I watched the young upstart approaching and sighed in exasperation. Across the spacious living area, our gazes met and the loathing I felt for him was mirrored equally. I didn’t have any rational reason for disliking him so much, but there was something about him that unsettled me… to be more precise, something I didn’t trust.It wasn’t just his meteoric rise up the agency ladder that twitched my antenna. Although it was unprecedented and widely disliked — mostly by the bruised egos and trampled toes he left in his wake — I’ve always been a believer in talent whatever the age, gender or social standing. Of course, being married to the daughter of his immediate boss, Admiral Chester Davenport, the deputy director intelligence – DDI – for the CIA, hadn’t done any harm to his career prospects. Anyone naïve enough to believe it was pure coincidence was living in cloud cuckoo land. He sauntered across to join me in the kitchen and his aura of arrogance nearly knocked me off my chair. I took a deep, calming breath. Perhaps my antipathy towards him colored my judgment but I’d learned the hard way to trust my instincts and he was certainly triggering my antenna. I was determined to find out why.Sighing, I glanced through the French windows at the immaculate gardens. Despite the early hour, the sun was shining fiercely, its rays distorted by thick, heavy glass, designed to keep more than just the bad weather at bay. Unfortunately, the illusion of safety is exactly that — it’s deceptive, and danger can be found in unexpected places.”Would you like some coffee, Andrea?”I heard and ignored him. Already irritating me, I knew the polite tone he used was for show. Various security officers and safe house personnel were present and this upstart needed the projection of civility to be accepted at face value by the minions. I knew better and the malicious glint in his eye confirmed my suspicions.Shaking my head, I watched him fill his personalized cup and cross the kitchen. His curt nod was meant to dismiss the safe house resident but Janice Halsbury, an old girlfriend of mine from the early days, stayed put. She looked at me in silence across the dining room table but our gazes spoke volumes.Take care, Andrea, this prick is dangerous.She didn’t need to say it and I nodded imperceptibly, thanking her for the support. She’d made an assumption about why I was here, based on scattered rumors and innuendos, thought it was unfair, and suspected who was behind it all. A quick glance at my file in his hand told me enough. Janice left.Bored by his childish boardroom antics, I switched my attention back to the garden. I’d played this game many times with much bigger fish, and I always came out on top. I knew my strengths and it was simply a question of waiting for the right moment.He sat and presented another malicious grin. “Lovely morning, isn’t it, Andrea?”Recognizing his tactic, I ignored him, preferring instead to enjoy the early sunshine. Shrugging his shoulders, he nonchalantly raised his cup and took a slug of the rich dark liquid. His demeanor changed dramatically as the coffee, hotter than expected, scalded his throat. Pretending to scratch my nose, I tried not to snigger but it was impossible. He heard and looked daggers in my direction.“Funny, very fucking funny. Don’t you think it’s childish to laugh at someone who’s just hurt themselves?””Depends on who it is. In your case — no, not really.” The poison in my voice was obvious.“Well, enjoy it while you can. He who laughs last and all that,” he fumed and blew into his cup.Recognizing a challenge, I turned towards him and raised my eyebrows.”Is that a threat, Mister… erm? And should little Miss Riding Hood be scared of the big bad wolf?” Pretending not to remember his name, plus the way I’d pronounced Mister, was my way of showing contempt for him. “Or is Mr. Wolf huffing and puffing for someone other than my benefit.”My tone obviously struck a nerve because the upstart stared hard at me, carefully considering his next words. Eventually, he spoke.”Very amusing, Miss Detroit. The name’s Nielsen… Carl Nielsen, as you well know.” His anger grew as he spoke. “In fact, for the record, it’s Mr. Nielsen to you, so watch your mouth when talking to a superior. And, as for little Miss Riding Hood, let’s not kid ourselves, that ship sailed a long time ago.” The thinly veiled insult was accompanied with a tight smile. “But, please, let’s not mistake my good nature for something else, shall we? I’m not known for my humility.””No, what then?” My snort of derision was deliberate.Carl stared at me from behind frameless glasses, his unblinking gaze obviously intending to intimidate me. My look was just as flinty and resolved and I wondered if he was surprised by my reaction. We continued to stare at each other. Then he smiled his predatory smile.”You know, Andrea, I’m looking forward to this. I read your file last night, on the way up here. I’ll be honest, I was impressed. If everything is to be believed, then you’ll be a worthy opponent.””Don’t think you’re invincible, Carl,” I replied coolly, “just because your father-in-law is head of intelligence. That doesn’t mean shit to me.”