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Authors: Jordan McCollum

Tags: #Romance, #Spy, #Espionage

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BOOK: Mr. Nice Spy
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I lick one fingertip and chalk up an imaginary point in her favor. Will, our chief, breezes by from Eric’s desk in time to make it clear he heard the whole thing. Fear tugs at my gut. How much of the “whole thing’ did he hear?

I suddenly remember the way Mack at CSIS eyed Will’s back across the room when Mack asked for my help after one of our weekly meetings. I knew then it was a risk. That might be part of the reason I signed on, despite the gamble: the idiotic adrenaline junkie in me couldn’t resist — and it never hurts to have someone like CSIS owe you a favor.

But when Will jumps in, he’s playing a role in the same flirting game. “You know, Talia, they only tease you when they like you.”

She scoffs. “Hold that call till he starts pulling my pigtails.”

Just being in the ring feels so good that I’ll let her take this round. Messing with Talia — and having her challenge me right back — is sometimes all that gets me through an op or a day.

Though there used to be someone else who had that same effect, banter or no. Shanna’s blue eyes flash through my mind, but not like I want to remember them. Like last night. Teary. Pleading.

I hit refresh on my email again. Nothing.

I turn back to the traces on my Lebanese scientist friend, as if I haven’t already memorized everything we know about him, from his curriculum vitae — professorships in Egypt and Bahrain — to his current vitamin regimen — E and B12. Talia’s been hard at work on one of his Russian-speaking colleagues from Turkmenistan, another professor visiting for the summer. She has that feminine advantage over me, especially since she’s also contacting him at the gym. It’s not like she’s seducing potential assets, but I bet it isn’t hard for Talia to at least get his attention.

“You got something?” Talia slices into my thoughts again, and I blink. I must’ve been staring at her, judging from the way she’s arching an eyebrow at me.

“Yep.” At least I’d better have something. I refresh my email one more time — and it bails me out. Two new messages: one from Angela, one from Shanna.

There’s no helping it: I click on Shanna’s first.

Not what I want to see.

 

I’m sorry, but I really need some time to sort through things. Anything you want to talk about will be there when I get back.

 

I page to the next email as quickly as I can, but it’s too late. Talia’s at my shoulder, and she’s trying a little too hard to look anywhere
but
my monitor. She’s seen it all.

What am I supposed to say? Shanna’s kidding? We’ll get through this? Right. I pick silence and focus on the other email, from Angela.

 

I’m sure you’re more up on this than I am, but should they know when we’re holding closed-door negotiations with our neighbors?

 

How would the Emiratis know that? I turn to Talia. “You think she means a state reception?”

“Yeah, closed door is diplomat-ese for black tie.”


Are
we having closed-door negotiations?”

Her instant look of skepticism says what we’re both thinking: if we are, it’s not like the embassy would clear it with us first. Kind of the point of the “closed-door” part, right?

I shoot off my reply to Angela:
Uh, no. Full transcript?

Working on it
, she returns a little too fast.
You sure this is off the record?

Honestly, we can’t be sure anything we email is safe from the prying eyes of the bureaucracy that’s infiltrated the CIA. But if we work fast, we might be able to build a case strong enough to satisfy them — or at least CSIS’s curiosity — before we get into anything too sketchy.

Maybe.

I realize I’m tapping one finger on my desk and stop myself. Nerves are weakness, and even if Talia’s the only one who’ll notice, that’s too much weakness for me to show. Especially when Talia’s expression betrays nothing.

But her words do: worry. “She’s good?”

“Yeah. Twice in the field.” Though neither of us can be sure how much access a Western woman might have in an Arabic-speaking country. Still, I think she knows her stuff. I hope.

But hanging over all that is a question bigger than
will Congress mind a little friendly spying?
or
is Angela up to the task?
It’s a question I don’t even want to think. And I don’t — until Talia puts a voice to it.

