Blackford “Blackie” Oakes is the greatest spy in American history, but he’s no longer allowed behind enemy lines. As the former director of covert operations for the CIA, he knows too much to risk falling into enemy hands. But something has come up that requires him to go farther behind the Iron Curtain than he ever has before—and if he’s captured, he’ll have no choice but to take his own life. But Blackie doesn’t mind; he’s always wanted a chance to die for his country.
Previously, a team of assassins had targeted Soviet Premier Mikhail Gorbachev, and Blackie acted on secret orders from President Ronald Reagan himself to save the Russian’s life. Now, Gorbachev is in danger once again, and his death could reignite the Cold War just as it’s coming to a close. To avert World War III, Blackie infiltrates Moscow, where he comes face-to-face with the Soviets’ own master of espionage: notorious defector Harold Adrian Russell “Kim” Philby.
Witty and urbane, and featuring an unforgettable cast of characters both real and imagined, Last Call for Blackford Oakes is a delightful ending to one of the greatest espionage sagas in history.
About the Author
William F. Buckley Jr. (1925–2008) was an author and political commentator. In 1955, he founded the influential conservative magazine National Review. Buckley also hosted the popular television show Firing Line and wrote a twice-weekly syndicated newspaper column. He is the author of more than fifty books, including titles on history, politics, and sailing, as well as a series of spy novels featuring CIA agent Blackford Oakes.
Read an Excerpt
Last Call for Blackford Oakes
A Blackford Oakes Mystery
By William F. Buckley Jr.
MysteriousPress.com/Open Road Integrated MediaCopyright © 2005 William F. Buckley Jr.
All rights reserved.
Ronald Reagan, at ease with himself as ever, satisfied himself yet again on summoning the memory of his dealings with Blackford Oakes in October 1986. He had done the right thing. But now, December 1987, Oakes had put in for another meeting with the president.
Their 1986 meeting had had to do with a plot to assassinate Gorbachev. A group of young Russians, weary and demoralized by the brutal Soviet war against Afghanistan, had planned to kill the Communist leader. Oakes, veteran CIA agent, was in secret and unshared touch with a Soviet defector he had long experienced as antagonist, but who was now a hidden ally.
And so Reagan had had to ponder the agonizing question: Is it the business of the United States to get in the way of a plot by native Russians trying to get rid of Mikhail Gorbachev, general secretary of the Soviet Communist Party, and dictator?
Reagan had inclined, at first, to do nothing — let the Russians look after their own affairs. Gorbachev was certainly an improvement on his predecessors, true. Yet he was a blooded successor to a line of tyrants that had begun in 1917 with Lenin, followed by Stalin, a thirty-year curse. And then there had been Bulganin and Khrushchev and Brezhnev, another thirty years among them, followed by Andropov and Chernenko ("elderly guys," Reagan mused, "— about my own age"). They didn't serve for very long, but they did carry on the bloody Afghan war launched by Brezhnev. A war that Gorbachev, soon after his selection as general secretary, vowed to fight to the end.
Should President Reagan do nothing? Say nothing — when he got word through Oakes that an assassination had been plotted?
Reagan sat on the intelligence. While weighing the question of intervention, he reminded himself that the young conspirators were perfecting their plot. What finally influenced him had been the summit at Reykjavik. This was his second meeting with Gorbachev, and this time he sensed that Gorbachev was different enough from other Soviet leaders to be worth going to undiplomatic lengths to protect. So he called Oakes in and told him to intervene. To abort the assassination. If necessary, even if it meant exposing the ring of youthful plotters. Yes — if necessary — even if it meant exposing the deeply hidden Soviet asset, the clandestine defector who had tipped off Blackford Oakes.
That was fourteen months ago, but Blackford vividly recalled the day the president gave him the order. Reagan had come right to the point.
