Gina Antonia slid off the bed and wrapped a silk shawl around her nude body. She glanced at the clock. One a.m. She wasn’t scheduled to call in until eight. Mihai Cuza was curled on his side, breathing evenly. A handsome man. Dark hair, aristocratic features, attractive body. He appeared younger than his real age, which was somewhere in his late 40ies. Funny how a sleeping man could look gentle, almost child-like. But it was only an illusion, and she knew it. He was about as gentle as a sleeping cobra.
She picked up his phone from the bed stand and tiptoed to the circular stairs, still wearing only the shawl, and descended slowly, carefully, to the darkened office area.
She seated herself on a chair in front of a desktop computer on the far side of the open expanse. She shifted; to keep her bare bottom from sticking to the leather, she slid part of the shawl under her. Cuza had hung her clothes in an antique wardrobe with doors that squeaked. Getting her clothes out would have been the riskier option. It also would have taken time.
It had taken two weeks of covertly watching, but she finally had the password to the I-Phone, which in turn held the password to the computer.
She searched, found the series of numbers and letters and, turning to the keyboard, typed them in. A click, and she was in. She attached a thumb drive, downloading a program that would allow Kolya or the tech guys back at the office to access Cuza’s files. While waiting for the program to load, she remained alert and nervous. No sound from the bedroom upstairs. Do it and get out,Kolya had told her. But what if the software didn’t work? They might not get another crack at Cuza’s computer. She was there; she could take another few minutes to get the information.
She went into documents and started searching.
The third document that she opened listed Cuza’s plans for the next two months, to be coordinated through various European offices.
She skimmed the names of the towns, in America, in Europe, one in Asia. Fifteen in all. How many people lived in those cities? How many people lived in Buchanan, New York? How many people would die immediately if the nuclear power plants in their towns melted down? How many more would die slowly of radiation poisoning or cancer?
Not in the thousands. In the tens of thousands.
She’d slept with a man capable of killing this many people. It had been a necessary part of the job, the only way to get close to him, but she’d done it, and she’d enjoyed it. She’d enjoyed sex with a monster.
She took a deep breath. She only knew what she now knew because she’d slept with him.
Her hands trembled with the weight of her new knowledge. Her fingers fumbled on the keyboard.
Steady. All she had to do was send an e-mail and run. She wouldn’t even go upstairs for her clothes. She’d run through Soho naked if necessary.
Funny. Running naked through Soho was the sort of thing that she might have done for a laugh had circumstances been different. She liked to do things that were different. Like the time she dyed her hair pink. She’d only kept it pink for a day, but the expression on Jonathan’s face….
But there was nothing funny about this assignment and nothing funny about Cuza.
Do it and get the hell out.
Had she heard something moving? No, it was nothing.
She accessed one of her e-mail accounts and typed Kolya’s e-mail address. She typed a quick message. Attaching Cuza’s plans for fifteen towns, including Cernavoda, Romania. Oak Harbor, Ohio. Buchanan, New York. Ft. Pierce, Florida. Then she felt the touch on her shoulder.
“Enjoying yourself?”a voice purred behind her. Cuza’s voice.
Before he pinned her arms, she hit send.
Nikolai Ivanovich Petrov, known to his friends as Kolya, shook his blond head, scrolled down the screen, and pondered his options. If he sent Teo Lorenzo to Pennsylvania Station to watch for a mysterious woman in black, Kolya'd catch hell from his boss Margaret Bradford, head of the ECA, an agency that few knew existed - who would consider his sending a new agent a mile uptown to meet a non-existent informant to be an abuse of authority. Then, again, Kolya could simply send Teo out for a dozen bagels from the deli two blocks away. Not that Kolya wanted a bagel. He just wanted Teo, whose face peered with unrelenting enthusiasm over Kolya’s shoulder, to go away.
Kolya didn’t dislike Teo, but he hated this part of the job – the waiting while another agent was in danger. He preferred the active role, to be the one at risk, but right now, his role was providing back-up and technical support. Gina was scheduled to check in at eight. Just in case, Kolya had monitored the phones and the computer since midnight. On the other hand, Teo had slept until seven. Easy for Teo - who hadn’t lived through the other attempts to penetrate Cuza’s network. Kolya vividly remembered Vasily – who had played violin – and whom Kolya had persuaded to spy on Cuza. Three days later, Vasily had been found with a stake through his body.
Normally the piano jazz emanating from his computer, Eugene Maslov, a fellow Russian emigrant from St. Petersburg, playing “The Masquerade is Over,” would have a calming effect. Not now.
"You know, you worry too much.”
Maybe he'd just shoot Teo.
They were holed up in a shabby two-bedroom apartment in the West Village, designated the New York office. The computers were state of the art, but the chairs and table were plastic, and the faded green carpet smelled of mold, dust, and something undefined - maybe cat urine. But the apartment didn't bother him particularly. He'd lived in worse.
It was Alex. He hadn't seen her for two months, and he missed her: her sense of humor, her intelligence, and the warmth of her presence. He could almost hear her voice mocking him, “You mean you miss the sex, right?”
As if his thought had prompted it, his phone buzzed. You up?
He texted back. For hours. Court today?
