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It started when I was paged, although I didn’t know it at the time. I probably should have. I’d been trained, and besides, who gets paged anymore? Just call my cell! But I jumped up from breakfast and ran over to the front desk, and all I got was a dial tone.
I was up early for the first tracks. Skiing’s the best when you have the clean snow all to yourself, and this was going to be a classic day in the Rockies — cold, crisp, and clear, with a nice thick layer of overnight powder. It was windless this early, unless you count the biting headwind from skiing really fast. I’d grown up near here, and if there’s one thing I can do competently, it’s slide down a hill. I was used to leaving most other skiers behind, but apparently, today was going to be different. A blond in an electric blue racing suit had appeared from nowhere and was hanging with me.
It’s fairly common, when you’re skiing with guys, to get into little unacknowledged competitions. You go a little faster, find some tougher terrain, see who wobbles first. I’d never had a girl chase me down like this one. I’m sure plenty of them could, but typically not the ones you find skiing casually on a weekend morning at a big resort. So I turned it on and tried to shake her. It didn’t work; the trail was too easy. I finally found a steep, bumpy part and carved some good turns. She hung with me for a minute but then went across the trail, so I tried to put some distance between us before we met again. Then I glanced across the trail just in time to see her launch herself off a crest and sail thirty yards through the air in a perfect tuck, landing slightly ahead of me with an annoying ‘thwack!’
We traded positions a few times, totally ignoring each other of course, and arrived at the lift line together. We fetched up side by side. Out of breath, I just said “Hey!”
“Good morning! Still waking up?” Big grin. She was hardly breathing at all.
Her name was Jana. She had a charming little accent, enormous blue eyes, high cheekbones, and a perfect athlete’s body with highly-developed skiing muscles. She had a perma-grin. Implausibly, she seemed interested in me, which was surprising because she was way too cute. But she must have put a hand on my forearm five times as we laughed our way up the lift.
At the top she hopped off and skied right up to me, stopping face to face with her skis outside mine, grinning mischievously. It was unusual. Normally, you talk side-by-side so it’s easy to push off again. This position seemed oddly sexual. She was close, straddling my skis, with the crotch of her skin-tight suit right over my upturned ski tips. She had to be aware.
“Ready? Let’s do Death Spiral!” She bolted off. “I’ll wait at the bottom!” she called over her shoulder.
We were off.
Of course we had lunch together.
We introduced and filled in our bios. She was the daughter of immigrant parents who had moved to the States when she was fifteen. Before that she’d lived in Czechia and skied in Austria, sort of like living in New York and skiing in Vermont, but with actual mountains. Now she lived and worked near D.C. and was pursuing an advanced degree at night. She was Miss Enthusiasm, one of those people who seem happy about everything.
I asked who she worked for.
“…. I’m in government,” she said. “DHS.”
“Really? You’re a fed too? Doing what?”
“… Nothing important. It’s my first year. I’m one step above a summer intern.” She smiled so ruefully I couldn’t pursue it. “How about you? You’re in government too?”
Something about meeting cute girls brings out the worst in me. I tried to impress her. “Yup. I’m with the Diplomatic branch of the State Department. My first rotation was two years in Islamabad, and next week I’m headed for Prague.”
“Really? You’ll love Prague!… How was Pakistan, though?”
“Not great. You can only go out in groups, with guards, and curfew starts right after work. We never send any women there anyway, of course. You do get a free handgun and self-defense lessons. But it was a good post, career-wise.”
“It must be competitive! How’d you get it?”
“I have an uncle in the Department,” I admitted. “He got me into a hot-spot embassy so I wouldn’t be stamping visas for a living.”
“Mr. Bond, James Bond? How nice to meet you!” We shook. She giggled. “What’s your portfolio?”
“Non-proliferation, actually.” That was the sexy part, anyway.
“You mean like, back-pack bombs?”
