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Authors: David Stone

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BOOK: The Skorpion Directive
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She struggled a moment longer—in her mind, all she could hear was a single word repeating:
Krokodil! Krokodil! Krokodil!—
but he was immensely strong, and she forced herself to be still.
Her moment would come, now or later.
“But you
are
hurting me, Mr. Dalton.”
Dalton held her a moment, doing a quick and only mildly indecent weapons check and finding a pager, a cell phone—both of which he turned off—and a small Heckler & Koch P7 in a leather holster tucked into the small of her back.
He pulled it free and stepped back, holding the weapon muzzle down, trying—and failing—to look as harmless as possible. Veronika Miklas straightened her clothes, her face a little pink, pushed her hair back with both hands, and stood facing him. The fear was there, but so was the iron. She stared at him in silence for a moment.
“The bloody damned lighter, I suppose?”
Dalton nodded, his face creasing in a commiserating smile.
“Yes. I was surprised they really were
your
initials.”
Miklas sighed, and a tremor ran through her body. When she reached up to touch the side of her cheek—she bruised easily—Dalton could see that her fingers were vibrating.
“A gift from my mother. Initials alone are not enough.”
“No. It was a place to start. It narrowed the range. I have access to an Agency database that lists all the civil servants in Austria, along with their parent agencies, except for the OSE. I searched for those initials in the tax lists for civil employees. Your name stood out—”
“Because of my great-grandfather?”
“Yes. A famous name. There’s a website, and your picture is there, as one of the authors of a paper about the Anschluss.”
Her face lost some of its hardness.
“A brave man, a terrible time for Austria. And so, here you are. What the hell do you want?”
Dalton looked around the street and then back at her.
“A few minutes of your time. Some answers.”
She shivered again but rode it down.
“Listen, Blondie. I am not going
anywhere
with you. And
you
are not coming inside with me. You may use my pistol if you wish, but here I stay. So just shoot me, and that is the end of it.”
“I understand that. And you’re right. Never let anybody move you or get you into a car or box you up in a flat. I wouldn’t either. The thing is, I have no intention of harming you in any way. Look, Miss Miklas, it’s not a bad night. It’s stopped raining. There’s a little park across the street, a little bench. Have a cigarette with me.”
She hesitated, and Dalton thought she might break and run, but she did not. Instead, she gave him a sardonic sideways smile.
“One of your
Regenbogen Zigaretten
?”
Dalton smiled back, fighting his strong desire to fall down where he stood and sleep for two days.
“Yes. My rainbow cigarettes. As many as you want.”
She gave it some thought.
Finally, the curiosity of the confident young woman won out over professional caution. On the other hand, if Dalton had been a squat toadlike homunculus, she’d have given him the back of her hand, thirty seconds of the Full Jägermeier, and, if the opening was offered, a quick knee to the nuptials.
“Okay. Sure. Why not?”
They walked across the deserted street, she some distance away and with her hands at her sides, he reflexively scanning the roofs and darkened windows, the overarching trees and the parked cars that lined the street.
They reached a wrought-iron bench, sheltered by a stand of oaks and lindens. She sat at one end and he as far away from her as he could manage at the other. In the uneasy silence he offered her a choice from his Sobranie Cocktails. She took a blue one. She lit it with the heavy silver lighter. And then, after staring down at it for a while and going inside herself, she leaned over to light his cigarette, studying his face in the glow of the flame.
“You have a scar on your right cheekbone. It looks like a dueling scar. It is recent. How did you get it?”
Dalton reached up, touched it briefly, seeing the muzzle flash in the shadow of the boat, hearing the sound of it bouncing off the old stone walls that loomed over the icy little canal in Venice.
“Shaving accident.”
She smiled then, retracting her claws a bit.
“Liar. Such a liar. They are calling you
Krokodil—
the crocodile—at the office. How can you smoke such silly little cigarettes if you are this terrible
Krokodil
?”
Dalton inhaled, leaning back into the bench, crossing one leg over the other. He was cold and missed his Zegna. He hoped Cesar’s niece was enjoying it, which of course she was.
“A good friend of mine used to smoke them. His name was Porter Naumann. He would have liked you. He admired steel.

