Katya flies out the next afternoon to Kiev. She needs to get back to normal, back to efficient. She’d left a coded phone message for Yasha. Four hours later she’d checked and he’d left a message in return.
She decoded it, letter by letter. “Dubai”. She flicked through and picked out her American passport, “Katy Meadows” and booked a couple of flights.
Shevlenko and the Vienna attack was still warm news. News and e-fits from Zurich were still in the papers, not page one, but there. At Kiev, she changes flights, never leaving the terminal and lands at Dubai in the early hours, tired and aching.
Exiting from the luggage area, she looks for Yasha, but can’t see him in the crowd of faces. He knew she was coming. She sees a uniformed driver holding a card up, “K. Meadows”. He wouldn’t forget her.
A week later Katya is happy again. Yasha is working on a trade deal here, staying at the luxurious Emirates Tower. She sleeps soundly for a whole day, and then spends the days swimming, shopping and sleeping. The evenings are with Yasha at his social events, making polite chit-chat with Russian and Arab businessmen over dinner, then spending the rest of the night in bed with him. Her nightmare has not reoccurred.
“What’s happened to you? Why are you suddenly so, I don’t know, so clingy? I have to get sleep for work, this is a busy week.” Yasha asks in the early hours one morning.
“I just missed you and wanted to spend time with you. If that’s so terrible, I’ll go somewhere else.”
“Good god, I just asked. You’ve not been like this since after Chechnya. What did happen in Vienna? I was speaking with Konstantin and he says he knows someone who wants to talk to you. About your Vienna ‘troubles’.”
She’s alert, propping up to look at him. “Konstantin – the FSB guy? Who does he know?”
“Some German intelligence analyst here in Dubai. Paul Drescher. Wants to meet us.” Yasha’s watching her reaction.
“Us? He wants to meet you?”
“No, he wants to meet you, but I don’t understand how he knows I know you, so I want to meet him too and I think you were involved with Shevlenko’s kidnap and murder.”
“I have told you I wasn’t! I was there to see someone else at the conference. Just a coincidence.” Her training lets her look him in the eye as she lies.
As soon as Yasha leaves the next morning, Katya’s in the business lounge, googling Drescher and logging in to obscure Russian websites. They haven’t changed some passwords for years.
She finds that Paul Drescher has been an analyst at the BND, German intelligence, for over 15 years. In Einsatzgebiete / Auslandsbeziehungen. Foreign Liaison. Which foreign though?
That evening, Yasha and Katya meet Drescher in the Crowne Plaza hotel bar opposite their hotel. She’s had a word with the concierge in case of trouble, scanned the exits, set her recording device and is now sat nervously with Yasha. Twenty years ago she was arranging confidential meets just like this as part of her training, under Yasha’s scrutiny. Lots of practice since, but still just as nervous.
Paul turns up on time. Middle aged, thin, short. Grey at temples and wearing glasses. Maybe 40, she thinks.
He sits down, smiling and immediately apologises in German for the manner of his approach. He orders a soft drink, and then speaks to Katya.
“I have a civilian job with the German police that brings me into contact with some very sensitive information and important, connected people. I have come across some information of a sensitive nature. I thought it would be useful for you to know.”
He emphasises the ‘you’ and glances briefly at Yasha.
Katya pauses, she has no idea what Paul’s going to reveal, but can’t cut Yasha out now. Not without him becoming even more suspicious.
“Yasha’s safe. What is this information?”
“Well, if you’re as trusting and close as that, I’ll speak directly.
You were arrested in Vienna for suspicious behaviour during the CIA attempt to kidnap Shevlenko. Three days later he was taken from the Opera House and murdered. The CCTV footage was tampered with but there are eye-witness reports placing you and your associates at the scene. Your fraught relationship with Mother Russia is known. The Austrian Police, intelligence agencies and now Interpol are looking for you and those believed to be associated with you. Soon it will become near impossible for you to travel, if it isn’t already. And the net closes in.”
“I have an inkling who your real enemies are and, let me just say, that I don’t think we’re on different sides.”
Yasha looks on with raised eyebrows.
“I can bring significant influence to bear – in either direction – regarding your case. There are witnesses who are ready to place you elsewhere, or who can describe the American agents who carried out these terrible, violent acts.”
“Our reach is international. I will happily give you a demonstration of this influence.”
“But you must agree to my condition. You cannot continue to act independently. You must clear any future operations with me in advance. Otherwise we will be forced, regrettably, to shut you down…”
Paul looks at Katya calmly with a single eyebrow raised and a hint of feigned sadness at the corners of his mouth. Yasha looks intently at Drescher, and turns to Katya, his eyes quizzical and a little wide.
Katya’s scared. “Your reach is international? You who? Not the German intelligence service. So who do you work for? And why would I believe you?”
She turns to Yasha, “I was going to tell you. It is getting serious, but I didn’t, I don’t, want you dragged in.”
Yasha opens his mouth as if to say something, then bites his tongue. “It seems we do have some talking to do” he says.
Drescher waits courteously then turns back to Katya.
“Well, I see that you’ve done your homework. Yes, I work for a German intelligence agency. And yes our reach is international. It would be indiscreet for me to make confessions on behalf of my agency, but someone in your position must know something of our record, official and otherwise. I won’t patronise you with a history lesson. Yes, our reach, and that of our allies, is extensive. Right now we are assisting Austrian law enforcement and Interpol with the case… with your case. And, as I said, if you need further persuasion, I’m happy to offer you a demonstration. This is not an insinuated threat. It is not a threat at all. I am offering to help you. We believe you need protection, and that is what I’m offering to you. I am extending my hand in a gesture of trust and cooperation, in the sincere hope… belief that you are as smart as I think you are.”
He reveals his BND ID card discretely with his left hand and offers the other to her.
She lets it hang there, unshaken.
“This sounds too good to be true, are you helping us or just me? I won’t betray anyone important to me.” she says.
“If Austrian law enforcement and Interpol are looking elsewhere, then surely your associates would all benefit? I don’t know why you would see this as betrayal. But, as I said, it’s not a free lunch either. Do you need a little time? Why don’t you sleep on it? I’ll be here again in two days.”
That evening, Katya tells Yasha many things. Not the whole truth, but some of the truth. Worryingly, he’s not as angry as she expected.
Katya contacts Sergei via the Romanian Lada User group forum. The phone recording she made of the meeting is useless and the photo she tried to take only has his ear in it. She tells Sergei about the contact and what they’re offering. If it comes out later, she doesn’t want her team to think she has split loyalties.
Katya meets Paul at the Crowne Plaza later that day.
“Good afternoon. I trust you are suitably impressed. We will follow through with that… unless… you don’t really want to know what would happen if you cross us… But, forgive me, I’m sure you and your friends are trustworthy souls who aren’t foolish enough to let down your allies. So, how about your side of the bargain?”
“It certainly seemed impressive, and you appear to have reach. And that action has helped our struggle against our, shared opponents. We will keep our side of the bargain. We will let you know of our operations as soon as practical in advance. You understand that sometimes these things are not planned in air-conditioned meeting rooms.
I am sure you are your powerful friends realise too, that we are not people to be messed with. We know enough to cause serious problems if it were to go public, and some of my friends are not people to anger. While this arrangement benefits us both, it will continue.”
“Very well. Use this secure online space to arrange a conversation when you’ve made plans. Don’t proceed until we’ve given provisional approval and you will continue to benefit from this arrangement. Proceed without us… and… everyone will regret that…”