He told Oakes — his mouth slightly contracted, as was habitual when Reagan was spitting out instructions — that the plot was to be suppressed. Having made the critical decision, Reagan wanted the whole thing to go away. The very last thing he wished ever to be reminded of was that he had once given orders to betray a band of young Russian patriots. After all, weren't these people to be likened to the July 20th plotters against Adolf Hitler? Likened to, well, the Romans who finally did away with Caligula? He stopped himself from deliberating further along such lines. Sic semper tyrannis! was good stuff, but just not right in dealing with someone who, with the flick of a finger, could dispatch nuclear bombs that would destroy lives by the tens of millions.
Seven weeks after his fateful meeting with Oakes, Reagan received word. "The affair" had been "taken care of." That could only mean that the young Russian plotters had been frustrated, presumably imprisoned, or executed. Gorbachev was safe on his throne. There had been a moment of high anxiety for Reagan, some while later, when he met with Gorbachev. The premier was in Washington on a state visit, and sat now with his host in the Oval Office, alone except for the two interpreters.
Gorbachev suddenly turned in his chair. He looked Reagan straight in the face. Had the president known anything about the plot of last October to kill him? he asked.
Reagan was eternally grateful for his histrionic training. "Mikhail," he said, his face redolent of sincerity, "let me give you my personal and most solemn word that no American official was in any way involved in any attempt on your life." Reagan's answer was formally correct. Reagan had not connived, and on deliberation would not have connived, even passively, in any attempted assassination.
Gorbachev held his gaze on Reagan, waited a moment, and then nodded, moving on to another subject. He had heard from the president's own lips what he wanted, and needed, to hear.
But now, in December 1987, would the subject of assassination come up again? Oakes had invoked the oral code over the phone with the critically situated Kathy. "This is about Freckles." That meant there was extra-institutional urgency in the requested meeting. The president would see again the man in the Central Intelligence Agency whom he had dealt with before, and had trusted for some years.
The code was used sparingly, only three times during the Reagan years so far. It meant that Blackford needed to move outside the ambit of the director of the CIA, even when that had been Bill Casey, Reagan's closest security adviser until his death in May.
Kathy slotted him in for four forty-five that afternoon.
Neither party wanted routine clerical notice paid to their meeting. The usual approach to the Oval Office was therefore avoided. Kathy led Oakes into the Cabinet Room, and from there knocked on the side door of the Oval Office, bringing Oakes in. The president stayed at his desk and nodded with a friendly smile, pointing to the chair alongside.
"Sir, the business of last October, the plot against Premier Gorbachev —"
"Yes, yes. Why do we need to bring that up?"
"Because there's a fresh design on his life — we think. Solid enough to bring to your attention. It comes to us from a survivor of the business of last October. But this time we're not sure, not like last time. This time it's a real complicated business —"
"I don't want to hear about it." Reagan looked down at his desk, arched his eyebrows, and slowed down the tempo of the conversation. "Just do this: Do whatever you can to protect Gorbachev, do it one more time, abort, abort —"
The president winked and leaned back on his chair. "I had a reputation back in California: I was a moderate on the subject of abortion." His creases broke into a smile. "You know the one about the British serial killer who said he was actually astonished by his moderation? My reaction exactly!" He paused and his eyes went to the painting of George Washington. He said deliberately, "There's to be no moderation in anything you have to do to protect Gorbachev. And no reporting to me except as absolutely required."
"I won't report back anything in detail. It could all be just a bag of wind. But I think I ought to go over there and find out."
"What do you need from me? Airplane tickets? Come to think of it, Black, the White House has a pretty good travel agent. I guess it does. My plane is always there when I need it. So, what do you need from me?"
"I do need one thing, Mr. President. Back then, last October, I was still director of covert operations for the agency. Since then, I've had to ... slow down, so I'm just an agent. But as former operations chief, the rules say I'm not allowed inside enemy territory. You'd have to waive that rule."
