The office was small, crammed between a dentist and a lawyer in a strip mall. According to Langley, they wanted to make sure my cover wasn’t blown. ‘We’re protecting everyone in the field,’ is just government-speak to explain budget cuts. As far as anyone else in the building knew, I did tele-sales and some salesmen from the company visited me every so often.
The lawyer’s office was a front for the KGB, of course, under whatever names they were using this year. People act like the Cold War ended, when really it just paused for a time as both sides repositioned their pawns. We only won because we had more money. It’s never about ideolgy, only about pockets and what’s in them.
I’m thinking about that when Schmidt comes into my office. The heater hasn’t worked in three weeks. He’s nursing a tan and looks like he should be sipping margaritas on a beach. Which is what he was doing last week. I keep tabs on everyone out in the field as much as I can.
“Hollis. Buddy. Pal.” Schmidt offers a full-watt smile to hide his confusion. “Word from above is that I was called in?”
“There are issues in Russia,” I say. Which is never a lie: there are always issues everywhere. “Siberia.”
“I beg your pardon?”
“Your next posting. You’ll need to brush up on your Russian, of course.”
The smile wavers. “I’ve been in deep cover for fifteen years in Costa –.”
“We are aware. This is your next assignment.”
“I don’t understand?”
“It is Siberia or you work in this office. You understand that, yes?”
He looks about the tiny office, unable to hide a shudder. “Replace you, here? I know four languages –.”
“Six. But not Russian,” I say flatly. “You’ll need to sell your clothing and buy winter gear. Langley will send you details about the assignment and cover shortly.”
“Why? Why me, why this?” Schmidt demands. “I came in from –.”
I smile. “No one cares about the spies who come in from the warmth. Your extended vacation from real work is over.”
He blinks. I hear teeth grind together. “I see.”
I doubt he does. But he will in time. They all do.
I don’t explain that his office will be colder than mine. He’ll learn. He might even understand.