The Man Who Heard Too Much


By Bill Granger

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It begins in Sweden. A low-level defection by a Russian sailor in Stockholm coincides with the theft of critical tapes at a high-level Soviet-American conference in Malmo. At stake is a sophisticated computer virus potentially more lethal that any biological plague in history. From Paris to Copenhagen to Washington to the Vatican, two adversaries once more find themselves on opposite sides: Henry McGee, the traitorous, seemingly indestructible double agent, and Devereaux, code name November, waging his personal, deadly war for–and against–both the CIA and the KGB.


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This book is concerned with the questions of Soviet Jewish emigration and the political fate of Lithuania. The book is set in the period before the open Lithuanian Republic push for total independence but after the first glimmers of what is called "glasnost." It reflects both political and religious entanglements true at the time. This book, like others in the November chronicles, also brings up the continuing and real problem of computer security versus computer virus programs.

The first book in this series, which is a sort of history of cold war politics and the bureaucracies that direct them, was The November Man [now published under the title Code Name November] and concerned a plot by IRA terrorists to assassinate a cousin of the British Queen while on his boat off the Irish coast. The book appeared a few weeks before Lord Mountbatten was assassinated by terrorists off the Irish coast. The prescience was unintended; it was my attempt to turn reporting observation into a study of future logic. It appears this book, written in 1988, also focused on aspects of an international story before the story actually began to unfold.



The fog from the Baltic Sea came in waves across the city of islands. The spires of the palace and the national cathedral and all the other churches and temples of man and God were detached from the earth and held in the clouds, where they disappeared. Silence came down on the narrow, crooked streets of the Old Town section and extended into the harbor. It was October, and the air was damp with expectation of winter. The sun had not set, but the fog made everything beneath the city spires full of gloom and foreboding.

Viktor Rusinov, twenty-four, seaman aboard the Soviet cargo ship Leo Tolstoy, slipped along the outside passage on two deck toward the radio room. The cargo—Swedish machine parts from the factory at Göteborg—had been loaded, and the Leo Tolstoy would sail in the morning for Gdansk, on the Polish north coast.

Viktor Rusinov paused on the passageway and sensed his fear. He stood very still to make his fear subside. He smelled the sea and the city beyond. He heard a church bell toll. He blessed himself with the Orthodox sign of the cross because he was a religious man. The fear was suppressed in that ritual.

There were two political officers assigned to the Leo Tolstoy. They were both ashore now, probably gorging themselves at the smorgasbord served at the Opera. The political officers—who were, in fact, members of the Committee for State Security, the KGB—were totally privileged men.

Viktor Rusinov had nourished his rudimentary communist hatred for the upper classes during five years at sea. He hated the KGB men and he hated the captain. He hated every superior officer. He hated people with money, and those who could buy goods in the special stores set aside for foreigners. He hated with the fine, certain passion of the committed Christian. He knew God would destroy his superiors in time (and in a particularly cruel way). He was certain hell awaited them for their sins of having more than Viktor Rusinov. Development of this hatred had not been enough for Viktor; he had decided, in the end, to enjoy the benefits of his superiors in the only way left open to him. But there was risk to it, and that made him afraid.

Viktor came from a small village a hundred miles south of Moscow. He had dreamed always of the sea. He loved the life of it. He loved the company of his fellow seamen. He loved to drink and to fornicate, and he saw nothing in those activities that compromised his religious beliefs. The women he had were not important and did not figure in his complex scheme of good and evil and envy and retribution. He was strong and tall and his eyes were blue. He could have been Swedish or Polish because of his fair complexion.

He was going to slip over the side in a few minutes and disappear into the fog of neutral Stockholm. He had only waited for his father to die, and his father had obliged him two months earlier in a cancer ward. He had no one left and no obligation to return. He saw it that way, in those correct, legal terms.

