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September 25, 2023

Geistmann Redux: John Robinson Investigates, Chapter Seventeen

By Ron Singer

Chapter Seventeen
New York, N.Y. and Chisinau, Moldova, Wednesday, June 11 - Friday, June 13, 2025.

On Wednesday morning, having told the children he would be "away again," Robinson dropped them off at their school on 112th street. (Conveniently, they went to the same one now.) He then started walking toward the subway at 110th and Broadway, intending to catch an Express bus to JFK from the Port Authority terminal.

As he strode along, enjoying the early summer morning, he suddenly remembered something Geistmann had told him: "If someone may be stalking you, John, be sure to vary your route; don't fall into a pattern."

Hailing a yellow cab, Robinson knew the fare would be between $60 and $70, as opposed to the bus and subway fare, $42.75. "But," he reasoned, "taking the subway and bus could cost me my life," and even if life had become cheaper during Covid era, he still rated his at more than $15 or $20.

Arriving at JFK with an hour to spare, he scanned the Departures Terminal for ... what? He was becoming a creature of habit. Better to beware of that than to watch for Ramesh Subramanian lookalikes, or Geistmann ghosts (Ghost Man-ghosts). As usual, he took a seat where he could see the planes taking off and landing, and from which he could quickly get in line, when his flight was called.

He tried not to worry about what he would do when he arrived in Chisinau, in the middle of the night. It also bothered him that he would be arriving on his birthday. He added another insight to his Wisdom of the Ageing: since old people cannot help worrying, their choices are to worry about consequential or trivial matters, and to worry aimlessly or to strategize.

Booting up, he accessed an online news source for the Balkans. He carefully read an article about the four-way relationship among Moldova, Transnistria, Russia and Ukraine. With the long and bloody Russian incursion now concentrated in eastern Ukraine, the relationship had much more urgent geopolitical implications than had been the case two decades before, when the Geistmann saga had begun.

Back then, Russia's client state, Transnistria, had been a breakaway section of Moldova, whose sovereignty was recognized by only a handful of nations. The porous border with Moldova had figured in both Geistmann's murder of the human trafficker, Donduceni, and in the subsequent flight of Geistmann and his associates, Piet Dykstra and Arnold Weatherbee.

But since 2022, Transnistria had become a recruiting and staging ground for the invasion of Ukraine, with many Russian troops stationed in the Transnistrian Republic. That tiny strip of land also had implications for cutting off Ukrainian access to the Black Sea. Even further complicating the situation were two more factors: Transnistria's population comprised thirty percent each of Moldovans, Ukrainians, and Russians; and the country had important trade agreements with both Russia and Ukraine. Thus, Transnistria was formally neutral (like Switzerland!).

By the time he finished the article, Robinson saw people starting to line up for the flight to Frankfort. As he gathered his belongings and joined the line, he wondered what Fedoruk would be telling him about the criminal fallout from the geopolitical situation he had just read about.

Except for the short stopover in Frankfort, his overnight flight was the usual: too much food (mediocre), a so-so movie (neither "Airplane" nor any straight-up disaster film), and attempts to sleep through multiple interruptions (screaming babies, unwanted flight information, and offers of cut-rate luxury goods).

He did get to finish his book, Caught in the Web of Words, which he realized he had been reading since Judy gave it to him for Christmas, 2021. Why had such a good book taken him almost six months to read? Should he lug the heavy, hard-backed volume along when the plane landed, or should he "accidentally" leave it in his seat-back pocket?

He left it. Coming into the KIV Arrivals terminal, in Chisinau, he asked himself, "What now?" Luckily, the question was answered for him. A tall, familiar figure in a gray cloth raincoat was waiting. No placard with Robinson's name on it, but the man was unmistakably Diodur Fedoruk. In the five years since Robinson had last seen Fedoruk, his hair had turned completely gray, but he still wore a raffish air, and looked otherwise unchanged.

