Another early morning for Joan but this time she is in new surrounds, a room with a large fireplace, obviously not working because of an iron stove, the source of heat. The walls were peeling plaster exposing aged brick work. Conduit ran along the base of the walls with electrical outlets, a modern addition to an extremely old building. Simple furnishings once more but this time the window has bars and the shutters closed and lock. The only source of light came from a lamp on a nearby chest. Another tactic, not letting the prisoner know if it is day or night but this room had one problem, a tiny crack it the shutters and Joan could see dim gray early morning light creeping in. If she could keep track of her drugged induce naps being about six to eight hours she could keep up with the days. Over an extended period of time she knew it would all be useless but for now she would count.
"Hello Mrs. Campbell. Did you sleep well?" Her integrator, Leonid back with a tray of food.
"Is it morning?"
"Yes and a rainy day." He placing the tray on a table, unbinding her hands but leaving the leg shackles. Holding a chair for her to sit. "Come have your meal."
Leonid taking up another chair in the corner to watch her, to make sure all eating utensils were accounted for. After Joan had finished eating, he taking the tray and knocking on the door, a guard opened the door and another man took the tray. Joan now knew her room had a guard stationed at the door and in all probability the same setup for Stanislav Ostrovsky. Another day of a few of hours of Leonid asking questions and Joan being vague followed by hours of solitude, the routine was set but for how long.
Driving to the outskirts of Lublin, Eyal a.k.a. Father Benedetto parked his black car with a fake registration traceable back to the Church of the Gracious Mother of God in Warsaw. He pulled out his laptop and keyed in his code to Eric or Auggie, whichever one monitoring his commutations. The intel was from Eric, in detail and informative.
"Bingo, your Eric is a damn genius. What is his favorite bottle of booze?"
"Potato chips and beer."
"What, potato chips, junk food." Eyal laughing. "A small price to pay for his brilliance." Eyal scanning down through the intel. "Four places have been leased within the past two days and two of them are in old town."
"Your best guess?"
"Old town for sure. Cramped quarters and lots of tourist, new faces go unnoticed. They haven't used any of the burn cell phone yet but give them time." Eyal finished with his review of the intel, closed his laptop and smiled.
"Now what?" Annie ask, this was his point and she would follow his lead.
"Well Sister Anna Margot and Father Benedetto will be doing some sightseeing, and scoping out the two locations. Ask a few questions and see what we can find. With any luck a free lunch and flowing intel."
"Always thinking about food."
"Why not, sure bets throwing fist." Eyal opening the car door, "We know there are five or six goons with a heavy supply of food and Vodka. Shall we Sister."
Misty morning with a few spots of drizzling rain. Streets were still crowded with tourist and brightly colored umbrellas broken with the black of several nuns taking covered baskets of food to shut-ins. Annie volunteer to help and she quickly joined the other sisters on their deliveries. One of the buildings they went to was on the list of possible holding sites for Joan. An old building but not in the center of old town and the interior had been modernize and cheerfully painted. Several apartments and single rooms.
The nuns went about knocking on each door, spending time with the elderly person that answered and handed them a boxed meal. Poland's version of Meals on Wheels. One of the sisters told Annie that this building was a retirement home for the elderly run by the Catholic Charities of St. Bartholomew of Christ the Sheppard. After spending thirty minutes in the apartment building, Annie was sure there was no hiding place for the missing Joan and her objective.
"Good, now on to the next and it is in the heart of the older section. Secret passageways, hidden rooms and a perfect place to lay low. We will take our time Annie, recon the area fully checking for different entrances and escape routes. No rushing in like Rambo with guns blazing." Eyal giving Annie the directive and hope she would follow. At times she could be a little unpredictable.
By now the rain had let up but the skies were still gray and overcast. Cobblestone streets with some rough spots having been paved, narrow and alleyways twisting about seemingly going nowhere. Earth tone buildings with small windows and hidden alcoves leading to doorways and a sense of stepping back in time, back to the medieval days of Europe. There was a type of mystical romance ambiance about walking the streets, Annie could almost envision a black knight riding a mighty steed leading an army of crusading warriors through the streets, returning victoriously from great battles in faraway lands. Annie was quickly pulled out of her muse with Eyal's voice.
"We'll park here and go the rest of the way on foot. One last check with Eric before we go." Eyal open his laptop, "We are in the right area, one of the cells has been used about twenty minutes ago, mean someone has been or still is out and about."
"Which building are we looking at."
"The three story one down the street on your left. I can't tell from here but I think there is an alleyway running next to it. Shall we take a short stroll before breaking for lunch. You know the drill."
"Yeah." Annie opening her door to the car and noticing not many people out, maybe the time of day. As they took their stroll and paying close attention to the area, Annie being concern that maybe Joan was already dead.
"You really thinking Joan is still alive?"
"That one I'm one-hundred percent sure of. A top-level CIA official defecting to Russia, couldn't ask for better propaganda."
"She not defecting."
"All they need is her face and several well placed threats to her child and they have a smiling Joan meeting some SVR's heads. News at 10."
