“For the Lord is good and His love endures forever.
His faithfulness continues through all generations.”
Anyone looking at her might see a woman lost in the jazz, swaying to the sassy tones imported from America and emulated, often poorly, in a dingy underground nightclub on the south side of Moscow.
No one would recognize her as Hope, aka “Nadia,” Moore, seasoned CIA agent, now poised on the edge of desperation. She gripped her stool with both hands and crossed one booted leg over the other, moving her foot to the music of Aretha Franklin sung by a long-haired Mus-covite with an ear-aching accent.
Hope slung her gaze across the shadowed room, searching. No, he hadn’t arrived. And no one had made her cover. Yet.
She sighed and leaned back against the bar. The low murmurs from clumped conversation groups tugged on her ears and competed against the racket onstage. These clandestine forums oozed information that might further the cause of the United States against their Cold War nemesis. Hope had been a habitual eavesdropper for too long.
Over the dark room, maybe twenty meters square, hovered a cloud of smoke—cigarette and otherwise. Thank-fully, Russia didn’t have near the drug problem that ravaged the youth across the ocean. Still, possession of illegal substances netted a gruesome sentence in the gulags to the north—a prospect guaranteed to crash the highest high. Russia’s drug of choice centered on the state-sanctioned firewater, vodka; and this close, its acrid redolence cramped Hope’s empty stomach.
Oh, yeah. Food. She’d been too busy to eat. Too intent on sneaking into Russia. Too focused on saving the only man she’d ever loved.
She glanced at the timepiece that hung from a long chain around her neck. Aranoff was now over an hour late. Had he received her message? She’d left it in their former dead drop. Fear found a foothold and dug at her courage. She was an idiot to think he still checked his PO box or the chipped-out brick behind the Dumpster at his cousin’s flat. She fingered the piece of jewelry, a wedding gift from Mickey. The backside contained a small compartment for microdots and other clandestine information she might courier.
Not today. This trip was about her. About Mickey.
About baby Ekaterina.
For the thirteen thousandth time in the last twenty hours, she called herself crazy, and her courage knotted into a hard ball in her stomach.
Crazy Hope. That’s what she had.
Crazy Hope. That’s what Mickey had called her when she’d snuck them into a General Assembly meeting of the Duma or when she’d secreted her way onto a Leningrad train and into the private berths of General Lashtoff. Her crazy, even fantastical missions—and accomplishments—had earned her legendary status in the company. But even she knew that springing Mickey out of Gorkilov Prison or even evading the KGB in this dimly lit underground cabaret might be a feat above Crazy Hope’s abilities.
But she wasn’t going to let Mickey die without de-manding from him the truth.
Hope breathed out hard. Sweat beaded underneath her long, black wig. Twenty hours under its weight made her neck muscles scream. She should have waited to don her disguise until the Moscow airport. Then again, wouldn’t it have seemed strange to see someone with ginger brown hair wearing the conservative shirtdress of a mother enter the bathroom, and a young, hip, dark brunette with waist-long hair and a beaded necklace exit? No, she needed the guise of American student and war protester to get her into the mass of society. Let customs officials see nothing more sinister than a free-love hippie with a peace agenda, and they’d let her pass without a blink. But a mother of one, a savvy woman with fluency in three languages and the ability to move around Russian society like a mouse? They’d have her under the bright light in the KGB bowels faster than Solzhenitsyn.
Once inside Russia, she’d beelined for the Zhenshina Belaya Nocha, her old stomping grounds, snuck in the back entrance, and changed into a more conservative, Russian-style dirt-brown polyester skirt, turquoise blouse, and suede jacket. Still hip. But tame enough to blend into the Soviet crowd.
Please, Aranoff, find me.
She turned around to the bartender, a gaunt man with an Adam’s apple the size of Brooklyn, and ordered a tomato juice. He eyed her, perhaps a moment too long, and slid her the drink.
She drank it down in one gulp and felt it saturate her insides with nourishment. Once, on a mission to plant a bug in the inner office of a high-ranking party secretary, she’d gone without eating for over two days.
She would gladly never eat again if it meant Mickey might live.
