Read The Skorpion Directive Online

Authors: David Stone

Tags: #Fiction, #Thrillers, #General

The Skorpion Directive (6 page)

BOOK: The Skorpion Directive
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Her flat was spare but stylish—creamy white walls and a red oak hardwood floor, a large living room, with some very fine pieces of richly carved mahogany that looked expensive and old.
Inherited from her family
, thought Dalton as he waited in the hallway while Veronika punched in a code on her security alarm. If she was entering a HELP code, he’d find out soon enough. There was a wall of windows framed by cream-colored sheers, a narrow stone-walled balcony visible through the drapes, and above one of the brocaded couches was a row of very strong and quite shameless female nudes in black-and-white, spotlit by a row of tiny halogens in a ceiling bar. They were of Veronika herself, he realized, feeling a ripple of blood heat in his chest and throat.
She was full bodied, well toned, and the poses, although charged with erotic power, were restrained and graceful. The effect was elegant and sensual. He wondered who had taken them. A lover maybe?
Beyond the living area there was a large antique dining-room table, covered with camera gear, and beside it a laptop computer, open and glowing. A tiny galley kitchen, simple, white, with a few more photos over a red aluminum breakfast table.
On the other side of the living room, through an open doorway, an oversized mahogany four-poster with a plush indigo silk comforter on it took up most of a tiny navy blue room with gilt crown molding, the space softly lit in deep amber by an Art Nouveau bedside lamp. The flat smelled of a spicy perfume—sandalwood?—and cigarettes and black coffee. He felt another wave of weariness come over him, closing his eyes for a moment. He may actually have fallen asleep where he stood. When he opened his eyes again, Veronika had changed out of her street clothes and was standing in front of him, barefoot, in faded jeans and a scarlet V-neck sweater. Her expression was direct, penetrating, as if she were marking him down for her memory book.
“You’re dead on your feet. How long since you have slept?”
“Too long.”
“What were you doing? ‘Fixing’ another problem?”
“No. I was in Bonn, babysitting a suicidal agent. He talked at me for three days and nights and made me drink something called Cherry Heering.”
“Oh God. Cherry-flavored cough syrup. Poor thing. Go into the bathroom—it’s through the bedroom—and splash some cold water on your face. Have a shower, if you like. There are towels in the cabinet under the sink. I will make some coffee. How do you like it?”
“Black. Strong and black,” he said, heading for the bathroom. When he came back out, showered, shaved—he’d taken liberties with her razor—back in his clothes and feeling much more human, the dimly lit flat was filled with the rich scent of coffee brewing. Veronika was sitting at the dining-room table, staring down at her computer screen, frowning slightly as she ran her cursor through some pages of text. She lifted her hand, waved her fingers at him.
“There are cups on the shelf over the sink. Can you pour me one too? And may I have another one of your silly cigarettes?”
Dalton brought her a cup, pulled up a chair beside her, fishing out his Sobranies and offering her the open box. She studied them as if they were a selection of Viennese chocolates, the side of her face filled with a glow from the monitor. Her hair fell down around her face in a cascade of auburn light.
“You’re not at all like an American,” she said, taking a turquoise one and turning it in her fingertips. Dalton’s heart sank a little, and he braced himself for one of those tedious lectures traveling Americans were always getting on the Evil Empire.
“No? Tell me, Veronika, what’s an American like?”
She looked up at him sharply, her topaz eyes widening.
“Oh no! No you don’t! Not from me. No bigoted lectures on the Ugly Americans from a Miklas. Remember? I wrote a treatise on the Anschluss. I know very well what happened to the Jews of Vienna when the Germans came. They took everything they could carry and they raped and shot and burned what they could not carry. Hitler hated Vienna because he was such a miserable failure here between the wars. So he got even with the Viennese. Then the Allies came, and Austria was divided into four—like Berlin—and they gave Vienna to the goddamned Russians, who were no better than the Nazis. So my family fled to Salzburg, which was in the American Zone, and the Amis were kind to us, and we were safe there. And after the war the only things the Americans left behind were a lot of babies and their young men dead in graves all over Europe. My family came back to Vienna after the Soviets got out. And now the Soviets are crawling in again, like roaches.”