He would have preferred to defect in New York, but Stockholm was here and now. He had been in New York harbor once but had not been allowed to leave the freighter. The immensity of that city thrilled him as well as the constant rumble—the city noises conspired to create a constant sound like that of a train passing in the distance—and he knew it was his destiny to return there sometime. Stockholm was the first step. Besides, in the last few days the KGB men had spent a lot of time watching him. Now was the time. He knew the location of the American embassy—101 Strandvägen, which was the broad street on the harbor in Norrmalm, the northern sector of the city.

The red flag was limp on the standard at the stem of the ship. The ship was silent, full of a thousand tiny noises that were as comforting as lullabies. The ship rode the slight swell of the harbor, the bulkheads rubbing against the pilings, making soft, purring sounds against the ropes.

He opened the door of the radio room.

Yazimoff was there as he should have been. Yazimoff looked up at Viktor.

"So, it's now?" But not really a question. Yazimoff almost smirked. It was very annoying, and it made the tense knot in Viktor's stomach that much more painful.

Viktor inclined his head without a word. He reached into the pocket of his coat and extracted the wad of rubles, deutsche marks, francs, dollars, and pounds. A lot of money, some of it quite valuable. All he had saved from the liquor trade. Viktor Rusinov, when not counting his resentments and nursing his jealousies, was both a maker and seller of illegal vodka. Nothing had helped his business more than the crackdown on vodka by the Gorbachev government.

Yazimoff stared at the money with reverence. It was quite a lot, more than he had ever seen in his life.

"This," Yazimoff said.

Viktor stared at the handwriting on the paper. It was Yazimoff's. He did not understand the message, but he understood clearly it was in code.

"What is this?"

"Oleg? You know, the fat one? He took the message and he decoded it right away. And he used this."

Viktor took the second sheet of paper. The key. It was covered with numbers arranged in sets of four. Viktor didn't really understand how it worked—but so what? That was someone else's problem. Viktor wanted to defect to the Americans. The coded message and its key would be a gift, to show his good intentions and to make certain the Americans would not send him back.

"Is it worth this?" Viktor asked, holding up the bills.

Yazimoff made a little shrug but held out his hand. He took the roll of bills and put it in his pocket without counting.

Viktor folded the two sheets of paper carefully into a waterproof envelope attached to a chain around his neck. He rebuttoned his shirt.

"The water is cold," Yazimoff said.

"I've swum in colder water," Viktor Rusinov said. He had a tendency to brag about his abilities, including his prowess with women and his gargantuan need for drink. No one on the Leo Tolstoy much liked him, but as a bootlegger, he was tolerated.

Viktor closed the hatch to the radio room. It was 1600 hours, and the ship was caught in that curious, sleepy time between the workday and the evening mess. No one was on deck. He went carefully and quietly down the ladders.

When he reached the main deck, he looked over the side. The Tolstoy rode low in the oily, dark water. The fog made his skin wet. He wiped at his lips. He would drop off on the seaside and swim around to the end of the pier, where it would be safe to climb up the old ladder to land.

"What are you staring at, Seaman?"

Viktor turned.

The first mate of the watch was on the deck, scarcely six feet from him. It was Doesniov, a particularly loathsome specimen in Viktor's pantheon of hated superior officers. Doesniov was a big, boastful man with a bullying manner. He strutted down the deck to where Viktor stood at the rail.

"Well? What are you staring at? Do you see something in the water, in all this damned fog?"

Viktor felt intimidated, not by Doesniov's size but by his rank. Viktor's intense hatred for those in superior positions did not alter his almost religious respect for rank.

"I thought I heard something—"

"What? Heard a mermaid?"

"Something in the water." He was not a very good liar. But Doesniov looked over the rail. There. He was looking over the rail.

Viktor couldn't move.

Doesniov turned to look at him. "You've been drinking your own stuff, Viktor Ilyich."

"I don't…" So Doesniov knew about the illegal liquor trade. Why not? Everyone knew everything. "Look—"

"Are you ill? You look ill."

