"I am happy for you, sir," said Chenko, who had lingered.
"Hmm?" Preoccupied, Borodov turned a perplexed look in the cryptographer's direction. "What do you mean?"
"You risked much convincing headquarters that our only hope of retrieving Triakin was to wait and watch the Americans. You were certain he was still in Greece."
"I was reasonably sure," said Borodov. Following the debacle at Salonika he had acted quickly. The Zandros apparat was quite efficient, and within a matter of hours all egress from Greece was being closely monitored. Triakin had gone to ground, and Borodov had fought for -- and won -- permission to keep the cell intact and in play.
"They pressured you to kill Robinson," continued Chenko, proud of his superior, "but you resisted, kept Vulkan at bay. You felt sure that sooner or later Triakin would contact the Americans. And that he would want Robinson."
Borodov nodded. Because of the Israeli woman. The one who had lured Triakin away from Mother Russia. Away from his wife and children, too. Clearly, Triakin had been obsessed with her. And so had the American, Robinson. Which meant that Robinson and Triakin were rivals. And now that Yasmin Liraz was dead, it would be only natural for the two rivals to blame the other.
"I know Triakin," said Borodov, tapping his temple. "I have read all the psychological evaluations of our errant scientist. I believe that he has realized there is no escape. And he would rather die than return home in disgrace. And if he is to die, he will want Kelly Robinson to die as well."
"But you want Triakin alive."
"Of course. He is vital to our antiballistic missile program. And he will go back to work. Because I have his family. He might abandon them, but he will not allow himself to be the reason for their deaths."
Chenko felt a chill run down his spine. Borodov came across as a gentleman. Refined, urbane. But the cryptographer knew the colonel wasn't bluffing. He would use Triakin's family to get what he wanted, and not harbor a second thought.
"Do you think the girl is ready?" asked Chenko. He was a chronic worrier.
"She will be," said Borodov confidently.
"I hope so. She is the key to the capture of Triakin. And Vulkan will only be a support element. He won't like that, Colonel."
Borodov smiled coldly and put a hand on Chenko's slumped shoulder. "What a pity. Don't be afraid of Vulkan, my friend. He may be the most dangerous member of the cell. But he is also the most expendable. You, however, are not expendable. So I want you to get some sleep."
"Yes, sir." Chenko was warmed by the cell commander's genuine concern for his wellbeing. Borodov knew that the cryptographer would do as he was told, but he would sleep only in the radio room up in the tower, just to be on hand in case another signal came through.
"On your way," said Borodov, "stop by Elena's quarters and tell her I wish to speak with her."
"At once, Colonel."
Occupied with his thoughts, Borodov walked slowly towards the castle's great hall. Ikor had been built in the 15th century by Maltese knights of the Order of St. John. For hundreds of years Turks had tried vainly to take it by assault. In the end, though, it had been the plague, not brute force, which had brought about its ruin. Perched on a steep precipice, it was impregnable to an attack from the sea. A steep and treacherous mountain road, easily defended, connected it with the town of Thera two miles -- as the serin flew -- to the northeast. All that remained useful of the castle was a courtyard enclosed by high battlements crowned with crenellations and parapets, the watch tower on the southeast corner, and a large structure on the west side that had once served as barracks, temple, storehouse and dungeon.
The great hall itself was a vast, vaulted chamber, rows of thick columns rising into the perpetual gloom from which came the occasional flutter of wings. In a corner near the broad archway that opened to the terrace stood a plain metal kneehole desk. There were a pair of metal folding chairs facing the desk and one behind it. On the desk, was a battery operated lamp, green felt blotter, a gilt-framed portrait of Borodov's family, and several files. The desk and chairs were the only furnishings in the echoing hall, and were dwarfed by the immensity of the chamber.