A new song by a new jazz singer. This time the music of John Coltrane filled the room. The shaggy heads of Moscow University students, who pushed the party line with their neck-length hair and fringed leather jackets, stared at the musician. No movement. No swaying of heads. No feet tapping in time to the music.
Even in their attempts to reproduce the West, they couldn’t break free of stoic Soviet culture. Hope stopped her bobbing foot. Her heart sank. How quickly she’d forgotten her training, relaxed her instincts. If the KGB hadn’t spotted her yet and weren’t rounding up a posse outside the Belaya’s doors, it would only be due to God’s mercy.
She hoped God was especially generous with said mercy on this trip. Then again, she hadn’t really spent any time considering Him until Ekaterina was born. Until a year ago, God had been stories told by her grandmother, an ethereal, maybe protective thought in the back of her brain. Having a baby had put the need for God into her life, had occasionally sent her eyes heavenward. All the same, He felt as far away as upstate New York, distant from her problems, her life of espionage.
Maybe she hadn’t earned the right to mercy. . . .
And Mickey’s credentials were shaky at best.
The truth was, why would God care about a couple of desperate spies who certainly hadn’t earned a place of honor in His holy roll call?
No, maybe they were all on their own. And if so, she was certainly in over her head.
Aranoff, where are you?
She stood, walked over to the wall, leaned one shoulder into it, and surreptitiously scanned the room. A blond, tucked in the shadows stage left, caught her attention. Hope’s heart skipped when she noted the woman had her in her sights. No smile, her eyes fixed. Recognition slid over Hope like a chill.
Or should she say. . .girlfriend?
Hope fought the anger that welled at the back of her throat. Lena should be wasting away on death row in Mickey’s place. And if Hope could figure out a way to make the swallow—the KGB femme fatale—pay for her crimes, she’d invest a lifetime into bringing her to justice.
Focus. Hope blew out a breath. She was here for Ekaterina. And she wouldn’t jeopardize her mission—even for revenge.
Where is Aranoff?
The fear that he’d been arrested flickered across her brain, and she winced. No. She would have heard. Aranoff Chornov was too valuable to disappear without a ripple in the community. Even her father, as angry as he still was over her marriage, would have eased his stance and conveyed the news that one of her best friends had been betrayed.
No, only Mickey was doing the betraying these days. A fact that her father, spymaster Edward Neumann, took every opportunity to drive home.
She held up her glass, hoping for one last taste of juice, and noticed her hand shook. Her own softness rattled her. Two years out of the field, and she reacted like a rookie.
Maybe she was. Maybe she’d been out of the game so long that this attempt to salvage her future was sheer suicide. Then where would Ekaterina be?
Hope closed her eyes and let the image of her one-year-old—the baby-soft caramel-colored hair, the amber brown eyes, the droolly smile—wax her mind. A softness started in her heart and spread out through her body. No. She wouldn’t fail. She’d bring home Kat’s father. And then, somehow, she’d start being the mother she should be.
Whatever that meant.
Somehow, she had to believe that yanking Mickey out of this mess held the key to her questions, to this sudden floundering for identity. Ever since she’d held her red-faced squirming daughter in her arms, an unfamiliar feeling had sizzled in her chest.
She’d finally named it. Panic.
She, the woman who knew how to sweet-talk the German Stasi into allowing her into a covert restaurant for party officials, the same operator who could unlock a closed door in less than ten seconds, felt just a little weak every time her daughter toddled up to her, arms out, toothless mouth grinning.
She needed this trip if only to find her footing. Resurrect the confidence that had shattered into smithereens on the floor of a Nyack, New York, maternity ward.
She put the glass down and crossed her arms over her chest, pushing her fear into a cold ball. She refused to believe the rumors until she could confront her lying, traitorous, two-timing husband face-to-face.
So maybe she believed the rumors more than she wanted to admit.
Two minutes out in the back alley with the woman across the room, and Hope would have the hard, cold facts.
Somehow, that only sent a ripple of pure fear up her spine.
No, she’d wait until she could look square into Mickey’s light green eyes, see past the legends, the cover stories, and reveal the truth.
