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September 18, 2023

Geistmann Redux: John Robinson Investigates, Chapter Twenty-One

By Ron Singer

Chapter Twenty-One
Chisinau, Moldova. Saturday, June 14 - Sunday, June 15, 2025

The plan involved a dozen FBI Agents, representing the U.S., Moldova, and Ukraine, plus one unknown, who looked like he might be a Serb. Four of the dozen were marksmen. The next morning, Saturday, at 0800 hours, the hand-picked team assembled in the conference room.

Fedoruk, who had apparently fleshed out the details overnight, explained his plan, referring to maps and charts via a power-point presentation. A hefty continental breakfast —coffee, tea, bagels, rolls, honey, and assorted local cheeses— had been laid on for the troops.

The meeting lasted about an hour, including forty minutes of questions and comments. By the time they left the conference room, everyone was on board with the plan; there had even been a few chuckles over its ingenuity. Robinson still thought it could either work or backfire.

That evening, Patsy Santos-Oliveira flew in from Cape Town, via Jo'burg and Istanbul. She was driven by Vlad to the safe house where Robinson was staying, and where Fedoruk had secured a room for her. As he had mentioned at the morning meeting, S-O would be directing the operation's internal and external communications. Exhausted from eighteen hours in the air, her first task, before she could fall into bed, was to compose a death notice, which would appear in tomorrow's papers and on social media.

Linked to the initial articles and posts about the Albisoara restaurant bombing two days before, Patsy's draft read:

—Chisinau, Moldova, Sunday, 15 June, 2025.

We deeply regret that our beloved son, Mihai Popa, eight years of age, who was among the victims of the Albisoara restaurant bombing on Friday evening, 13 June, has succumbed to his injuries. His grieving parents invite you to join the family for the boy's interment, which will be held at ten a.m. tomorrow (Monday), in St. Stanislaus Cemetery. Those who cannot attend are asked to consider making contributions in Mihai's name to the Centrul de prevenire a traficului de femei, an organization dedicated to the protection of women and children.

—Gheorghiu and Veronyka Papa

When S-O had finished drafting the notice, Robinson proofread it, over her shoulder. The next morning, Sunday, at the Embassy, after Fedoruk made a single change, someone in the P.R. department translated the notice, and arranged for it to be published and posted. The short turnaround between the notice's appearance and the funeral was intended to leave Ramesh Subramanian as little time as possible for second thoughts.

Curious, as usual, Robinson asked Fedoruk about the change he had made. "I changed the venue, John. If the supposed funeral were taking place at St. Stanislaus, the cemetery closest to mob HQ, I was afraid Subramanian might smell a rat —too convenient. So I changed the venue to St. Patrick's, which is on the other side of town, about seven kilometres southeast of Rascani. He'll have to fight traffic for an hour to get there."

Robinson saw the logic of the change. "The guilt factor," he said, but he thought it unlikely that the change would make any difference. If the man came, he came. If not ...

Not only did Subramanian not take the bait, he seemed to know exactly what Fedoruk had planned. When the snipers were in place, and the Agent pretending to be a priest was praying over the small, empty coffin, a drone thudded into the freshly dug grave. Luckily, the earth around the hole absorbed most of the impact, so that, aside from a few cuts and scrapes, the worst damage was to Fedoruk's amour propre. Robinson refrained from gloating, which would have been part-hindsight.

As soon as Forensics arrived, the killing team piled back into the vans that had brought them to the cemetery, and that had been hidden in nearby streets. Tails between their legs, the defeated team retreated to the Embassy, where they dispersed, the fighters to who-knew-where, and Patsy, Fedoruk, and Robinson, to the windowless basement cave. Once again, they took seats at the far end of the big table. After downing a slab of humble pie, a sheepish Fedoruk began the post-mortem by asking Patsy an obvious question: "What went wrong?"

