Toltan's night had been a long one. The CIA intelligence analyst was relieved to find the foreign city brimming with bars open long past decent hours. He entered the nearest one and ordered the night's special. The bartender returned with a concoction reeking of liquor. Toltan was unfazed, and chugged it down in one gulp.
A drunken man beside him guffawed. "You're a fast drinker, buddy. It's been a real… a real long time, eh, Romanov?" The intoxicated man's words slurred together. "Last time I saw you…you were blonde, weren't you? You dyed your hair!"
Toltan scooted to the edge of his barstool, attempting to distance himself from the drunkard. "Another!" He tapped his empty glass against the counter, catching the attention of the bartender, who proceeded to refill his drink.
"No, really, Romanov," The drunk man lost his balance as he tapped Toltan's shoulder. "I've got to tell you the truth about that KGB project. They lied to you for so long that it was funny."
The mention of the KGB caught Toltan's attention. Was this some sort of ploy? Did they know that Toltan was working undercover? "What KGB project?"
"Oh, you know! The… the move of the nuclear warheads closer to the coast."
"Right." Toltan played along. "I'd forgotten about that. Tell me, um, why did they move those again?" He ran his hands along his pants, flicking the power switch on the tape recorder concealed in his pocket. Whether the drunk man was simply rambling or not, it sounded important enough to warrant a CIA check.
"You're so naïve," The drunk man laughed obnoxiously. "For when they launch them… next week, right?"
Toltan nodded, his heart starting to race. A top secret Russian nuclear strike would surely have them removed from the United Nations. Why would they risk such a thing when the consequences were so plainly obvious? Who would they even think to attack?
"The… the KGB says the U.S. is going to be doing a restoration project on all of their nuclear arms next week. None of them are going to be ready to launch, but they don't know that we know." The man chuckled deeply, taking a swig of alcohol. "They think only the other NATO nations know. Silly Americans, right?" He hiccupped, still laughing.
"Yeah, yeah, definitely," Toltan shook his head eagerly. He'd only come to find out if a few missing CIA spies were being held captive-not to find something as mind blowing as a Russian nuclear attack. "Where in the U.S. were they going to bomb again?"
"Three places, right, Romanov? Bangor, where they've got the largest supply of their own nuclear warheads, D.C., and New York City. There's going to be another strike, I think, but Zakrevsky says I'm not authorized to know. You weren't even supposed to know about the first strike, huh?" He patted Toltan's shoulder roughly. "I'll be going now. I've practiced my English for the night. You're still practicing your English, right? You're getting pretty good at it."
Toltan raised his glass, faintly smiling, to the drunk man as he stumbled through the door. As soon as the man had left, Toltan slammed his glass on the table, sliding it toward the bartender. He muttered what he thought was a thank you in Russian and left a few rubles lying on the table.
He stopped the recorder and jogged toward the airport. It was only a few blocks from the bar, but getting on a flight home would be no simple task. The airport security couldn't be allowed to find his tapings, and he couldn't call any U.S. officials without fear of a Russian bug hearing the same message.
Toltan buried the tape recorder in his backpack as he walked, shoving it to the bottom to be covered by a layer of clothes and toiletries. He struggled to remain calm as he purchased a ticket to the next flight leaving for America-conveniently leaving in an hour. The hardest part was still to come.
Toltan passed the security checks with more ease than he had expected. He'd thought for sure that one of the Russians would have read his mind and found the tape recorder. Instead, they let him pass, none the wiser. He breathed a deep sigh of utter relief as he located his terminal and settled in, waiting for his plane to pull up to the gate.
He was on the verge of drifting off to sleep. Toltan's eyes were shut, and he could feel himself beginning to slip into blissful unconsciousness. The only thing stopping him from falling asleep was the feeling of being watched. Toltan reluctantly opened his eyes, and jumped at the sight of two airport security members standing before him.
"Can-can I help you?" Toltan stammered, his confidence draining.
"Is your name Jonah Toltan?" One of them asked in labored English.
"Let me see your bag."
I'm going to die, Toltan thought. When they find the tape recorder, they're going to throw me in prison and have me executed. The entire nation is going to be destroyed by the Russian nuclear strike because I couldn't get through airport security. Stupid!
To Toltan's horror, one of them pulled out the tape recorder. "What's on here?"
"I'm a singer," Toltan had no idea where the lie came from. "They're songs from my new album."
Appearing satisfied, the security people returned Toltan's belongings. "Thank you, I guess." They walked off, whispering to each other in Russian.
Toltan's flight had arrived early. He praised every god he had ever heard of as he boarded the flight to Dulles. From there, he was only one phone call away from stopping the attack.
The flight gave him quite a bit of time to think. Why would the Russians attack America? It seemed to defy all logic. They had nothing to gain from an attack that would ultimately prove unsuccessful. They would lose their spot within the United Nations, and NATO would be quick to retaliate. Such an attack was ridiculously stupid.
Or was it?
Russia would take international heat for their actions, but a rival would be gone. Most of America's top leaders would be wiped out, most of the nuclear warheads, and the home of American culture would also be erased from the map. It would take a long time for the nation to recover, and for whatever Russia had in mind, they would certainly have enough time.
Toltan's plane eventually crossed into international waters. He relaxed in his chair, closing his eyes for a moment. Would they award him a medal? Increase his pay tenfold? Send him on even more undercover missions? Or would they do nothing, as to keep secret from the public how close they were to total destruction? Probably the latter.
Toltan found the nearest airport payphone after deplaning and phoned his supervisor. "Hello?" A worn voice answered.
"Mr. Locke, have I got something for you to hear. Code black, Russia."
"You've got to be kidding me, Toltan."
"I'm already back in the States. I can't tell you in public, but it's worse than anything you could imagine. Get the President ready for a briefing."
"Delivered by who?"
Toltan had the taxi driver speed to get him to Washington. The driver dropped him off outside of the inconspicuous stone building that served as a secret CIA headquarters. Most of the CIA agents didn't even know it existed-they reported to the figurehead building.
Already awaiting him was every top official in the military and government. It was the proudest and most terrifying moment of Toltan's life to reveal what he had discovered, and to play back the recording.
Most of the government officials were skeptical. They assumed it was nothing more than the rants of a drunken man, but decided it was better to be safe than sorry. Toltan was able to listen in as the President phoned the embassy in Russia, demanding they tell the Russian government that the U.S. was aware of the strike.
A long two hours passed in the CIA conference room. Eventually, an ambassador phoned back. He and the President talked for what felt like an eternity before hanging up. Everyone in the room leaned anxiously to hear what had transpired.
The President sounded as relieved as anyone. "Russia has called off the strike. They haven't given any excuse as to why they would nuke us yet, but I'm sure we'll be getting a visit from their ambassadors soon." He motioned toward Toltan. "Are you a spy?"
Toltan shook his head vigorously. "An intelligence analyst."
"I'll have your pay raised. There's nothing else I can do without letting the public in on what almost happened. I'm sure you understand you can tell no one of what you discovered."
"I wouldn't tell a soul."