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Fiction Thriller

The contact is late.

I stand outside the Bolshoi Theater. A bowl-shaped fountain shoots a jet of water into the air. The front doors look like they’re made of solid gold. Ten white columns hold up a beautiful golden awning.

I pace along the walkway in front of the entrance. The flash drive in my suit pocket feels as heavy as a brick. Loaded on it are the plans for Russia’s new hypersonic missiles, the first of their kind in the world.

If the FSB catches me with these plans, well… I wouldn’t put it past them to strap me to one of those missiles and let it rip.

I look at my watch. Cinderella married the Prince twenty minutes ago. The concertgoers are departing. I’m going to look suspicious if I stay out here for much longer. Not to mention that the flight to New York through Istanbul won’t wait one second for me.

My eyes flit across every license plate. Every face. Every hand gesture. Like any government agent worth his salt, I always master my surroundings. But when other people are involved, it doesn’t matter how much work I do. Entropy loves company.

DC said that my ride was on the way. Should I call them? My fingers hover over the screen of my Blackberry. I punch in the number for CIA HQ.

Before I press the dial button, I notice a black Lamborghini pull up to the front of the theater. Its engine sounds like a bear growling. The hood is down.

My mouth parts. The woman driving is preposterously beautiful. I can’t see the straps holding up her red dress. Her red hair comes down over her forehead in a bowl cut. Sunglasses cover her eyes even though it’s nighttime.

She leans over the door.

“How was the show?” she asks in a thick Russian accent.

I chuckle. “The glass slipper didn’t fit.”

“It didn’t?”

“The Prince had to force it on her foot,” I say. “Good thing it happened at the end of the show.”

She smiles at me. Her teeth look supermodel white. She runs her hand through her hair. I can master my surroundings, but not physiology. My cheeks start to sizzle.

“Need a ride?” she says. “Mr. Evers?”

Bingo. She’s the one. My heart pounds in my chest.

“Airport?” I ask.

“Hop in.”

The passenger door opens and closes by itself. The seat fits my body perfectly. Her peppery perfume makes me feel somewhat nauseous.

“What’s your name?” I ask.

“V,” she says. “You have the plans?”

“The drop went perfectly,” I say. “They were left right underneath my seat as planned.”

She sighs in relief.

“Seems the more corrupt the security service,” I say, “the easier it is for things to leak.”

“You have no idea,” V says.

Her foot stays glued to the accelerator. She’s a better driver than me. I can’t do triple digits on a packed highway. Drips of sweat fall onto my dress shirt. She comes within inches of sideswiping a yellow Corvette and receives a honk of gratitude.

Talk about fast women.

“Are you a fan of Prokofiev?” I ask.

“Ravel’s more my style,” she says. “Bolero always gets my blood going.”

Man, she must have really acclimated to life in Russia if she’s able to pull off that accent.

“How long have they stationed you in Russia for?” I ask.

“Seven years,” she says.

I whistle.

“Prokofiev emigrated to America during the Russian Revolution,” I say. “I guess he knew what it felt like to throw everything away and start fresh somewhere else.”

“And he was one of the lucky ones,” she says. “A hundred years and millions of lives later, and look where Russia is now. The country that gave us Prokofiev and Rachmaninoff and Scriabin and Tchaikovsky…”

She shakes her head. Her grip tightens on the steering wheel. She sighs in frustration. I guess seven years of living in the Motherland have given her somewhat of an attachment to the place.

A plane soars overhead as it descends toward the airport. We must be getting pretty close. The sooner this flash drive gets out of the country, the better.

“Have you had any run-ins with Putin’s boys?” I ask.

“Enough to last a lifetime,” V says. “Do you know what a ‘phone call to Putin’ is?”

I shake my head. “I’m guessing it doesn’t have anything to do with calling Putin on the phone?”

“Correct,” she says. “It’s a torture method which involves shocking a person by their earlobes, nose, and genitals. The Russians use it all the time.”

I shiver in my seat. Being kicked in the balls is one thing, but having them electrocuted? Dear God. I absentmindedly give my equipment a pat. I’d take waterboarding any day.

“How close are we to the airport?” I ask. My watch tells me that I have a half hour before the flight takes off.