"What about Nicholai Bolshakov?"
"That could be a tossup but my best guess is he is also still alive, the hero that brought Joan to Russia and after they have milked the propaganda cow for all it's worth, he will die of natural causes and given a hero's funeral. The last thing Vladimir Putin needs is for the Deputy Director of External Counter-Intelligence to turn traitor. The US can have traitors but not Russia."
"Truth, justice Russian style." Annie looking down the alleyway beside the building of interest. "Look up on the third floor, the windows have closed shutters."
"I see. I need to get down that alley. Come on Sister and let's find us a nice place to have lunch. I'm hungry and also need a change of clothes, your shopping skills up to par?"
"Always, what do you need?"
"Secondhand clothes for the homeless. A Catholic father can't go dumpster diving." Eyal half chuckling.
Lunch was pretty much in the subdued mood, each thinking about Joan, maybe more so by Annie. Eyal was concern but not emotionally attached as Annie, for him he liked Joan okay but was not close. He treating the stanch and run as another mission without personal interest was the key for success.
"We should talk about what I have in mind." Eyal wanted to go over his plan in hope Annie will follow his lead. Even if he was running point he knew Annie's impulsive ways and this time maybe stronger just being Joan was the victim. Eyal had also to retrieve Nicholai Bolshakov and he didn't need for Annie to be going on a different course.
"I think she is being held on the third flood in one of those rooms with the closed shutters." Annie taking a slip of her drink.
"I'm sure your guess is right, harder to make an escape from top of a building. Now there are two people we need to get out, not just Joan."
"I know that."
"While you are out shopping for the homeless, and hope you find enough men's clothing to fit me, I'll be at the local church in afternoon prayer and asking a few questions."
"What church is that."
"The one very close to our target building. What I'm really looking for is a place for four people to hide until dark." Eyal finishing his lunch. "Now, once I am in the homeless state, I want you to keep watch on the front and tell me if anyone comes out. I need to get a closer look at the back of the building and other ways we might be able to get access."
"We got communication equipment?"
"Your crucifix, if you press the feet three times it sends a buzzing signal to my receiver. It was an added improvement so you can get my attention quickly. Once you press it for the fourth time it shuts down the transmitter until you need it again."
Annie looking at the crucifix hanging from a chain around her neck. "You ready?"
"Ready as ever, let's do it."
It took just under two hours to gather up the clothing Eyal needed and with a few rips and smears of dirt Eyal look as if he lived on the streets complete with a small push cart filled with stuff. Eyal had also been on the hunt. They were now several blocks away from the building and Eyal checking again for any new information from Eric or Auggie. None.
Handing the keys to the car to Annie, "Park near building but not in front of it. Keep watch and once you see me enter the alley, start timing." He handed her a small detonator. "If I'm not back in thirty minutes, press this detonator button, it will cause a small explosion and fire in one of the dumpsters. Then leave taking the car and drive back to the restaurant where we had lunch and wait for me. Give me exactly thirty minutes no more and for god sake don't blow the dumpster prematurely. It is my backup."
"Aren't you quite the pessimist?" Annie teased.
"I prefer realist." Eyal smiled back. "It never hurts to have a contingency plan." The bent over homeless man with his hat pull low over his forehead, hiding his eyes, Eyal pushing his worldly paraphernalia in the small cart down the street. A passerby stopped him and gave him some money to buy a meal, there is kindness in everyday life.
Annie pulling the car to park it down the street from the building and the front entrance, which is on the side in an alcove near the front, could be viewed. However any view of the alleyway was obscured by a neighboring building, a butcher shop. Wasn't long before Eyal and his push cart came ambling along, turning into the alleyway and vanished.
Ten minutes elapse when Annie saw two men coming out of the door and heading down the street, leaving the door partly open. She saw her chance for a swift recon of the inside and quickly moved to the door, slowly pushing it open to see a dimly lit hallway leading to a larger room and stairs. Taking a few steps down the hall when she was grabbed from behind and twisted into a no escapable hold, both arms behind her back and a second man coming to face her, it was Grigori Lermontov, the point leader of the Russian group.
Eyal headed back to the car within twenty-five minutes to find it empty. "Where in the hell could she have gone?" He muttered under his breath. There on the console was the detonator. Slipping into the car behind the steering wheel something hit his foot, Annie's gun. Reaching down and recovering the gun, shoving it in his pocket, of course Annie wouldn't be wearing her gun, after all she was a nun and holy women don't wear guns. Checking his receiver for any signal from Annie's crucifix but nothing. His gut told him she was in trouble and very well at her own making. If they had pulled her out of the car the detonator would also be gone. Now what? He was sure she had seen something and followed and hoping against hope that it didn't involved going into the building.
How wrong he was. His receiver buzzed and the green blinking dot appeared showing Annie was undeniably in the building, near the back. He had found a back entrance with stairs leading to the third flood, start at the top and work down. Checking his guns, two in his pockets and one in a leg holster. Picking up the detonator he was ready. Moving down the alleyway to near the rear, past the dumpster and finding a hiding spot behind the butcher shop diagonally to the back entrance where could see if anyone would leave by that entrance.
