Home > Palace of Treason (Dominika Egorova & Nathaniel Nash #2)(7)

Palace of Treason (Dominika Egorova & Nathaniel Nash #2)(7)
Author: Jason Matthews


With the extra room, the men rushed her, hands out to grab her arms, and as the sap came up Dominika touched off the lipstick gun in her bag, the metallic click of the electric primer muffled by the disintegrating satin clutch. Close range, point and shoot. There was a puff of goose down as the bullet hit the vest just above the shorter man’s right nipple and its metal dust core expanded inside his chest cavity at three times the rate of a copper slug, vaporizing the vena cava, right ventricle, right lung, and the upper lobe of his liver. He collapsed as if spined, and his chin made a tok as it hit the pavès of the square. The black sap on the cobbles looked like a dog turd.

A two-shot lipstick gun, she thought. Fabio was on her now, a head taller. A streetlamp lit up his red-rimmed eyes, and the air around his head was swimming yellow. As he reached to grab her, a not unpleasant scent of leather came off him. She gave him a wrist, which he took, and she trapped his hand and quickly stepped into him, leaning him back on his heels. Dominika hooked her calf slightly behind his leg and pushed with her shoulder, applying torque to his knee. He should have gone down and given her time to put the heel of her shoe into his eye socket, but he grabbed the plunging front of her dress and pulled her down with him, tearing the material and exposing the lacy cups of her bra. They hit hard together, and Fabio rolled Dominika over onto her back, the Louboutins flying off, and he was on top of her—she smelled his leather jacket and the stale-cake bloom of week-old shirt—and she was using her hands to try to reach something, eyes, temples, soft tissues, but there was a singing bang and her head rocked, and maybe she could take one, two of those punches, but not many more.

The weight was off and Fabio was standing over her; she covered up but he kicked her ribs once and was measuring the distance for a big-booted neck stomp when a blessed street cleaner holding a power nozzle connected to a little bug-nosed water truck with a merry revolving orange light entered the other end of the square and started hosing down the cobbles. Fabio kicked Dominika again in the ribs, a glancing blow, and ran. She lay on the ground for a second, feeling her ribs for damage, watching the sweeper truck wetting down the far end of the square. She turned her head and saw the body of the man she had shot, lying small and facedown in a pool of black blood. The sweepers would have some extra spraying to do, she thought. Now get out of here. Stifling a groan, Dominika rolled to her feet, gingerly retrieved her shoes and glasses, and limped around the corner to her hotel, holding the scraps of her dress together with her other hand. She was quite a sight: She’d tell the night porter she was through working conventions—the hell with fertilizer salesmen from Nantes.

She left the room lights off and went into the bathroom, peeled off her torn dress, and examined the bruises in the mirror—red now, the eggplant purple would come tomorrow. Her cheek ached. She put a cold cloth on her eye, then eased herself with a groan into a hot tub, thinking about the towering coincidence of being mugged in Paris, about the pitch to Jamshidi.

And about Zyuganov. Yadovityi, poisonous. One of only two men she had ever known who showed not color but black foils of evil. She guessed that he betrayed without conscience, and would in turn expect and watch for betrayal. She knew he would consider Putin’s heavy-lidded attention to her a serious threat, as if she were stalking him with a knife. And an operational triumph—such as recruiting Jamshidi—would be equally threatening to his standing. So if she failed, or if she was injured—say, mugged on the street—Zyuganov could take over management of the operation and personally carry the sensational intelligence reports to the fourth floor of Yasenevo and to the Kremlin.

It was the familiar, acid taste of double cross, the usual knife-across-the-throat treachery, and Dominika weighed her grim determination to fight them, to burn down the Service, to damage their lives. She considered reactivating contact with the CIA and Nate now, this very evening. Her assignment to Line KR and the Jamshidi case would potentially provide magnificent access, stupendous intelligence. They would marvel at her accomplishment in so short a time. She sank up to her neck in the hot water. She had six hours before her flight to Moscow.

It wasn’t her mother this time. Marte had been a classmate at Sparrow School—corn-silk blond hair, blue eyes, and delicate lips—who, driven mad by the salacious requirements of the school, had hanged herself in her dormitory room. Dominika had been very sorry at the time, then furious: Another soul consumed by the Kremlin furnace. Marte sat on the rim of the tub and trailed her fingertips in the bathwater. There’s time enough later for the Americans, said Marte; you have to go back now and put the noose around the neck of the Devil.

 

Dominika returned to Moscow on the morning Aeroflot flight from Paris sore and stiff, one raccoon eye throbbing. A car brought her to Yasenevo directly, and before she could report to Zyuganov, a waiting aide whisked her into the elevator and up to the executive fourth floor, past the portrait gallery of former directors, bushy-browed and wearing their medals on the lapels of their Savile Row suits, their rheumy eyes following the familiar figure of Dominika Egorova along the cream-carpeted hallway. Hello! You again. Have they caught you yet? the directors asked her as she passed. Take care, malyutka, be careful little one.

Pushing through the door of the director’s suite, then passing through the lush-carpeted reception area and into the office brought back a flood of memories, of when she had been manipulated by her uncle Vanya Egorov, then first deputy director of SVR. Dominika and her dear uncle had quite a history together: Vanya had used her as sexual bait in a political assassination, then recruited her into the Service, then packed her off to Sparrow School—Whore School—for professional instruction in the carnal arts. She knew his yellow halo of deceit and puffery all too well, and didn’t blink an eye when he was removed from the fourth floor, dismissed from the Service, pension forfeited.

Ancient history. Now as she entered the bright office, one wall of windows looking out onto the pine forest around the headquarters building, the doughy, distracted director rose from his desk, fussed, looked at his watch, and grunted at Dominika to follow him. To see the president. They rode down to the underground garage and into an immense black Mercedes redolent of leather and sandalwood cologne. They careered north through Moscow in the VIP counterflow lane, the emergency blue migalka flasher on the dashboard lighting up Dominika’s black eye, which the director occasionally glanced at with faint interest.

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