Even though she moved with the silent grace of a cat, Borodov heard her before she emerged from the shadows under the archway. She came to stand in front of the desk, and only then did he look up at her. Elena Reyanovich was very attractive, despite the fact that she had eschewed makeup and wore faded jeans and an old fatigue jacket in an effort to grow into the role she was about to play. Her thick black hair -- so black that in a certain light it looked almost blue -- had grown to her shoulders; that, mused Borodov, was just about right. It looked very similar to the way Yasmin Liraz had worn her hair. And there was a striking resemblance in the features of the two women. Elena had the same thick brows over exotic bottle-green eyes, the same aquiline nose, the same full, sensuous lips. Her facial bone structure was, perhaps, not as broad as the Mossad agent's had been. But all in all, she was a suitable doppleganger.
Borodov took a deep breath. He liked Elena -- more than he should, since at any time he might have to sacrifice her. She doth teach the torches to shine bright. Vilyami Shekspira; he had a complete set at home, the Vengerov editions, bound in rich Moroccan leather. It was his secret vice, his only one. He would not allow Elena to become another.
"There is activity in the enemy camp, my dear," he said. "Soon now we will go into action. Your role in what is about to transpire is of the utmost importance. But then, I know you understand that."
"You look concerned, Colonel," she said. "Don't be. I will do my part, I assure you."
"Yes, I admit I am uneasy. Anischia, as the Greeks say." He opened a desk drawer and extracted two thick dossiers, laid them on the desk. In the top right corner of the front covers, in small red letters, were the words sovershennoe sekretno and below this, file numbers. "The other members of our cell are experienced field operatives. You are not. I do not point this out to humiliate you, or intimidate you. It is merely an undeniable fact."
"I realize that I was only a file clerk in Moscow," she said, a little defensively. "But I am a patriot, and I . . . ."
Borodov raised a hand to silence her. "Yes, yes, that is not the issue." He lowered the hand to rest it on the two dossiers. "Our adversaries are extremely dangerous men."
"I know all about them, Colonel."
"Do you now."
"Yes, sir. I have studied their files very closely, as you recommended. Alexander Scott was born in Philadelphia. He attended Temple University, where he earned a Phi Beta Kappa key and was an All-Eastern football star. He is a Rhodes Scholar who speaks eleven languages. He is sober, tough, and thoroughly committed. His cover is that of trainer for Kelly Robinson, formerly an champion tennis player on both grass and clay, whose cover is that of a tennis bum on the international circuit. Robinson was born in California, raised in Ohio, and attended Princeton University. He has a reputation as a womanizer. He is ruthless, brilliant, unpredictable. Both men have received UDT and SEAL training at Norfolk, and attended the Ranger school at Fort Benning, Georgia. Robinson has a U.S. Sharpshooter's top rating. They have worked together as a team for almost seven years."
Borodov nodded. He opened one of the dossiers. Attached to the inside of the front cover was a large envelope; this he opened, removed an 8x10 black-and-white photo of Kelly Robinson. He held it up for Elena to see.
"This is the man you fell in love with. And because you did, you were not where you were supposed to be one night, two months ago, in Salonika. As a result, you were killed. Is that not so?"
"No, Colonel. I was nearly killed. And captured."
"You let emotion cloud your judgment. You fell in love while on a mission. And you failed in that mission. So tell me, how do you feel about this man?"
Elena was confused by the question. "I -- I do not . . . ."
"You would very much like to sleep with him, wouldn't you?"
Uncertain what to say, she was wise enough to say nothing.
Borodov smiled faintly, turned the photo so that he could examine it. "He has the looks of a movie star, this Kelly Robinson, wouldn't you say? He knows how to manipulate women. He has destroyed the careers of several of our female agents, and killed another." His eyes, when he fastened them on her again, were cold and piercing. "Always keep that in mind, Elena. If all goes according to plan, you will not have to deal with him personally. But if you are ever alone with him, do not fall under his spell. Protect yourself."
"You mean . . . kill him?"
"That," said Borodov flatly, "is precisely what I mean. Kill Kelly Robinson, before he kills you."