Today's Reading

(The copy in this email is used by permission, from an uncorrected advanced proof. In quoting from this book for reviews or any other purpose, it is essential that the final printed book be referred to, since the author may make changes on these proofs before the book goes to press. This book will be available in bookstores June 2024.)

Bucharest, Romania
April 1993

It was a night like any other night he had known in Bucharest, only more so. Three years after the revolution that was supposed to have brought relief to the millions of poor wretches, the city still resembled a celestial black hole rather than a European capital. Other than the central area of the city, the streets still stood in darkness, due partly to lack of fuel and partly to the broken bulbs and smashed lampposts that still awaited replacement or repair. Not much had changed in the past three years. Cousin Irina, the diva actress, had been right. It would take a generation.

So much for revolutions.

But this night the darkness acted as a friend to Bill Hefflin. Even though Romania now classified itself as a democracy and the streets no longer crawled with Securitate, former dictator Ceausescu's secret police, Bucharest had become a cauldron of foreign security forces, racketeers, thieves, and roaming gangs that vied for territory. He had been warned. Still, the days of Cold War espionage were over. Romania was now a U.S. ally, and Russia was beginning to shed its own communist history with the election of Boris Yeltsin.

The defector he was to meet was supposedly KGB, but this was no classic exfiltration. All Hefflin had to do was drive him to the American embassy, babysit him for a few hours, then place him on one of the American military airplanes, which the friendly Romanian government now allowed to land—and depart—on a regular basis. The Agency had asked him for this favor since he had already planned on returning to Bucharest—his first time back since the revolution—to check on his charitable organizations. They were run by his own teams of American personnel. He didn't trust the government to manage the money without their skimming off the top.

Why had he accepted this assignment? After all, he was no longer part of the Agency, not since he had become a billionaire overnight thanks to Boris's recovery of Ceausescu's offshore bank accounts. Boris, his KGB asset, his mentor, practically his second father. He was amused at how he considered Tanti Bobo, the old Romanian gypsy, his second mother and Boris his second father. How many people were blessed with two sets of parents?

Perhaps he just wanted to replay those days again, for nostalgia's sake. This was actually the second assignment off the books for the Agency since his resignation. The first one had been a simple pickup of a package from a train station locker in Berlin. He suspected that the Agency was trying to lure him back, to appeal to his nostalgia, which they knew was his weak spot. His life was full of nostalgia, though it had been partially cured by his finding his sweet Pusha.

Truth be told, the Agency was strapped for manpower. Bucharest Station had been downsized since the dissolution of the Soviet Empire, an outpost with few risks and fewer rewards, or so he'd been assured. After the Gulf War, Langley's eyes were now focused on the Middle East. Postponing his plans for a few days was no big sacrifice, especially since it allowed him to recapture memories of his clandestine work, which, he had to admit, he missed.

This night promised no such intrigue, however, as he sat in an old Dacia on a cold, gloomy April evening in Bucharest. It began to drizzle. Even though there were no adversaries to elude, he didn't turn on the wipers or the engine, preferring to pretend this was a real operation and thus follow procedure to not divulge his presence. The odds were that the heater of the Dacia wouldn't work anyway. It was the first thing to go, usually within the first month out of the factory, and had to be repeatedly repaired. He had "borrowed" the car from among those parked on a side street and planned on returning it at the end of the night. No one would miss it. Gas was still scarce and expensive.

He spotted a shadow at the end of the street, created not by streetlamps, which were dark, but by the light of the full moon. He glanced at his watch, and it read exactly 3:00 a.m.

The defector is punctual. A good sign.

At first the figure was too far away for its footsteps to match the echoes they created, but as the man drew nearer, they began to sync. He wore a dark raincoat and fedora, as if he had copied an old spy movie. Hefflin had seen the phenomenon before: Mafia leaders spoke like Don Corleone, policemen mimicked New York cops seen on TV series, and lovers emulated seduction scenes from classic movies.

Life copies art.

Hefflin flashed his headlights once to announce his presence. The man quickened his pace. It was just as the man approached his car that Hefflin spotted the headlights entering the end of the street.

What the hell?

His body stiffened; his instincts suddenly stirred by the rush of adrenaline that made his fingertips tingle.

Could they have followed the defector? Or me?

He turned on the engine just as the man got in. He intended to back up out of the narrow street, but another car now turned into the other end.

A trap? What the hell?

Join the Library's Online Book Clubs and start receiving chapters from popular books in your daily email. Every day, Monday through Friday, we'll send you a portion of a book that takes only five minutes to read. Each Monday we begin a new book and by Friday you will have the chance to read 2 or 3 chapters, enough to know if it's a book you want to finish. You can read a wide variety of books including fiction, nonfiction, romance, business, teen and mystery books. Just give us your email address and five minutes a day, and we'll give you an exciting world of reading.

What our readers think...