“The KGB?”
“Yes. Only now they’re the FSB. Same brutes under a different hat. They say they are here to help us with the Chechens, but they do much more than that. We—the Overwatch—we have to work with them sometimes. They put their hairy hands on the younger girls. And that worm Jägermeier, he does
She stopped abruptly and took a puff of her cigarette.
“Anyway, you will not hear me say anything about Americans. I only meant that, like me, you smoke too much, and I think you drink too much. You are a young man, but your eyes are old. And we are always hearing that you Americans are so obsessed with your health and staying fit and eating right because you want to love—I mean
—you want to
She shrugged, smiled at him. Not far from him now, close enough for him to catch her scent and feel her breathing on his cheek. A little sadness of her own showing around the edges of her lips and in her eyes. Then she pulled away, seeming to shake herself out of a drifting dream.
“Well, yes . . . Anyway, the
“Yes,” he said, making his own effort to pull himself together.
She swiveled in the chair, tapping the screen of the laptop.
“See this? This is sort of our work order for your surveillance. It’s in German. But these numbers here, in the upper left corner . . . ?”
Dalton looked, saw a series of letters and numbers:
UDamt4-OSE-fall: auswärtig: 53W87923>KS:NF:VERWANDTSCHAFT
“Most of this is pretty simple. The first letters stand for us,
. I belong to ‘amt’ 4, office number 4. You know what OSE stands for, and ‘fall’ means ‘case.’ Now, this part is something you hardly ever see.
means ‘foreign.’ I have no idea why that’s in here. The numbers and letters refer to the region we’ll be working in. ‘Fifty-three W’ means central Wein, Vienna—specifically, the Ring District—and then the file is ‘87923.’ That’s how we bill it to whoever it is we’re contracted out to. We work more or less on assignment, sometimes for the national police, sometimes the Army, even for the tax people. The OSE rents us out, in a way, so we don’t always know why we’re following the target, you see. Now, this part . . . The little arrowhead, means a cooperating agency that helped us locate you. ‘KS’ means the ‘Cousins.’ That’s Interpol. ‘NF’ stands for ‘Nenia Faschi,’ my über-boss. She runs amt 4, and her initials indicate that she is the supervising officer for this file. This is the part I don’t get.
It means ‘related.’ Like a family.”
“You’ve never seen it before?”
“No. I was going to run a search on it in the
the OSE department-code registry, but I’m afraid if I do that—”
“Your bosses will know, and you’ll have to explain why you were doing it in the middle of the night. So don’t do it. Can you print this page out?”
“Yes,” she said, punching a button on the keyboard. A printer on a chair beside her began to zip out a single-spaced sheet. When it was done, she handed it to Dalton, and he considered the word:
? You’ve
seen this reference before? Could it mean something like a related agency? Don’t you call Interpol the Cousins?”
Veronika shook her head, watching his face.
“That’s an in-house term. We’d never use that in an official record. We always use the Agency’s official designation—mainly to protect ourselves if whoever they are decide they want to deny using us.”
Dalton shook his head, trying to clear it. His mind was clouded, and he was having trouble seeing the screen.
She sat back in the chair, reached out and closed the lid down on the laptop.
“Micah, look at you. You can hardly sit up.”
He looked up at her. With the laptop closed, her face was lit only by the amber glow from the lamp.
“I can’t seem to think straight. Maybe some more coffee.”
“Then you will be wide awake and stupid. Then what?”
He sat up straighter, looked around the room as if were surprised to find himself here.
“Look, I really have to go. Your boss finds out I was here—”
He stood up, looked down at her, weaving slightly.
“And where will you go?”
“Remember? I left a car at the Westbahnhof train station.”
“The trolleys are shut down. You will walk five kilometers?”
“Okay. I’ll find a local pensione.”
She stood up, faced him.
“No. You will sleep here,” she said, her tone final.
He looked over, a little longingly, at the big brocaded couch under the row of black-and-white nudes.
“Just a couple of hours? If you have a blanket.”
