Tuesday, September 18, 2012

From The Lion and the Sun

From Chapter 6 of The Lion and the Sun
Conte waited for Kaitlyn on the platform at Heiligenstadt Wednesday morning, his arms wrapped around his shoulders to ward off the chill. He and Kaitlyn had arranged to visit the ancient monastery of Klosterneuburg in the Wienerwald. It was Kaitlyn’s idea to combine work with a pleasant outing. Unfortunately, the weather was chilly, overcast, and threatening rain. It matched his mood perfectly.
Conte thought about his meeting with Harold Wiggham the next day. He went over in his mind how much he would tell Wiggham about the missing Plutonium Pit. Certainly the US should continue to monitor the situation, as Conte wasn’t convinced that Balakirev was telling him the truth.
Conte also thought through yet again the prospects of recruiting Balakirev. The effort and cost involved in doing so would be worth it if he came over; Balakirev had a wealth of information about KGB tradecraft and details on the Russians’ transition of their intelligence services. Conte was fairly sure that the Russian also knew where some of the really scary skeletons were hidden in US intelligence closets. America was still losing agents; some right out of training. On the other hand, Balakirev continued to strike Conte as a dedicated and conscientious servant of Mother Russia. And he had a wife in Moscow that would have to be extracted along with Balakirev. What would it take to turn him?
Finally, Conte’s mind, or more accurately, his imagination returned to Kaitlyn. He was conflicted between professionalism and sexual longing; or was that all it was?
The rumble of the U-Bahn woke Conte from his reverie. He spotted Kaitlyn and watched her brisk, purposeful walk along the platform towards him. She was wearing a tan trench coat, closed at the waist with a belt, and she carried a huge handbag. Her heels clicked on the concrete. A smile formed on her lips as she approached. She looked gorgeous. Conte smiled back at her.
She walked right up to Conte and leaned forward to kiss him. He turned his head and kissed her on the cheek and again on the other cheek. Very European, but rather perfunctory.
“Hey,” she said, “You’re supposed to act like we’re lovers going on a holiday.”  
“Oh yeah? Who says? Maybe we’re just friends, or brother and sister.”
“Ha! With my peachy complexion and blond hair and your swarthy, Latin looks? Who’d believe it? Let’s get our cover story straight, Nathan.”
“The first of your kind we Brits hanged.”
The Schnelbahn pulled into the station with a whoosh, the doors slid open, and Conte and Kaitlyn boarded. Given the early hour and the lousy weather, it wasn’t surprising to find they had the car to themselves.
The train moved away from the station and Kaitlyn scooted over against Conte. “I’m cold,” she said with a shiver.
Conte offered to give her his scarf. She refused it. “You can put your arm around me, though.”
Conte slid his arm around her shoulder and she scrunched up closer. Looked up at him. “What’s your problem?”
“I don’t have a problem.”
“Well, you aren’t acting very friendly.”
“I’m just a bit preoccupied, Kaitlyn. I need to get to the bottom of things and I need your help doing it.”
“Okay. That’s my job.” She sat back from him. “You want to go over things now? Maybe if we get through this before we arrive at the monastery we can have a nice walk in the Vienna woods, look around the monastery, and eat a nice lunch at the Stiftkeller. A glass of wine might make you less grumpy.”
Conte’s head was killing him. Probably a result of the gluwein Anatoly bought the previous night. He wasn’t sure he wanted more wine. “Um hmm,” he mumbled.
“So how did your meeting go?” Kaitlyn asked.
“I’m not sure. Balakirev is playing both ends against the middle, but he doesn’t see it that way. I have a hard time believing he’d knowingly help supply Iran with the wherewithal to develop nuclear weapons, but the information given me by my people points to someone doing just that.”
Kaitlyn turned and looked out the window. “Balakirev’s been meeting with Demitri Protopopov on a fairly regular basis. Protopopov’s division is responsible for the Middle East. He’s been working out modifications to the safeguards agreement with Iran. Balakirev may be trying to influence that somehow.”