“Worst-case scenario,” she begins. “The Emiratis’ gossip has nothing to do with the Canadians, and everything to do with us.”

“What, the Emiratis are trying to invade America using their diplomatic mission?” Canada, the USA and the UAE are supposed to be friends. Talia’s theory makes no sense. Why would the Emiratis target us? What’s in it for them?

Then again, I don’t know why the Emiratis would go after the Canadians, either. But a healthy dose of paranoia is a staple in a not-dead spy’s daily diet. If Talia is right by some insane stroke, if there’s some reason they’re collecting information about the ambassador’s schedule, if they have someone on the inside — not good.

Talking about meeting schedules might not be that big a deal, as long as nobody tries to firebomb them. Engineering those schedules, influencing meetings, directing American foreign policy with the Emiratis in your back pocket? Big deal.

Big enough we’ll need that congressional oversight. Big enough to cause an international incident to put Canadian airport landing rights to shame. Big enough to warrant a whole lot of help.

“Do we talk?” I ask. Right now, even Will doesn’t know exactly what we’re doing with the Emiratis. Strictly speaking, he doesn’t know we’re doing anything with them. And the only person at Langley who has any idea we’re listening to Arabic in Ottawa still owes me a couple favors.

But if this is a worst-case scenario, the double cloak-and-dagger stuff could come back to bite us, either because we didn’t cover ourselves, or because we kept the wrong people in the dark. When nobody knows what you’re doing, nobody can help if it goes bad. Real bad.

Talia rubs at her mouth, then shrugs. “If I remember correctly, this whole thing was your idea. Which makes this your call.”

“Thank you, O Fount of Wisdom.”

She smirks and heads back to her desk, and I’m left refreshing my email again, hoping an answer will come. An answer I like better than Shanna’s, anyway.

The uncertainty with her is a cloud over me, too. A distraction I can’t afford. I’ve got a choice to make here — go out on a limb for our own country, going the Lone Ranger route, or call in backup.

Hi-ho, Silver
sounds appealing, and certainly has its Hollywood charm, but in reality, it’s the most dangerous choice. Even if Congress gets wind and freaks out, even if Canada officially flips over my “help,” even if the US is the bigger fish the UAE is after — if I go it alone, people could die. It’s happened before: innocent lives lost when their backup was feet away, all because somebody tried to be a hero.

Nobody’s dying on my watch.

But I can’t let this get too big, either.

I rock back in my desk chair, like I can read the tea-leaf patterns on the ceiling tiles to find an answer. The worry I heard in Talia’s voice earlier washes back into my stomach. Nobody — not Talia, not my email and not the ceiling — can come up with my response for me — to Angela, with the Emirati case, or for Shanna.

No point worrying about it before I get the transcript, right? I hit reload one more time, expecting nothing — and this time I don’t get it. Angela’s done.

“T,” I call. She’s there in a heartbeat, and I pull up the transcript. I try to keep my hand from rattling on the mouse and focus on the words, but my eyes keep skipping ahead in the message.

Until they hit on the most important words:
The Americans have a
private meeting with the Canadians tomorrow night
.

I reread the tags in the transcript — the ambassador’s wife said it. How could she know that? Sure, diplomats might casually mention their meetings to one another, but the point of “private” is
private
, right?

The gist of the rest has to do with landing rights — Emirati airlines want to be able to fly more frequently into Toronto, but Canada says no. The relationship has declined from there. I doubt the Emiratis are in danger of getting kicked out of the country yet, but at least the US is still on good terms with both of them. If anyone could work it out, it might be us.

Or we could make it worse. And if somebody in our embassy is passing out confidential diplomatic information like free samples at the Real Canadian Superstore, we’ve got bigger problems than a little air traffic skirmish.

“Now what?” Talia mutters.

Decision time. Do we call anyone else in? Do I protect myself or go out on a limb alone?

Talia leans a hip against my desk, her arms folded. The look on her face says exactly what I don’t want to hear:
Up to you, big guy.