Apparently, the Ukrainian's attention to tradecraft was also unchanged. Scanning the terminal for several seconds, apparently for signs he had been followed, he ignored Robinson. But, as soon as the scan was complete, Fedoruk stepped forward and caught the traveller in a bear hug. He also began to talk, assuming the fake accent from Charlottesville, possibly in order to remind Robinson of the beginnings of their acquaintance.

"Chahn, my fren, what a pleasant soo-pry! You don' sim to haf gennt a seengle Coveed pount."

"You look about the same, too, Diodur. Good to see you!"

Wheeling Robinson's suitcase from the terminal, Fedoruk whisked him into a large chauffeured vehicle, which the Ukrainian policeman proudly identified as an armored Jeep Wrangler Hybrid Electric SUV. When they were in the back seat, and on their way to town, he spoke again, discarding the music-hall accent.

"Well, John, Fred told me you were coming to Chisinau, and he explained what happened to you in Cape Town. What he didn't seem able to explain was what you wanted from me. Oh, before I forget, take this. It will give you access to our secure locations." He handed Robinson a laminated, official-looking FBI ID card, which Robinson put in his wallet.

When Robinson started to thank him, Fedoruk held up a hand, in the policeman's stop-sign position. "First things, first, John. I've got a room for you — a safe one, of course — on Strada Mateevici, only a stone's throw from the Embassy. You know the city, right? Well, it's changed a lot since you were here, in ... "

" ... 2008."

Robinson sighed. He was very tired from the long, almost sleepless flight. They drove through the dimly lit streets in silence, then turned onto Mateevici, when he began to spot a few familiar landmarks. Suddenly, there was a loud thud. Robinson jumped, but Fedoruk just shrugged.

"Another IED," he explained. "I'm used to them, the gangsters here all recognize me. But don't worry, John, this vehicle is like a small tank."

Robinson was shaking. "That sounds good, Diodur. But how do you know I wasn't the target?"

Fedoruk raised his eyebrows and laughed. "I don't. Maybe, both of us were. But why don't we wait until we get you to your place to consider the possibilities?"

"To my 'safe' place, you mean?"

"Actually, John, Moldova is still a relatively safe country — much safer than South Africa or the U.S., for example. Here, only the criminals have guns. And IED's, of course."

They drove on without further incident. When they were a block beyond the large, well-fortified Embassy compound, the driver pulled to the curb in front of a three-story building made of beige cut-stone blocks. For some reason, the building reminded Robinson of the Georgetown safe house where he had written one of his profiles of Geistmann, seventeen years before. Perhaps, the comparison occurred to him because Fedoruk had visited him at the Georgetown safe house. They had drunk wine together and, still Geistmann's creature, Fedoruk had told him elaborate lies. "In vino falsitas," Robinson remembered having thought. Ah, long-term memory!

Less long-term, but still seven years ago, Fedoruk had visited the Robinson family at their rented flat in Yerevan, Armenia. Again, the purpose of the visit had been less than clear. The Ukrainian policeman had asked Robinson to help his minders at the Bureau find Geistmann, but whether to protect, or to kill, him was uncertain. That had been the beginning of an odyssey that ended in Asheville, North Carolina with Robinson, himself, shooting Geistmann dead.

Even the end of that odyssey had only been temporary. Now, with Robinson the target, it had resumed. And this time, he had sought out Fedoruk, in part to protect himself. Or so he thought.

Fedoruk used his ID card to open the door to the second-floor room, and stood aside while the driver swept the space with a radio-frequency detector, to make sure no new bugs had been installed. Instructing the man to return the SUV to the Embassy, Fedoruk gestured Robinson to one of a pair of small matching armchairs covered with a nubby brown fabric. Robinson felt, and apparently looked, exhausted.

"I'll leave you to your rest in a very few minutes, my friend. For now, please tell me, in general terms, what you want from me. We can leave the details for tomorrow."

There they were again, more of those postponed "details." Too tired to protest, Robinson briefly explained that he hoped Fedoruk might be able to help him locate Ramesh Subramanian, the person he thought had been trying to kill him (Robinson).