Would
have liked me? He is dead?”
“Yes. He was killed in Cortona, almost a year ago.”
“A shaving accident?” she said, teasing him a little.
Dalton smiled, shook his head, said nothing, took another pull at his cigarette. So did she. And they sat there for a while in what was turning into a strangely companionable moment of calm and stillness.
The clouds had passed over hours ago. The Viennese night was calm and clear, the glow of the city touching the tops of the higher trees and the steeple of a little church a block north. Where they were was cool, quiet, sheltered.
“You are odd kind of spy,” she said finally, exhaling a cloud of smoke and watching it turning in a tiny shaft from the streetlamp, cutting through the leaves.
“I’m not really a spy,” he said, smiling into the dark. “At the Agency, they call people like us Cleaners. Basically, I’m a fixer. I don’t run any agents, don’t recruit. Let’s just say that when things go wrong on the operational side, I come in and try to fix them.”
She laughed at that—a short sharp bark and a puff of smoke.
“In your files they say that last year, in Montenegro, you ‘fixed’ a Serbian Mafia boss named Branco Gospic, after you also ‘fixed’ two Serbs who tried to mug you in Venice. Then last winter, again in Venice, you ‘fixed’ another Serbian mafioso named Mirko Belajic, along with four of his men, one of whom you are said to have killed by snapping his neck with your bare hands. I know these gangster Serbs. They are the most dangerous men in Eastern Europe. And then in Istanbul, not so long ago, you ‘fixed’ several KGB officers, and chased the rest of them all the way across the Black Sea to Kerch. That’s a lot of ‘fixing’ for one man.”
“You’re pretty well informed on the subject.”
“Yes. We have good relations with the British. You are known to them, especially in London. So you are just hired killer, then?”
Dalton stubbed out the cigarette on the arm of the bench and put the gold-tipped butt in the pocket of his trousers. He took out another—blue and gold. Veronika lit it for him, watching the glow of the flame reflected in his eyes, seeing the haggard look on his rough-cut face.
“No. I do what is needed. The OSE does the same.”
There was nothing to say to that.
This was Vienna, after all, and there was no city in Europe with a murkier history in the covert world.
“I know you want to get some rest, Miss Miklas—”
“You’ve had your hands all over me. I think you can call me Veronika. I will call you Micah.”
“Thank you, Veronika. I’m hoping you can help me with something.”
She turned and looked directly at him for a while, considering his gaunt face and his obvious exhaustion, feeling a conflict in her heart between official reserve and what she had to admit was a strong sensual pull. With his long blond hair, his pale blue eyes, his scarred and weathered Viking face, he appealed to the Old Norse in her blood. He radiated a blend of latent menace, weary intelligence, even a very dry sense of humor, but underneath that . . . sadness.
Perhaps even a deep grief.
She found that she wanted to know how he came to be the way he was. In spite of the apparent glamour of her work with the
Überwachungs-Dienst
, the pay was poor, her boss, as has been noted, was a nasty little
Schneckengewinde
, and the work itself was—she smiled to herself as she thought this—
literally
pedestrian.
Dalton, on the other hand . . .
interested
her.
“I think I know why you’re here. You want to know why we Austrians are putting the
Überwachungs-Dienst
on you.”
“Yes. That’s right.”
“When we look at your file, do you not think any country you visit would be crazy
not
to put surveillance on you?”
“Excellent point. Let’s debate that later.”
“No. We will debate it now, Micah, if you wish for my help.”
Dalton said nothing, which Veronika rightly took for assent.

My
question is, why do you care?”
“Why do I care? I’m under surveillance by a unit of a government that’s supposed to be strongly aligned with the U.S. Austria’s in NATO. We have reciprocal intelligence agreements—”
Veronika laughed and waved that away in a cloud of smoke.
“Hah. So go through channels. Register an official complaint. Write a strong note of protest to
The New York Times
. Instead, you come right at us, like a shark in shallow water. You are worried about something more than a protocol breach. What is it?”
Dalton pulled on his cigarette, exhaled in a sigh, let the question hang in the shaft of light along with the smoke. Veronika, who seemed to know something about Chinese silence, did not feel compelled to yield the game. Instead, she waited him out.
“Okay,” he said, resigning himself to it. “A friend—a professional—got in touch with me about a week ago. He said it was vital we meet. That he needed to talk face-to-face. This guy’s a pro. He doesn’t get the vapors. He doesn’t spook. If he needs a personal contact, he has to have a damned solid reason.”
“Okay. I guess you’re not going to tell me what you think the reason might be?”
“No. Not because I won’t. Because I haven’t a bloody clue.”
“Fine. That’s fair. But you assume his reasons are . . . serious?”
“With this guy, a better word would be
grave.