Of course it is, because if it weren’t for me, Talia wouldn’t be working this case at all. But I need to ask more from her — I need her for this. If it’s the two of us, that’s enough. Enough to keep us out of trouble. Enough to keep us alive.

Then the idea sparks to life. Talia really is exactly what I need. I smile up at her. “You busy tonight?”

“I have a meeting at quarter to ten.”

I know that means an agent meeting, but I tease her anyway. “That’s way past business hours in Ottawa.”

“What do you have in mind?” Talia ignores the jab.

I can’t help my growing grin. “How about a little translation-free embassy eavesdropping?”

 

Intense recon takes up the rest of our afternoon and evening. Long after dark, Talia and I find ourselves somewhere I don’t think either of us ever imagined being: hidden in the trees outside the US Ambassador’s residence. Security here isn’t quite as tight as at the Embassy, but let’s just say I’ll never worry about the safety of Ambassador Rhodes, or the other dude he’s meeting with.

Based on what we’ve picked up, that dude is somebody high up at Transport Canada, their FAA. And his name is James. They’ve made it through dinner and moved on to drinks. Now even that seems to be winding down. Aside from chitchat about air traffic control at the border, I haven’t heard anything worth the effort of ducking their security sweeps every half-hour. Not to mention the scrapes from the rough tree bark.

This is about the time you begin to doubt your intel. If you haven’t given up already.

“Well, this has been great, but I can’t keep the wife up waiting all night,” James says. Not the cue I’d want to hear. On the other hand, one wasted night is easier to take in stride than an international debacle — or explaining why, exactly, we were using our listening devices on our own ambassador.

Why? The leak could be anybody — and I’m not exactly on Rhodes’s speed dial here.

But James is angling to be, it sounds like. Rhodes makes another joke with him. Clearly the meeting’s about over. I check my watch. Twenty minutes since security’s last pass, and we’re starting to cut it close for Talia to make an effective surveillance detection run and get to her next meeting. We need to go.

We lose our targets in the building for a minute, and I have to guess Rhodes is walking James out. The tree’s bark bites into my elbows.

“We done?” I whisper to Talia.

“Give it a minute. Sometimes what happens right after is even more crucial.”

She’s got a point, but we don’t have much time. Within seconds, the parabolic mic picks up footsteps inside. I don’t know the layout of the ambassador’s residence — I’m certainly not getting invited over for a nightcap — so I can’t tell where he’s headed, but he’s alone.

And then he isn’t alone. A second set of footsteps joins in. “Pete?” a new voice calls.

Marching almost in rhythm with the footsteps in my headphones, the security sweep team rounds the corner of the century-old mansion. That gives us less than five minutes before they hit our position. We can run or we can hide.

I start to pack in the parabolic, but Talia’s voice stops me. “Catch this.”

Easy for her to say. She can — and should — climb down to safety, leaving me literally out on a limb to catch whatever might or might not be important.

I’m leaning toward “might not.”

“Did you want that follow-up?” the new voice asks.

I change my mind. I check the security sweepers. They’re four minutes away. My pulse hits the gas. But Talia and I don’t both have to take the hit. “Get out,” I tell her.

“Worry about you.”

I know what she means. She can take care of herself. That doesn’t mean I want her putting herself in danger for me when she doesn’t have to. Spying on your own country is a fast track out of the CIA: do not put us on your résumé, do not pass go, do not collect your retirement dollars. I doubt the federal government sends pensions to prisoners.

I don’t hear Talia climbing down, but I hope that’s because I’m so focused on the tiniest hiss of static coming through my headphones.

Finally, the silence breaks. “What about?” Rhodes asks.

“The Emiratis.”

Those two words deliver my system a cold shock.

I couldn’t move from this tree if I tried. The security team is ninety seconds from our positions. I can almost hear their chatter over the radio silence from the residence.

BOOK: Mr. Nice Spy
4.26Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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