“Yes, it says here, you don’t suffer fools gladly.” He nodded in salute. “But, I’m no fool, and I don’t need the DDI to back me up in this case.” He took another sip of his coffee. “But we’re getting ahead of ourselves, aren’t we, Agent Detroit — or should I call you by your company nickname, ‘The Madam’?”I looked at him dismissively. “Whatever.””The Agency recruited bahçesehir escort you twenty-four years ago, about the time communism officially ended. Tell me, why did you join?”In a flat, resigned tone, I explained, ”Langley knew that because the communists had failed and the Iron Curtain was falling, it would mean the demise of the Eastern Bloc, and with it the Warsaw pact, but that wouldn’t stop the espionage.”I paused, still staring into his face. “Charles Robinson was the newly-promoted deputy director of operations and he realized that the need for more agents was just as important as ever. So he went looking. Scouring the country’s universities, he found me. I was majoring in political science and foreign languages. I intended to work for State, but after inviting me to dinner, he made me a more attractive offer. So, here I am. It’s all in my file.”Having already said more than I intended, I stopped talking. Carl, looking at the closed file, nodded and casually flicked it open.”I bet he did.””Sorry, what did you say?”“I said ‘I bet he did’ — about the offer.”“What’s that got to do with anything?” I snapped.”Nothing. I’m just trying to get a better perspective on things.” If Carl thought his sardonic expression would unnerve me, he obviously didn’t know me that well. “We all know about Charles Robinson. You weren’t the first… nor the last, I might add, but that’s not important. I’m just trying to ascertain why you came to work here.””Whether I’ve been intimately involved with Charles Robinson or not, has nothing to do with why I’m here. We both know it, so cut the crap and get on with it.” Knowing this was a serious situation, I kept my voice calm. When a field agent is recalled to Washington after being involved in a ‘diplomatic incident,’ then it’s obvious the shit is deep.”Hmmm. I was wondering if that’s when the nickname ‘The Madam,’ began,” Carl said as if reading a clue to a difficult crossword puzzle.“Why? Do you want a piece?”For a second his eyes flared angrily; then another emotion flickered across his face. Although he shook his head, the fleeting expression of desire he’d displayed was enough to make me inwardly smile.“I’ve seen some of your work, Andrea. It disgusts me that this agency supports your methods. It’s a good job the Senate’s Commission for Intelligence doesn’t know. They couldn’t afford the political backlash. Jesus, just thinking about it makes me feel… dirty.” He shuddered, although I couldn’t tell if it was for real or feigned.He was right, of course. If it ever leaked that the CIA were fronting an escort service in Moscow, then a shit storm of trouble would be just the beginning. Heads would roll and the body count would be high, and not just in Washington. ‘The Madam’ wasn’t my nickname for nothing. My cover was exactly that. I was the ‘owner/operator’ of a very expensive, very exclusive and profitable escort agency. And the profitable gains were not only financial.There were many rich and powerful men and women in Russia that either wanted or needed my services. It was amazing how many lips could be loosened while enjoying the delights of the flesh. Quite a few found themselves working for the USA after being confronted with compromising photos of their deviant activities. The irony of the whole situation was that the former KGB practically invented the honey trap.In fact, the infamous security service had a school that trained young, attractive boys and girls in the art of seduction, purely to compromise unwitting foreign diplomats back in the day. Every form of fetish and kinks were studied so that the students of the ‘Sparrow Institute’ were prepared for anything.Despite the former Soviets having ensnared many western diplomats with their ‘Sparrows,’ they never considered they might be on the other end of the stick. The KGB assumed too many puritanical congressional committees wouldn’t allow it, but I’ve always been taught to learn from the best and, even today, the new SVR is the master class when it comes to compromising politicians and diplomats.“You don’t approve of such methods?”Carl shrugged before answering. “What can I say, Andrea? Your approach, although unorthodox, is effective. You’re one of our most productive field agents, but I can’t help feeling the operations side of the house — well, Charles Robinson has become nothing more than a glorified pimp and you being his… I don’t need to say it do I?”It was my turn to shrug.“Put a stop to it, if it offends you that much,” I snapped. Then I smiled maliciously. “Oh no, you won’t do that, will you? Because the DDI and, in particular, your father-in-law will lose all the information that I can gather.”In the silence that followed, without averting his gaze, he sipped his coffee and flipped pages in my file.“Well, that’s enough of the past,” he said without batting an eyelid. “Now, why don’t you tell me about the Moscow balls up, Andrea.” His condescending tone was irritating.I shrugged again. “What’s there to tell? The Agency received a request from an agent wanting to come in from the cold. Operations was ordered to prepare an extraction plan and wait for approval.” I paused, needing to select my words carefully.“Why didn’t we just go ahead and extract?” said Carl, interrupting my train of thought.“I don’t know. That sort of decision is way above my pay grade. I’m just a G7 and I do as I’m told.”He made a note on his legal pad.“It wouldn’t have mattered anyway,” I said. “Apparently, there wasn’t any information for sale. The whole beylikdüzü bayan escort thing was an SVR sting operation. They were trying to blackmail Paul Sumner.”