The IAEA’s safeguards regime was burdened by a Kafkaesque system of political agreements, regulations, endlessly negotiated inspection plans that limited what portions of a facility IAEA inspectors could view, and other bureaucratic red tape that belied the Agency’s message of “assurance” against diversion of nuclear material for weapons purposes.
“Well, Russia is practically frothing at the mouth over getting the contract to finish Bushehr. Maybe Anatoly is just trying to figure out what inspections are going to be permitted under the new facility attachment.”
Kaitlyn just murmured “Hmm.” Conte looked over at her. She turned to him, sensing his scrutiny. “Dan, our intelligence service has information that Balakirev’s company, AET, is funneling nuclear weapons equipment to Iran and believes that Balakirev is involved.”
“We know about AET, but our people don’t think Anatoly knows what’s going on. And I know something about the top guy at AET. He’s a former scientist who headed up one of Russia’s premier weapons labs and he’s got a good rep with us. We’re puzzled about the AET connection.”
The train slid into the Nordbruck station. Doors opened. A blast of cold air hit their feet. No one got on the car.
“Kaitlyn, do you think you can find out what Balakirev really knows about AET’s play in this thing? Are they supplying weapons components to Iran? Is Balakirev the go between? How are they doing it? They’ve gotta be using a front company. Who is it?”
Conte knew what the CIA had concluded, but he wanted independent corroboration. Kaitlyn was in a position to get it for him.
Kaitlyn looked at her hands. Conte could imagine what she was thinking. She was acting as Balakirev’s secretary. How was she supposed to pump him for information on such sensitive matters? She looked up at Conte. “Okay, Daniel. I’ll see what I can find out.”
Conte looked at her. She had beautiful eyes. He thought he could read the look there, but he didn’t want to acknowledge it then. He wanted to say ‘don’t take any chances,’ or ‘don’t put yourself at risk,’ or ‘forget it, don’t do what I just asked you to do,’ but he didn’t say anything. He told himself, She’s a professional; she can handle it.
The train pulled into Wiedling; the last stop before Klosterneuburg. A couple with two young children boarded the train and took seats at the far end of the car. The woman had her little girl by the hand and carried a string bag. One of those great European inventions that scrunches up into nothing, but expands to hold an entire picnic. Conte could see bread, cheese, apples. It was a good bet there was a bottle of wine somewhere.
The man carried his little boy aboard, bounced him in the crook of his arm, pointing out the window, watching the boys face. The woman smiled at her husband and down at her excited daughter. Kaitlyn watched them, a gentle smile on her face. The doors slid shut and the train moved down the track towards Klosterneuburg.
They were passing through open country, the Wienerwald to the left, the tall trees snaking upwards in neat rows, and the Danube to the right, its grey waters reflecting the overcast sky.
Kaitlyn was looking out the window. “This reminds me of the town where I grew up.”
“Where was that?”
“Fairford, in the Cotswold. Northwest of London. It’s just a tiny village. You wouldn’t have heard of it.”
“I’ve heard that the Cotswold is a beautiful area.”
“Still have family there?”
“Me mum. And my uncle Pete and his family.”
“What about your dad?”
“Dead and gone.”
“Oh, I’m sorry.”
“Happened a long time ago. I was just a kid. But I remember him.” Kaitlyn paused, and then as if to herself she continued, “His feel, his smell, the sound of his voice; husky like.” She looked at Conte. “I felt happy when I was with him.”
“I’m sorry, Kate. What happened to him?”
“Killed in Belfast. He was Special Air Service, CRW. Went in on some black op. We never found out what. Only that something went wrong.”
“It’s a rotten business that way.”
The Special Air Service was the Brits principal special forces organization. It was one of the most elite military organizations in the world. And the Counter-Revolutionary Warfare unit, the CRW, pulled some of the most dangerous, most secretive, and in some cases, most controversial assignments of any military or intelligence organization.
“How did your mom handle your dad’s death; must have been awfully hard on her?”
“She was amazing. Sat me and my sis down and told us things would be okay. We’d make it. We’d work together, the three of us.” She paused. Looked at her hands. “Didn’t happen that way, though.”
