Prague, Czechoslovak Socialist Republic
March 1, 1970
The waitress dropped off a coffee, but Dom left it untouched, just let it steam in the cool air of the cafe. He kept his eye on the door. He didn’t know this place. His contact had suggested it, told him it was out of the way. And charming, like he’d care about that sort of thing. He pulled a cigar out of his coat pocket and ran it under his nose, then stuck it in his mouth without lighting it. His contact wouldn’t want the scent of cigar smoke seeping into her clothes.
A clock on the far wall started to chime the hour, and as if she’d been waiting outside for the sound, his contact breezed through the door. She threw off sunlight like a diamond. She barely seemed to look at him as she glided across the room, slipping her sunglasses off with one hand. He leaned back in his chair, braced the cigar between his teeth.
“Hello, Zerena,” he said.
“Dominic.” She sank into her chair and gestured at the waitress, who darted over, notepad in hand. Zerena ordered a coffee—black, the same as his.
“How are you enjoying our lovely city?” she said. “Have you visited the Charles Bridge yet?”
“Haven’t exactly had the time.” He grinned at her around his cigar. She shook her head in fake disgust.
“I don’t know how you can stand those things.”
“Hey, at least I didn’t light it.”
“I’m sure everyone here thanks you for it.” Zerena stirred her coffee once and took a sip. She gazed at him over the lip, her eyes gleaming. Dom still hadn’t touched his own cup. He wasn’t planning on staying long. Although he had to admit, he was enjoying the small talk.
Zerena set her cup down. “Really, though, it would be such a shame if you were to miss the Charles Bridge. How many Westerners are able to see such a thing, these days?”
“I’m not here as a tourist.” Dom set his cigar on one of the table’s napkins. “As you well know.”
“That I do.” Her demeanor changed; she hardened, and Dom saw it happen, the glossy facade falling away. Here was the Zerena who had sent word to him through the usual channels: I must speak with you immediately. He’d never seen her before that party during his first days in Prague, and yet she was already proving herself a useful ally.
“I spoke to our mutual acquaintance last night,” Zerena said. “And I learned something I think you’ll want to hear.”
He leaned forward, shoving the coffee out of the way.
Zerena’s mouth curled into a sly smile. “I think you know.”
Dom didn’t say anything. He did know. Sasha Komyetski. Not a true acquaintance, of course, but rather someone he—and the CIA—was interested in keeping tabs on. And Zerena was the perfect bridge between Dominic Alvarez and the KGB Chief of Station. A contact with whom he could be seen speaking without raising too many questions.
“I’d heard whispers,” Zerena said, “and confirmed it with him as soon as I could. His office knows you have the scientist.”
Dom’s heart jolted.
“And not only that, but his office knows where that scientist is staying, where your people have him tucked away in safety.”
Dom picked up his cigar again. He fought the urge to light it up anyway, Zerena be damned.
“He’s sending one of his officers to this location tonight. I thought you should be made aware.”
“What time tonight?” Dom stared across the table at Zerena. “You’re gonna have to give me more than that to go on.”
She frowned. It turned the sharp angles of her face dangerous and cruel. “I don’t know, Dominic. He didn’t tell me. But you can still prepare.”
“This is a pretty flashy move, even for the KGB,” Dom said. “Sending an officer right to our front door.”
Zerena shrugged, her slim shoulders brushing the ends of her hair. “It’s what our mutual acquaintance wants. I simply thought I should warn you.”
“I thank you for it.” Dom bit down hard on the cigar. The pungent flavor of tobacco flooded over his tongue. He stood up. Zerena just watched him.
“I haven’t finished my coffee,” she said sweetly.
“You know I shouldn’t stick around.”
Her eyes glittered; she only smiled at him and then took a sip.
“I appreciate your help,” he said.
“Oh, I know.” She smoothed a hand down one side of her sleek, pale hair.
Dom nodded, satisfied. Then he turned and strode out of the cafe, into the bright morning.
Nadia banged on the apartment door, pounding out her frustrations with her fists. She knew it was risky, being here, risky and stupid and in its own way hypocritical. She hated having to come to this apartment—to seek out this man—for help. But she was desperate.
She knocked again, so hard that the cuts on her knuckles split open again and left little dots of blood on the apartment door. “Open up!” she shouted.
As if someone had been waiting for the cue, the door sprang open. Alestair peered down at her, looking as unruffled as always. Her anger flared at the sight of him, but she pressed it down—there were more important forces in the world than...