello, Colonel Autry. It has been a long time since we last saw each other. Despite my young friend’s comments, it looks like you have aged very well.”
The voice was not familiar, but Brick detected a strong Russian accent, and even though he was wearing the headscarf, the skin around his eyes reflected the lighter complexion of a European.
“How do you know me?” asked Brick.
The man reached up and took off the kaffiyeh so Autry could see him clearly. It took a few seconds for Brick to reach back thirteen years and put a name to the face, but it eventually came to him. “Ivan—you’re Ivan.”
The Russian smiled. “I know that is what all the prisoners called me, but my real name is Grigory Tourischeva. Even though we didn’t have any direct contact in Hanoi, I was hoping you would remember me.”
“Yeah, I remember you. You were one of the few jailers at the prison who spoke English. By the time I got shot down, the North Vietnamese knew the war would be ending soon and the POWs were pawns to be traded for concessions. They took it easy on me—I wasn’t beaten too badly. But some of those men who were there for years were routinely tortured, under your direction, so you could get military intelligence for the KGB. Good and brave men were damaged for life thanks to you, Ivan.”
“It was war, Colonel Autry. I was just doing my job.”
“Colonel Autry, I am here to help you. I want to be your friend. I had my contacts in Hezbollah request you specifically so we could talk.”
“Great; fuck you, friend.”
“Colonel Autry, you are a smart man. I am surprised you are allowing your emotions to get the best of you, especially in a difficult situation like the one you are in at the moment. I can make sure that this hostage swap continues as planned, or I can encourage my comrades in Hezbollah to act out their desires and behead your three fellow Americans right before your eyes. Which set of events would you like to see unfold?”
Brick said nothing and consciously calmed himself down.
Tourischeva pulled up another chair next to the one already in the center of the room. “Please, Colonel Autry. Please sit. We need to talk.”
Autry sat down and looked more closely at the soldier seated across from him. Tourischeva looked heavier and much older than the man he would occasionally see loitering around the periphery of the prison yard where the American POWs would exercise. Since Brick was captured just four months before the armistice that ended the war, he wasn’t subjected to the routine torture so brutally inflicted on long-term inmates. The Soviets wanted to learn more about American air-warfare capabilities and encouraged the North Vietnamese jailers to ask the POWs about American strategic and tactical plans. Prisoners who refused to answer were beaten. Although Brick hadn’t heard of any POWs who were physically abused by Tourischeva, he was the interrogator who supervised the Vietnamese guards. Because he spoke English with a heavy Russian accent, the POWs nicknamed him Ivan.
“We have come a long way since those days in Hanoi, Colonel Autry. I am now a lieutenant general within the Committee for State Security, and I work directly for the chairman. In like fashion you have progressed up the ranks from a junior captain to a full colonel who works on the staff of the American president. We have similar jobs.”
“Our jobs aren’t similar, Ivan. Your Committee for State Security, the KGB, enslaves your own people and foments terror and conflict around the world. My job is to protect the liberty of free Americans.”
Tourischeva smiled. “I’ve always admired the way you American military men adhere to this concept that you operate on a higher moral plane than we do. As though your bombs and bullets can somehow differentiate who should be killed and who should be spared. Don’t kid yourself, Colonel Autry; we’re in the same business.”
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