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G. P. PUTNAM’S SONS
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Copyright © 2010 by DavidStoneBooks
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Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Stone, David, date. The skorpion directive/ David Stone. p. cm. Summary: After a close friend is murdered, Micah Dalton is on the hunt for vengeance.
eISBN : 978-1-101-18718-0
1. Dalton, Micah (Fictitious character)—Fiction. 2. Intelligence officers—Fiction. I. Title. PR9199.3.S833S’.54—dc22
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, businesses, companies, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
While the author has made every effort to provide accurate telephone numbers and Internet addresses at the time of publication, neither the publisher nor the author assumes any responsibility for errors, or for changes that occur after publication. Further, the publisher does not have any control over and does not assume any responsibility for author or third-party websites or their content.
And in memory of
RSM Ted Adair, Governor General’s Horse Guards:
“I am not unwell . . .”
My sincere thanks to Chris Pepe, my very patient editor,
Barney Karpfinger, my very patient agent, and to
Inge de Taye, Cathy Jacques, Debbie Fowler, Barbara Wojdat
A scorpion and a crocodile reached the edge of a broad, swift-running river, and both paused a moment on the bank. The scorpion, who could not swim, asked the crocodile to carry him across it. The crocodile was reluctant, fearing that once they had set out upon the river the scorpion would sting him. The scorpion replied that if he were to sting the crocodile in the middle of the river, he would die as well.
The crocodile considered this, and then consented to carry the scorpion across the river. But when they reached the middle of the rushing river, the scorpion coiled and stung the crocodile many times.
Dying, the crocodile cursed the scorpion for his malice, but the scorpion answered that the crocodile knew what kind of creature he was when he agreed to carry him across the river and the crocodile should not be amazed when a scorpion behaves like a scorpion. The river, wiser than either, killed them both.
—Traditional, possibly from Egypt
ViennaSCHOTTENTOR RING, UNIVERSITY DISTRICT, 1908 HOURS LOCAL TIME
Micah Dalton, riding a crowded escalator up into the cold blue light of the Schottentor trolley station, was instantly spotted by a member of the
, in this case a twenty-eight-year-old cut-crystal blonde named Lasha Seigel. Seigel had been assigned the
position, the trigger being the most likely member of the Overwatch Service to have First Contact with the target.
HumInt obtained by the Cousins—they would not reveal the source—indicated that Dalton was likely to surface at the Schottentor subway stop at some point in the early evening of this day. Seigel had therefore taken up her trigger post at daybreak, in a vacant office on the fifth floor of the Volksbank, on the far side of Währinger Strasse, and had remained there ever since, fixed, alone, without relief, mainly because her boss, Rolf Jägermeier, was a
, a blunt Teutonic curse that, when sounded out, needs no translation. The rest of the “box” team would commence
—the lift, the active mobile surveillance operation—as soon as Seigel established First Contact. Which, to her credit, she managed to do three seconds after Dalton cleared the escalator exit. In another two seconds she had a digital camera with a thousand-millimeter lens zeroed in on Dalton’s face. And as soon as she had it focused, down in his lizard brain, Micah Dalton sensed . . .
Nothing as specific as a surveillance lens, or the adrenalized young woman behind it. Just a sudden and skin-crawling sense of unease. In his current state, this was not surprising.
He had not slept for two days, and his weary mind was far away in London, recalling the murder of an Uzbek courier on an escalator very much like this one. He became aware that his pulse rate was also climbing, but thinking about the Uzbek’s murder could be the cause of that as well, since Dalton had been the murderer.
The Agency had gone to no end of trouble to recruit this Uzbek, whose family was supposed to have a direct connection with the largest al-Qaeda unit in Tashkent, and they were not at all pleased to learn that he had already been doubled by the Albanians, or at least that’s what Dalton had been told, by Tony Crane, the head of the CIA’s London Station. Dalton, whose time in the Fifth Special Forces had given him some intimate and bloody contact with the Albanians, didn’t think they had enough tradecraft to double a decaf mocha latte.
No matter. According to Tony Crane, the inconvenient Uzbek needed his ticket punched. Crane was a languid blond-haired Back Bay princeling with a perma-tan, a history degree from Oxford, and a Harvard Yard drawl. His only firsthand experience of incoming fire was facing a forehand smash on a clay court. Nevertheless, Crane labored, with some success, at least among the young and gullible on the staff, to create the impression that he and sudden death had been roommates at Choate. Crane wanted “the hit” done in a
way, “so those
Albanians would get the
Crane’s XO, Stennis Corso, known as Pinky behind his back, a round, seal-like little man with tiny pink ears and bright pink cheeks and soft pink hands that were always raw from too much scrubbing—no one at London Station cared to know why—had a hopelessly mad crush on Dalton at the time, so Dalton got the assignment as a kind of burnt offering from Pinky, whose private passion for Dalton had tented Pinky’s hand-sewn Quaker bedspread for over two years.
