The Errant Rose
Hazard lay quite still, watching the late afternoon shadows lengthen across his hotel room, listening to the strong gusts of warm wind that blew across the Greek Isles late in the day this time of year, and to Emmy's quiet breathing, feeling her naked body sprawled on top of his. One hand behind his head, the other rested lightly at the small of her back, his little finger moved idly through the very fine blonde hair at the base of the sensual curve of her ass. His mind was filled with a vivid replay of their previous lovemaking, of the way she had looked, straddling him, riding him, the sounds she made and the way she touched herself and writhed on top of him, all of it driving him slowly and inexorably out of control. And then, with both of them spent, she had collapsed on top of him, purring softly before she drifted off to sleep, her hot slender body, damp with perspiration, a pleasant burden he didn't mind bearing.
He tried to focus on the situation, on Triakis and Borodov and what might lie in store for them both. But that was difficult to do, under the circumstances. He would never have admitted that he loved Emmy Rose. No, that wouldn't do at all. But he was quite fond of her, and like most other men who saw her, much less knew her, desired her beyond reason. Still, this was a dangerous thing, his feelings for her, and he knew it. And he knew Cybil was aware of the risks involved. Cybil knew everything. She planned an action as though she were playing a game of chess, looking ahead four or five moves, considering all the possible scenarios. Evidently, she had concluded that the risks involved in sending him to find the errant Emmy Rose had been outweighed by the fact that he was the one most capable of bringing this "rogue" agent back into the fold.
But try as he might, all he could focus on was the woman who lay on top of him. The way she had made love to him, with wild abandon, sizzling passion, a desperate need for intimacy. Hazard understood; in the world she lived in, one seized pleasure where one found it. He lay still inside her, but not for long. Inevitably, he had another erection, and just as inevitably the sensations this engendered woke her, and she squirmed a little on top of him before lifting up, a salacious smile flashing behind a veil of tousled golden hair. Then she bent down to playfully lick his lips, and that was all it took; he rolled her over and lifted her legs high and began to make love to her again, gently at first. But their lovemaking quickly became much less gentle, as Emmy hooked her calves over his broad, taut shoulders, wrapped her long arms around his neck, and began bucking up against him. They coupled like wild animals, and for the next hour he forgot that the rest of the world existed.
Later he dozed, only to awake and find her gone from the bed; a glance informed him that she stood on the small balcony, the still strong winds blowing her hair, pale in the Aegean moonlight. Propped on an elbow, he admired the perfect symmetry of her form. Though he made no sound she turned, smiled, and came back to the bed, moving with the rippling articulation of an uninhibited animal, completely nude and completely comfortable with it. Hazard closed his eyes a moment, knowing he was thoroughly bewitched by this beautiful, sexy, and extremely dangerous young woman.
Ilya Borodov stood on the stone terrace of the ancient castle of Ikor. Beyond the terrace wall, a rugged cliff fell precipitously to the deep angel-eye blue of the sea hundreds of feet below. The afternoon waned, and with it the force of the meltemi slackened. Even so, strong erratic gusts of warm dry air buffeted him. It reminded him of the ghiblis that scoured the North African deserts -- but without the choking sand.
Borodov stood ramrod straight, hands clasped behind his back, jaw jutting like the prow of a sleek destroyer into the teeth of the zephyr that whipped at his impeccable suit, hand-tailored by a Stadioe haberdasher. He was a trim, handsome man, with prematurely silver hair brushed severely back from a high forehead, his features angular and, today at least, furrowed with a brooding worry.
"You look troubled, Colonel," observed the gaunt man who stood behind and slightly to one side of Borodov.
"Not at all." Borodov's resonant, cultured voice reflected none of the dislike he harbored for the other man. Of all the operatives selected for the first-rank cell he now directed, Borodov liked Vulkan least of all. There was no questioning Vulkan's qualifications, just as the expertise of Borodov's fellow Russian, Chenko the crytopgrapher, and Zandros, the canny ranking officer of the Greek apparat. They were all proven professionals -- except for the young woman from Section 9. But Vulkan was the most special of the specialists.
"It is not that his forte is killing that accounts for my aversion," Borodov had explained to his superior, Arkaydi Valenten, at the Moscow headquarters of the SVR in the Yasenevo District.
"I know," said the gruff and utterly ruthless head of the Sluzhba Vneshney Razvedki, with a faint smile. "But you are a realist, Ilya. You accept the fact, as I do, that sometimes the exigencies of the war we fight, and which you have so brilliantly waged for years now, require the services of the men and women from Section 13."