And maybe, if she really kept her wits about her, she’d be able to withstand his intoxicating charisma long enough to convince him to return home. To her.
Don’t expect loyalty from a career spy, Nadezhda. Her father’s voice took out a chunk of her heart with one swoop, and she gasped. No. She’d pledged to trust Mickey.
And she would.
Even if his girlfriend sat across the room like a minx, oozing elegance and charm and 120 percent deceit.
Oh Mickey, how could you?
As if in some mystical trance, Hope couldn’t rip her gaze off the woman, her long, nearly white-blond hair, the way she laughed with others at her table. Hope felt a hot ball ignite in her chest when the woman looped an arm through one of her companions and whispered into his ear. Lena still had the poise of a ballerina, the figure of Marilyn Monroe.
Lena Chornova obviously hadn’t given birth to a nine-pound baby within the last year. Hope felt downright pudgy in her dingy skirt. Little wonder Mickey had moved on.
No. He’d pledged to love her, too.
She pushed off the wall when Lena exited during the rhythmic applause following a Duke Ellington tune. Hope eased over to the opposite door, and her heart in her throat, she debated tailing the little tramp. Aranoff hadn’t shown, and Lena was a sure link to the only man who could help Hope. Besides, suddenly Hope couldn’t bear another moment of not knowing.
“Nadia Neumann. Welcome back to the USSR.”
Hope turned, and her heart jumped into her throat. Dressed in head-to-toe black garb and smoking a cigarette stood the very picture of her nightmares.
Komitet Gosudarstvennoy Bezopasnosti. . .the KGB.
The KGB didn’t hold a prayer of breaking him. Not after 382 days and six hours of imprisonment. Not with their beatings. Not with the threats of reprisal against his wife or his fellow agents. Not even with the loneliness that came from shivering, night after long night, in a dank, two-by-two-meter cell.
No, the Siberian cold would kill him first.
Michael, aka “Misha,” aka “Mickey,” aka “World-Class Failure” Moore huddled in a ball and watched the snow angle through the shoe-box–sized hole fifteen feet above his head and drift lazily, as if mocking him, to the floor, where it had begun to accumulate. He pushed his bare toe into the fluffy mound and closed his eyes against a wave of dread when he felt nothing. Stripped to only his thin, holey prison pants, he’d discovered that this new torture technique had its positives—namely a hypothermic, painless death. The end to a year of pain. Of empty hopes. Of wondering if he might live until tomorrow.
Tomorrows that, according to inside sources, were going to end in three days.
If the frigid winter night didn’t kill him first.
He’d long since stopped dreaming he might live to be reunited with Hope.
Michael leaned his grimy head against the cement wall, feeling his teeth rattle against the cold. He didn’t deserve to see her again, even if he somehow managed to escape, a possibility that felt farther from his grip every day.
At least he would die without having revealed his ring of agents and operatives who worked in the Soviet Union, hoping to keep the Cold War from boiling over. Contacts that included his wife.
He might be a lousy husband, a rotten handler, and an even worse operator, but every cell and fiber in his skin-and-bones body was a to-the-death patriot. If he could do but one thing right, he would die well. With his country’s secrets trapped in his brain.
He heard the rattle of a metal cup against cement.
Evgeny, awake. Michael and his neighbor had bridged the communication barrier with Morse code, which told Michael that Evgeny had been a soldier of some sort. He had a wife, a grown daughter, and had worked as an engineer in Moscow. Beyond that, Michael knew that Evgeny was a fighter. More than once, Michael had seen the guy dragged back to his cell looking more like reindeer sausage than a human being. Still, Evgeny rose from the grip of death to tap on the floor and give Michael hope.
Hope that came in the form of Bible verses.
Sixty days into his incarceration, Michael had unraveled the laborious sentence his neighbor tapped out in the wee hours of the night. “Be strong and courageous. For the Lord your God is with you.”
Right then, hope lit an ember in his heart. One that refused to die, despite the KGB’s brutal attempts to snuff it out.
