Episode 22


Time: 9:45 p.m.

Vitaly wiped the wrench clean of fingerprints and hung it back on the wall, then took a final look at the STurDI-1 turbine. Perfect.

A few minutes later, sweat began rolling down Vitaly’s back as he again raced up the reactor building stairs. He legs ached from the effort. When John Donner reported back to the control room before going home, he would talk about coming down with the flu, and grumble that he had planned to spend his two off days working on his car. But though John Donner might be sick, in a few hours Vitaly Kruchinkin expected to be feeling just fine.


Sunday, May 11

Time: 12:16 am.

Liz spotted the red dot blinking in the darkness when she opened the door to her apartment. Maybe it was Stan. Did she leave anything? She pressed the button.

“Special Agent Rezhnitsky,” the voice began.

“Yes,” Liz mumbled. Work.

“...This is the night clerk at the Field Office. It's 12:10 a.m. Sunday, May 11. You have a priority C.I. communication from Washington. Please call in to acknowledge. Thank you.”

What could that be? Liz picked up the phone as her curiosity began to take hold. She’d probably have to drive downtown and find out.

Liz began examining the printout even as she wove her way back to her desk. A second, routine message was also tucked under her arm. Halfway across the nearly deserted squad room, she stopped. Oh, God. Active measures. For real. She scanned further. And maybe one of mine! She hurried to her desk and then read the dispatch again. The message out of the Bureau's Washington headquarters began by discussing secrecy requirements and noting the previous reports regarding an illegal at a nuclear plant. Then came the real news:

“Intelligence information now indicates a reasonable possibility that the illegal noted above will attempt some form of action, which may include sabotage,at the aforementioned nuclear facility. This is likely to occur between May 10 and June 1 of this year....”

Liz’ hands gripped the dispatch. What was today? The tenth? Eleventh? She checked the calendar. May Eleventh. Already in the window. But the window for what? Something simple, maybe harmless, or would the Soviets actually try to destroy an American nuke plant? She resumed reading:

“...The individual in question appears to have completed a long training course, probably employment-related, in the June/July, 1985 time frame...”

That should cut out most of the suspects. She had those records.

“...There is also evidence to suggest the individual is operating in the Midwest, particularly the Illinois/Indiana area...”

That's it then. The burden was on her. Liz continued:

“... Any suspects who meet all criteria ... should be placed under surveillance immediately and detained as soon as practicable for questioning. If on duty at said facility, take whatever steps are necessary to detain the suspect without alarming this individual. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission is bein contacted. Further instructions in this regard will follow shortly...”

A few moments of shuffling through the first technician's file and Liz had found the training records. June or July of '85 ... Nope. The list of suspects was thinning out fast. The next file was labeled DONNER, and the training forms were tucked in the back. She rubbed at her eyes and began scanning the list of courses: turbine building operator training, December, 1982 . . . Completes reactor building operator training. . . . Requalification testing. . . . . control room reactor operator training completed, July, 1985. . .

July '85. A hit? Liz retraced her steps. Began in the summer of '84. Finished in summer of '85. . . . So a full year. A long course! Her excitement grew as she rechecked the records against the dates given in the Washington dispatch. It fits. It all fits. Vacations at the right time, training at the right time. It could be. It just could be. At the very least, it was enough to take the next step. John Donner, of South Bend, Indiana, would have to be put under surveillance as soon as possible.

Smiling broadly, Liz checked her data once more to be sure, and then examined the rest of the file, searching for any clues she had missed. She saw she had asked for Donner's birth certificate, his high school records, and a check on his first job. Since the suspect had grown up in New York, the field office there was to gather the information. New York. Abruptly, Liz remembered the other letter that had come in. Grabbing the envelope, she spotted the New York Field Office designation and tore the package open. Scanning the top of the message, she saw that background work had been completed on two individuals. The first was an employee at Kittleburg. The second was -- John Donner.

Fueled by nervous energy, Liz read on. A long search had turned up Donner's birth certificate. Of his high school records nothing remained, the building having burnt down in the mid-seventies. There was no information on the suspect's first job either. That factory had closed long ago.

Her heart skipped a beat as Liz recognized the pattern she had long dreamed of seeing, and she slapped the table in triumph. Got him! There were too many gaps in Donner's past to be a coincidence -- especially given the other clues. She checked the background search Hoosier Electric had conducted and saw that, other than an obscure relative in New Zealand, none of Donner's references had known him longer than nine years. She knew why.

What does he do at Fairview? Liz looked at her notes. “Control room,” the handwriting read. “Runs plant minute-to-minute.” A chill crept down her spine. If sabotage at a nuclear plant really were the mission, John Donner would be the perfect man to carry it out.


Time: 1:05 a.m.

In the bedroom of his small house, tucked away near the top of a hill on a dead end street, Vitaly sat beside his short-wave radio. There had been nothing but static. The Center had sent no message. He scanned the nearby frequencies, just in case, but found no signal. It was going to happen. After all this time.


Time: 1:06 am.