Pushing the button - small explosion followed by a blazing fire. Two men from butcher shop ran out as well as two from the building. He recognized one as being Grigori Lermontov. Several more people started to gather and mass confusion ensued. The diversion Eyal was hoping for. Up the back stone stairway well worn from centuries of use, he made his way to the third floor and a short hallway. There stood a guard with his back toward Eyal on the lookout for trouble but in the wrong direction. Easy for Eyal to take him down, he would be out cold for a long time.
Picking the lock, Eyal opened the door to find Joan and Annie. Joan in shackles anchored to the wall and Annie tied to a chair. Eyal picked the lock on Joan shackles freeing her to move to Annie and she quickly untied the nun. Joan could see a dark, infuriated man as he took a glance down the hall for anyone else. Turning back to the women, annoyance showing intensely in his eyes.
"How in the hell did you think this would help. My god woman do you ever think." Eyal's anger showing across his face, his fist balled tight with index finger pointing to his head, making circular motions. Next out of his mouth was Hebrew and curse words not meant for mix company. Pacing back to the door, turning to look at Joan and Annie. "One of these days Annie I am going to put a leash on you. Tell me why? What was your thought process, oh hell no, there was not thought to it just Annie Walker doing her impulsive thing."
"I could follow..."
"And almost jeopardized the entire damn mission."
"I'm sorry doesn't work with me. Annie your life and maybe lives of others depend on you thinking before leaping. Am I getting through to you or just talking to hear myself talk."
Annie looking at him with sad eyes and wrinkled forehead, like a little lost puppy.
"Hell, I may as well be talking to the damn stone wall for all the good it's doing." Eyal throwing his arms in the air as in defeat.
Annie had learned now wasn't the time to speak. Joan had heard of Eyal's temper but this is the first time she had seen it in action and knew he was holding back. She also knew what he was saying was correct and Annie needed it. She looked at Annie for any type of reaction and was she listening to Eyal.
"He'll cool down in a minute." Annie whispering to Joan.
"The hell I will." Handing both women guns. "Come on we have to find Nicholai and get out of here and I am giving both you a command and you damn well obey it. NO TALKING! Understood?"
"Who is Nicholai?" This was the first Joan had heard the name.
"The man you were to escort back to the US. Nicholai Bolshakov" Eyal checking the hall before they moved.
Joan knew the name all too well and now she was livid. He husband, the one man she should be able to trust completely allowed her to go on a mission without knowing the truth. Now she was hell-bent and determined to get home with her ward delivered into safe hands, complete her mission and have a long overdue sit down with Arthur. Personal and professional lives together were complicated and delicate to balance.
Just as Eyal was ready to step out of the room, Joan grabbed his arm, "This is my mission and I'll take point from now on. If Bolshakov see you and recognizes who you are, well I don't trust him and your cover maybe blown forever. I can't allow that to happen. Find a clear way out and vanish."
"I can't let you take the risk."
"Annie and I are both trained CIA agents and it's our job. Now go, get out of here."
Eyal retracing his steps down to the alleyway and easy to mingle in the growing number spectators watching the blazing dumpster he made his way unnoticed to a spot across the street to watch. A few minutes passed when he saw Grigori Lermontov reenter the building by the front door, a gun shot rang out but only he could distinguish the sound. The door open and out walked Annie, Joan and Nicholai Bolshakov, climb in the car and drove away.
Eyal taking this opportunity to check the building and found Grigori with a deadly shot to the head. Texting his Polish friend, Gwalbert, the man who helped make this rescue possible. 'Grigori has met his end.'
Eyal could return to his assigned mission, living the high life in Monaco. With his hands in his pockets and whistling a catchy tune he too vanished.
A week later and Annie had not heard from Eyal. They didn't part under the most pleasant conditions and she had sent him a lengthily apologetic e-mailed but he had not responded. Picking up an unfinished crossword puzzle she was making herself unhappier by the minute. Ten down, a nine letter word for understanding with the letter P in the center. ACCEPTING. She put down the puzzle and walked to Joan's office, "Got a second."
"Sure Annie, come in."
"The lecture Eyal gave me back in Poland, he was right in everything he said."
"Yes he was, maybe not the delivery but he was dead on target. You are an accomplished agent but with that one flaw, something you need to work on. CIA can provide you with counseling to help find the cause of your impulsiveness but only if you request the help."
"Thanks Joan, I just needed for you to tell me he was right and not over reacting. I know where I can go for help." With that Annie left Joan's office and back at her desk, she called Sister Mary Frances. Later that afternoon on her way to meet with her new friend at Saint Joseph's Church her phone buzzed, incoming text.
'On a long-term mission but when finished you owe me dinner for that crazy stunt you pulled. E.'
She text backed. 'I owe you a whole weekend in some out of the way place.'
'I will collect. E.'
A/N: And so goes the lives of Eyal and Annie. Being spies can be rough at times but true love will overcome. Thanks for your support and reviews.