“We’re over halfway,” she says. “Plenty of-”

The car stutters. We slow down. V squints in surprise. She taps the accelerator. It doesn’t have any effect.

“What the hell?” she says.

“What’s wrong?”

“I don’t know! It’s just… it’s not going anymore!”

My eyes skip across the dashboard. We’ve got a half tank of gas. All of the tires are brimming with air. The car isn’t overheating. No alerts appear on the monitor.

So why did it die? Is the car being hacked? No way. We’d be dead already.

“Pull over,” I say. “There’s a gas station off of the exit.”

We barely make it into the parking lot. There’s nobody else here, so this doesn’t look like a hit. Is the car defective?

The smell of gasoline is overpowering. The airplanes coming and going sound like one constant peal of thunder.

We get out and pop the hood. I blink several times. Only now do I realize that I’ve never worked on a car before.

“What do you think?” I ask.

“Don’t worry,” V says, “I did a stint with my uncle’s repair shop when I was a teenager. I’ll see what I can do.”

I kick a piece of gravel across the lot. This couldn’t have happened at a worse time. Of all the things that could have gone wrong, the getaway car breaking down never crossed my mind.

The minutes creep by. I pace around the gas station.

“Any luck?” I ask.

“Still working on it,” she says. She goes around to the trunk, pops it open, and takes out a toolbox.

Suddenly, adrenaline gushes through my veins. How long is this going to take? We’re completely exposed out here. There aren’t any other cars to “borrow” or hotels within walking distance. For the moment, we’re stuck.

I take out my Blackberry and fire off a message to HQ. Car broke down less than five miles from airport, V is troubleshooting, need immediate assistance.

I keep my breathing under control.  If worst comes to worst, I can walk to the airport. It’s only a few miles away. All I need to do is get on a plane out of here. I’m confident that the FSB doesn’t know who I am yet, and even if they did, I’ve got a fake passport. They can’t monitor every single flight.

At last, my phone vibrates.

Contact KIA, identity compromised, abort mission, leave country by any means necessary.

Every drop of color drains out of my face. I try to stop my hands from shaking. I can hear my heart beat over the roar of the airplanes.

I read the message again. It stays the same.

“Oh my God…”

My body lurches as I hear the clatter of tools.

V.

V’s not my contact. I’d bet my life she’s FSB. But why didn’t she shoot me in front of the Bolshoi? Is she waiting for the cavalry to arrive?

I slip my hand inside my suit jacket. The Walther PPK provides me cold comfort. I walk around to the front of the car and point the gun at her temple. She freezes.

“Who the fuck are you?” I ask.

Her face is expressionless. She don’t answer me. I cock the gun.

“Nobody will hear anything over those airplanes,” I say. “And I know how to dispose of a body, too.”

She takes a deep breath and exhales.

“Mr. Evers,” she says, “stay away from the airport. They’re waiting for you. They know exactly what you look like. You won’t be able to make it out tonight. You’re going to have to hide.”

I keep the gun on her. My heart bounces against my ribcage.

“This car isn’t broken, is it?” I ask.

She shakes her head.

“I activated a kill switch while we were on the highway,” she says, “to keep you from catching your flight.”

“Why are you telling me this?” I ask.

She looks at me. She’s not wearing her sunglasses anymore. Her eyes are as dark as her black Lamborghini.

“I work with the FSB, but I’m a double agent. I’ve been leaking things out since I started. Emails, battle plans, weapons blueprints, financial records. I’m a thorn in their side that they can’t see.”

A part of me wants to believe her. She’s had ample opportunity to get the plans back. Nothing else makes sense.

And yet, I keep my gun up. All it takes is one sudden movement…

“Why not just flee the country?” I ask. “There are other ways of resisting than working with the fucking FSB.”

She laughs. Her bowl cut swishes around as she shakes her head.

“Not everybody is as lucky as Prokofiev,” she says. “I’ve got family here. My parents… my siblings… my daughter.”

My grip on the gun loosens. I lower it a half inch.

“You can’t imagine what that’s like,” she says. “The worrying… the doubt that swirls in your head… the paranoia. You think being a special agent in Russia is bad? Try being a double agent in the fucking FSB. With a child to care for. It’s not just my life on the line. If I make a single mistake, then that baby will never know a mother. But if I do nothing, one day she’ll ask me what I did to stop our country from getting worse.”

