1 With Extreme Prejudice
Col. Eduard Paroldi, a senior operative with the French secret service, sat in his Peugot 305, nervously tapping his fingers against the steering wheel. He had been parked on the shoulder of the lonely Alpine highway for almost three hours and his stomach was growling. Eduard dug in the pocket of his heavy overcoat for the last bite of a chocolate bar he'd been slowly nibbling at during his wait.
When he heard the crunch of tires on the cold gravel behind him, Eduard glanced up into the rearview mirror and saw the nondescript blue sedan pull to a halt behind his Peugot.
Quickly climbing from his car, Eduard tossed his empty chocolate bar wrapper on the ground. It fluttered away in the breeze.
"It's about time you got here," he said in heavily-accented English. "I've been waiting half the day."
The double-agent in the other car carefully stepped from the warmth into the cold mountain breeze, raised a Smith & Wesson .357 Magnum, and squeezed the trigger three times.
Blood spattered across the hood of the Peugot 305 as Eduard's body jerked convulsively and crumpled to the ground.
• • •
Christian Gunn was sitting at the bar sipping a gin and tonic and watching a light, powdery snow fall outside the massive plate glass window at the end of the room when a petite brunette slipped onto the bar stool next to him.
"You know," she said, a soft British accent carrying her words, "you look just like James Bond."
Christian turned to face her. "Which one, Sean Connery or Roger Moore?"
"Neither. David Niven in Casino Royale."
He recognized the code immediately, but he didn't change his expression. "Would you care for a drink?"
When the brunette accepted his offer, Christian motioned for the bartender, then ordered a refill for himself and a fresh drink for his contact. While they waited for the drinks, Christian studied her. He'd been expecting the broad-shouldered Frenchman he'd worked with the last time he was in Europe, not the dainty slip of a woman he found sitting on the stool beside him. Christian had never been one to judge a fellow agent's abilities on the first impression, but the brunette beside him was hardly what he had expected MI6 to send after the double-agent who'd assassinated Paroldi.
"My name's Kelly." She brushed her long hair away from her face and reached for the glass the bartender had left before her. "Kelly Francis." She took a slow sip from her drink before asking, "Have you been here long?"
"Since yesterday morning," Christian said. He'd spent the first day scouting out the ski lodge and the modest-sized town a half dozen kilometers down the mountain.
Kelly took another sip from her glass. "I just came in myself," she said. "Do you come here often? I come up quite frequently. The skiing's great."
She was jabbering. Anyone watching the two agents at the end of the bar would have thought the attractive British woman was in the process of picking up the handsome, muscular American. Before long, they left the bar, arm-in-arm, and made their way laughing and joking up the staircase to her room.
"Okay," Kelly said as soon as she'd locked the door behind them. "I'm sure you were filled in on everything back in the states. Is there anything I can add?"
Christian sat on the edge of the bed and lit a cigarette. He studied the English woman standing on the far side of the room, admiring the swell of her breasts and the curve of her hips, before asking, "Do you ever mix business with pleasure?"
She smiled. "Not often."
Christian took another drag from his cigarette and shrugged. The CIA hadn't sent him halfway around the world just to put the make on a British agent. "So what do you have?"
Kelly moved to a small desk a few feet from the door and quickly rifled through a brown briefcase. She threw an 8"x10" photograph on the bed beside Christian. "That's Gunter Schmidt of West Germany."
Christian studied the photo carefully while she spoke.
"He's been working both sides of the street for quite some time. Until recently his only contact with our side was Paroldi. Now Paroldi's dead."
"Why don't the French handle it?"
She snorted. It was an indelicate sound of derision. "The French are fools."
Christian had worked with Lt. Col. Paroldi and the Alpine Affairs Bureau many times in the past and he knew better. Still, he let her comment pass.
The petite British agent paced the room. "The French say that it was a crime of passion. They do not know Gunter Schmidt like I do."
After stubbing out the last of his cigarette, Christian unthreaded his tie from his shirt collar and loosened the top few buttons of his shirt. "I'm sure the French have their reasons," he said.
Kelly stopped pacing when she noticed that Christian's suit jacket and his shoulder holster were casually thrown over the back of the chair next to her bed. "What are you doing?"
"It looks like this is going to be a long night," he said. "I'm getting comfortable." Christian could easily image the lithe form under Kelly's dress. "You might want to do the same."
"MI6 warned me about you," she said.
Kelly shook her head. Her long hair flew in tiny wisps about her bone-china face. "You Americans are all alike."
"I have a job to do," Christian said. "When the time comes, I'll do it. Until then. . . ."
"Have you no compassion?" Kelly asked. "Paroldi's dead and you're coming on like a bull in heat."
"Paroldi was a good agent," Christian said as he removed his shirt to reveal the thick mat of hair on his chest and the powerful muscles of his shoulders, "but he made a mistake. I won't make the same one."
"Don't bet on it," the British agent said. "Men are fools."
"And you aren't?"
Kelly stared him straight in the eye. "And I'm not."
Christian kicked off his shoes, then reached down to pull his socks off. Once he had accomplished that, he leaned back against the headboard and stretched out his legs. He was wearing only his slacks.
Kelly continued filling in the background on Gunter Schmidt, finally winding up with, "I expect him here within twenty-four hours. He has to make a drop. The KGB is expecting Schmidt to deliver some microfilm to their agent stationed here."
"How do you know all this?" Christian asked.
"I have a job to do," Kelly said, repeating Christian's comment of a few minutes earlier. "I do it well."
The room was silent for a moment, then she said, "You are a persistent man, Mr. Gunn. Do you always get what you want?"
Christian smiled. "Always."
He sat up and took Kelly's hand, pulling her across the bed.
Copyright © 2000 by Michael Bracken