Viktor felt the color drain from his face. He felt fear and cold. He felt the weight of the documents in the waterproof envelope on the chain around his neck. He could give them back, say it was a mistake—

That was stupid! Yazimoff wouldn't give back his money. What would the two pigs from KGB do? They already suspected him, he was sure of it.

"Look!" Victor pointed down at the water, as though something had caught his eye.

Doesniov turned. Again, he looked over the rail, his head lower than his shoulders.

Viktor had to do it. God offered him no choice.

Both hands locked into a hammer of flesh. The hammer came down hard on the base of the skull. Doesniov grunted, his chin broke on the rail, and he slid to the wet deck. God offered no choice. There was only this one way and no other.

Viktor slipped out of his wool coat and dropped it over the side.

Not a moment to spare.

He scarcely made a splash when he hit the water.



Sixteen days later, Devereaux climbed out of the yellow cab in a pouring rain in front of the old Algonquin Hotel on Forty-fourth Street in Manhattan. He pushed two twenties through the open window on the passenger side and turned to face the entrance. He carried one small brown canvas bag, which contained all his travel equipment—the clean clothes, the spare sweater, the pharmacopoeia, including uppers and downers and penicillin and cyanide capsules. He had also packed a 9-millimeter Beretta automatic of the design now issued to the U.S. military as well as to "authorized agents of the intelligence services."

He crossed the sidewalk and paused at the entrance. The rain was sheer gloom; the chaos of traffic and noise, an audition for hell. Brutal sirens, horns, the screams of ambulances, the belches of buses—it rolled over him in hopeless waves. The sidewalks were temporarily empty because of the rain and because it was the middle of the afternoon. But the fullness of the city noises suffocated him.

He thought for a moment of refusing to enter the hotel and meet the man who controlled him. He would just turn and run until he could not run anymore, and if they found him, he would kill them.

The doorman decided for him by opening the door. He went inside the old lobby full of overstuffed chairs and old ladies. He walked to the Blue Bar to the right of the entrance. The barman was wiping a glass, and the waiter was reading the New York Post. Devereaux stood, dripping raindrops on the carpet, staring at the bar. And then he saw Hanley at the little table in the corner.

It was just after three P.M.

He crossed the room to Hanley's corner. Hanley looked up from the folded front page of the Times. Devereaux stood a moment and then shrugged out of his wet raincoat, folded it on a chair, and sat down. A thick carpet covered the floor, and rows of glittering bottles rested on the shelf behind the bar. The barman was Chinese, and he looked as sour as the waiter who approached the table.

Devereaux ordered a vodka. Hanley, clearing his throat, asked for another bowl of nuts. The waiter made it understood with a pull to his mouth that he was extending himself. He nodded without a word and went back to the service bar.

"Tell me," Hanley said.

But it had been a long flight and the days of interrogation had worn Devereaux out as certainly as if he had been the one being questioned. He didn't feel in the mood to respond, and something about Hanley's tone irritated him. Devereaux knew he was a mere cog in the great intelligence machine, but he suddenly wanted to insist he was human, that he was tired, that even a cog can break down. Instead, he looked at Hanley and smiled. "You arrange these meetings in places like this."

"What's wrong with places like this?"

"Old New York. Club 21 or the bar at the Algonquin or the lobby of the Plaza. Doesn't it ever occur to you that you're living in an old movie?"

Devereaux's sarcasm made him feel better. Hanley was struggling to understand. It would come to him in a moment, and then he would blink like a startled rabbit, and Devereaux knew that would please him, too.

Hanley blinked.

He was small, bald, and he was very rigid after a lifetime in the service. He believed in R Section, which made it that much worse. He had fixed his beliefs and ideas when he was a boy in Nebraska, dreaming through storybooks or at the weekly picture show. New York was such and such; here was China, and here was the way of Chinamen; here was London, full of knights and kings; and here was Washington, seat of power in the world and true to Manifest Destiny, full of dedicated men given to ferocious patriotism. That his view did not reflect reality then or now was the spark that drove the engine.

