Home > Palace of Treason (Dominika Egorova & Nathaniel Nash #2)(9)

Palace of Treason (Dominika Egorova & Nathaniel Nash #2)(9)
Author: Jason Matthews


“You can depend on my discretion, Mr. President,” said Dominika, returning his unblinking stare. He cultivated the image of a clairvoyant, the inescapable reader of men’s minds and hearts. Could he see into her soul?

“I look forward to excellent and speedy results in the matter of the Iranian scientist,” said Putin. “The Paris operation was satisfactory, the debriefing next week will be critical. I want regular progress reports from you.” Obviously he already had been briefed. Zyuganov. You swivel-eyed dwarf, Dominika thought. Did you also tell Putin how I got this black eye? Putin’s stare never left her face. “Of course, you will work under the guidance of the director and Colonel Zyuganov,” he said. His meaning was clear: He was ordering Dominika to work within the hierarchy of the Service, but also expected her to report directly to him, a vintage Soviet tactic to drive wedges between and place informers among ambitious subordinates. The cerulean cloud above his head blazed in the sunlit room.

CIA’s beautiful mole inside the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service nodded, counting the pulses pounding in her breast. “Of course, Mr. President,” she said. “I will keep you informed of everything I do.”

KREMLIN MUSHROOM APPETIZER

Aggressively sauté thinly sliced mushrooms in oil until brown around the edges. Add greens (spinach, chard, or kale) and capers, and cook until wilted. Season, then stir in mustard and vinegar and let thicken, spooning sauce over mushrooms and greens. Serve lukewarm or cold.

 

 

3

 

 

The endless buzz of Athens traffic on Vasilissis Sofias Boulevard was audible through the grimy windows of the CIA Station, windows that had been shuttered and curtained since the bureaucrats cut the ribbon on the chancery in 1961. Athens Station, a warren of interconnecting offices, hallways, and closets, had not been repainted since then: An Electrolux canister vacuum from the 1960s lay forgotten in the back of a coat closet beside a 1970 Martin flattop guitar with no strings that generations of officers assumed had a concealment cavity for bringing documents across borders, but no one could remember how to open it.

Deputy Chief of Station Marty Gable walked into CIA case officer Nate Nash’s small office. Nate had half a tiropita, a triangular cheese pie, on his desk that he had bought on the street for breakfast, and he brushed the flaky crust off his pants as he stood up. Gable reached over him and took the last half of the pie, popped it into his mouth, and chewed, while looking around Nate’s new office. Gable swallowed, picked up a framed snapshot of Nate’s family, and held it to the light. “This your folks?” Nate nodded. Gable put the photo down. “Handsome looking bunch. You’re adopted then, or what, forceps delivery?”

“It’s great being in your Station again, Marty,” said Nate. He respected the stocky Gable, maybe was even fond of him, but he wasn’t about to say that out loud. Nate had started his third tour two months ago in the bustling anthill that was Athens Station, happily again under the sponsorship of urbane Chief of Station Tom Forsyth and his cynical, profane deputy.

The three of them had been an effective team, having run several world-class operations over the last years. In Moscow during his first tour, Nate had handled MARBLE, CIA’s best clandestine agent in Russia, until the general was shot during the spy swap they had arranged to rescue him. During his second tour in Helsinki, Nate had recruited young SVR officer Dominika Egorova—code-named DIVA—and together with Forsyth and Gable had engineered her return to Moscow as CIA’s next generation mole in the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service.

The loss of MARBLE to the Kremlin’s treachery had affected them all, but Nate most of all had changed since that evening when he cradled MARBLE’s head in his lap, watching his agent’s blood ooze over asphalt wet with the Estonian fog, shimmering in the reflected light of the spotlights. He normally was nervous and earnest and ambitious. But Nate now had become darker, focused, less concerned about managing his career, about detractors and competitors.

“Fuck ‘It’s great being in your Station again, Marty,’ ” said Gable. “We got a walk-in downstairs; Marine Guard just called. Let’s move.”

As he bounded down the stairs beside Gable, Nate’s brain geared up. A walk-in, an unknown person off the street. Go. The clock started the minute the walk-in arrived. The marines in the embassy foyer would have checked him for weapons, taken any packages from him, and buttoned him up in the walk-in room, a windowless, tech-filled interview suite with video, audio, and digital transmission equipment.

Go. A walk-in, could be anything: A madman with aluminum foil inside his hat to ward off alien radio beams, an undocumented exile pleading for a US visa, an information peddler who that morning had memorized a newspaper article and hoped to serve it up as secrets worth a few hundred dollars.

Go. Alternatively, a walk-in could be a bona fide volunteer—foreign intel officer, diplomat, scientist—with colossal intelligence that he was willing to pass to the Americans for money, or because of a crisis of ideology, or to exact revenge against a tyrant of a boss, or to spite a system in which he no longer believed.

Go. A good volunteer is a free recruitment, access established, intel ready to harvest. Volunteers over the years were the best cases, the ones they carved in stone.

Go, go, go. Find out who he is, do a lightning assessment, flip him, arrange recontact, and get him out of the embassy as soon as possible. If he’s Russian, North Korean, or Chinese, he’s on a clock, his embassy counterintelligence watchdogs will note how long he’s unaccounted for. Thirty minutes tops.

On the embassy ground floor, Gable nodded to the marine standing outside the door and they pushed their way inside the room. The fish sauce smell of vomit hit them in the face. Sitting in a plastic chair at the small desk was an old bum, his rumpled suit coat wet down the front with puke, trousers spotted and dusty. He probably was in his sixties, with gray stubble on his cheeks, eyes red and rheumy. He looked up as the two CIA officers came into the room.

“Christ,” said Gable. “Like we have time for this crap. Get him out of here.” Gable gestured toward the door, signaling for Nate to call the marine. They’d walk the old drunk to the basement garage and ease him out via the loading dock. Stop the clock. False alarm.

Nate quickly assessed the man. He didn’t look like an old Greek coot: hands strong and nails trimmed. Shoes muddy but expensive. Disheveled hair cut short at the ears. He sat straighter when they entered the room, not like a drunk. A little wind chime tinkled in his brain. “Marty, wait a minute,” said Nate. He sat in the chair beside the old man, tried to breathe through his mouth to avoid the cat urine smell of him.

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