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Authors: Paul Vidich

An Honorable Man

BOOK: An Honorable Man
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Praise for
An Honorable Man

An Honorable Man
is an unputdownable mole hunt written in terse, noirish prose, driving us inexorably forward. In George Mueller, Paul Vidich has created a perfectly stoic companion to guide us through the intrigues of the red-baiting fifties. And the story itself has the comforting feel of a classic of the genre, rediscovered in some dusty attic, a wonderful gift from the past.”

—Olen Steinhauer,
New York Times
bestselling author of
All the Old Knives

“Cold War spy fiction in the grand tradition—neatly plotted betrayals in that shadow world where no one can be trusted and agents are haunted by their own moral compromises.”

—Joseph Kanon,
New York Times
bestselling author of
Istanbul Passage
The Good German

“A richly atmospheric and emotionally complex . . . tale of spies versus spies in the Cold War. . . . Vidich writes with an economy of style that acclaimed espionage novelists might do well to emulate. This looks like the launch of a great career in spy fiction.”


“Paul Vidich's tense, muscular thriller delivers suspense and intelligence circa 1953: Korea, Stalin, the Cold War rage brilliantly, and the hall of mirrors confronting reluctant agent George Mueller reflects myriad questions: Just how personal is the political? Is the past ever past?
An Honorable Man
asks universal questions whose shadows linger even now. Paul Vidich's immensely assured debut, a requiem to a time, is intensely alive, dark, silken with facts, replete with promise.”

—Jayne Anne Phillips,
New York Times
bestselling author of
Quiet Dell
Machine Dreams

An Honorable Man
is that rare beast: a good, old-fashioned spy novel. But like the best of its kind, it understands that the genre is about something more: betrayal, paranoia, unease, and sacrifice. For a book about the Cold War, it left me with a warm, satisfied glow.”

—John Connolly, #1 Internationally Bestselling Author of
A Song of Shadows

“A cool, knowing, and quietly devastating thriller that vaults Paul Vidich into the ranks of such thinking-man's spy novelists as Joseph Kanon and Alan Furst. Like them, Vidich conjures not only a riveting mystery but a poignant cast of characters, a vibrant evocation of time and place, and a rich excavation of human paradox.”

—Stephen Schiff, writer and co-executive producer of
The Americans

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For Linda, with love


The noble Brutus

Hath told you Caesar was ambitious.

If it were so, it was a grievous fault,

And grievously hath Caesar answered it.

Here, under leave of Brutus and the rest—

For Brutus is an honorable man;

So are they all, all honorable men;

Come I to speak in Caesar's funeral.

Julius Caesar,
Act III Scene ii



at the apartment's third-floor window and said to the FBI agent, “It's been too long. He won't show.” He ground his cigarette into the overflowing ash tray. “We're wasting our time.”

“He'll come. He can't resist the bait.”

Mueller looked across the icy street at the dilapidated apartment building separated from the sidewalk by a wrought iron fence. Bars protected first-floor windows. There was no activity and there hadn't been since he'd arrived. A streetlamp at the corner cast its amber glow up the block, but it didn't reach the stoop. An unmarked car stood at Twelfth Street NE and Lincoln Park, and a black Buick was around the corner, in the alley, out of sight, but Mueller had seen it on his way over. Further up the block, an agent waited in the dimly lit phone booth, self-conscious with his newspaper.

“He's been scared off.”

“He has no reason to believe we're here.”

“He doesn't need a reason. It's instinct. Even an amateur would wonder why that man's been in the phone booth an hour. For you it's a job.” Mueller dropped the curtain. “It's his life. He knows.”

Mueller glanced at his watch. “When do you call it quits?”

“There's time. We spotted her making the drop at five. She's Chernov's wife. She went in the lobby with the package. She came out without it. He'll come.”

“You're sure it was her?” Mueller asked.

He waited for FBI agent Walker to respond. Mueller thought Walker flamboyant, enjoying his status as agent-in-charge, eager to hunt. He dressed the part: dark hair combed straight back, polished shoes, double-breasted suit, and thin moustache like a Hollywood leading man. Through the window street sounds spilled into the darkened apartment—a car's honk, a woman's anger. The agent raised opera glasses and scanned the street and then shifted his attention to the edge of Lincoln Park. Automobiles cruised single men sitting alone on wood benches. A giant mound of dirty snow from the weekend storm buried parked cars.

it was her,” Walker said in his drawl. “We have surveillance. Two cars. She left the Soviet embassy, took a taxi to the residence, and walked here with the package. It's still inside.”

Mueller waited. He looked at his watch again, and then without thinking, he did it again. Waiting was the hardest part. He moved to the center of the room. There was the rank smell of
cigarettes in the small apartment, half-drunk coffee cups, and the wilted remains of a take-out dinner. All waiting did was give him time to be irritated. He took a tennis ball from the table and squeezed it, working out his tension, squeezing and resqueezing. At another window he lifted the curtain. The street was dark, quiet, empty. Walker didn't understand that double agents lived in fear, chose their time, and that a cautious man wasn't going to take an unnecessary risk.