"I like this old hotel and this old bar," he explained. "I like old things. I am conservative, and it seems that the old things were better."

"Silk stockings and segregation," Devereaux said. His voice was weary, but Hanley always revived a sleeping sarcasm in him. "The best of times."

"We make the best of times," Hanley said.

The waiter brought two drinks and a metal bowl full of nuts. He put them down on the little table along with an absurd bill and went out of the room.

"Viktor is a genuine," Devereaux said after sipping his vodka. Vodka numbed him all the more now because he had refused to drink on the long flight back from Stockholm. He had taken a pill and slept most of the way across the Atlantic, even through a patch of bad headwinds. It did no good. When the stewardess awakened him thirty minutes before the plane touched down at Kennedy, he felt as though he had never slept in his life.

He had kept at Viktor Rusinov for eight days. The CIA station chief had his turn as well, and R Section had been called in to "share" with great reluctance. But part of Viktor's coded documents demanded R Section involvement. And the participation of Devereaux.

"Are you sure? That Viktor is who he says he is?"

"Nothing is sure." Devereaux put down his drink and leaned forward. "He's a hateful man, really. He explained to me his envy as a theory of unfairness directed at him. He has justified everything in his life, every act, every petty revenge. His hatreds are rooted in a ferocious kind of religiosity. In His heart, God knows Viktor is right."

"He sounds deranged," Hanley said.

"Perhaps he is. Perhaps he's only being normal by Soviet standards. He said the KGB men on the ship suspected him of wanting to defect. He thought he'd killed the first mate when he hit him. He's a big boy, Viktor. I told him the Soviets insisted he stand trial for mutiny and murder. It scared him, but it also made him angry, and he went on about how unjust the world was to deny Viktor Rusinov his due. Maybe he's that simple, just crazy." Devereaux's voice softened. "He can come to America and join his fellow lunatics living out of their shopping carts on the streets."

Hanley lowered his eyes and sipped gin. "Which are not made of gold."

"Viktor's message had two names. 'Skarda.' 'Henry McGee.' Viktor simply does not know either name or how they connect. He's the messenger," Devereaux said.

Henry McGee. Nothing else in the defection incident had interested R Section as much as the name of Henry McGee.

Henry McGee was now in federal prison, thanks to Devereaux. McGee had penetrated R Section for years as a mole from Moscow—which also made him an American traitor because he was born in Alaska. McGee had been set the task of destroying the credibility of R Section and had nearly succeeded.

When Viktor defected to the American embassy at 101 Strandvägen in Stockholm, the message had been turned over to CIA, which had bucked it to the code breakers at National Security Agency. Very routine. All the intelligence services were alerted to the results: a message fragment in which only the names "Henry McGee" and "Skarda" and the routine wording "no operational difficulty in any connection for penetration of Eagle" stood out. "Eagle" was the current Soviet euphemism for American intelligence. What did the American services make of this message? Was it genuine? Was Viktor genuine?

So Devereaux, because he had broken the penetration of Henry McGee, was the logical man to send to Stockholm to question Viktor, to see if he was genuine, to see if he understood more than the coded message fragment. Henry McGee frightened the brass at R Section, even now when he was buried in a fifty-year sentence in a maximum federal prison.

"Skarda," Devereaux said, breaking a moment of silence. "Person or operation or both. Unresolved. But Viktor doesn't know."

"That is your assessment."

Devereaux said nothing.

"So," Hanley said, shifting in his chair.

Silence ticked into the room. The Thurber drawings on the wall next to the bar portrayed the Algonquin lobby with old ladies shaped like overstuffed chairs, wearing lamps for hats. The roar of the street did not penetrate this silence.