"Yes, yes," said Borodov impatiently. "It is a personal thing. Vulkan is so . . . absolutely divorced from emotion, so devoid of human feelings in general, that, frankly, it makes my skin crawl just to be in his presence. He is loyal only to the science of dispensing death. He is a psychopath, whose tenuous control over his consuming passion for slaughter might come unhinged at any moment. I cannot bring myself to trust him. Such a man jeopardizes the mission by his latent instability."
Valenten sighed. "Ilya, I appreciate your concern. I am glad you feel you can still come to me and openly speak your mind, and I wish I could help you, but the decision to assign Vulkan to your cell was made by a higher authority. I cannot revoke it."
"Then whatever happens will be the responsibility of a higher authority?" asked Borodov dryly.
"You know better. It will be on your record. We live -- or die -- according to our success ratio."
Borodov grimaced. He was of sufficient high standing in the SVR to have the right to choose his own team. But this time they had foisted Vulkan on him. He knew why. It was because Triakis was so important. If Borodov couldn't bring him back, Vulkan was to make sure Triakis did not survive to work for the Israelis . . . .
Vulkan was speaking to him, Borodov realized, and he slipped back into the present. "What did you say?"
"I said you should be pleased," responded the Section 13 assassin, his voice without inflection. "That Rose woman has been contacted by the criminal who must have some association with Special Projects. As you have said, it is likely this means that Triakis is emerging from his hole. Before too much longer he will be dead, and you can go home to your family."
Borodov concealed his displeasure. There was no emotion in Vulkan's voice, but the insolence was there all the same. Borodov could feel it. Worst of all, Vulkan was perceptive. It was almost as though he could read Borodov's mind. For he had been thinking of home, very much so these past few days. Perhaps it had been the meltemi. The northerly blew strongest in mid-afternoon, across the Aegean, pummeling the Cyclades and the Deodecanese isles. It was spawned from dry winds over the Russian steppes -- and the thought of Russia provoked images of his wife and two beautiful daughters. He loved his family very much. He was a cool and calculating genius of the espionage trade, and he could be ruthless when the occasion demanded, but he thought of himself as a good husband and doting father. He wished his family could be here to experience the scenic magnificence of the Greek isles. This stony archipelago was steeped in history and rich with a natural beauty. Thera itself was the rim of a volcano that had erupted and then collapsed into the sea thirty-five hundred years ago. Recent archaeological discoveries indicated that this horseshoe-shaped island -- one of the southernmost of the Cyclades -- had been a vital outpost of Minoan culture. He wondered how his loved ones were faring, in that austere little Black Sea dachau his SVR superiors had awarded him after twenty years of diligent service. His wife, he knew, would be longing for the high Georgian steppes where she had been raised.
You romantic fool, Borodov chided himself, mercilessly. It is your own fault, and no one else's, that you have been so long separated from your family. They have offered you a desk. But the field still hold its dark allure, doesn't it?
Even if it meant working with creatures like the Bulgarian killer, Vulkan.
Borodov turned to face the assassin. He possessed steel control over his emotions; now he allowed some of his aversion to insinuate itself into his voice.
"If you had done your job properly, Vulkan," he said sternly, "we would all have been home q month ago. But you had to indulge yourself, didn't you? You had to kill the woman, the Mossad agent. And in the time it took you to do that, Triakis escaped."
Vulkan might have been carved from stone for all the reaction he displayed in the face of this chastisement. He wore black -- trousers, turtleneck, leather jacket, crepe-soled shoes -- and Borodov thought that to be an appropriate color for him. Black -- the color of the killer's soul. Even his eyes looked black, as dull and doll-like as a shark's. His gaze was unflinching.
"With respect," he said -- and Borodov knew it was with nothing of the sort "-- it was you yourself, Colonel, who told me that Triakis was in that villa in Salonika."
"And I told you to wait until support arrived."
"I do not normally operate with support."
"You do," said Borodov icily, "when I tell you to." He was aware that Vulkan had not waited because he'd known that once the others arrived, it would be less likely that he would have an opportunity to kill. So Vulkan had moved too soon, and the Mossad agent had died, sacrificing herself to give Triakis time to escape.
Vulkan did not respond, and Borodov turned away, disgusted with the assassin -- and with himself. He should not debate matters with this man as though they were equals. He felt disenchanted with the men who had created Section 13 and fashioned animals like Vulkan. Nostalgically he reflected that this "shadow war" had been conducted in a much more civilized manner when he had started out, shortly after the Second World War. Vulkan should have been afraid of him. Had he been anything besides Section 13, a bad report from a cell commander -- especially one of Borodov's standing -- would have been ruinous, if not fatal. But in truth Vulkan answered only to Gorinsky, head of Section 13.