She worked that through.
“I see. So when you come up out of the subway and you find you are being watched—”
“In this business, paranoids tend to have a higher survival rate. If I were just here for a walkabout and a schnitzel, I’d have said okay, it’s a routine exercise. A CIA officer arrives in Vienna, he’s undeclared, he’s got a reputation for trouble, so the locals want to show the flag, teach him some manners. That’s fine. Every agency does that.”
“But you add in your . . . friend. With his
grave
reasons?”
He looked at her then, a brief sideways glance, but she felt the edge in it, the carefully calibrated aggression.
“Then it’s
personal
. You have to react immediately. No hesitation. You go straight back at them, find them, fix them, burn them down if you have to, you get inside their decision cycle . . .”
She nodded.
“Keep the opposition, whoever they are, off balance?”
“Yes. That’s how it works. That’s how it’s done.”
She fell into silence again. He could hear her breathing, and caught a scent of her perfume under the smoke.
“Yes. That is how it is.”
She lit a second cigarette, then held it, twirling it between her fingers. The little red glow at the tip left a fiery streak in the darkness as she moved the cigarette to her lips, inhaled, released it slowly.
“Yes. I see all this. So. It is not us who initiated the
Aufzug.

“You’re sure?”
She gave him a look. Half of it was sardonic. The rest of it had some body heat in it, which surprised him.
“Every file we open has . . .
Nomenklatur
.”
“A coded notation indicating the project history?”
“Yes.”
“And you have this code, this
Nomenklatur
?”
She inhaled the last of her blue Sobranie, stubbed it out beside her on the bench, and handed him the butt with a wry smile.
“Yes. I have it. It’s up in my flat.”
“Will you bring it down to me?”
She sighed, got to her feet, and looked down at him, the light of the streetlamp putting a golden aura around her hair.
“First, I’d like my pistol back. And the cell and the pager.”
Dalton hesitated, tugged the pistol out, the cell, her pager, handed them over to her. She hefted the H&K pistol and gave him a broad conspiratorial smile.
“You’ve unloaded it.”
Dalton smiled back at her.
“And your own pistol?”
“I’m not stupid enough to wander around Vienna with an illegal weapon. It’s back in my car.”
“And where is your car?”
“At the Westbahnhof, in the Auto-Park.”
“Okay. We will look at this file together.”
“Do I wait here?”
“No. This is not a business for out-of-doors. You will come up to my apartment. Maybe we will find out how dangerous you really are.”
CLASSIFIED UMBRA EYES DIAL
INTERNAL AUDIT COMMITTEE
File 92r: DALTON, MICAH
Service ID: REDACTED
 
 
Dalton’s encrypted BlackBerry, with its embedded Agency GPS Locator activated, was shut down at 12:29 a.m. local time. At shutdown, the GPS indicator was showing his location as 48/14/40 N and 16/21/37 E, the intersection of Eduard Ponzi Strasse and Barawitzkag, the location of the MIKLAS flat.
 
 
BDS reconstruction has Dalton entering the flat owned by MIKLAS, VERONIKA, at approximately 12:34 a.m. local time. The security service monitoring her home alarm system logged in her usual DISARM/REARM code entered into the control box within two minutes after the DOOR OPEN tone had been detected. MIKLAS, VERONIKA, also had a pager and a cell phone, her cell phone showing the identical LONGS and LATS. Both of these devices had been shut down twenty-five minutes earlier.
 
 
It is not yet known whether force was being used on MIKLAS, VERONIKA, to compel her cooperation. Her security service had supplied her with an ALERT code that could be punched in instead of her HOME code, at which time the local police would be notified. This
ALERT code was not entered, but the absence of compulsion or intimidation cannot be assumed. In view of DALTON’s history, this office asserts that compulsion was very likely present, although some subsequent events undermined this inference. PARTIAL/INTERIM/ report continues.
 
 
MARIAH VALE/OD/DD/EXECUTIVE SECRETARIAT
BOOK: The Skorpion Directive
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