Art by Jason C. Eckhardt
by Jeffery Deaver
“So, Lessing. . . . Doctor Lessing, right?”
“Well, technically, I guess. Ph.D. in poli sci. I sometimes say ‘Doctor’ when I try to book a table at Le Grand Toque but it never works.”
The lean, balding man Lessing was sitting across from just stared blankly. He reminded himself: No. No jokes. Not with him.
“So. There’s a situation. You’ve been attached to CEE for two years now?”
His question really wasn’t. Spies—especially someone
at the level of the director—know all of the answers. But it was a way to ease into a discussion of the “situation,” Lessing assumed.
“Yessir. And before the Central and Eastern Europe desk—”
“You were on Russia.”
“And before that you were a professor.”
The director looked down at an open folder and read. The papers were marked with the words “Top Secret.” You’d think somebody would have come up with an esoteric classification system like X-1 or ClassCon A. But why get fancy? Those two words made the case just fine.
Albert Lessing looked out the window and could see—overlaid on the view of autumn trees in Northern Virginia—his own reflection. The thirty-eight-year-old, pale of complexion, was a bit under six feet, a bit under his ideal weight, his mother was quick to point out. He’d been told he was handsome in a minor-league baseball shortstop sort of way. Whatever that meant.
The view was impressive. Lessing’s office, shared by four other analysts, was several floors below this one, and in a different wing. You opened the door via an old-fashioned combination dial, like a safe. Again, nothing esoteric.
The director had absorbed what he needed to and looked up. “Now, Tony Kauffman’s been injured. You know him?”
“No.” The Central Intelligence Agency employed over 20,000 people, which was larger than the town in Illinois where Albert Lessing grew up. “Heard the name. CS?”
Clandestine Services. Undercover spies. Lessing was an intelligence analyst—it was his division that took the intel that people like Kauffman and the local assets whom he ran would send to headquarters here for dissection.
“He’ll live, but he’ll be out of commission for a while. Ran off the road on the Autobahn near Munich.”
“Was it . . .?”
“No, a real accident. Deer.”
So, the Russian SVR—the foreign-intelligence successor to the KGB—or another spy agency or a stateless terrorist cell hadn’t tried to kill him. READ MORE
Art by Mark Evan Walker
by Mat Coward
There are very few questions to which the answer isn’t either “Because” or “Get on with it,” but “Have we killed him or does he need supplementary hitting?” is definitely one of them. Angela couldn’t answer because she was trying not to be sick, and I couldn’t answer because I was being sick, so June gave our boss a pretty close inspection and then answered her own question. “Yeah, we’ve definitely killed him. He’s as dead as you can get without being from the olden days.”
June, who had once told us quite proudly that her sisters called her “the coldest June on record,” was our supervisor, so I suppose it was only right that she remained calm and took charge. I was the youngest of the three-strong staff, so I think I was entitled to throw up and feel faint, while it was surely reasonable that Angela, being in her seventies, should turn pale and sink limply onto the basement’s only available seat. The seat was in the form of a pretend lavatory bowl, with pretend eyeballs pretending to float in its pretend water. Angela told me later that it was more comfortable than it looked, but then she’d worked in this business all her life, so that was the sort of thing you’d expect her to notice.
June gave us a little time to collect ourselves, but it really was a little time—about ten seconds. Then she said: “Oh, come on, I don’t know what you’re all making such a fuss about. All right, so we’ve killed him, but they can’t arrest you for that, can they?”
Angela and I stared at her. “Ah . . . just to be completely clear,” I said, “they can’t arrest you for killing someone?”
June shook her head. “Not unless they find out, no.”
When June asked me directly, I had to admit that I could think of no ethical objection, in principle, to killing one’s employer. But I did add that being bashed around the head with a penis-shaped dumbbell was a death I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy.
“Never understood that expression,” she said. “‘I wouldn’t wish that on my worst enemy.’ I mean—is he your enemy or not?”
On balance, I supposed Mr. Inskip had, in fact, revealed himself to be our enemy. Until recently, he’d been so only in the general sense of being the absentee owner of the novelty shop which the three of us ran for him.
It was situated in an alley that hardly anyone ever walked along, in an area of west London which was so fundamentally unfashionable that the gentrifiers who specialised in turning unfashionable places hip had never even heard of it.
The shop’s name was Fake Dog Dirt Etc. At the time Mr. Inskip opened it, the most successful business in the immediate area had been a white-goods store called Fridges Etc. and he’d hoped to cash in on their cachet. And say what you like about fake dog dirt, it’s been a steady seller for generations. It is the rock on which an industry is built. READ MORE