The president pulled open his top desk drawer but then slammed it shut again. "I've been sitting here for nearly seven years. The things they want me to write an executive order about! Now this."
"You don't have to write anything, sir. Just tell me it's okay —"
"Viva voce?" Reagan was visibly pleased to use an old term of the trade.
"Yes." Blackford nodded. "Viva voce."
"Why do they have that rule?"
"Because if an operations chief were captured, he'd have a lot of vital information."
"Which the enemy could get hold of through torture?"
"That's the idea."
"How would you keep that from happening in your case?"
"I'd take precautions. Sir."
Reagan paused. And then nodded.
"I'll pass your word on — if I have to," Blackford continued. "I'll book a flight through Zurich and enter the Soviet Union under cover. That will also make it harder for the bureaucrats in the CIA to remind me where I can't go."
"Okay, okay. You have my word on it. But don't get me crossed up with your director. He's a good man." The afternoon sun broke in through the south window. Reagan's arm reached back and he felt for the cord, bringing the shades down enough to neuter the sun's glare.
"I don't know how it's all going to end up with Gorbachev. You saw what he said on the seventieth anniversary of their revolution?" Reagan reached into his desk for the clipping. "What he said was" — Reagan's voice was detached now, at public-speaking level — "that — I'm quoting him — 'In October 1917, we parted the old world, rejecting it once and for all. We are moving toward a new world, the world of Communism. We shall never turn off that road.' Maybe he needs a little prodding."
"Well, sir, we've got a defense budget of nearly three hundred billion. That's prodding, right?"
"Yes. That's one way to make our point about road signs. Cap Weinberger would like to hear it put that way. Well, he's secretary of defense, and secretaries of defense have a right to think that hundreds of billions on defense are a means of prodding people to do the right thing." He got up from his chair. "If you need to see me again" — he extended his hand — "call Kathy."
Blackford walked to the side door. "Oh, Mr. President, I forgot. Good luck on the Nicaraguan business."
"Black, you want to handle that for me while you're at it?"
Blackford opened the door and left the office.
The meeting he then scheduled with the director had a delicate edge. William Webster, the wise and polished director of the CIA, had never been told about the critical intervention of October 1986. It would have been impossible for Oakes to brief him now in detail on his forthcoming trip without giving him the background on the previous mission. So Blackford, on meeting with Director Webster, said only that he would be away on a confidential mission for the president. He spent an hour with Webster devoted to examining the general political situation in Moscow and Eastern Europe.
"You got any other presidential commissions you're undertaking?" Unlike some of his predecessors, Webster was not looking for ways to reassure himself of his authority as head of the CIA. He quickly accepted that this new mission was somehow linked to an earlier mission. He raised no questions about Blackford's going, though he was ill at ease with the hastiness of the cover arrangements the agency would need to undertake.
On the October mission, Blackford had taken with him a young CIA colleague, a Ukrainian-born Iowan called Gus Windels. They had traveled as father and son, "Harry Singleton" and his son, "Jerry," ostensibly engaged on an innocent mission, tracking down Jerry's long -lost aunt. It hadn't been difficult for twenty-eight-year-old Gus to pose as the son of the man he was accompanying. Blackford, at six feet two, was a shade taller than Gus. His hair still showed some of its original dark blond, though it was now mostly gray. Blackford was no longer eye -catchingly handsome, but he was ruggedly attractive, with blue eyes and an inquisitive chin that reinforced the words he spoke, and sometimes energized thoughts that ran through his agile mind. Blackford was spare in frame and moved with habitual ease, though he was not the limber youth he had been, so memorably, for so long. He was plausibly the father of the blond young American at his side on the Pan Am flight to Zurich.
Now, Windels was stationed in Moscow, working under his own name at the United States Embassy. It was he who had alerted Oakes to the suspicion of a fresh plot. He could speak with Blackford in a private shorthand. They had developed a special relationship during the dangerous October days of the exploitation of the covert defector, the preparations to betray the young Russians, and the consummation of a presidential directive. This time, Gus put it all in a discreet few words cabled to Blackford's private number. What he said was: "It's come up again, possible threat to #1. No way to upload this through official channels. You must come."