If she’s acting, then she’s in the wrong profession. She belongs in Hollywood. Grace Kelly’s got nothing on her.

“Turn the car back on,” I say.

She slams the hood shut. She goes around to the driver’s seat, bends over, and presses a switch underneath it.

“There,” she says. “It’s on.”

“Keys.”

She sighs.

“You still don’t believe me,” she says. “They’re waiting for you. You won’t make it.”

“Keys. Now.”

“The fob is in the glove compartment,” she says.

Without lowering my gun, I get into the driver’s seat and start the car. It roars to life. I stomp on the accelerator. The tires squeal as I zip back onto the highway.

The clock on the dashboard tells me that I’ve just missed my flight. I huff in frustration, but there are other options open. Other flights out of the country. Hell, I can drive to another airport if I need to.

The control tower rushes toward me. I’m so close now. Just a little further…

That’s when the sky explodes. A fireball mushrooms above me. My eardrums scream from the blast.

A shockwave breaks the windshield. Glass flies at my face. My body spasms. The steering wheel spins out of control. The car careens into the median. I jerk against my seatbelt…

#

My head throbs. There’s a ringing sound in my ears that won’t go away. Somebody put a gauze bandage on my left cheek.

“Ugh… son of a bitch…”

I’m sitting in the passenger seat of a car. How long have I been here? Did I get in an accident? Was I drunk last night?

No… I was at the Bolshoi for a performance. But why?

I’m still wearing the same outfit. I feel around in my pockets. There’s a flash drive in one of them.

I feel a searing pain in my head as the memories rush back into me. V, the black Lamborghini, driving to the airport, the car breaking down, the explosion.

I sit up. My stomach almost tips over. I open the door.

It looks like I’m outside of Moscow. All I see are trees around me. This must be a country road.

“Come on! You can do it!”

A voice. My hand flies to my Walther PPK.

It’s V, but she’s not alone. She’s sitting on the grass across from a girl.

Her daughter. I notice the resemblance immediately. They both have the same fiery red hair.

She tries walking towards her mother. She falls forward and resorts to crawling on her hands and feet. They’re both laughing.

“Oh, that’s okay!” V says. “Let’s try again!”

I put my gun away. I walk across the grass.

“Where are we?” I ask.

“Obninsk,” V says. “Just outside of Moscow. After you left the gas station, I requisitioned a car and followed you. Almost crashed myself when that plane exploded, but I was able to pick you up and get out of there.”

I remember that fireball in the sky. The noise. The black cloud of smoke. The people on the plane.

“That was my flight back home, wasn’t it?” I ask.

V nods her head.

“Fuck… to think that they’d kill all those innocent people just to get at me.”

“They don’t care,” she says. “They do whatever they want, whenever they want, however they want. And we have no rights.”

The sun rises over the tops of the trees. V’s daughter tries walking towards her mother again. She makes it all the way this time.

“We’re both busted now,” she says. “We’ll have to be careful.”

“What did you have in mind?” I ask.

She exhales.

“Well… Russia’s a big country. It’s easy to get lost if you know what you’re doing. We’ll have to cross the border before getting in the air.”

That’s when V’s daughter walks over to me. She hugs me around my legs. My heart skips a beat.

“What’s her name?” I ask.

“Svetlana,” she says. “I think she likes you!”

She’s smiling at me. Her eyes are a pale shade of blue. It’s as if the world hasn’t had a chance to squeeze the color out of them yet, like with V’s.

Maybe this is why we do the work that we do. So that people like Svetlana can stay the way that they are forever. Oblivious to what the world is really like.

V and I are like the stagehands at the Bolshoi, doing all the dirty work that nobody wants to do so the audience can stay enraptured at the performance on stage.

I let Svetlana go. She scampers across the field and tries walking back to her mother again.

“Maybe it’s a good thing that Svetlana’s practicing how to walk,” I say. “If that car breaks down, we’ll be doing quite a bit of it ourselves.”

V laughs.

April 15, 2023 03:40

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1 comment

Mary Bendickson
00:28 Apr 21, 2023

Sneaky, crafty story. Spies and lies.

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