Sergeant Richard Lawson walked into the pub shortly after 1400. The short, stocky NCO stopped and spoke to the bartender for a brief moment, and then exchanged greetings with a few of the older gentlemen at the bar. Prokofiev got the idea that they knew Lawson personally and were pumping him for news. On the other hand, perhaps they were homosexuals with entirely different motives. When Lawson leaned over to shake one of their hands, Prokofiev noticed the small manila folder in his free hand and winced. Amateurish move. But Lawson was not a professional and that had to be considered, a voice inside his head reasoned. This meeting was not a good idea, Prokofiev knew, but it was absolutely necessary. The risk was worthwhile, he hoped.
Lawson finished chatting with the bar flies and made his way to the booth in the rear of the pub where Prokofiev was sitting. The Russian stood up and embraced the Englishman in a tight hug and the small folder slipped surreptitiously from Lawson’s hand into Prokofiev’s suit jacket. They sat back down and made small talk as a waitress approached, took Lawson’s order and then came back with a pint.
“I only have a short time,” the NCO informed Prokofiev between sips. “The base is going to be sealed off later this afternoon. Only reason I was able to get out was because my senior owed me a favor. He snuck his wife’s sister on base last week and had a go at her.” Lawson smiled thinly.
“I do not feel comfortable in here,” Prokofiev revealed in a low voice.
“Don’t worry. For the next twenty minutes or so this is the safest pub in England,” Lawson assured him. Then it was time to get down to business.
“What do you have for me?”
Lawson leaned forward and lowered his tone. “The Yanks flew more planes in yesterday before dawn. They came in while it was dark and were taken to a secure part of the base under heavy guard. Nobody outside of the tower people, ground crew, or security personnel got a look and they’re not saying anything.”
“Last night, a pal of mine on security told me the plane type is the new Yank stealth fighter. The one that can’t be seen on radar. He got me into one of the hangars to see it for just a minute and I snapped off a couple of photos. Told him they were for the London Times.” He smiled again.
Prokofiev felt his excitement rising. “Tell me about the plane.”
“At first glance, it doesn’t look airworthy. Strange looking bird. Almost demonic. Damn thing was built like I am. Boxy. Twin tail, painted all black.”
“How many planes are there?”
“Not sure but at least ten. Maybe fifteen.”
“ What are people saying about the planes?”
Lawson shook his head. “Not a thing since few people even know they’re here. I got lucky. But that’s it, mate. From here on in I don’t know you. If I get caught talking to you after this afternoon they’ll shoot my ass.”
Prokofiev nodded. He understood what Lawson was telling him and fully expected it to come to this. The man valued his neck.
“You will not hear from me again,” he promised him. “I wish you luck.”
“I wish the same for you,” Lawson reached over and patted his shoulder. “Honestly. After seeing that plane I’m more convinced than ever that you blokes aren’t going to win if the shooting starts. Tell that to your superiors if there is time.”
“There isn’t,” Prokofiev predicted. In his mind he was working out a plan to get this information to someone who could make use of it. He wasn’t an air marshal but knew these planes tip the balance in NATO’s favor. The mere thought of American stealth jets flying over his home sent a shudder up his spine.
He rose from his seat, shook Lawson’s hand and left the pub. He climbed into his rental car in the crowded lot across the street. Lawson paid for his pint and walked out, stopping briefly to check the time. As he was about to cross the roadway, a Jaguar with two men inside came tearing out from a alleyway, almost clipping him as it sped west.
“Fucking asshole!” Lawson flashed them a lewd gesture and then crossed the street to his own car.
The rental BMW was found five hours later on the side of the road ten miles west of RAF Alconbury. A local police unit came upon it, thinking the vehicle had broken down. Or an accident perhaps. As the policemen approached, they took out their flashlights to inspect the interior. To their surprise and shock, a man was in the car, slumped over the steering wheel. When they opened the door and leaned him back, the senior officer noticed a neat bullet wound in the back of his head. There was no manila folder to be found.