“How do you know that?”“The man who conceived the whole operation told me, in confidence… you know, before he kicked the bucket.”Carl raised his eyebrows while he made another note.“But you’re here because of…” I nodded. Now he looked confused. “Okay,” he said, a little hesitantly, “we can try to verify that through other sources… if what you’re saying is true — but what I would dearly love to know, is how did an American intelligence officer get herself embroiled in the death of a Russian politician or spymaster, or both?”I smiled enigmatically. “You really want to know?” He nodded.“I was in my role as a high-class hooker and fucking his brains out.”The outrageous statement had the desired effect: Carl had difficulty keeping his temper under control. He was silent for a moment and I like to think he was mentally counting to ten.“I’m sorry, Andrea, I know you like to shock people, but I’m gonna need something more than ‘I was fucking his brains out’ if you want to preserve your job. Why don’t you start at the beginning?”~~~~“Short story… The CIA had been receiving information from what we thought was a low-level employee in their state treasury. The initial contact was a letter addressed to the station chief in Moscow. In that letter, there was a set of demands and how much it was going to cost us. To prove that the offer was genuine, it included some classified information, you know, to show us what we could expect if we accepted the offer.”“Isn’t that a bit unusual, receiving anonymous offers?” Carl’s inquisitive stare was starting to irritate me. “At the very least, it sounds unorthodox,” he added.I shook my head. “You’d be surprised how we collect some of our intelligence, Carl. This is probably the rule rather than the exception. It’s impossible to betray someone who’s anonymous. And if we wanted to burn him, or her, where would we point the finger? Anyway, after checking to see if this was a false flag, we agreed to the conditions.”“How? If this was an anonymous contact, how did we let him know we were interested?”“If we were interested, we had to reply to an advert in the classified section of Pravda, and wait. The advert would run for two weeks. After that, the offer would be wiped from the table.”Carl nodded, slowly, and I continued. “After verifying the data, he became known as Agent Midas and all further exchanges were done via dead drops as preconditioned. A lot of the data we acquired wasn’t much different to what was being published in the financial press, but occasionally there were a few golden nuggets.” I looked out at the garden again, trying to gain some inspiration from the perfect flower beds. “Was it worth it? I don’t know. But, because it was information direct from their treasury, you intelligence weenies treated it like gospel.”I watched Carl bridle at the slight.“Anyway, the data stream kept coming and then we got a request for a personal meet. Apparently, Midas wanted to come into the light.” Carl was diligently writing everything down. “He said he had some highly classified information and if we wanted it, it was ours.”“Was it that good?”I shrugged again. “Firstly, we didn’t receive anything and, secondly, I just collect the stuff. You guys in Intelligence are the ones who evaluate it.” I gave him a bland smile. “The point is, the SVR was fishing and they were using a great big worm as bait, which we swallowed — hook, line, and sinker.”“What do you mean?”“With a source this important, you don’t just deploy a junior staffer from the embassy. That would send the wrong message. Sending someone from the top floor lets the agent know we value him. So, Charles ordered Paul to meet him.”“Paul Sumner, the DDO’s deputy?”I nodded. “Of course. Charles couldn’t go himself, could he? His absence would be noticed so Paul stepped up to the plate.”“So, Paul was sent to do what?”“To comfort and reassure Midas of his importance and to collect the data we’d been promised.”“Is that normal procedure for something like this?”I sighed at the question. For someone so high up in the Agency, Carl was asking some stupid questions. “What should we have said, Carl? ‘Sorry Midas, our man is too important to play delivery man, so just send the data through the normal channels’. I don’t think so.” My derision was clear.“Well, when you put it like that…”“Very magnanimous of you, Carl,” I said and instantly thought I’d be generous and throw him a bone. “Meanwhile, I’d received orders from Langley to try and seek out who Midas really was. Easier said than done, even with my extensive network. Sure as hell, we found nothing. Nada, a big fat zero.”Thirsty, I walked to the coffee machine, observing that the security detail had retreated to their command center, as the rule book dictates for a debriefing. In the reflections of the shiny black kitchen surfaces, I saw Carl was looking at me. Despite his earlier comments, there was no denying that he was ogling and I wondered if his wife’s ass looked as good as mine.“Want some?” I asked suggestively while quickly turning to face him. The abruptness of my actions clearly surprised him. He might be a professional spook but he wouldn’t have lasted five minutes in the field. We knew what he’d been staring at and I’m sure he would have reacted with defensive anger if I hadn’t been brandishing the coffee pot.