Vanessa Michael Munroe inhaled, slow and measured, focused entirely on the curb of the street opposite.
She’d timed the motorcade from Balgat to the edges of Kizilay Square and stood now, motionless, watching from a shadowed notch while the target group exited the vehicles and progressed down a wide, shallow stairwell. Two men. Five women. Four bodyguards. A few more minutes and the mark would arrive.
Multistoried glass buildings reflected neon onto broad streets still alive with late- evening pedestrian traffic. Bodies brushed past, seemingly unaware of her presence or of how her eyes tracked movement in the dark.
She glanced at her watch.
A Mercedes pulled to a stop across the way, and she straightened as the solitary figure stepped from the backseat. He walked casually toward the entrance, and when he was fully out of sight, she followed, down the stairwell to the Anatolia: private of all private clubs, Ankara’s holy of holies, where together the wealthy and powerful fattened the cogs of democracy.
At the door she flashed the business card that had taken two weeks of greased palms and clandestine meetings to acquire.
In acknowledgment the doorman nodded and said, “Sir.”
Munroe replied with a nod, slipped a knot of cash into his hand, and entered into the din of smoke and music. She moved beyond the hive of secluded booths, past the bar with its half- filled line of stools, through the corridor that led to the restrooms and, finally, the “staff only” door.
Inside was not much more than a closet, and here she shed the Armani suit, the Italian shoes, and the trappings of the male persona.
It was unfortunate that she was known as a man to the contact she’d used to gain access, when tonight of all nights she needed to be a hundred percent woman. From her chest she shrugged down the sheath that would function as a figure- hugging dress and slid thin lacy sandals from the lining of the jacket onto her feet. She pulled a mini clutch from the suit pocket and then, checking that the hallway was empty, stepped into the restroom to finish the transformation with makeup and hair.
Back in the main room, the motorcade’s bodyguards stood as homing beacons, and she walked, with long and languid strides, in their direction. Time slowed. Four seconds. Four seconds of direct eye contact with the mark and then the slightest hint of a smile as she averted her eyes and continued past.
She placed herself at the end of the bar, alone, face turned away, body turned toward him. Ordered a drink. And demurely toying with the chained medallion at her throat, she waited.
This final step and the job would be complete.
She’d estimated ten minutes, but the invitation to join the party came within three. The bodyguard who delivered the message escorted her to the table, and there, with only the briefest round of introductions, coy smiles, and furtive glances, she slipped into the evening’s role— seeking, hunting, prodding, all in the guise of the bimbo’s game.
The charade lasted into the early morning, when, having gotten what she wanted, she pleaded exhaustion and excused herself from the group.
The mark followed her from the club to the street and, in the glow of the neon lights, offered a ride that she declined with a smile.
He called for his car, and as she began to walk away, he came after her, fingers gripping her arm.
She pulled away. His grip tightened, and she inhaled deeply, forcing a veneer of calm. Her vision shifted to gray. Her eyes moved from his face to the veins on his neck, so easily slit, to his throat, so easily crushed, and back again. With blood pounding in her ears, she fought down the urge to kill him.
Against instinct she maintained the smile and sweetly said, “Let’s have another drink.”
The Mercedes pulled to the curb. The mark opened the rear door and, before the chauffeur had a chance to step out, shoved Munroe into the backseat. He climbed in after her and slammed the door. Ordered the chauffeur to drive and then pointed in a brisk movement toward the minibar. “Have your drink,” he said.
With a flirtatious smile, she looked over her shoulder, seeing but not seeing. It was the smile of death and destruction, a disguise to the fire of bloodlust now coursing through her veins. She struggled to maintain reason. Focus. Subduing the urge, she reached for the bottle of Jack with one hand, her clutch with the other, and said, “Drink with me.”
Reacting to her calm, and with the unspoken promise of sex to come, he relaxed and took the drink she offered. She dipped her fingers into it and then pressed them to his mouth. She repeated the gesture, playfully, teasing the Rohypnol into his system until the glass had been emptied, and when it had been done, she staved him off until the drug took effect. She told the chauffeur to take the man home and, without resistance, stepped out of the car.
In the cool of the predawn, she breathed deeply to clear her head. And then she began to walk, oblivious to time, aware only of the lightening sky and eventually the morning call to prayer that sounded from the minarets across the city.
It was fully light when she arrived at the apartment that had served as home for the last nine months.
The place was shuttered and dark, and she flipped on the light. A bare low- wattage bulb hung suspended from the ceiling, revealing a one- room apartment with more floor space devoted to cluttered stacks of books, file folders, and computers with their attendant wires and paraphernalia than to either the desk or the couch that doubled as a bed. Beyond that, the place was empty.
She removed the medallion from around her neck and paused, momentarily distracted by the blinking red light at the foot of the couch. Then, with the medallion fl at between her palms, she twisted it and removed a micro card from the opened halves. She sat in front of the computer, slid the card into a reader, and, with the data downloading, reached for the answering machine.
The voice on the recording was like champagne: Kate Breeden at high noon. “Michael, darling, I know you’re still wrapping up and aren’t expecting another assignment for a while, but I’ve received an unusual request. Call me.”
Munroe sat on the couch, replayed the recording, leaned her forehead onto her arms, and closed her eyes. Exhaustion from the day’s work weighed heavily, and she lay back, eyes glazed in the direction of the monitor and the download status. She glanced at her watch. Just after ten in Dallas. She waited a moment, then straightened, and bracing for what was to come, picked up the handset, and dialed.
The effervescence in the voice on the other end brought the crack of a smile, and Munroe said, “I just got your message.”
“I know that you aren’t looking for new work for a few months,” Kate said, “but this is an exception. The client is Richard Burbank.”
Munroe paused. The name was familiar. “Houston oil?”
She sighed. “Okay, fax me the documents, I’ll take a look.”
There was an awkward silence, and then Breeden said, “For a hundred thousand dollars, would you be willing to meet in person?”
Munroe said nothing. Simply let the silence of the moment consume her.
Breeden spoke again. “It’s been two years, Michael. Consider it a good omen. Come on home.”
“Is it worth it?”
“You can always go back.”
Munroe nodded to empty space, to the inevitable that she’d so far managed to postpone, and said, “Give me a week to wrap things up.” She dropped the phone into the cradle, lay back on the couch, and with an arm draped over her eyes inhaled long and deep.
There would be no sleep today.