Today's Reading

A few minutes later, they reached their destination, a small square where several streets converged. He checked the street signs to make sure. This was the spot. Now where the hell was the Agency team? Then he spotted two cars, idling on different side streets, each with four men inside.

How the hell do they know this pickup location? Were they listening on the phone line?

Another car now approached the square, two men inside. The license plates were of the special format reserved for embassy vehicles. It slowed down to a crawl, the men searching every street corner.

"Is that our car?" the defector asked, the pitch of his voice raised in fear. The other two cars turned on their headlights and burst toward them. "It's too late. It's been spotted."

"What are you saying? The car is right there. What are we waiting for?"

"You want to come out of this alive? Then do as I say." He grabbed the defector and pushed him down the dark street away from the square.

"Where are you taking me?"

"Look, the pickup is blown. This has now turned into an exfiltration. I have to get you off the streets." He didn't know any of the Agency safe houses in Bucharest, but he thought of one apartment, if it was still available. A long shot. He dragged the defector along like a parent pulling his child toward the doctor's office.

"We had a perfectly good car in front of us and you refused to take it," the defector complained. Hefflin remained silent and just kept tugging him along. They reached their destination twenty minutes later. The building felt familiar, though Hefflin had only been there once, in '89. All the windows were dark, as expected in the middle of the night. The front door was locked.

Hefflin removed two pieces of metal from the lining of his jacket collar—a remnant from his old days—inserted them into the keyhole, and gently worked them. A moment later he heard the click.

Inside it was pitch black. With his lighter he found the stairs and they slowly climbed to the second floor. He wondered if someone else was living in that apartment now. It had been three years, after all.

Hefflin knelt and used the same instruments to pick the lock to the apartment. As he silently pushed open the door, the smell of stale cigarettes engendered a warm, familiar feeling. By the moonlight he could make out the piano, the Tiffany-style lamps, the red Persian rug. The place had survived unchanged.

He signaled the defector to remain silent, then quietly made his way through the apartment. He hadn't realized how large it was. Besides the living room there were three bedrooms, one of which had been turned into a study, a large kitchen, and a formal dining room where his family's mahogany dining set still stood.

No one seemed to be living in the apartment. A thick layer of dust covered the tables and windowsills. The authorities had forgotten about this place. Many dossiers had been pilfered and burned during the revolution and, apparently, so had the government listing of Boris's apartment.

When he returned to the living room, he found the defector sitting on the couch, smoking a cigarette.

"You lit a cigarette? There might have been someone in here." Hefflin seethed.

"Whose place is this?" the defector asked. "A high-ranking official, by the looks of it."

"An old friend." Hefflin picked up the phone receiver but found no dial tone. At least the telephone department realized no one had paid the bill.

"We'll spend a few hours here, until I decide how to bring you in," Hefflin said. "Hopefully, the KGB will give up searching for you, if that's who they were."

"This exfiltration is becoming a catastrophe." The defector raised his voice. "You don't understand. I have vital information, critical to the survival of your agency. You cannot treat me like this."

"Critical to the Agency's survival? Does the Agency know this?"

"I told them, but seeing how things are turning out, they apparently did not take me seriously. They sent an amateur."

The defector put out his cigarette in the ashtray and stood. "I hope this bungled operation is not typical of the CIA. And you should use the proper term. The KGB no longer exists. The foreign intelligence service is now the SVR." He stomped into one of the bedrooms and slammed the door.

It will always be the KGB for me.

Hefflin lit a cigarette as his eyes drifted to the antique dining room set that Hefflin had grown up with and that his father had sold to Boris when the family had emigrated from Romania. It still stood in Boris's old apartment, shrouded by memories of his childhood that hung like cobwebs.

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