Prague, Czechoslovak Socialist Republic
January 26, 1970
“We shouldn’t be here,” Josh said. Gabe shouldered deeper into his overcoat, and did not agree out loud.
Prague Januaries ran bitter and deep. Chill wind whistled off the frozen Vltava down narrow medieval streets and over tile roofs. Earlier in Gabe’s career—in Indochina, in Cairo—crouching sunburned and sweating in some perforated awning’s excuse for shade, he’d dreamed of a post where they’d heard of winter. The world had turned since then.
Gabe glared at the dormitory across the road through the Moskvich’s tinted windshield, wishing they could run the engine, or at least the heater, or, hell, drink coffee. Why not wish for an American car, while he was at it? About all you could say for their mid-range Russian clunker was that it wouldn’t raise any eyebrows—which mattered for a stakeout. You never could tell who was watching: StB, KGB. He supposed he should add Agents of the Flame to that list now, too. In the parked Moskvich, Gabe and Josh were as unobtrusive as two CIA officers could be, in Prague’s university district after dark.
“You tailed the mark from her apartment,” Gabe said. “I saw her go inside. She’s there.”
“She is, all right,” Josh said. “Third floor, corner, by the window.”
Gabe checked through his monocular. Their target, Andula Zlata, stood backlit in the window, pale and scared. Behind her, a tall blond student knocked back a glass of vodka, and wound a scarf around his neck. Another girl wrestled with a thick winter coat. “Looks like they’re leaving. You’re sure they’ll go out the front door?”
“All the dorm exits lead to the street. But, Gabe, you know what I mean.” Tension edged Josh’s voice. “We shouldn’t be here watching her at all. Stakeouts on college girls, God. Frank still has a chip on his shoulder about our screwing up Drahomir’s recruitment. If you want to prove you’re not crazy, you’re doing a bad job.”
“I’m the one who screwed the Drahomir op,” Gabe said. “You did fine.”
“That’s not what he implied.”
Gabe risked a glance away from the window. Josh, in monochrome blue like an architect’s pencil drawing, sagged against the car door, his chin balanced on his tented fingers. His right hand smoothed out an imaginary wrinkle in his slacks.
“He lit into you?”
“Not in so many words. But it was clear I had disappointed him. I don’t like to disappoint people, Gabe. Especially not Frank. This girl better be important.”
“The KGB thinks she is. We’ve got nothing on her, no signs of interest, no significant political activity—but Morozova went from approach to pitch in twenty-four hours.”
“Must be nice to move that openly.”
“That’s a crazy pace even for them. This has to be big.”
“What’s she studying?”
“History?” Josh turned from the window, astonished. “Why would they be extracting a history student? Grooming one, sure, cultivating, but extraction?”
“Makes you curious, doesn’t it?”
The party emptied. Gabe timed the students’ progress against his resting pulse. Know the target, feel the target: sliding on her jacket, one hand steadying herself against the doorjamb, figure twenty people in that room all walking together. The stair, most likely, is halfway down the central hall, and the building’s about a football field long. Three flights of stairs. Another forty feet to the front door. The average human pace length’s about a yard, walking speed of around five miles an hour unburdened in flats, knock that back a third because they’re in a group and some are wearing heels . . .
“You ask me,” Josh said, “this whole thing’s a put-on. The handler doesn’t want this girl. She just wants to make us jump, waste our time, and boy did she.”
Gabe rolled his shoulders. Too tight—too long in this car. Too long sitting down, recently. “Worst-case scenario, fine, they make us jump, we waste a night’s sleep. We’ll get plenty of rest when we’re dead.”
“Hey, you want to stay up all night just to follow the Prague State University pep squad bar crawl, be my guest.”
And the front doors should open, Gabe thought—now.
Right on schedule. The students shuffled into wet drifting snow, huddled in jackets, flushed with booze and cold. Gabe found the girl: Andula Zlata. At the rear of the pack, eyes wide and liquid despite the cold, pale, afraid, hungry. And there, by her side, tall, angular, unafraid—Morozova.
“The handler is in play,” he said.
Tanya Morozova pulled her jacket close and took Andula’s—the objective’s—arm. She checked the street. A row of parked cars stood across the road, some windows tinted, others not. A man huddled inside a thick jacket at the corner past the bus stop, holding a folded newspaper. Waiting, but for whom? Rooftops clear, and windows. Might be a problem. Might not. Safer to assume the former.
Not so immediate a nuisance, though, as the big dumb blond comrade to her left. Marcel was walking a step too close for comfort, and stank of the vodka he’d...