Prague, Czechoslovak Socialist Republic
February 14, 1970
Bar Vodnář was knee-deep in shadows and bad memories when Tanya walked in the door. But already there was a thin blue haze of cigarette smoke in the air, mingling with residual traces of beer, frankincense, angelica, and sage. The more exotic scents lingered from Jordan’s weekly purification ceremony, a ritual performed only when the bar was closed.
There were only four patrons so far: three Czech apparatchiks and Arnold Lytton, a former CIA officer who—on being put out to pasture—found himself compelled to stay, yearning to be let inside again, hoping against hope that he would be called back to duty. His was a common type in Tanya’s world, the human residue of long-forgotten struggles, addicted to a way of life that no longer had any use for him. She despised him for it. Not bothering to return his nod, she went to the bar and waited impatiently.
Jordan returned at last from setting votive candles on the tables, and slipped behind the bar. “Look at you—all dressed up and ready to party. Did the KGB finally issue you a sense of fun?” Tanya had noticed that Jordan always touched one particular brass bracelet with two fingers when she said things like that, and somehow nobody ever overheard them. So she had given up on trying to shush the woman, even though her words were criminally indiscreet.
Scowling, Tanya placed a box that had originally held Krasny Oktyabr chocolates on the bar before her.
“Are you trying to seduce me? Because, frankly, you’re not that—” Jordan’s hand lightly touched the box, then flew up like a startled bird. All trace of humor fled from her face. “Why are you bringing these here?”
“I need to hide them someplace safe for a week.” Or possibly forever, Tanya thought, though she refrained from saying that aloud. When Jordan remained silent, she added, “An inspection team is coming in from Moscow tomorrow. If these were found . . .”
“It’s no skin off my nose.”
But it was, of course, and Tanya knew that Jordan understood that very well. The bartender’s neutrality was only tenuously maintained, through a combination of her usefulness to both Fire and Ice and the amount of effort it would take to bring her down. If the existence of a secret war of magic being fought right under the noses of the intelligence community were to come out, Jordan would suffer as much as anyone. “You’re a perceptive woman,” Tanya said. “You must know how little I trust you . . . Just how serious does it have to be for me to ask this of you?”
For a long, still moment, Jordan said nothing. Tanya held her breath. In truth, she was not much afraid of Moscow Center’s inspectors. But Sasha terrified her. Her superior might very well invade her apartment again, and she could ill-afford the consequences should her gear be discovered. Either he would know what it was and what it was for, or he would want her to explain everything to him. She did not relish the confrontation either way.
Scowling, the bartender lifted the box. She kicked a step stool into position so she could reach the shelves above the cash register, and placed the box holding Tanya’s tools and weapons as high as possible, alongside a clutch of dusty but expensive-looking bottles.
Tanya felt her heart stutter at the sight of them so exposed. “Will they be safe there?”
“Have you never read Poe’s ‘The Purloined Letter’? Hide things in plain sight. If you’re staying, you’ll need to buy a drink.”
“I’m not staying. Thank you, Jordan. I owe you one.”
Jordan made a sour face and shrugged. “Why not? Everybody else does.”
At that moment, a tall man in a Panama hat breezed through the door. He doffed his greatcoat, revealing a linen suit as white as his hair and far more appropriate to the tropics than to a Prague winter. Obviously, he was new in town. A scar slashed across one cheek rendered his startling good looks all the more intriguing. “Martini,” he said in an American accent. “Dry, straight up, with an olive. Don’t stint on the gin.”
Choosing a booth by the wall, he removed his hat, tapped out a cigarette from a pack of Marlboros, and lit it with a Zippo lighter.
Tanya turned to leave. He couldn’t possibly be a spy—too damned gaudy. Then the newcomer cried, “Arnie!” and waved to the only retired CIA officer in the room. Lytton smiled and raised his glass in salute.
She had to find out who this guy was.
But not now. Tanya couldn’t linger. She had to show her face at the National Gallery for the opening of a show of old masters on loan from the Hermitage. It was simultaneously the dullest and most glamorous part of her job to attend such gatherings. Nothing interesting ever happened at them.
Deep in the National Gallery, deeper into the administrative recesses than any visitor had a right to be, Gabe was puking his guts out. Minutes earlier, he had been holding but, ironically enough, quite deliberately not drinking a flute of Georgian “...