Dalton resented the assignment bitterly: he didn’t mind a necessary combat killing, but he deeply despised murder. Nevertheless, he had stayed on the Uzbek for a couple of weeks, realizing pretty early on that, for a double agent supposedly steeped in guile, the fragile old man had the situational awareness of a mollusk.
On the day marked for what Crane liked to call “the hit”—the Friday of the Victoria Day weekend, a three-day holiday in London—Dalton had stalked him for hours, checking for countersurveillance, waiting for his moment, which, as these moments often do, presented itself on an escalator, in this case the one inside the Marylebone tube station. He could still see the old man’s tweed coat, draped over his narrow bony shoulders like a shawl, his yellow-gray hair, damp with sweat, his left hand shoved deep into his coat pocket, a few inches of his spine showing above a grimy white shirt collar, as he rode the escalator up into the rush-hour clamor of a London afternoon, his right hand, clawlike, gripping the worn rubber rail. The Uzbek was deep inside himself, curled up inside his thoughts like a cat in a closet.
In the final seconds of his life the old man, perhaps sensing Dalton closing in, turned sharply, his blue lips tight, his cheekbones jutting out, his milky eyes widening. Dalton showed his teeth in what he quite mistakenly imagined to be a disarming smile and put four subsonic .22s into the old man’s lungs, the man’s shocked breath a short, sharp puff of peppermint and whisky straight into Dalton’s face.
The chuffing crackle of the Ruger, the silenced muzzle pressed hard up against the man’s woolen vest, was no louder than a dry cough, barely heard above the shuffling din of the crowds, the roar of the subway, and the
of the ancient cast-iron escalator. Four in the lungs looks a lot like a fainting spell to anyone passing by, and everyone did just that.
The Uzbek’s clothes reeked of Turkish tobacco. His teeth were too large and unnaturally white, like little slabs of plastic, the gums a lurid pink. Baltic work, very likely. Dalton had seen enough of that sort of Stalinist dentistry in the blackened mouths of bloated corpses all over Kosovo.
He caught the man’s body as it fell, holding the Uzbek up, pasting a worried look on his sharp-planed, cold-eyed face for the benefit of the other people on the escalator, all of whom glanced quickly away, avoiding involvement of any kind, flowing easily around the two of them like water over stones.
Dalton dead-walked him to a nearby bench, kneeling down in front of him as if he were offering roadside assistance, keeping his pale blue eyes fixed on the man’s face. Dalton was ashamed of feeling not much of anything as he watched him struggle for one more breath, watched his cheeks blooming pink, and then fading slowly to gray.
The Uzbek, his coal-black magpie eyes fixed on Dalton’s, had said something with his final breath, a prayer, a curse, a question, but Dalton spoke no Uzbek, and the man did not try to say it again in English, so although they were quite close together, locked in this obscene intimacy, the old courier died alone.
When the Marylebone crowds thinned out Dalton set the Uzbek gently back on the bench, put a copy of
on his lap, and arranged him into a plausible counterfeit of sleep. Then he stood up, tucking the Ruger into a copy of
magazine with the skull face of Victoria Beckham scowling from the cover, and walked out of the tube station and into the crowds on Harewood Row, under a hazy twilight sky filled with blue and gold light, an evening, as it happened, very much like this evening in Vienna five years later.
Lasha Seigel, in the office on the fifth floor of the Volksbank, tightened the focus of her lens and clicked another digital shot of Dalton pausing at the top of the escalator, time-marked it, and hit SEND
This time Dalton felt a second and much stronger ripple of unease. Something about this evening in Old Vienna was . . . not right. He paused for a moment, looking to his left to glance at a poster advertising a Senegalese rapper-poet named Goebe.
Galan’s mark, the
a slash of blue marker on the lower left-hand corner—was there, as required by the protocols. Its presence stated that, in Galan’s professional view, it was safe to go forward to the contact point. Of course, Dalton had been told that kind of thing many times before, and sometimes it had even been true.
The fact that his meeting was with Issadore Galan, an ex-Mossad agent now running the
agenzia di spionaggo
for the Carabinieri in Venice, made it important to push his luck. Galan disliked face-to-face meetings and avoided them unless he had something to say that could not be safely said in any other way.