Maybe, just maybe, God hadn’t abandoned the spy with a hundred names. The man who wove a web of deceit so thick, he couldn’t remember the way back to the truth. He’d begun his spy days with a noble purpose, even found fuel for it in the proverbs embedded in his brain. “Rescue those being led away to death; hold back those staggering toward slaughter.” His Bible drills as a child in Ohio told him that standing up for right against evil counted in the kingdom of heaven. But ten years fighting an unseen war left him raw, weary, and wondering if he’d etched out even a toehold for righteousness.
He could point out way too many moments when righteousness had been the last thing on his mind. And 382 days of painful labor and no rescue attempt told just what kind of legacy he’d created.
However, since meeting Evgeny, he’d begun to hope that God offered redemption and a final purpose for the man who once had it all. . .and had chucked it without looking back. Until, of course, he realized what he had lost.
How Michael longed to replay time and return to that moment when he had a choice. This time, he would take the road that led him into Hope’s arms. Regret seemed a living being, crawling through his chest on the dark nights when she visited him in his dreams.
Still, perhaps if he stayed the course, God could redeem his calling, give light to his dismal life. In his death, he’d be the man he should have been in life. A man who protected the woman he loved.
Three days to his execution.
Maybe someday Hope would find the one thing he’d given her that could prove that her husband had been a patriot who had loved her to the grave.
“Cold,” Evgeny tapped.
Michael pried his hand off his bare knee, and amazed at the cold that rushed in its wake, he found his own cup. “Da,” he returned.
“News from home.” Evgeny’s tapping reverberated through the hall, but no guards ventured into the frozen, cement wasteland to torment the rebels. “Larissa married.”
Michael winced, and the texture of his own fatigue and loss rubbed tears into his eyes. Poor man. Missed his own daughter’s wedding. Thankfully, Michael didn’t have a daughter to steal his heart and dash it against his regrets.
“Congratulations,” he tapped, feeling the emptiness of his word.
“Thank you,” Evgeny answered, ever the polite Rus-sian, even in his own private agony. “Wife. Visit. Soon.”
Yeah, right. The possibility of Evgeny’s wife visiting him, even finding him in the middle of Russia seemed as farfetched as Michael enjoying a good dinner this Thanksgiving. “Great,” he tapped, playing along with the lie.
“Don’t give up.”
The sound reverberated across the pane of night, against the cold, and into Michael’s soul. He sighed and this time felt hot tears parting his frozen cheeks. The snowfall, backdropped by the glaring yard lights, reflected an eerie orange glow into the room, as if lighting it afire, and Michael had the strangest sense of warmth. If only he could really, truly hang onto hope. But he felt so dangerously near surrendering to the urge to curl into a ball and let the cold arrange his escape.
No more beatings. No more regrets. No more temptation to agree to their promises of release in exchange for names.
No more memories tearing his heart in half of Hope coming to him. There were times, moments between the pain, the cold, and the hunger, when he closed his eyes, and her image blanketed his mind, soothing, salving the anguish with tender memories. Those golden brown eyes, dancing with mischief and laughter. That long, ginger brown hair, sun streaked and falling between his fingers like silk. Her hand in his, Mickey. . .trust me. . . . I love you. . . .
His gut churned. Look where it had gotten her. A widow at age twenty-nine.
At least she was young enough to marry again.
What was he thinking? She’d probably headed back to America, annulled their marriage, and had already found happiness in the arms of another man. Not that she was fickle in her love—but rather, wise. She probably came to her senses and realized ten minutes after he left town that “Mickey” meant “Mistakey.” But the thought of another man inhaling her fragrance, on the receiving end of her laughter. . .fire shot through him, the first glimpse that he might live through this night. He raised his eyes to heaven, tears freezing on his cheeks. “I wronged her, Lord. I know it. Please, give her a man whom she can trust, who is faithful, and who can love her the way she deserves. Give her a man who will protect and honor her and keep his promises.”
His throat grew raw. Yes, someone who might protect her. From herself.
Deep inside, he half-expected Crazy Hope to storm the prison and attempt his escape.
That scared him more than anything the KGB could dish out.
Because if they caught her. . .well, all he’d spent the last decade hiding would come out in a rush.
The one sure way to make him confess in spades—his Hope in the clutches of the KGB.