“Oh, coffee… yes escort beylikdüzü please.”I could have asked him what he thought I was offering, but decided to let it go. After refilling our cups, I returned to my seat, positioning it so that I was looking directly at him. I crossed my legs, letting my skirt ride up my thighs before pretending to pick off some lint. I saw him stare at the displayed expanse of my stockinged thighs. He licked his lips and only averted his gaze when I raised my head to look at him. Immediately, he was all business again, going through his notes while I took a sip of the warm brown liquid.Carl cleared his throat. “So, what happened in Moscow?”“Well, unknown to Charles, my escort agency had received a request from the SVR asking if I could supply girls at the Hotel Baltschug Kempinski. I said yes and asked if there were any particular demands. All I was told was that the girls might be employed to perform a delicate task for the Rodina. When I notified Langley of this request, Charles immediately realized what was going on. The DDO hasn’t survived in this business for so long by believing in coincidences. He ordered me to cooperate with the Russians. Whatever they were planning, I had to be there to keep an eye on things and, if necessary, help Paul Sumner escape the honey trap.”“Paul had no idea Charles had ordered you to…” Carl couldn’t find the right words.“To be the CIA’s insurance policy?”He smiled. “Exactly, Andrea.” Carl scribbled on his pad. “Go on.”“On the night of the incident, three of my ladies and myself entered the hotel and were ordered by the SVR to wait for their signal. I’d explained to the man in charge that my girls were escorts, not spies, and their silence couldn’t be guaranteed. But he didn’t care, ‘so long as someone was present when the moment came,’ he pointed out. Having been warned of the Russian’s intentions to blackmail him, Paul entered the lounge alone and looked around the room for his contact. I was a few paces behind him and saw him move towards someone who was signaling him. That’s when I almost gave myself away.”Carl raised his eyebrows.“The man waiting for Paul was Dimitri Gurkovsky.”Carl looked like a child who had just had his toys taken away without reason. “I thought he was a politician, a member of their parliament. Not a treasury man and definitely not an SVR man.”“That’s what we all thought,” I replied. “But, when you consider that some of the information we’d received was so sensitive, it makes sense. As for being an SVR man… well, stranger things have happened. Whatever the truth, either this was an elaborate deception or our files on Dimitri Gurkovsky are… sorry, were incomplete.”“But, according to our sources,” Carl began to object, “Dimitri Gurkovsky is a buffoon, a drunk, and a nobody. He might be a politician but he’s not expected to rise to a ministerial position, not even a minor one. How could he be the agent Midas? Jesus, we thought he was on the way out,” he continued a little too vehemently.I nodded. Some of that information had come from my network.“What can I say, Carl? The bastards are still the best in the business. Where’s the best place to hide someone you don’t want to be found?” Puzzled eyes stared at me. “In plain sight, with the perfect cover. My God, Mikhail Tonarvorich, the chairman of State security must have laughed his socks off at our gullibility, and not just the West’s. I mean, who would have suspected a bumbling politician, who mixes with all sorts of people and gathers all sorts of intelligence, of being a master spy? If… and it’s a big if, I grant you… if the SVR ever decided to stage a coup, they’ve already got their man in place. The Premier would never know what hit him. It’s like something out of Hollywood, for Christ’s sake.”I couldn’t help whistling in admiration.“You mean, we were trying to…” Carl looked shocked. Slowly the implications of what I’d said sank in. “Dimitri Gurkovsky?” His face was ashen and I wondered if he felt all right. I nodded and waited, watching him as he seemingly recovered from his shock.“Are you trying to tell me Dimitri Gurkovsky is — sorry, was a major player in the SVR and, apparently, he was going to defect?” Carl had lost some of his earlier bluster and I knew he hadn’t been prepared for the revelation.“Yes, but like I’ve already said, he wasn’t really defecting. It was a sting operation. They were trying to compromise the Agency. Just imagine what sort of damage they could have done if they’d compromised someone in the higher echelons of Operations. Good God, if they’d used another escort agency, they might have succeeded. Because Paul knew their intentions, he wasn’t in danger and, as soon as it was obvious there would be no data exchange or extraction, he got up and left.”Carl lounged back in his chair and regarded me balefully. “So, what was the point of you staying after everything had gone south? I mean, couldn’t Operations have you seduce Paul as planned and then use him as a double agent?”The question wasn’t bad but the DDO had already thought of that scenario.“Oh Carl, you poor little soul. Charles Robinson is not a man to be taken lightly. I’m guessing he didn’t want Paul to be caught in compromising positions, especially with a junior colleague. There’s always gossip at Langley and Charles wasn’t taking a chance that embarrassing photos of Paul and me could be leaked.”To his credit, Carl nodded. “But how did the DDO know Dimitri Gurkovsky would end up with you?”“He didn’t. Charles didn’t even know it was Dimitri Gurkovsky who was behind this, but he knew about the honey trap. And what’s good for the goose is also good for the gander, according to the gospel of Charles.” I drained my coffee cup. “I was there anyway, courtesy of our Russian friends, and Charles had ordered me to see what I could do.