Borodov heard footsteps on the ancient gray stone behind him, and he turned to accept, with a genuine smile, a missive from Chenko.
"Here is the confirmation you had hoped for, sir," said Chenko. The cryptographer was the bookish type, frail of body, pale of complexion, with rumpled clothes and prescription glasses perched on his pinched nose. Vulkan looked at him with the contempt one might expect a Doberman pinscher to display if confronted by a cocker spaniel. Chenko did not look like much, but Borodov recognized and respected his skill. The young man was tired. There had been a rash of signals in response to Borodov's report of activity on the part of Special Projects, and Chenko had spent most of the night toiling over his communications system and Expeditor decoder.
"Thank you, Chenko. Get some rest." Borodov turned his back on Vulkan to read the missive. But the Section 13 assassin would not brook being left in the dark.
"Has the woman named Rose left Mykonos, then?"
"Not yet. They will go in the morning, I suspect, on the first tourist boat bound for the mainland."
"My section wants her dossier black-banded."
Borodov knew that Emmy Rose was on Section 13's kill-on-sight list, and that meant Vulkan was duty-bound to take her life if he had an opportunity to do so. "Do not underestimate her, Vulkan. I have crossed swords with her before. And the man with her is almost certainly a dangerous man." Brorodov glanced at Chenko. "What is his name again?"
"Derek Hazard. He is an international criminal known as The Wolf."
Vulkan shrugged and left the terrace then, apparently satisfied that the waiting was over -- that soon he would be permitted to practice his craft.
"I am happy for you, sir," said Chenko.
"Hmm?" Preoccupied, his thoughts dwelling on a certain golden-haired American woman, Borodov turned a perplexed look in the cryptographer's direction. "What do you mean?"
"You risked much convincing headquarters that our only hope of retrieving Triakis was to wait and watch the Special Projects agent. You were certain he was still in Greece."
"I was reasonably sure," said Borodov. Following the debacle at Salonika he had acted quickly. The Zandros apparat was quite efficient, and within a matter of hours all egress from Greece was being closely monitored. Triakis had gone to ground, and Borodov had fought for -- and won -- permission to keep the cell intact and in play.
"They pressured you to kill her," continued Chenko, proud of his superior, "but you resisted, kept Vulkan at bay. You felt sure that sooner or later Triakis would contact the Israelis. And that he would want her to be involved.."
Borodov nodded. Because of the Israeli woman. The one who had lured Triakis away from Mother Russia. Away from his wife and children, too. Clearly, Triakis had been obsessed with her. Which meant that Emmy Rose and Triakis were rivals. And now that Yasmin Liraz was dead, it would be only natural for the rivals to blame each other.
"I know Triakis," he said. "I have read all the psychological evaluations. I believe that he has realized there is no escape. And he would rather die than return home in disgrace."
"But you want him alive."
"Of course. He is vital to our germ warfare program. And he will go back to work. Because I have his family. He might abandon them, but he will not allow himself to be the reason for their deaths."
Chenko felt a chill run down his spine. Borodov came across as a gentleman. Refined, urbane. But the cryptographer knew the colonel wasn't bluffing. He would use the scientist's family to get what he wanted, and not harbor a second thought.
"Do you think the girl is ready?" asked Chenko. He was a chronic worrier.
"She will be," said Borodov confidently.
"I hope so. And Vulkan will only be a support element? He won't like that, Colonel."
Borodov smiled coldly and put a hand on Chenko's slumped shoulder. "What a pity. Don't be afraid of Vulkan, my friend. He may be the most dangerous member of the cell. But he is also the most expendable. You, however, are not expendable. So I want you to get some sleep."
"Yes, sir." Chenko was warmed by the cell commander's genuine concern for his well-being. He would do as he was told, but he would sleep only in the radio room up in the tower, just to be on hand in case another signal came through.
"On your way," said Borodov, "stop by Elena's quarters and tell her I wish to speak with her."
"At once, Colonel."
Occupied with his thoughts, Borodov walked slowly towards the castle's great hall. Ikor had been built in the 15th century by Maltese knights of the Order of St. John. For hundreds of years Turks had tried vainly to take it by assault. In the end, though, it had been the plague, not brute force, which had brought about its ruin. Perched on a steep precipice, it was impregnable to an attack from the sea. A steep and treacherous mountain road, easily defended, connected it with the town of Thera two miles to the northeast, as the serin flew. All that remained useful of the castle was a courtyard, the watch tower on the southeast corner, and a large structure on the west side that had once served as barracks, temple, storehouse and dungeon.