“Yes, sir,” Liz said into the phone. “I double-checked. It all fits, and then some.” She paused as the Special Agent in Charge asked another question. He had been asleep when the phone rang, but the S.A.C. showed no signs of weariness now. “Yes, sir, I think right away,” Liz answered. “The dispatch from H.Q. pegged yesterday as the start date. It calls for immediate surveillance. . . . . Right. I thought I would call Kreveski in South Bend.”

The S.A.C. asked Liz if she planned to travel to South Bend herself.

“I'd like to,” she said. “I thought I might accompany you.” Liz bit down on her lip. Tradition held that the S.A.C. be given the opportunity to make the big arrests.

“It's yours, Liz,” came the reply, “unless we get into a manhunt.”

“Thank you, sir.” Yes!

“Can you find out if Donner is at the plant right now?” the S.A.C. asked.

“I'm not sure.” Liz had already considered the idea. There was no easy way to do it. She could go through official channels, but that would take time and give the appearance that something was up -- but perhaps she could try another approach. “I don't think calling Hoosier Electric's VP would work too well,” she said, “and nothing's come in over the wire yet on how the NRC wants to handle it. But I do have a contact who works at Fairview. He might be able to help.”

“Use your best judgment,” the S.A.C. said. “I don't want to tip anything, but since we're in the window, we've got to move quick.”

“Yes sir. I'll give it a try.”

“All right. And call Walt. Then let me know.”

Liz placed the receiver back on the hook. It's gonna happen. It's really gonna happen. She leafed through her notes and retrieved Walt Kreveski's home phone number. “You better be there, Walter,” she mumbled, punching in the digits.

The phone rang once. Twice. Three. Come on, Walt! Four times now.


The voice on the other end of the line was sleepy, but Liz thought it sounded familiar. “Is this FBI Special Agent Walter Kreveski?” she asked.

“Yes. This is Agent Kreveski.” The voice grew more alert.

“Walt, this is Liz Rezhnitsky down in Indianapolis. I've got something here and I need your help.”

“Now?” the older agent said. “Is this about your spy?”

“Yes. Some new stuff came in, and I’ve got a suspect who matches the profile. It's got to be him.”

“Well, I'll be.”

“It looks like he's up to something, too. Maybe out at Fairview. Sabotage. It could be right now.”

“Oh, shit,” Kreveski said. “Then let's find the bastard.”

Liz passed on the story, and promised to telecopy enough details to get a warrant. Walt would get hold of Taylor Winn, and send the younger agent out to watch the suspect's house.

Liz hung up and dialed again. Now, let's see if I can find out if Mr. Donner's at work.


Settled into his easy chair, Paul was well into a science fiction novel. It had been some time since he'd spent a Saturday evening alone, but with Vickie's sisters in town it was the lesser of two evils. When the phone rang, he glanced up at the clock. This late, it could be Langford calling to tell him the plant had scrammed, and he needed to come in “Paul Hendricks.”

“Paul, this is Agent Liz Rezhnitsky of the FBI. We worked together a couple of weeks ago.”

“Um ... yeah, sure, I remember.”

“I apologize for calling you this late. I hope I didn't wake you.”

“No, I was reading.”

“Fine. Let me explain the situation. We have strong reason to believe that one of the fugitives we're looking for does work out at Fairview. And we think he may try to leave the country, so we want to pick him up as quickly as we can. I'm hoping you can help me find him.”

“Anything I can do,” Paul said. Oh, man!

“Great. Now here's the problem. We need to know if the suspect is at work. I was hoping you’d have a way to get that information without arousing suspicion. He can't know we're asking. If I started making calls, it might leak out.”

“Yeah, okay,” Paul said, trying to put his surprised mind to work. “You know most folks are off until Monday,” he said. “It's just the shift crews out there right now.”

“Yes, I understand. The suspect is a shift worker.” There was a pause. “His name is John Donner. He's a control room operator.”

Whoa! “I know him.” Paul tried to think of a way to see if Donner was on shift. Concentrate. How? “I could phone the control room,” he said, “but then he would know someone is asking for him.”

“You're right, that wouldn't be any good. It's got to be more subtle.”

Paul kept thinking. Why would I want to call the control room at one o'clock Sunday morning and ask who's there? What would make me do that? Because. . . an idea began to form. “I think I might know how to do it,” Paul said. “I've got an excuse to get them to read me the work schedules for the next few days. I'll listen for Donner's name.”

“You can do that now?”

“Sure, right now. I'll sound like an idiot to the guys in the control room, but it won't be the first time.”


At his desk in the shift supervisor's office, Wendell fiddled with his shirt collar as he scanned a new procedure. Darrel Fleck was in the main control room speaking with the operators. The phone rang.

“Control. Auterman.”

“Yeah, Wendell, this is Paul Hendricks from Tech Engineering. I know this is a really strange time and everything, but I need some information from you. Have you got a minute?”

At one-thirty in the morning? Is he drunk? “Yo, what do you need?”