Her answer, shorn of technical detail, boiled down to the fact that Ramesh Subramanian evidently possessed the technical know-how to intercept their communications, and possibly even to spy on them.

Robinson asked an obvious follow-up question: "Could one of our people have spilled the beans? A mole?"

Patsy thought for a moment, then said, "No, John, I don't think so. Two reasons: only the people in the P.R. office and the dozen fighters who were at yesterday's planning session knew enough to tip Subramanian off. And every one of those people must have been thoroughly vetted. Right, Diodur?" Fedoruk nodded. "The second reason is that our friend's M.O. has invariably been electronic. In fact, he may be totally lacking in what are called 'human skills.' "

"But he used a mole to steal the DNA," Robinson pointed out. S-O acknowledged his point with a nod. He asked another question, also obvious. "So what do we do about it? Can we match his technical tricks?"

She hesitated a few moments before replying. "Well, if Bob Martinez were to give us the green light, I suppose we could use the nuclear option."

Fedoruk replied."You mean Pegasus/Phantom, Patsy?" (Robinson noted the double alliteration.) "You know about P/Phantom, John?" Robinson nodded.

"Right,"said Patsy "with P/Phantom, we'd be able to spy on him —to spy back on him— and he wouldn't know we were doing it."

Again, Robinson stated the obvious: "So let's ask Bob."

Patsy frowned, and thought for a few moments. Then, weighing her words carefully, she replied. "I could do that, of course, John. But should I? If I did ask, and if Bob were to agree, it could create two problems. First, friend Subramanian might deduce from the consequences that we had used P/Phantom. And he could then begin to develop antidotes, or workarounds. I mean, this is a very smart guy we're dealing with."

"What's the second problem?" Fedoruk asked.

"The second problem is that we could never ask Bob to let us use the device again. Not for years, anyway."

Understanding what S-O had implied, Robinson chimed in. "No one is supposed to even know the Bureau has P/Phantom, right, Patsy?"

She answered by making a hushing gesture, which did not stop Fedoruk from speaking up. "So it boils down to priorities. Which reminds me of a question I've been wondering about for almost three years now: why hasn't the military-intelligence brass used Pegasus/Phantom against Putin? I ask because they keep complaining about not being able to read his mind."

Robinson had read several articles about the Israeli-developed spying device, and had asked himself the Putin question many times. He had arrived at two possible answers. The more general one was that using the "new Doomsday Device" against the Russian leader would raise complex questions of diplomacy and geo-politics, questions far above his pay grade. The other, more specific —and more likely— answer was that Pegasus/Phantom was already being used against Putin, and that the spy agencies were playing the dangerous old game of trying to use what they knew in ways that would not alert their target.

Santos-Oliveira did not reply to Fedoruk's question. Robinson thought he saw her wink at him (Robinson), and guessed she had followed the same thought process he had. This triggered another fugitive thought, to which he reacted by telling himself, "Hey! I'm too old to be your father."

He asked S-O and Fedoruk another question. "Shouldn't Bob Martinez and Ms. Yamamoto be working with us on the Subramanian problem?"

They started to answer simultaneously, but S-O deferred to Fedoruk. "I suggested that, John. They told me they were too busy with PAC and the bank robberies, but they promised they'd keep an eye on Iosub Ceban, in case he grows careless, in the absence of his partner. If that happens, they'll share any information they get with us." Then, he smiled at S-O, and added, "Besides, we already have the smartest CCTF operative right here." Patsy returned the smile. Robinson thought Fedoruk's smile was condescending, and hers, sarcastic.

Fedoruk signalled the close of the meeting. "Why don't you two go off, and try to think of some new ways to address the Subramanian problem. I'll be dealing with the aftermath of the deaths of the two Ruso brothers, and the interrogation of the survivor." He stood up, and left the conference room, the steel door whooshing shut behind him.

Article © Ron Singer. All rights reserved.
Published on 2023-03-27
Image(s) are public domain.
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