A response came immediately. Case postponed. Drag. Talk?
Can’t now. Later.
Call when you can. Love. Got to run.
He sent his love back, set the phone down, and returned his attention to the computer. Phone calls and texts were a poor substitution, under the best of times. It was one of the drawbacks of his line of work, the only reason he’d ever considered changing professions.
Still, he wasn't ready to give up the game.
Teo leaned over the computer and tried to tap a request onto the keyboard.
“Don’t do that.” Kolya decided to send Teo on an errand to the kitchen instead of on a tour of the wilds of Manhattan. “Could you check if there’s any coffee left?” He picked up a New York Mets mug and thrust it without ceremony into Teo’s hand.
“Two teaspoons sugar, right?” Teo asked.
“Correct.” Kolya, like many Russian Jews, had a sweet tooth. He usually didn’t indulge in desserts, keeping in shape was too important, but he did like to sweeten his coffee.
Maslov ended, and Kolya switched to Bill Evans, on the keyboard, Eddie Gomez on bass, an interpretation of "Autumn Leaves.” Kolya had played a variation of the tune on Alex's piano two nights before he'd left for New York. He missed the piano, but this was the Village after all. He’d managed to find a bar where he could occasionally spend a few hours improvising on jazz standards.
A glance at the computer brought his mind back to the job. An e-mail from Gina? He clicked onto it and read her message: Cuza’s plans for fifteen towns, including Cernavoda, Romania. Oak Harbor, Ohio. Buchanan, New York. St. Lucie, Florida. Flamanville, France. He clicked onto the attachment. But the attachment he opened was blank.
“Eboyanna mat.”His favorite curse.
Teo reappeared, a cup of coffee in each hand. He handed over Kolya’s cup and took a sip of his own. “What?”
“Attachment was booby trapped.” Kolya ran a check on his computer and cursed again, this time in English. Then he shut it down. “And there was a virus on it.” Cuza was smarter than they’d anticipated. Kolya switched to a second computer and checked. If Gina had done her job of inserting the software, he should be able to access Cuza’s computer remotely.
“Anything come through?” Teo was at his shoulder again.
“No.” Which was troubling. He searched files. Nothing.
“But if she sent the message, she got in.”
“We can’t access Cuza’s computer unless it’s on-line. Apparently, it’s not.”
“We gonna wake Jonathan?”
The fact that Gina had been on line long enough to send a message but had not left the computer on long enough for them to access Cuza’s files was not good.
Kolya picked up the phone and dialed Gina’s cell phone. The phone rang five times, and her voice mail picked up. He didn’t leave a message.
Kolya had been against the plan. Too risky. Gina was young and relatively new in the business. Asking her to screw Cuza was a little over the line of what he found acceptable, even in their line of work.
But Jonathan was the team leader, and Jonathan had made the decision. Cuza liked a certain kind of woman. Gina had been the closest match of the available ECA female agents. Well, nothing else had worked, and they needed to get into Cuza's computer. But if Gina were discovered, Cuza would take it as a personal affront.
So, he worried. He didn’t know her well; this was the first time they’d worked together, but he’d liked her sense of humor – and aura of rebellion. When they’d discussed the operation in her office decorated with prints of Renaissance paintings and pictures of her mother, sister, and cat, her hair had been dyed pink – to make a statement, she’d said. She’d dyed it back before attempting the infiltration of Cuza’s organization.
She was good. She’d be fine. She was just so young.
He sent a text:lunch?
She’d done her job and she should have left immediately.
“Eboyanna mat.” He repeated the Russian curse, involving mothers and sex.
He thought about the message with the booby-trapped attachment. Cernavoda, Romania; Oak Harbor, Ohio; Buchanan, New York; St. Lucie, Florida; Flamanville, France.
What would interest Cuza in Ohio? In Illinois?
“What’s up?” Jonathan Egan strode over to the computer, coffee cup in hand, bleary eyed, and positioned himself with a view of the monitor. Despite the fact that he had just woken up, Jonathan could have passed for a model: dressed in designer slacks and sweater, brown hair immaculate. He looked like what he was: the trust fund descendant of an industrialist, the privileged son of a former Senator who regarded Jonathan’s employment by an intelligence agency as an insult. Kolya also knew the reality beyond the appearance: Jonathan was a dedicated operative, a loving father, even if his marriage hadn’t lasted, and a good friend. The only real friction: music. "Turn off the damn jazz. Can’t you listen to something from the 21stcentury?"
Kolya ignored the insult.
“Gina sent a message with an attachment that self-destructed. She should have gotten out immediately. Nothing else from her. No texts. No calls. No response when I tried to reach her.”
“You think she’s in trouble?”
“OK, then.” Jonathan nodded. “We go in.”
Kolya turned off the computer, stood, slid his HK .40 caliber compact from its holster, ejected the magazine, and checked it. Twelve rounds. He slid the magazine back into the butt of the gun, reholstered, tugged his shirt down to cover the bulge, reached for his sweater on an adjacent chair, and pulled it over his head.
Jonathan didn’t bother to check his gun; he simply shrugged into a jacket.
Kolya fished a set of keys out of his pocket and tossed them to Jonathan. “The van’s in the garage across the street.”