Vodka filled Devereaux with false warmth. Autumn was bleak now that he did not live in Washington, where the colors were languid and sullen and suffused with sexual stimulation. It was not the colors, he realized. It was the warm, languid, sullen, sexual remembrance of when he lived with Rita Macklin there. He was certain this final separation was inevitable, which made the separation so much more bleak. Rita Macklin was a journalist, and her name in a magazine or in an op-ed piece in the Times was a constant reminder to him. She never tried to reach him, though it would have been simple. She could call the Section number, and they would patch her through to the safe house in Manhattan.… House, safe house—three rooms in a West Side neighborhood full of shabby, rent-controlled apartments. Orange-lit Manhattan enclosed him, but he had to be here, waiting for the next assignment and the next, away from the color and comfort of the only woman he had ever loved, who could have been his if only he could renounce this bleak shadow life. He could not. He could explain it, the life, but he could not renounce the life.

Hatred was so strange in all its forms. Devereaux had marveled at Viktor Rusinov's hatred, which spewed out from time to time in words as foul as sewage, blaming this or that circumstance or member of the bureaucracy for his lack of advancement, blaming the American agents for keeping him locked in the velvet prison of the Stockholm embassy. He wanted to go to New York.

Devereaux had no such hatred. Not for Section, not for Hanley. Not for Rita Macklin. Hatred was scorched out of him, twisted as a burned forest, blackened to charcoal into fossil remains of what he had been. The only thing that remained was the pain of separation from Rita Macklin because she could not live anymore with a man of secrets.

He had to stop thinking of her. He turned back to Hanley. "Skarda as a man, not an operation. Think of it."

"I've thought of it," said Hanley. "We run through files and find one thousand six hundred thirty-four Skardas. Primarily a Czech name. There was a Skarda who was running agents from Berlin in the sixties, during the Dubczeck regime. But nothing in computer links Henry McGee to any Skarda."

"Then consider it as an operation," Devereaux said.

"We have no reason to do so," Hanley said.

"No reason not to. When we put Henry McGee away two years ago, we didn't get a flutter from the Russians. Not even an informal contact. He was their agent, a ranked agent inside KGB. It's not like them to not recover their lost lambs."

"Even Henry expected more," Hanley said.

"Perhaps they plan to spring Henry," Devereaux said. He did not look at Hanley but at the room, at the soft light, tried to feel the warmth of the place. "Skarda is some future thing that needs the presence of Henry McGee. Or his cooperation. Or Skarda is some ongoing operation that Henry knows about and they are worried he told us."

"Why send such a message to the Leo Tolstoy?" Hanley countered. "It's not a spy ship, just a dirty freighter with no secrets."

The Tolstoy had "political officers," of course, as all Soviet ships did, ostensibly to answer questions and provide instructions on matters of faith and morals in the communist religion. They were the KGB men who had spooked Viktor into defecting in Stockholm.

But why this defection by this Soviet sailor? Why in Stockholm? Why was he bringing the gift of a coded message fragment hinting at a link between Henry McGee, a jailed spy, and something or someone called Skarda, and a penetration of Eagle?

"We don't understand this message—" Hanley began again, signaling for his third drink of the afternoon.

"Therefore, it must contain the germ of truth," Devereaux finished for him.

Hanley nodded. "Is it disinformation? That seems unlikely, since disinformation must be understood to disinform. We don't understand. Unless you missed something, Devereaux, and Viktor is a spy and you believed him to be genuine."

Devereaux took his second vodka. The vodka burned the back of his throat.

"Could you have made a mistake?"

Could he? He made mistakes all the time. He let her go. Now Rita Macklin haunted him in the Manhattan streets in this bleak, treeless autumn. He was certain he saw her on Broadway, hailing a cab in the rain… in the doorway of Lutèce… saw her at a sidewalk table in the St. Moritz, talking to a man.… He knew they were just ghosts, but they were genuine anyway. Yes. He made mistakes all the time, about important things.

"No," Devereaux replied. "I didn't mistake Viktor. Just as I didn't mistake Henry McGee when Section believed him and let itself be penetrated."

That was meant to sting, and Hanley squinted in pain.