“Well, I was gonna wait till tomorrow to call, but this is driving me nuts,” Paul said. “I just remembered I've got a report due on Monday, and I'm not close to being done. I really need to interview some operators to get it finished up. I was hoping you could tell me who's on shift and who'll be in tomorrow. Maybe I can get lucky.”

Wendell had fought enough deadlines to understand the engineer's problem. And Hendricks sounded fairly normal. “Anyone in particular you're looking for?” he asked.

“Oh, there's about eight guys I could talk to in various combinations. It'd probably be quicker if you just read me the list.”

“All right.” Wendell retrieved the scheduling book. “Let's see...”


Time: 1:27 am.

The objects floating in the basement varied in shape: some were round pillows, others fluffy hearts; but all were metallic. A cartoon face grinned above his head as Vitaly gathered together seven of the balloons into a lumpy sphere. Now for the tail. He attached more balloons in a column, and then tied a crowbar wrapped with string to the lower end. Carefully, he guided the silvery object up the stairs, out the kitchen door, and into the garage. Shoving the floating mass into the back seat of his car, he covered it with a blanket.

Vitaly gave the contents of the trunk a final check. The fiberglass fishing pole was there, along with the canteen and the lifeless body of the cat in its harness. He leaned in and disconnected the trunk light.

Satisfied that all was ready, Vitaly tried to relax, strolling out onto his deck. His back yard was not large, a fact accentuated by the tall wooden fences on each side. The grass sloped down to barbed wire at the rear, beyond which lay a thin strip of field and then a patch of woods. The weather this early Sunday morning was pleasant, and he would need nothing more than the black leather jacket he was already wearing. He looked up at the solitary maple tree a few yards beyond the deck. Its leaves barely fluttered. Perfect.


Time: 1:35 am.

At her desk in the squad room, Liz tried to form a mental picture of John Donner. It was hard to do. The records could only tell a small part of the story, and there was no photograph or even a good physical description. The phone rang. “FBI. Rezhnitsky.”

“Yes, this is Paul Hendricks. I've got what you wanted. John Donner is not on shift right now, and he won't be for a couple of days.”

Liz sighed with relief. “That's tremendous, Paul. Thanks.”

“Nobody should have any idea who I was looking for,” Paul went on, “and I got something else for you too. John Donner was on the three-to-eleven shift tonight. I didn't ask about it, but the guy I talked to said he was pretty sick when he left.”

“So he went home?”

“That would make sense.”

“Yes, it would,” Liz said, her mind already racing ahead to the arrest. “Thanks, Paul. You've helped a lot. That's what I needed.” Now we just pick him up. Liz set the scene in her mind, but Donner's face wasn’t clear. Bad description, no picture . . .

“If there's anything else I can do,” Paul said.

He knows Donner. It would help. “Yes, Paul, there is something else. It's a big favor, but it would simplify things.”

“Sure. What?”

“Well, I've never seen John Donner,” Liz said, “and I don't have a picture. If we pick him up, it would make things easier if we had someone there to make a positive ID. Can you do that in a few hours? I think you said you knew him.”

Liz had just finished speaking with Walt Kreveski when the overnight clerk handed her another message. She read the teletype:

“... The Nuclear Regulatory Commission will provide assistance as necessary if apprehension at a nuclear facility is to occur or if information is required regarding a suspect's whereabouts at the facility. Immediate assistance can be obtained from the NRC Operations Support center listed below. A liaison office between the Agency and NRC security personnel is being established at this time ... “

Liz put the message aside. I don't think we'll need their help for the moment. She would let the S.A.C. figure out how to deal with the NRC. In the meantime, she had an illegal to catch.


Time: 1:47 am.

Taylor Winn rubbed his blurry eyes as he pulled up to the deserted intersection. The FBI special agent had been asleep when his partner's call had come. Winn had quickly dressed and kissed his wife goodbye, and then shoved two cans of soda and a bag of cookies into the deep pockets of his overcoat before heading out the door. Now he was well on his way across town to John Donner's house. Overhead, the light changed to green.


Dressed in his leather jacket, blue jeans, and dark cap, Vitaly reviewed the checklist one last time, then held the paper over the sink and set it aflame. He stepped into the garage, shut off the overhead lights, and climbed inside his car. The garage door slid open and Vitaly nudged the vehicle into the driveway and then let it coast to the bottom of the street before he turned on his headlights and sped away.


A mixture of suburban homes and farm fields bordered the road where Winn drove along the southern edge of South Bend. There had been no traffic to speak of -- just one oncoming car a few moments before -- and with the turnoff to the suspect's address up ahead, Winn flipped his headlights over to bright to read the street signs. Spotting the road, the FBI special agent turned and cruised up the slight incline. Near the top of the hill, he spotted Donner's home off to the left. Illuminated in the glow of a street lamp, it was a small, single-story white house, with an attached garage. Two steps led up to the landing outside the front door. There were no lights on inside. Winn cut the ignition and let the car drift back down the hill a short distance before he pulled alongside the curb across the street.


End Post 22



He crept to the road, the balloons in tow.


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