Blackford trusted Gus Windels's judgment, trusted it enough to take the case to the president.CHAPTER 2
Ursina Chadinov was six years old before it occurred to her to wonder about the rule of the house.
The house in question comprised one and a half rooms in the crowded Gostiny Dvor district of Leningrad. During the great siege, just over ten years earlier, the apartment had belonged to a Jewish violinist. He performed with the symphony, until such concerts were simply excluded by the fighting and the starvation. Even after the long postwar years that had gone into the reconstruction of the lustrous city founded by Peter the Great at the turn of the eighteenth century, Gostiny Dvor, like many other living areas, had to put up with inconsistent supplies of water and electricity.
Still, it was home, and welcome to the Chadinovs. The rule of the house, which Ursina now questioned, was that only the English language would be spoken at mealtimes. What had brought her question to the table was the dispensation of the rule the day Josef Stalin died. Dmitri Chadinov thought that some gesture was appropriate, on the death of the general secretary. Chadinov had spent many hours, over two decades, defending Stalin at postings abroad, in England, in Turkey, and in France. He had harnessed his skills as a diplomat to celebrate the accomplishments of the Soviet leader. He was not himself persuaded that the death of Stalin was a terrible event for the Soviet Union, but such thoughts were never shared, not with his wife, Simona, and certainly not with Ursina, his precocious daughter.
"The reason we speak in English during meals is to teach you the language, Ursina. The English language — after Russian — will be the most important language in the world, and not only in diplomacy, but as —" He turned to his wife. "Simona, how do you translate lingua franca?"
The fifty-year-old Lithuanian ran a big spoon around the pot of simmering potato soup and furrowed her wide brow. "You treat me like a Latin–Russian dictionary. It is more than thirty years since I studied at the nunnery. You would translate that, roughly, as 'universal language.'"
"If it is universal, why don't my friends also speak English when they eat?"
"Because," Dmitri Chadinov answered, "you're more special than other little girls."
"If I'm so special, why do you take me to dancing classes only one day every week? Tamara goes Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays."
"Because," Simona interrupted, "Tamara's mother is with the Maly Opera and has special privileges."
"Our teacher, Comrade Uziev, says nobody has special privileges in a classless society. How do you say that in Latin, Mama?"
Dmitri laughed. "Even in a classless society everyone has a responsibility to develop what skills they can. Like mine. I can speak English, you know that, and I can also speak Turkish and Norwegian and French. And your mother can —"
"Teach religion." Simona served up the potato soup. She smiled at her husband, but it was a tired smile, after three decades of renouncing the religious faith in which she had been trained, but which she could no longer practice. The revolution had ended all that. All that bourgeois superstition.
"Anyway, tomorrow we will resume our rule," Dmitri concluded the discussion. "Only English at mealtimes."
Ursina cocked her head and brushed the light blond bangs to one side. "I don't think I will speak English with you tomorrow."
The senior Chadinovs stared at her, speechless.
"Well," said Dmitri, "maybe tomorrow you won't be eating anything."
"I don't care."
"Leave her alone," Simona addressed her husband in French. "She'll have forgotten the whole thing by tomorrow."
"D'accord," Dmitri said. And to Ursina, in Russian, "Tomorrow we will attend the memorial ceremony for Comrade Stalin in Palace Square."
"All right," Ursina said. "Do you think they will ask me to dance at the celebration?"
Dmitri smiled. "It isn't a 'celebration,' Ursina. It's a —" he motioned to Simona for help.
Excerpted from Last Call for Blackford Oakes by William F. Buckley Jr.. Copyright © 2005 William F. Buckley Jr.. Excerpted by permission of MysteriousPress.com/Open Road Integrated Media.
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