"Then perhaps it is a matter of place," Hanley recovered. "Viktor defected in Stockholm. Scandinavia. Soviet submarines are probing at the Swedish coast again, violating the waters."

"But the Swedes never find them."

"They want to turn the Baltic into a Soviet pond. That was clear in the last Soviet naval secret directive. They don't have to own the shoreline of every country, just make their presence felt long enough and often enough."

Devereaux considered it. "So Skarda might be a plan directed at Scandinavia. Some bait to make us react foolishly."

"What about the political officers on the Leo Tolstoy?"

"They were followed while the ship was in Stockholm harbor. That's not easy to arrange on short notice. The report said they split up several times and were lost more than once."

Hanley said, "Two weeks, the secretary of state meets with his Soviet counterpart, the foreign secretary, in Malmö, Sweden. The talks are… about freedom of the seas in the Baltic. But there is a secret agenda."


"We don't know. Either the secretary isn't telling the intelligence services, or he doesn't know, either. The initiative came from Moscow."

They all did nowadays, Devereaux thought.

The administration was fumbling in a dozen places in the world, grasping at every Soviet straw proffered. The intelligence services had advised against meetings with "secret" agendas, but the administration was not listening to them right now; it was listening to the popularity polls published at intervals in the newspapers. If the Soviets wanted to throw Washington a bone, it might have meat on it.

"You'll have to go to Malmö for the conference. To observe."

"For whom?" Devereaux said.

"Section. Maybe this Skarda thing involves the conference. Maybe it will come up."

"I was going to take furlough," Devereaux began. He had not thought of such a thing until now. He was very tired, and he did not want to go to Malmö, and he did not want to think of Henry McGee or try to unravel another riddle.… He wanted to sit in the shabby three rooms in New York and wait for a telephone call to be patched through from Washington. What would he say to her? What had he ever been able to say to her?

"You can have furlough when you come back. It's not such a difficult matter—"

"None of them ever are, Hanley," Devereaux said.

"Is that sarcasm?"

Silence again except for the rain against the windows.

Hanley said, "There's an opening. In Bangkok."

Devereaux's eyes became heavy. He had been recruited for Asia during the Vietnam War. He had loved Asia. He had been locked out of Asia for twenty years. What new irony did Hanley intend?

"You've been cooled off," Hanley said. Why was he offering this? "No one objects to your going back to Asia. We need a man there."

"You don't need a man. Everything is SIGINT now. Spy satellites, transmitter interceptors. It's Fort Meade's show now." Fort Meade was home of the gadget-laden National Security Agency. "I don't need Asia, Hanley. Not anymore. No promises because I've been a good boy."

At the beginning of the world, Devereaux had been professor of Asian studies at Columbia University. Until a man in bow tie had met him on the steps of the library one sunny afternoon and explained that he could give him all of Asia in exchange for his soul. That's how simply his recruitment into R Section had been handled.

"We have to talk to Henry McGee," Devereaux said. He put down his glass. "Before Malmö."

"Henry won't talk to us," Hanley said.

"He's a federal prisoner. He'll talk to anyone we tell him to," Devereaux said.

"I don't want to hear his lies again."

"We never asked him about Skarda. Maybe that will jar him."

"How will you know if he tells you the truth?"


On Sale
Jan 13, 2015
Page Count
320 pages

Bill Granger

About the Author

An award-winning novelist and reporter, Bill Granger began his literary career in 1979 with Code Name November (first published as The November Man), the book that became an international sensation and introduced the cool American spy who later gave rise to a whole series. His second novel, Public Murders, a Chicago police procedural, won the Edgar Award from the Mystery Writers of America in 1981.
In all, Bill Granger published twenty-two novels, including thirteen in the November Man series, and three nonfiction books. His books have been translated into ten languages. He also wrote for the Chicago Tribune, the Chicago Sun-Times, Newsday, Time, and The New Republic, contributing articles about crime, cops, politics, and covering such events as the race riots of the late 1960’s and the 1968 Democratic Convention. Bill Granger passed away in 2012.

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