Lights in the building across the street were dark except for a top-floor apartment. A big woman at the window pulled her sweater over her head and then reached behind to undo her bra. Mueller looked then glanced away. A light on the second floor. Had someone entered the building lobby? Through the window an older man stood in boxer shorts before an open refrigerator. He drank milk straight from a quart bottle and then he shuffled off to the kitchen table and sat by a console radio. Mueller looked back at the top floor, but the curtain was drawn.

How long should he stay? Walker and his men wouldn't abandon the stakeout until long after it was an obvious bust. No one wanted to admit failure, or have to invent excuses. Mueller was officially just an observer.

He saw a young man with a notepad approach from across the room. Crew-cut, freckled face, no tie, boyish smile. Too young for this type of assignment.

“You the CIA guy?” the young man asked.

Mueller narrowed his brow. “Who are you?”

” He lifted the press badge hanging around his neck.

Mueller confronted Walker by the fire escape window. Two men standing inches apart in the darkened apartment. Mueller snapped, “What's he doing here?”

“He's okay.”

“We said no press. No surprises. No embarrassments.” He didn't hide his anger.

“I had no choice,” Walker said laconically.

Mueller gave the agent-in-charge a cold, hard glare and considered who in his chain of command had authorized a reporter. He held back what he wanted to say, that under the circumstances the best outcome for the CIA was that their man didn't take the bait, didn't show. “We had an understanding,” Mueller said. “This wasn't it.”

“He's a kid. He'll write what he's told to write.”

“What does he think is happening?”

“Vice squad got a lead on a State Department guy who cruises Lincoln Park. Security risk. We arrest him and book him. Metro Police give the kid the story. He'll write what he's given.”

Mueller headed to the apartment door.

“Where are you going?”

“A little fresh air.”

Walker raised his voice so that it carried to Mueller in the hall stairway. “He's okay.”

Outside, Mueller stood hidden from view on the top step of the building's stoop. He lit a cigarette. Habit. Then thought better of it and flicked it in the snow. His eyes settled on the empty street where he saw nothing to change his mind that the night was a bust. The Capitol Building fretted the tree line of the park,
a gleaming dome in the night, a navigation point above the neighborhood's sprawling poverty. In the distance Mueller heard the anxious wail of a police siren and then behind him, the soft click of the door closing. He saw Walker. They stood side by side without talking.

“I hear you're leaving the Agency,” Walker said.

“Who told you that?”

“One of the guys.”

Which guy?
Mueller nodded. “If we get him tonight I'll be gone by the end of the month.”

“What's next?”

“Fly-fishing.” A lie.

“That will last a while.”

Mueller didn't indulge Walker's sarcasm. He didn't like Walker, but he tolerated him, and he kept him close to keep himself safe. Walker was too ambitious for Mueller's taste, quick to take credit for success, quick to blame others for his own mistakes. Mueller didn't like Walker's having that detail of his personal life. He kept private matters away from his job, but the daily grind made that hard. Each morning he got up to face the endless urgency of ambitious colleagues inventing useful crises. Politics had taken over everything. He was tired of the double life, the daily mask, and he'd lost his ability to appear interested in a conversation when he was bored out of his mind. Walker bored him. But he knew Walker well enough not to trust him. Walker was a good weatherman of Washington's changing political winds and he was a good spy hunter.

Mueller's exhale came at last. “Where'd you get the tip?”

“The mailbox on East Capitol we've been watching. Someone left a chalk mark. This is the dead drop.”

“You know, or you think?”

“She left the lobby without the package. What else would it be?” Then, confidently, “He'll come.”

The two men stood in the dark. “I don't get it,” Walker said. “Great reputation, but your results stink. Vienna was a failure. So was Hungary. Last week you lost Leisz.” Walker paused. His breath fogged in the chilly night air. “Word is you guys got the news Stalin died by listening to Radio Moscow.” Walker flicked his butt to the snow. “Great reputation, but your results stink.”

“Piss off,” Mueller said. He thought about the damn fool Leisz. Ignored the rules after he'd been warned, thinking he wasn't at risk, then got sloppy and paid for it.

“Someone's coming.” A voice from the window above.

Mueller and Walker saw the young black woman at the same time. Blond wig, leopard-skin coat, stiletto heels, and a tiny rhinestone purse clutched in one hand. She had emerged from the tree line at Lincoln Park and glanced both ways before making a two-step hustle across the street. Mueller and Walker stepped back deeper into shadow.

When she achieved the opposite sidewalk she glanced over her shoulder. Mueller followed her line of sight to the streetlamp cleaving the darkness at the park's edge. From the trees stepped an army enlisted man. Mueller saw the drab sameness of style of someone who sought to fit in, go unnoticed. Long khaki coat, a visor cap pulled down on his forehead, and a steady stride that didn't bring attention to itself. She baited him with exaggerated
hip movements and a calculated head nod. The start of another war had kept Washington filled with single men, and with single men came dreary bars with women who sold themselves.

BOOK: An Honorable Man
13.51Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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