Senator Walter Royce didn’t pay attention to the posted menu outside the busy restaurant in Montmartre as he walked through the entrance. He had one purpose for being here, and it had nothing to do with the food.
“Un,” he told the host, holding up one finger to make up for his complete lack of a French accent. On the surface, his trip to Paris was nothing more than a quick family getaway, but in reality, it was a much-needed excuse.
The host said something in French, and Walter shook his head apologetically. “I’m sorry. I don’t understand. Do you have an English menu?”
The younger man nodded and showed him up a half flight of stairs to the dining area. Walter took his seat at a table in the center of the room, and the host handed him a menu.
“Merci.” Once alone, he glanced around the establishment. Through the windows, he could see the tables filled with patrons lining the sidewalk and waiters breezing in and out of the kitchen. In contrast, the indoor dining area was nearly empty. Four locals chatted in French over the remnants of their lunch, and on the far side of the room, an older couple studied their menus.
Walter glanced furtively at each person. Everywhere he looked, he expected to see someone staring at him, someone noticing why he was really here. He had spent the morning with his wife and daughters at the Eiffel Tower, taking the appropriate photos to make sure everyone would see him as the tourist he claimed to be. He had bowed out of their shopping plans, but he doubted he would be able to sneak away again without raising suspicions.
His stomach jumped with nerves, and he struggled to focus on the menu before him. When the waiter arrived to take his order, Walter indicated his choice by pointing.
Out of the corner of his eye, he saw the party of four stand up to leave at the
same time the host approached to seat another guest. Anticipation snaked through him. Was that him? The infamous Gavrie Morozov? A well-known Russian opera- tive, the man was a chameleon. He also had the skills needed to solve Walter’s problems and put him back on track to his destiny.
A moment after the host left, a heavily accented voice carried to him. “Why am I here?”
Walter started to turn around to see the man now seated behind him. “Don’t look at me,” the man commanded. “Just answer the question.”
Walter forced his gaze to stop at the window. Trying to focus on two women seated outside, he willed his heartbeat to slow. “I need help.”
“What kind of help?”
“My former bank notified me that someone was looking into my old account information,” Walter said. “Someone knows I’m working with your people.”
“I’m not sure, but I think it’s the guardians.” Walter lowered his voice further. “And I think I know who’s helping them.”
“It sounds like you need someone eliminated.”
Walter’s stomach curled. He had killed a man himself only a few weeks before. The nightmares from that moment still haunted him, and now here he was, negotiating to take another life. When his alliance with the Russians started more than a decade ago, he never anticipated he would be in this position now.
Silence stretched for several seconds before Walter said, “I don’t know if there’s another choice.”
“My associates need something in return.” “What?”
“Access to the detailed budget.”
Walter sucked in a deep breath. The requests from the Russians in the past had been more subtle, but complete access? If they knew where the money was going, they would know everything, including military plans and intelligence objectives. Walter was supposed to be the key to balancing the volatile relationship between the two superpowers, not the gofer giving one a significant leg up on the other. What would the Russians do if he refused? Would they cut off his funding? Or eliminate him in the most final sense of the word?
“Even if I give you access, what good would that do?” Walter asked. “I can’t make changes significant enough to make a difference.”
“You’re on the Senate Intelligence Committee. You have access to information we need.”
The noose around his neck tightened. He didn’t have any other option. “I’ll make it happen.”"
“Good,” the man said, his accent thickening. “While you’re at it, I suggest you propose to trim expenditures in a few places, especially anything that might be providing funding to the guardians.”
“I tried that before.”
“Try again.” The voice was low but firm. “Now, where do I find this problem of yours?”
“In Washington, DC,” Walter said. “You’ll find him on Capitol Hill.” Walter pulled a folded envelope from his back pocket and dropped it to the floor. He looked down as though noticing its presence for the first time, then cleared his voice. “I think you dropped something.”
The other man leaned down and picked it up. “So it seems.”"