Authors: Olen Steinhauer
Tags: #Fiction, #Mystery & Detective, #General, #Thrillers, #Espionage
ALSO BY OLEN STEINHAUER
36 Yalta Boulevard
The Bridge of Sighs
This is a work of fiction. All of the characters, organizations, and events portrayed in this novel are either products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously.
THE NEAREST EXIT
. Copyright © 2010 by Third State, Inc. All rights reserved. Printed in the United States of America. For information, address St. Martin’s Press, 175 Fifth Avenue, New York, N.Y. 10010.
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
The nearest exit / Olen Steinhauer.—1st ed.
1. United States. Central Intelligence Agency—Officials and employees—Fiction. 2. Undercover operations—Fiction. I. Title.
First Edition: May 2010
10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1
There are three emergency exits on this aircraft. Take a few moments now to locate the closest one. Please note that, in some cases, the nearest exit may be behind you.
of HENRY GRAY
MONDAY, AUGUST 6
TO TUESDAY, DECEMBER 11, 2007
When DJ Jazzy-G hit the intro to “Just like Heaven,” that Cure anthem of his youth, Henry Gray achieved a moment of complete expat euphoria. Was this his first? He’d felt shades of it other times during his decade in Hungary, but only at that moment—a little after two in the morning, dancing at the ChaChaCha’s outdoor club on Margit Island, feeling Zsuzsa’s lips stroke his sweat-damp earlobe . . . only then did he feel the full brunt and stupid luck of his beautiful life overseas.
Eighties night at the ChaChaCha. Jazzy-G was reading his mind. Zsuzsa was consuming his tongue.
Despite the frustrations and disappointments of life in this capital of Central Europe, in Zsuzsanna Papp’s arms he felt a momentary love for the city, and the kerts—the beer gardens that Hungarians opened up once they’d survived their long, dark winters. Here, they shed their clothes and drank and danced and worked through the stages of foreplay, and made even an outsider like Henry feel as if he could belong.
Still, not even all this sensual good fortune was enough to bestow upon Henry Gray such intense joy. It was the story, the one he’d received via the unpredictable Hungarian postal service twelve hours before. The biggest story of his young professional life.
His career as a journalist thus far had rested on the story of the
Taszár Air Base, where the U.S. Army secretly trained the Free Iraqi Forces in the Hungarian countryside as that unending war was just beginning. That had been four years ago, and in the meantime Henry Gray’s career had floundered. He’d missed the boat on the CIA’s secret interrogation centers in Romania and Slovakia. He’d wasted six months on the ethnic unrest along the Serbian-Hungarian border, which he couldn’t give away to U.S. papers. Then last year, when the
was exposing the CIA’s use of Taliban prisoners to harvest Afghan opium that it sold to Europe—during that time, Henry Gray had been mired in another of his black periods, where he’d wake up stinking of vodka and Unicum, with a week missing from his memory.
Now, though, the Hungarian post had brought him salvation, something that no newspaper could ignore. Sent by a Manhattan law firm with the unlikely name of Berg & DeBurgh, it had been written by one of its clients, Thomas L. Grainger, former employee of the Central Intelligence Agency. The letter was a new beginning for Henry Gray.
As if to prove this, Zsuzsa, who had been standoffish for so long, had finally caved to his affections after he read out the letter and described what it meant for his career. She—a journalist herself—had promised her help, and between kisses said they’d be like Woodward and Bernstein, and he had said of course they would.
Had greed finally bent her will? In this moment, the one that would last a few more hours at least, it really didn’t matter.
“Do you love me?” she whispered.
He took her warm face in his hands. “What do you think?”
She laughed. “I think you do love me.”
“I’ve always liked you, Henry. I might even love you someday.”
At first, Henry hadn’t recalled the name Thomas Grainger, but on his second read it had dawned on him—they had met once before, four years ago when Gray was following leads on the Taszár story. A car had pulled up beside him on Andrássy utca, the rear window sliding down, and an old man asked to speak to him. Over coffee, Thomas Grainger used a mixture of patriotism and bald threats to
get Gray to wait another week before filing the story. Gray refused, then returned home to a demolished apartment.
July 11, 2007
You’re probably surprised to receive a letter from someone who, in the past, has butted heads with you concerning your journalistic work. Rest assured that I’m not writing to apologize for my behavior—I still feel your articles on Taszár were supremely irresponsible and could have harmed the war effort, such as it is. That they didn’t harm it is a testament to either my ability to slow their publication or the inconsequence of your newspaper; you can be the judge.