Sitting in the Mykonos restaurant, his meal concluded, Scott ordered another glass of milk. It was lukewarm and slightly bitter. Everyone else in the place seemed to be drinking Keo beer, or Boutari ouzo. Scott never indulged in strong spirits, though he figured that if ever there was a time when he needed a drink, this was it. He forced himself to relax. Soon enough he would take to the streets in search of Kelly Robinson. Everything had been in limbo for two months. Another hour wouldn't make any difference.
It had all started when The Department agreed to participate in Israel's plan to entice Triakin out of the USSR. Yasmin had been the bait, but the Mossad didn't have the network needed to bring him out. The Americans did -- and in exchange for their help, they would have an opportunity to debrief Triakin. It was a perfect opportunity to find out exactly where the Soviets were in the arms race. Scott and Robinson had checked into the game at the Greek border, taking over from the men who had smuggled Triakin -- and Yasmin -- from Kiev. At a Salonika safehouse, Scott had spent three days debriefing Triakin, while arrangements were made to move the scientist from Greece to Israel. And during that time Robinson and Yasmin Liraz had fallen head over heels for one another. At the same time, she'd had to maintain the fiction that she was in love with Triakin. It was a difficult and dangerous subterfuge, and she ought to have known better. And Kelly Robinson should have, too.
The Soviet apparatus in Greece had proved more efficient than they'd expected, and the Salonika safehouse, as it turned out, wasn't safe at all. On the night that they'd come for Triakin, Yasmin was supposed to have been on watch. Instead, she'd been in Kelly's arms. And when the assault began she'd made a risky bid to reach Triakin -- and lost. Triakin had vanished; Scott and Robinson had managed to get away, too. Then, quite unexpectedly, Kelly had just walked away. Checked out. And before Scott could even start looking for him, The Department had whisked him off to San Francisco and put him in cold storage.
When Scott did eventually begin his search it took less than an hour. Mykonos didn't require a particularly large search pattern, and he was familiar with the habits and thought processes of the man he sought. They had been partners for six years. You didn't go through what they'd gone through for six years and not know your partner's habits and thought patterns.
He found Robinson at a small taverna just up the street from the paralia, sitting at a sidewalk table in the deep shade of a pastel blue and canary yellow awning flapping indolently in the caress of a salt-tinged breeze coming off the Aegean. Pausing diagonally across the cobblestoned street to let a gaggle of gallivanting urchins stampede by, Scott studied his friend. He was relieved -- for two months he hadn't been sure if Kelly Robinson was alive -- and troubled, too, because he knew he wasn't the only person keeping an eye on his partner.
Robinson was slouched in his chair, long legs stretched out and crossed at the ankles. He wore a black pullover and white jeans and shades. The Aegean sun had bronzed his skin. He seemed to be diligently perusing an Athens Daily News -- the local English-language rag -- and working on emptying a bottle of Boutari ouzo. He looked like a man without a care in the world.
Taking a deep breath, Scott crossed the narrow street and sat down in the chair on the other side of the table from Robinson.
"What took you so long?" asked Robinson, without looking up from the newspaper. "You never were any good at finding me, Holmes."
"I found you that time in Mexico, when you were dying from the anthrax and didn't even know it."
"Everybody gets lucky once in a while."
The proprietor of the taverna appeared with industrious alacrity. He was a wizened, aproned Greek, who merely raised a brow when Scott ordered a lemonade.
Robinson just shook his head. "You should try some of this ouzo. It'll cure what ails ya."
"Nothing ails me. So, how's life been treating you, Kel?"
"With complete and utter contempt," said Robinson. He sounded cheerful and carefree, but Scott could detect that false note. "But I'm making it, one day at a time."
"That's the only way in our line of work."
Robinson neatly folded the newspaper, put it on the table, and took off his sunglasses.
"It's not my line of work anymore, amigo."
"Oh, so you took an early retirement. I see. I didn't know you could do that."
"Well, I did it. So tell me, you just happen to be in the neighborhood, or what?"
"I escaped from The Farm. Been there for two months, on account of you."
The tavern's proprietor returned with Scott's lemonade. It was tart and warm, without ice, but he drank some of it anyway.
Robinson waited until the old Greek had wandered out of earshot. "Ouch. Man, I'm sorry. Truly. They still do those ten mile runs before breakfast, followed by two-hour sessions of adult romper room on the dojo? Is Shimato well?"
"He's still the same," said Scott. Shimato was the martial arts master at the agency's training facility on the outskirts of San Francisco. "Went to great lengths to insult my sloppy technique. And he told me you were the worst savate student he'd ever had."
Robinson smiled and shook his head. "You've been grievously misled, sir. I was his best savate student ever. I got a gold star and everything."
"Hey, would I lie to you, Kel?"
"Probably. Still, it's good to see you. To tell the truth, I was half-expecting a suspiciously ordinary-looking visitor with a 9mm calling card."
"Come on now. That's not our style."
"Style? Style, you say? I didn't know we had style."
"Style and oodles of savoir faire. Also more and more cost-conscious. The Department spent a lot of money to turn you into what you are today."
"They did, huh? And what did they turn me into, pray tell?"
"A top agent. One of the best."
"Really. Then The Department must be in a pretty bad way. Their top agent nearly got his partner killed, lost a top scientist who was trying to defect -- oh, and I almost forgot, is responsible for the death of a woman he cared a great deal about."
Scott shook his head. "No way are you responsible. But anyhow, Triakin is still on the loose. He went to ground after the Salonika shootout, you know. Well, he's ready to come out of his hole."
Robinson peered across the table at Scott. "Where?"
"He won't tell anybody but you. Somewhere on the mainland, we think."
"He doesn't like me, you know," said Robinson casually. "He was in love with Yasmin, too."
"I know, Kel."
Robinson nodded. He didn't speak for a moment, and Scott gave him time to wade through the emotional tidal wave that the mere mention of the Israeli agent's name was bound to have triggered. There was a chain around Kelly's neck; now he pulled the chain out from beneath his black pullover. There was a ring on the chain. A simple ring of delicate gold filigree. Scott considered himself a man relatively free of superstitions, but he felt a cold chill travel up his spine. That had been Yasmin's ring -- the one Robinson had taken off her body at Salonika. In some way that ring bound Kelly to the memory and spirit of a dead woman as surely as if it had been a wedding band. The irony of it all was that, had Yasmin survived, Kelly's relationship with her probably would have amounted to little more than a brief romance. But Robinson blamed himself for her death. In a way, mused Scott, she meant more to him dead than she had when she'd been alive.
"The Kremlin must be stewing in its own juices, then," murmured Robinson, at last.
"Indeed. They've got Ilya Borodov on Triakin's tail. That tells you something about how important they think this is. So, what do you say? Now, the way I see it, Yasmin died to get Triakin to Israel. I say we finish the job, and she doesn't die for nothing."
Robinson finished off the ouzo in his glass, reached for the bottle of Boutari -- and then pushed it away.
"Well," he said softly, "I'll have to check my social calendar, but I think I might have a few days free."
Scott smiled. He'd played the right cards, and Kelly was back on board. There was just one more little matter to discuss.
"There's something else," he said, in a deceptively off-handed way. "We didn't find you. Borodov did. We were lucky enough to be tapping into his communications with Moscow."
"The plot thickens. I'll go fetch Triakin with you, Scotty. But that doesn't mean I'm back in the game. It's just a piece of unfinished business. When it's over, I'm done with The Department."
"Yeah. We'll see."
"I'm serious. But hey. Don't worry, I'll probably get killed anyway."
Scott wondered if maybe that wasn't what Kelly Robinson was really after.