Home > Kiss Me While I Sleep (CIA Spies #3)(11)

Kiss Me While I Sleep (CIA Spies #3)(11)
Author: Linda Howard

She carried a cloth shopping bag into which she put some produce and fruit. An Italian-looking man-who didn’t really stand out unless you were specifically looking for him-meandered around in her wake, always keeping her in view. Okay, that made three. Three were enough to do a competent job, but weren’t so many that she couldn’t handle them.

After paying for her selections, she walked back to her flat, careful to keep her gait rather slow and laborious. She walked with her head down, the picture of dejection, and not the way anyone who was the least alert would walk. Her watchers would think she was completely unaware of them and, moreover, that her health was still so precarious she could scarcely get around. Since they weren’t extraordinarily skilled in surveillance, that meant they would somewhat relax their guard without realizing it, because she was such a poor challenge.

When her cell phone was fully charged, she took it into the bathroom and turned on the tap water to mask sound, in case a Parabolic microphone was aimed at her flat. The chance of that was admittedly small, but in her business paranoia saved lives. She booked a first-class one-way ticket to London, disconnected, then called back and, under another identity, booked a flight out of London that left within half an hour of her arrival, headed back to Paris, where absolutely no one would expect her to go. After that, she would see, but that little maneuver should buy her some more time.

Langley, Virginia

Early the next morning, a junior analyst named Susie Pollard blinked at what the computer facial-recognition program had just told her. She printed out the report, then wove her way through a maze of cubicles to stick her head inside another cubicle. “This looks interesting,” she said, handing the report to a senior analyst, Wilona Jackson.

Wilona slid her glasses into place and swiftly looked over the document. “You’re right,” she said. “Good catch, Susie. I’ll kick this upstairs.” She stood, a six-foot-tall black woman with austere features and a no-bullshit attitude honed to perfection on her husband and five rowdy sons. Without another woman in the household for backup, she said, she had to stay on top of things. That carried over to her work, where she tolerated no nonsense. Anything she kicked upstairs was given proper consideration, or else.

By noon, Franklin Vinay, director of operations, was reading the report. Salvatore Nervi, the head of the Nervi organization-he couldn’t call it a corporation, though corporations were involved-was dead of an undisclosed ailment. The exact date of his death was unknown, but Nervi’s sons had buried him at their home in Italy before releasing the news. His last sighting was at a Parisian restaurant, with a lapse of four days between then and the announcement of his death. He had apparently been in perfect health, so the unknown ailment had occurred rather abruptly. It happened, of course; heart attacks or strokes struck down seemingly healthy people every day.

What set the alarm bells to clanging was the facial-recognition program, which said that, without doubt, Nervi’s newest lady friend had been none other than one of the CIA’s best contract agents in disguise. Liliane Mansfield had darkened her wheat-blond hair and put in dark contacts to hide her distinctive pale blue eyes, but it was undoubtedly her.

Even more alarming was the fact that, a few months ago, two of her closest friends and their adopted daughter had died at Nervi’s hands. All of the indications were that Lily had gone off the reservation and taken matters into her own hands.

She’d known the CIA wouldn’t sanction the kill. Salvatore Nervi was a disgusting example of humanity who deserved killing, but he’d been smart enough to play both ends against the middle and make himself useful, as insurance against just this sort of thing. He had passed along extremely useful information, and done so for years. That information pipeline was now lost, perhaps irrevocably; it would take them years, if they could at all, to develop the same relationship with the heir apparent. Rodrigo Nervi was notoriously suspicious, and not apt to jump at any partnership. Frank’s only hope in that direction was that Rodrigo would prove to be as pragmatic as his father.

Frank hated working with the Nervis. They had some legitimate business concerns, yes, but they were like Janus: everything they did had two faces, a good side and a bad side. If their researchers were working on a cancer vaccine, another group in the same building was working to develop a biological weapon. They gave huge amounts of money to charitable organizations that did a lot of good work, but they also funded terrorists groups that killed indiscriminately.

Playing in the pool of world politics was like playing in a sewer. You had to get dirty in order to play. Privately, Frank thought the end of Salvatore Nervi was good riddance. In the realm of his work, though, if Liliane Mansfield was responsible, he had to do something about it.

He pulled up her security-coded file and read it. Her psychological profile said that she’d been operating under some strain for a couple of years now. In his experience there were two types of contract agents: those who did their work with no more emotion than they would expend on swatting a fly, and those who were convinced of the good they did but whose souls, nevertheless, wore thin under the constant assault. Lily was in the latter group. She was very good, one of the best, but each hit had left its mark on her.

She had stopped contacting her family years ago, and that wasn’t good. She would feel isolated, cut off from the very world she’d worked to protect Under those circumstances, her friends in the business had become more than just friends; they’d become her surrogate family. When they were hit, her tattered soul had perhaps taken one blow too many.

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