Undercover with FBI Counterintelligence
Moscow, July 1994
After finishing our meal at Santa Fe, Edward Lee Howard and I returned to the Radisson Hotel and ascended its grand spiral marble staircase to the Business Center.
Howard had brought along his copy of Richard Cote's rewrite, which I now had to edit.
I noted Howard's corrections, additions, deletions; Howard chain-smoked Doral cigarettes throughout.
When we finished, Howard went off for a sauna in the hotel's health club.
I returned to my room to empty my head into a pocket notebook.
At 8:45 p.m. I returned to the lobby, a lavish affair with a gargantuan chandelier, beneath which a pianist tapped out musical notes that flew around the huge, acoustically-challenged room without cohesion.
"You do pretty well in Russian," I said.
On stage nearby, a trio of musicians performed a masterful rendition of the theme from the movie Once Upon a Time in America.
An unexpected pleasure for me though Howard seemed oblivious to its poignancy.
"I could do that," said Howard.
"That's right. My own imprint. Enigma Books. Nothing to do with National Press."
He parked near Red Square. Young men loitered all around, checking us out. Howard told me his Volvo had been busted into once.
"And I had a tire slashed a couple weeks ago," he added. "Some hoodlum knew I was in a Western-style supermarket. He thought I'd put down a bag of groceries to change my tire and then he'd grab the bag and run."
A young man approached us, said he wanted to sell old Russian postage stamps. We told him no, but he persisted, following us for five minutes before finding others to harass, and we wandered around St. Basil's Cathedral.
Howard pointed to a viewing stand above the Kremlin wall.
"That's where I viewed the May Day Parade with the generals," he reminisced. "Most of them are disgraced now."
He pointed to another ornate building, now derelict. "That used to be the Communist Party Museum."
He exchanged greetings with his concierge, a babushka who lived on the ground floor and observed other tenants and their guests.
Up one flight of stairs, Howard keyed two locks.
Normally, he would drive 40 minutes to his dacha.
"It's awfully tempting to try to make a deal like that," said Howard. "But I've made a life here. I've been here nine years. I've set up a business. It would be hard to turn my back on that."
"The U.S. government should have to pay me back for these nine years," he continued. "You know, there's something called the Mole Relief Act. I think it means that if I'm proven innocent, the government would have to compensate me for the nine years of misery they've caused."
His street was dark and muddy.
"Do they know who you are?"
Within a couple of minutes we reached Arbat's main street, a winding pedestrian precinct. Scores of teenagers congregated on the cobblestoned path, blasted on booze. Empty beer bottles strewn around; broken glass littered the pavement. Vodka and cigarettes changed hands at a busy kiosk.
Nearby, a roaring fire in a large trash can warmed whoever needed toasting. It made me think of the proles in George Orwell's 1984.
"This is the most fashionable street in Moscow," said Howard.
Years later, a scene in the TV series Millennium reminded me of Howard this July night in Moscow:
The character Frank Black recognizes a devil and says, "You must be so lonely." When the devil repeats this line to three other devils sitting inside a donut shop, they look down, recognizing the truth they all share and, one by one, they slink out into the night.
Sad. So very sad. For Moscow. For Howard.
Next morning, 6:15 sharp, Howard rounded into the Radisson's forecourt. Punctuality was a trait he shared with John H, his FBI pursuer.
I climbed in, and we took off to the airport.
We shook hands on Spy's Guide.
Behind me, Edward Lee Howard returned to his austere existence as a defector.