Without asking further questions, Fedoruk promised a wake-up call at seven the next morning. They would meet at the Embassy, and breakfast in the cafeteria. Without unpacking, or showering, Robinson stripped down to his underclothes and fell onto the bed, using the rose-colored bedspread to cover himself. Knowing that Fedoruk would be calling him in six hours and twenty minutes, he immediately fell into a deep, dreamless sleep. When his phone sounded, at 0700 local time, he wondered momentarily why he still felt tired, then realized it was midnight, in New York. He dressed, etc. and walked, without incident, to the Embassy.

Flashing his new ID card, Robinson was permitted entry to the heavily guarded building. Fedoruk was waiting at the reception desk, and led him to the cafeteria, which was off the rear of the lobby. The Moldovan breakfast was ample. Appetite provided the sauce for a plate of scrambled eggs with bacon and fresh local vegetables. As they worked their way through the food, which also included thick slices of wheat toast slathered with gooseberry jam, and several cups of weak-ish coffee, Robinson noted that the Ukrainian's prowess as a trencherman seemed unimpaired. By mutual agreement, they did not speak while they ate.

After signing a chit for the meal, Fedoruk guided his guest down two flights of stairs to a conference room that reminded Robinson of the one in Cape Town. Robinson's I.D. was accepted by the sensor, and the heavy steel door swung open When they were seated at one end of the large, polished table, Fedoruk began the conversation without preamble, paraphrasing his question from the previous night.

"So. What do you need from me, my friend?"

Assuming he had already been told about the block book, bank robberies, and bombs, Robinson said he hoped Fedoruk might be able to help him track a cyber-wizard named Ramesh Subramanian, "whom you may remember as 'Samir Gupta.' "

"Oh, yes, I remember that guy. He was Armande's enabler during the post-Weatherbee era. But that was years ago, John. What makes you think I would know how to trace him now?"

"Only five years, Diodur." Robinson summarized what he knew of Subramanian's connection with the Pan-African Cartel. "And since the Moldovan traffickers also had a PAC connection ... " He shrugged, assuming the last part of the sentence did not need saying. Instead, he asked, "Speaking of which, how's your own work going these days, Diodur?"

Sighing deeply, Fedoruk described some of the ways through which the Moldovan mob was exploiting the five-year pandemic and three-year war, with its flood of Ukrainian refugees. Characterizing the criminal opportunities created by the twin crises as "a tsunami," he used a related metaphor to encapsulate what it felt like to attempt to thwart all the criminals.

"I'm afraid, John, that I'm like that Dutch boy with his finger in the dike." He sighed again, and ran his fingers through his still-thick hair, before continuing. "But never mind my problems! I'll put some of my people on your question today. As a first step, I think we should try to follow the money. It sounds as if this Subramanian might be involved in using Dark Wallet to launder the vast sums the Donduceni mob has been raking in from selling fake vaccines and trafficking desperate refugees." He waved a hand in disgust. "But don't get me started!"

Robinson ignored the jeremiad. "Thank you, Diodur. That's exactly the kind of connection I was hoping you might think of. While you're setting the inquiries in motion, is there anything I should be doing? Or should I just play the tourist?"

Fedoruk thought for a few moments. "No, my friend, I don't think you've come all the way to Chisinau to visit our few poor monuments and other 'attractions.' " He thought again. "Actually, John, there are a few people here whom you might look up." He laughed. "That way, you could also be helping me. You see, these are people I used to talk to, but they're wary of me now, because everyone knows what happens to snitches. In that regard, Moldovan gangs are like American ones."

Robinson recalled that, in his early years of working for the Bureau, Fedoruk had lived in the U.S. Since Robinson did not know much about American gangs (other than what everyone knew, from movies and TV), he did not reply. The conversation wound down. Thanking his old friend and colleague again, he I.D.-ed his way out of the Embassy, and decided to try to walk off the remaining jet lag and the large breakfast. Twenty minutes later, after wandering wearily up and down Str. Meteevici, he found himself in Valea Morilor Park, where he plopped down on a bench next to a lake.

Article © Ron Singer. All rights reserved.
Published on 2023-02-27
Image(s) are public domain.
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