She reached up and touched the bullet scar on his right cheekbone with her fingertip, traced a line down to the corner of his mouth, ran her hand around his neck and pulled him close enough to breathe him in, to smell her own shampoo in his damp hair.
“Are you scarred
, Micah?” she asked softly.
“Yes,” he said, with a slight smile. “I’ve been told I look like a battle map of Antietam.”
“You are horrible to look at, then, if you are naked?”
“Yes. Hideous.”
She kissed him very lightly on the corner of his mouth.
“Then we will turn off the lights.”
waking abruptly, stared up into the blackness above him, his heart pounding in his chest. Beside him Veronika was deep in sleep, one arm on his chest, her hand resting on his pectoral muscle, her cheek on his shoulder, her body pressed up against him, her left leg lying across his belly. In the east, on the far side of the Danube, the sky was showing a faint milky light, but in the city it was fully dark. Vienna was—here in the northern suburbs anyway—as black and silent as a crypt.
Dalton lay there in the night, his eyes open, feeling her slow, steady breathing and the frantic hammering of his heart in his chest. He looked at the window, where heavy silk drapes kept the room in darkness. A warm yellow light, almost too faint to register on his retinas, was showing around the edges of the drapes, the glow from the streetlamp just outside her window, which was why she had such heavy drapes in the first place. The interior of the flat was black and utterly still. In a moment, he realized what had awakened him.
The refrigerator in her kitchen was old and tired. The compressor wheezed and rattled and rumbled and groaned when it wasn’t clicking off and on. But all that had stopped. He looked to his left, and saw that the moon-faced clock on the night table was dark. The power was out.
If the power had gone out, why was the streetlamp still on?
Of course. A separate system.
If the power had gone out, would her security box have switched over to battery power?
And, if it had, wouldn’t it be beeping?
He had a similar system in his hotel room in Venice, and it always beeped when the power was off. Another kind of system? A different setting on the same system?
Maybe not.
Get up and see.
He gently eased Veronika’s arm off his chest. She stirred, said something in German he could not understand, rolled over and burrowed into her pillow, went right back to sleep. He slipped out of the bed and stood in the room, his heart rate slowing as he forced himself to be still, to
The skin on his neck and along his shoulders was cold and crawling. The blackness seemed to press against his eyes. In his throat, an artery was throbbing. His personal sidearm, a SIG-Sauer P226, was in a locked compartment in the trunk of his Mercedes, and the Mercedes was in the Auto-Park at the Westbahnhof.
Veronika’s H&K pistol.
Where the hell had she put it?
He had no idea. An unforgivable lapse of tradecraft, and being dead-bone tired was no excuse. Maybe it was in her night table.
He pulled on his slacks, came around the end of the bed, keeping his left hand on the bedroom wall, his eyes slowly adjusting. The door to her bedroom was wide open, a blacker rectangle in the dark.
He was reaching for the night table when he heard a faint noise. It came from the living room and sounded like someone swallowing, someone with a dry throat. There was someone in the outer room.
He got the drawer open. No pistol.
He waited a moment, letting his eyes adjust, and then stepped soundlessly out into the dining area. Here, the light from the streetlamp cast a glow through the curtains.
There was a shape standing in the entrance hall, a large man in a sweater, jeans, gloved hands, with no face at all, just two narrow slits where his eyes should have been and two ovals where his nostrils gaped open, like the snout of a pig, and a slash of a mouth. A mask?
The man closed in, blindingly fast, a ripple of blurred motion as he rushed at Dalton, and he went into the air—literally—and aimed a vicious kick-boxing strike at Dalton’s head.
Dalton blocked the blow, staggering under the force of it, and caught the man’s leg by the ankle, shifting his weight to deliver a blade kick to the man’s exposed groin. And once again the man seemed to turn to smoke and water, literally spinning in midair, a blurring motion in the half-light. There was a blur to Dalton’s left, and something rock hard struck the side of Dalton’s head. He reeled back, half stunned, his vision blurring. But instead of closing in for the kill, the man dropped into a crouch and backed farther away into the living area, his eye slits fixed on Dalton’s face.
BOOK: The Skorpion Directive
3.04Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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