Prague, Czechoslovak Soviet Republic
May 1, 1970
Zerena knew what it was to be truly hungry.
Hunger lived in her body, not just in her stomach, but in every inch of her. She was hollow, and she yearned for anything that could fill her in. Sometimes, it was as simple as a hot meal—they were so hard to find in the devastation after the war, when her parents were half-dead and wholly wrung out as they scrambled between jobs that paid next to nothing. But other times, all she needed to sate her was a flattering word. Sometimes it took another person holding out their leash to her and letting her take control. Sometimes it came from a whispered word, a meaning long since lost, and yet that word could fill her up with a glorious light and turn her world into a kaleidoscope rather than dreary post-war grays and browns.
And with those words came power. Came the promise of more words, more mixtures, more poultices to be found. She followed the trail they left behind, their slow-drifting smoke winding through ancient streets, and there she found at last what she needed to be whole.
So it seemed for a time, at least. But hunger wasn’t done with her yet.
Terzian saw her hunger, though for too long Zerena didn’t want to believe he did. He knew just when to reel her back in when she’d had enough of his games. She’d tried to play him right back, but she was too young then to understand. She knew better now. She knew so much better than he could ever guess.
Frank woke up with a taste like metal thick in his mouth.
It was dark, but the kind of darkness that hinted at a distant light source somewhere; he could pick out hulking dark gray shapes and the thinnest stripe of light far to his left. But it wasn’t what he could see that concerned him as what he could hear and smell. Gasoline, its stench thick and thorny as it fumigated his throat with every breath.
The rumbling motor not five feet away, too, was not exactly reassuring.
Frank’s wrists stung where rough hemp was digging into them; his hands were bound around the pole at his back without any regard to comfort or circulation. Like he was back in Korea, a goddamned POW.
Cartwright. Of course he was too much of a bastard to just kill Frank outright. You have one operative go rogue during a Prague Station op, well, Langley starts asking questions. The station chief turns up dead during an investigation of said rogue operative—that’s a whole different bear to wrestle with. And if Cartwright really was in cahoots with Dominic Alvarez, or the Soviets, or both—Frank couldn’t even keep track of all the different strands of betrayal at this point—then a CIA station chief was worth more alive than dead to Cartwright and whoever the fuck else was in on this with him.
It made a certain sense—keep him detained while Cartwright figured out a plan, a story, some kind of explanation, one that kept Frank from talking without making him meet an all-too-suspicious demise. Not that that gave Frank a great deal of comfort as the motor rumbled menacingly; as the whir of a too-close idle engine sent exhaust across his face; as the looming shadow, barely visible now, of the metal blade aimed close to his chest warned him the dangers of trying to break free.
He peered at the hulking, rumbling object in front of him again. Could be a forklift, maybe. Seemed to fit what little he could tell about his surroundings. Soviet storage site? One of the countless Czech mobster warehouses that had been causing his operatives so much grief lately? Frank wrenched his back against the pole and started to shimmy upward, trying to get to his foot so he could see over the forklift, but—
A length of metal pulled tight around his ankle, and something on his chest began to glow.
“Well, shit,” Frank said, or he would have, if the searing heat of whatever was resting on his chest didn’t knock the air right out of his lungs.
“You shouldn’t make such a habit of meeting with KaGeBezniks, Mister Toms.” Nadia smiled wryly at him as he lit her cigarette. “You wouldn’t want your colleagues to get the wrong idea, after all.”
Josh snapped the lighter shut. “Really not here for a guilt trip.”
Nadia glanced around the dingy bar where she had led him to speak “privately” as she took a deep inhale off the unfiltered cigarette. Josh had a pretty good idea that she was noticing the same thing he was—that he was severely outnumbered in this bar, and not just because of his nationality. He burrowed a little deeper into the collar of the jacket he didn’t really need and tried not to meet the amused stares of more than a dozen Slavic women ranging from sinuous to Panzer-esque.
“Is it not your fault Pritchard and Drummond are in this mess to begin with?” Nadia asked. “Because you were concerned Pritchard was showing too much interest in Tanushka, no?”
Josh opened his mouth to deny it, but stopped himself. So much had happened since he’d taken his concerns to Chief Drummond—it felt...