“What happened?”
Kaitlyn dropped her head and rubbed the bridge of her nose. “My little sister took it hard. Got into drugs. Caused ma all kinds of grief. Then OD’d. Pete came by the house to tell mum. I can still see the look on her face.”
“Jesus, Katy.” Conte touched her shoulder.
“Yeah. My fault really. Should’ve paid her more attention. But she was into grunge and punk and all that shite and I was…” Kate did the quotation mark sign with her fingers. “…the good daughter. Truth is, my sister embarrassed me. So there it is.”
Conte wished he hadn’t been so nosy. “Kate, even when both parents are there to raise a child, things go wrong. Kids get it in their mind that they aren’t loved, or they’re different, or they’re just sad, and they do stupid things. You can’t blame yourself.”
“Yeah, well…” Tears had pooled in her eyes. She looked out the window. Let the phrase hang. “But my uncle was a saint. He helped us out. Helped me out. Got me into university. Found a spot for me after graduation in the firm. After that I made my own way.”
Conte studied Kaitlyn. “Remember that CT workshop we participated in years ago?
Kaitlyn smiled. “Counterterrorism? Yes. I had a bit of a crush on you.”
“It didn’t last,” Kaitlyn added, smiling.
The train pulled in to Klosterneuburg and Conte and Kaitlyn followed the family out and down the platform to the bus stop. The bus took only a few minutes to get up the hill and drop them at the Abby.
The dual towers of the abbey were in silhouette against a bank of high clouds; lit golden on top but dark, almost black underneath. Conte squinted up at the clouds. A vine of lighting snaked out and down towards the undulating vineyards.
They walked into a heaving wind past the Abby and on to the grotto and up behind it deeper into the woods. The beech trees were swaying and moaning as the last of their leaves were ripped from them. Wind-blown, the yellow and brown leaves skittered across and down the path in front of Conte and Kaitlyn.
The path branched back down towards the village and up again into the woods. There was a low rock wall along the side of the path. Beyond it, the woods climbed into darkness.
Conte climbed up. Kaitlyn followed him. The way was steep and as they turned into the woods towards a rock outcropping, Conte reached back to help Kaitlyn. Holding onto his hand tightly, she came up into his arms. Conte pulled her close and kissed her hard on the mouth.
Conte pushed Kaitlyn back against the rock outcropping. He undid her trench coat and reached inside pulling her hips against his.
“Yes,” she told him. “Yes.”
She had her hands around the back of his head. Now she moved them down and Conte felt her unzipping her slacks. Conte began working at his, but she took his hand and pushed it inside her slacks. He moved his hand down the smooth flesh of her stomach, down the mound, into the silken hair and then the wetness between her legs.
Conte heard Kaitlyn say things and felt her breath on his cheek, but everything was a blur. He stepped back and looked into her eyes. She remained with her back against the outcropping, foot braced against the rock, her white flesh exposed. Her eyes seemed more green than blue. Cat eyes. Her mouth was open.
Conte knelt in front of her, took her hips in his hands. Her hands found the back of his head. Her voice seemed far away. “Oh god, Danny.”
Conte rose to his feet and pressed against her. He felt her hand in his jeans, then she had his sex in her hand, and he was so hard it hurt as she guided him into her.


They leaned into each other waiting for their hearts to stop ramming against their chests. They heard talking. Two older women rounded the bend below them and walked on by, using their walking sticks and yakking in unison. Conte and Kaitlyn stood very quietly, pressed against each other.
Kaitlyn whispered in his ear. “If those alte frau had looked up and seen your bare behind. That cute, tight arse of yours, they would’ve been climbing up here after you, and I’d have to fight em off.”
She pushed him away. “Now turn around and give me some privacy. I want to get dressed and be taken to lunch. I’m starving!”
They pulled on their clothes and brushed each other off as best they could. As they made their way down the path towards the monastery Kaitlyn said, “We’ll eat in the keller. It’s dark there. Maybe they won’t notice the stupefied look on my face, or see the dirt on your knees.”

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