The great hall itself was a vast vaulted chamber, rows of thick columns rising into the perpetual gloom from which came the occasional flutter of wings. In a corner near the broad archway that opened to the terrace stood a plain metal kneehole desk. There were a pair of metal folding chairs facing the desk and one behind it. On the desk, was a battery operated lamp, green felt blotter, a gilt-framed portrait of Borodov's family, and several files. The desk and chairs were the only furnishings in the echoing hall, and were dwarfed by the immensity of the chamber.
Even though she moved with the silent grace of a cat, Borodov heard her before she emerged from the shadows under the archway. She came to stand in front of the desk, and only then did he look up at her. Elena Reyanovich was very attractive, despite the fact that she had eschewed makeup and wore faded jeans and an old fatigue jacket in an effort to grow into the role she was about to play. Her thick black hair -- so black that in a certain light it looked almost blue -- had grown to her shoulders; that, mused Borodov, was just about right. It looked very similar to the way Yasmin Liraz had worn her hair. And there was a striking resemblance in the features of the two women. Elena had the same thick brows over exotic bottle-green eyes, the same aquiline nose, the same full, sensuous lips. Her facial bone structure was, perhaps, not as broad as the Mossad agent's had been. But all in all, she was a suitable doppelganger.
Borodov took a deep breath. He liked Elena -- more than he should, since at any time he might have to sacrifice her. She doth teach the torches to shine bright. Vilyami Shekspira. He had a complete set at home, the Vengerov editions, bound in rich Moroccan leather. It was his secret vice. Her had one another.
"There is activity in the enemy camp, my dear," he said. "Soon now we will go into action. Your role in what is about to transpire is of the utmost importance. But then, I know you understand that."
"You look concerned, Colonel," she said. "Don't be. I will do my part, I assure you."
"Yes, I admit I am uneasy. Anischia, as the Greeks say." He opened a desk drawer and extracted a thick dossier, laid it on the desk. In the top right corner of the front cover, in small red letters, were the words sovershennoe sekretno and below this, a file number. "The other members of our cell are experienced field operatives. You are not. I do not point this out to humiliate you, or intimidate you. It is merely an undeniable fact."
"I realize that I was only a file clerk in Moscow," she said, a little defensively. "But I am a patriot, and I . . . ."
Borodov raised a hand to silence her. "Yes, yes, that is not the issue." He lowered the hand to rest it on the dossier. "Our adversary is extremely dangerous, however."
"I know all about her, Colonel."
"Do you now."
"Yes, sir. I have studied her file very closely, as you recommended."
Borodov nodded. He opened the dossier. Attached to the inside of the front cover was a large envelope; this he opened, removed an 8x10 black-and-white photo of Emmy Rose. He held it up for Elena to see.
"Tell me what you know of her."
"She is Emmy Rose, an operative for Special Projects for the past five years, since her graduation from Princeton University. She is Phi Beta Kappa, speaks eight languages fluently, is an expert marksman, has been trained extensively in the martial arts."
Borodov sat back in his chair, turning the photograph so that he could gaze it. "Yes," he said, pensively. "She is all those things, and more. Her greatest weapon is her sensuality. She uses it to beguile, to disarm." He paused, thinking of something that had happened years ago, then blinked rapidly and looked sternly at Elena. "This is the woman with whom you had an affair. And because you did, you were not where you were supposed to be one night, over a month ago, in Salonika. As a result, you were killed. Is that not so?"
"No, Colonel. I was nearly killed. And captured."
"You let emotion cloud your judgment. You allowed your passions to interfere with mission. And you failed in that mission. Not very professional of you. But then, knowing her as I do --" once more he glanced at the photograph "-- I am not surprised.So tell me, how do you feel about this woman?"
Elena was confused by the question. "I -- I do not . . . ."
"You would very much like to sleep with her again, wouldn't you?"
Uncertain what to say, she was wise enough to say nothing.
Borodov smiled faintly, turned the photo so that she could examine it again. "She has the looks of a model, this Emmy Rose, wouldn't you say? She knows how to manipulate both men and women. She has destroyed the careers of several of our agents, and killed others." His eyes, when he fastened them on her again, were cold and piercing. "Always keep that in mind, Elena. If all goes according to plan, you will not have to deal with her personally. But if you are ever alone with her, do not fall under her spell. Protect yourself."
"You mean . . . kill her?"
Borodov carefully returned the photograph to the file, closed the folder, and placed his hand, fingers splayed, on top of it, sighing deeply.
"If you must," he said quietly.
Copyright 2008, 2015 by Jason Manning. All Rights Reserved. No unauthorized reproduction for any purpose whatsoever is allowed without permission of copyright holder. This copyright notice to cover all text found in this post except that attributed to others. Copyright is not claimed on any images included in this post.