Home > Palace of Treason (Dominika Egorova & Nathaniel Nash #2)(6)

Palace of Treason (Dominika Egorova & Nathaniel Nash #2)(6)
Author: Jason Matthews


Dominika bent, picked up the straight razor, and folded it closed, stilling an impulse to reach over and drag the edge heavily across the unconscious thug’s throat. Jamshidi had slid slowly to the floor, gasping. She squatted beside him, her dress riding halfway up her thighs and revealing the lacy black triangle of her underwear, but Jamshidi was staring only at her luminous face, a strand of hair bedroom-sexy over one eye. Slightly out of breath, she spoke softly, straightening her eyeglasses. “I told you we support our friends. I will protect you always. You’re my agent now.”

PORK SATAY

Marinate thin strips of pork in a thick paste of sesame oil, cardamom, turmeric, pureed garlic, pureed ginger, fish sauce, brown sugar, and lime juice. Grill over cherry-red coals until pork is caramelized and crispy.

 

 

2

 

 

Three a.m. and the fourth arrondissement was dark and quiet. The Louboutins were pinching as Dominika walked through the narrow streets of the Marais back to her boutique hotel near Place Sainte-Catherine. Tant pis, a shame, but one does not go barefoot on the sidewalks of dog-loving Paris.

Finishing her encrypted text to Zyuganov as she walked, Dominika did a quick appraisal of the pitch. Stepping over the unconscious thug, a bewildered Jamshidi had stutter-stepped into the night, nodding vaguely at Dominika’s sweet whispered reminder to meet in a week’s time. The yellow fog around his head was starched almost white with shock. She reported the results of the Jamshidi pitch modestly to the Center—and to a skeptical and resentful Zyuganov—as a provisional success. As in all intelligence operations, she would not know whether Jamshidi was fully cooked until and unless he appeared at Udranka’s apartment in Vienna in a week, docile and ready to be debriefed. The continued lollipop promise of the 1.85-meter-tall, magenta-haired Serb, now a Sparrow under Dominika’s direction, would be an incentive for Jamshidi to behave. Dominika commiserated with her Sparrow, shared an occasional glass of wine with her, paid her well—solidarity between sisters. Most of all, she had listened to Udranka’s canny assessments of Jamshidi, every detail, the better to stopper him in the recruitment bottle.

As she walked along the deserted street she checked her six for trailing surveillance, unlikely at this hour, by crossing the street and taking half-second snap glances in either direction. She was escorted first by one, then two, then three, street cats, tails high and trotting serpentinely around her ankles. Dominika thought that Sparrow School had wrought one elemental change. Her life had been forever altered when she was directed against an officer of the American CIA—specifically Nathaniel Nash—to unman him, to compromise him, to elicit the name of his Russian mole. But the whole operation had turned out differently than her SVR masters planned, hadn’t it? She was now working with CIA, spying for the Americans, she told herself, because Russia was rotten, the system was a canker. And yet, what she was doing, she was doing for Russia. She had thrown in with CIA, she had become the mole. And she had fallen into Nate’s bed against all logic, against all prudence. She closed her eyes for a second and whispered to him, “Where are you, what are you doing?” One of the French cats looked over its shoulder at her, and gave her a qu’est-ce que j’en sais? look. How should I know?

 

That same minute, in the deserted offices of Line KR, Zyuganov fumed in his darkened office, the light of a single desk lamp highlighting Egorova’s text-message report of the successful Paris recruitment approach to Jamshidi at the Pigalle nightclub, forwarded a few minutes earlier via encrypted email. The terse report detailing the episode stared up at him, mocking him. Egorova was a direct threat to him, her facile management of the operation making him look plodding and trivial. Zyuganov scanned the short paragraph, weighing risk and gain. She’s done well, flying solo, this well-titted-out upstart, he thought. The Paris rezidentura had been totally cut out of the operation—no need for additional, local colleagues shouldering up to the trough. He reread her message—clipped, balanced, modest. Zyuganov squirmed in his seat, his envy overlaid by annoyance that built into a gnashing anger, fueled by fearful self-interest.

Her Jamshidi approach up to this point had been a precise operation, and she managed it with relentless thoroughness in a short time. Damn it, thought Zyuganov. Egorova had researched the target, conducted surveillance in Austria and France to determine his patterns, and then meticulously concocted a classic polovaya zapadnya, honey trap, using a primal, leggy Slav as a nectar bribe to lure the goateed physicist into the snap trap of a chintz-upholstered Viennese love nest that kept his khuy in a perpetual state of leaky anticipation. Invaginirovatsya. Jamshidi had been turned inside out. And tonight she had stage-managed the Paris pitch—playing the hooker, naturally. Zyuganov calculated: Egorova was returning to Moscow from Paris tomorrow. His crawly mind raced as he searched through papers on his desk to find the name of her hotel—Paris can be a dangerous city. A very dangerous city. Zyuganov picked up the phone.

The cats had deserted her. Three thirty in the morning and a bird was trilling in a tree along Rue de Turenne as Dominika turned into the dimly lit Rue de Jarente. There was a single lamp burning over the door of the Jeanne d’Arc; she’d have to buzz the night porter to get in. She was nearly to the entrance when she heard footsteps coming from across the narrow street, from behind the parked cars on the right curb. Dominika turned toward the sound while leaning on the night-bell button with her shoulder blade.

A man was approaching—a large man with black, shoulder-length Fabio hair and a leather coat. From her left, a second man rounded the corner of a side street and walked toward her. He was shorter but thicker, balding, and wore a padded vest over a work shirt. She saw a wiggly leather sap in his right hand. They both looked at Dominika with dull, wet-lipped relish. Not professionals, she thought, not from any intel service. These were gonzo bullyboys high on absinthe and blunts. Dominika leaned on the bell again, but there was no response from inside the hotel, no lights, nothing stirring, and she backed smoothly away from the entrance, hugging the wall, her red-soled Louboutins rasping on the pavement. She kept facing the two men, who had now converged and were walking shoulder to shoulder. She backed into another side street, Rue Caron, which opened onto tiny Place Sainte-Catherine—cobblestoned, tree-lined, stacked café tables darkly sleeping. Two fights in one night: You’re pushing your luck, she thought.

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