Home > Palace of Treason (Dominika Egorova & Nathaniel Nash #2)(3)

Palace of Treason (Dominika Egorova & Nathaniel Nash #2)(3)
Author: Jason Matthews


 

Dominika held her head erect, elegant on a long neck, as she pushed through the musky velvet curtain into the La Diva club. The bouncer at the inner door looked with professional approval at her little black dress, then glanced briefly into her tiny black satin clutch, barely large enough to hold a lipstick and wafer-thin smartphone. He pulled the heavy curtain aside and motioned her to enter. No weapons, he thought. Mademoiselle Doudounes, Miss Big Chest, is clean.

Captain Egorova was in fact more than able to dispense lethal force. The lipstick tube in her purse was an elektricheskiy pistolet, a single-shot electric gun, a recent update from SVR technical—Line T—laboratories, a new version of a venerable Cold War weapon. The disposable lipstick gun fired a murderously explosive 9mm Makarov cartridge accurately out to two meters—the bullet had a compressed metal dust core that expanded massively on contact. The only sound at discharge was a single loud click.

Dominika scanned the black-lit interior of the club, a large semicircular room filled with chipped tables in the center and tired leatherette booths along the walls. A low stage with old-timey footlights stood dark and empty. Her target, Parvis Jamshidi, sat alone in a center booth pensively looking up at the ceiling. Dominika did a second quick scan, quartering the room, focusing on the far corners: No obvious countersurveillance or lounging bodyguard. She weaved between the tables toward Jamshidi’s booth, ignoring the snapped fingers of a fat man at a table, signaling her to come over, either to order another petit jaune or to suggest they go together for thirty minutes to the Chat Noir Design Hotel down the block.

She was keyed up as the familiar feel of the hunt, of contact with the opposition, rose in her throat, tightened across her chest, and switched on the glow-plugs in her stomach. Dominika eased into the booth and put the little clutch down in front of her. Jamshidi continued looking up at the ceiling, as if in prayer. He was short and slight, with a forked goatee. His El Greco hands were folded on the table, long-fingered and still. He wore the requisite pearl-gray suit with white collarless shirt buttoned at the neck. A small man, a physicist, an expert in centrifugal separation, the lead scientist in Iran’s uranium-enrichment program. Dominika said nothing, waiting for him to speak.

Jamshidi felt her presence and his eyes lowered, appraising Dominika’s figure—the slim arms, the plain, square-cut nails. She stared at his face until he stopped looking at the blue-veined cleft between her breasts.

“How much for one hour?” he said casually. He had a reedy voice and spoke in French. In the club’s musk-cat air his words came out milky yellow and weak, all deceit and greed. Dominika noted with interest that the ultraviolet light in the club did not affect her ability to read his fetid colors. She continued to look at him mildly.

“Did you hear me?” Jamshidi said, raising his voice. “Do you understand French, or are you a putain from Kiev?” He looked up again at the ceiling, as if in dismissal. Dominika followed his gaze. A Plexiglas catwalk hung suspended from the rafters and a naked woman in heels was dancing directly above Jamshidi’s head. Dominika looked back at his preposterous goatee.

“What makes you think I’m a working girl?” said Dominika in unaccented French.

Jamshidi looked back down, met her eyes, and laughed. It was at this point that he should have heard the rustling in the long grass, the instant before grip of fang and claw.

“I asked you how much for an hour,” he said.

“Five hundred,” said Dominika, brushing a strand of hair behind her ear. Jamshidi leaned forward and made a further obscene suggestion.

“Three hundred more,” said Dominika, looking at him over the tops of her eyeglasses. She smiled at him and pushed her glasses back up. As if on cue the stage footlights came on and a dozen women trooped out wearing nothing but thigh-high vinyl boots and white peaked caps. Filtered spotlights dappled their bodies with pink and white stripes as they gyrated in formation to blaring Europop.

 

Jamshidi originally had been spotted in Vienna by the Russian Rostekhnadzor representative in the International Atomic Energy Agency, who noted the Iranian’s after-hours predilection for the leggy escorts who sipped sherry in the bars of the Gurtel district. The IAEA lead was passed to the Vienna rezident who in turn reported it to Moscow Center, SVR Headquarters in Yasenevo, in southwest Moscow.

A vigorous debate in the Center ensued regarding whether Jamshidi was a valid recruitment target. Pursuing an official from a client state was unwise, some said. The old techniques of blackmail and coercion would not work, others said. The risk of blowback and damage to bilateral relations was too great, still others said. A single department head wondered out loud whether this was a too-convenient opportunity. Perhaps this was a provocation, a disinformation trap somehow hatched by the Western services—CIA, Mossad, MI6—to discredit Moscow.

This zagovoritsya, this dithering, was not uncommon in SVR. The modern Foreign Intelligence Service was as riven by fear of the president of the Federation—of the blue-eyed X-ray stares and back-alley reprisals—as the NKVD was of Stalin’s rages in the 1930s. No one wanted to validate a bad operation and commit the ultimate transgression: embarrassing Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin on the world stage.

Alexei Ivanovich Zyuganov, chief of the Counterintelligence Department of the Service—Line KR—was first among many who declared Jamshidi’s recruitment too risky (chiefly because the case was not his). But the president, a former KGB officer himself (his service record, including a torpid foreign posting to Communist Dresden in the late 1980s, was never discussed, ever), overruled the too-timorous voices in SVR.

“Find out what this scientist knows,” Putin ordered the SVR director in Yasenevo over the secure vysokochastoty high-frequency line from the Kremlin. “I want to know how far along these Iranian fanatics are with their uranium. The Zionists and the Americans are losing patience.” Putin paused, then said, “Give this to Egorova, let her run with it.”

It normally could be considered a towering compliment when the president of the Federation specifically designated an officer in the Service to manage a high-profile recruitment operation—it had happened occasionally in the past with old KGB favorites of Putin’s—but Dominika was under no illusion about why she had been selected. She had not even met the president. “It’s a great honor,” said the director, when he summoned her to his office to inform her that the Kremlin had given instructions. Khuinya, bollocks, thought Dominika. They want a former Sparrow to run this pussy snare. Very well, boys, she thought, mind your fingers.

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