An uneasy feeling started to creep into in the back of my mind. Everyone knows that in Pakistan, the usual non-proliferation issues are urgent. The Pakistani military has plenty of nukes on hair trigger, mostly aimed at India. But I had done some work in a slightly different area: miniature atomic devices. Mini-nukes are a major concern in the third world. Small enough bombs would be deliverable anonymously, by car or home-brewed missile. Non-attributable weapons, like ex-pat assassinations or hacking attacks, almanbahis yeni giriş are a problem when the only defense is the threat of retaliation.
So I’d been trained to watch for questions about my work. Part of State Department rookie induction, even for diplomats, is a quick course on intelligence and counter-intelligence — how to extract information, but also how to tell if you’re a target. It might seem farfetched for a youngster like me to be targeted. I didn’t have that much to spill. Yet. But I was inexperienced and single, and I had a diplomatically sensitive career ahead of me, so I’d been told I was a prospect. And as a recruiter, Jana seemed custom-tailored for me.
Of course she might have figured out that miniaturized nukes were a hot issue all by herself. It’s logical, once you think about it. But that would be pretty perceptive for a civilian. So after lunch I told her I had to make some calls, and she went back on the slopes while I had a precautionary talk with Uncle Mike.
Mike had always been my guardian angel. The help with my career was just one example. He said he was glad I called.
“I realize it’s probably nothing,” I said. “I just want to be careful and — you know, show I’m paying attention.”
He seemed slightly amused, but interested, too. “No, no,…. good for you, Dave. You can’t be too careful. Your career could be stunted if you associate with the wrong people, especially without reporting. But this is interesting. Let me think for a minute….. Actually, you know, you should talk to my buddy Ralph. He’s FBI, in domestic counter-intel. He’ll know what to do.”
“What if it’s nothing, though? Won’t I seem alarmist?”
“I’ll tell him you’re just a new guy being cautious. He’ll understand. I’ve known him for years and we’ve worked on a bunch of stuff together. He’s good. He’ll give you a call on your Department phone after I’ve talked to him. Just do exactly what he says, OK?”
That was the second step on my trip down the hall of mirrors.
Ralph called a few minutes later. I told him my suspicions. “She’s at least an 8, which seems way too cute for her to be pursuing me, frankly. Her parents are Czechs. And then there was the page call.” I described the breakfast hang-up. “That could have been how she identified me, and after that she must have followed me up the lift and down the slope. She came up from behind me even though I was going pretty fast, we got into a little race, and by lunch I was fielding questions about mini-nukes, which just happens to be the most sensitive area I’ve worked in.”
Ralph seemed like a classic spook, rough-edged, smart and guarded, but he was surprisingly receptive to my concerns. “I’ll look at her Homeland Security file, but an 8 sounds about right. No one sends 10s anymore; they’re too easy to make. The call, the meeting, the questions… they’re innocuous taken separately, but together, they’re pretty coincidental. And it’s interesting that she deflected your question about her position. The fact that she may have a DHS security clearance means that if she’s a problem, she could be a big one. I think we should follow up. Let’s check her out.”
“I’m just a desk jockey. What should I do?”
“If she’s Russian, her tradecraft will be excellent. Frankly, an untrained guy like you won’t be able to sniff her out, and I don’t want you scaring her off. So we’ll stick to the basics. First, stay in contact. Keep talking. Pal around. Second, try to get her contact information, especially her cell and email. Third, don’t under any circumstances make her suspicious! In fact, feel free to feed her some tidbits. If you seem like a potential source it will keep her interested. Mike doesn’t think you know enough to be dangerous anyway, and information often flows both ways in these situations; the trick is to contain the outbound amounts and let us help you sneak in some disinformation down the road.”
“The fact that she got onto nukes with me so quickly actually seemed kind of amateurish.”
“Maybe. But didn’t you tell her you were leaving in a week?”
“Oh…. you mean maybe she thought she had to work fast.”
“So we need to know more. You should try to reconnect and keep engaging with her while we check her out at his end. And keep me posted! That’s an order.”
The slopes were pretty crowded now, and I had no idea how to find her. But I wasn’t that worried. She’d found me once, and if she was on a mission, I was willing to bet she could do it again. So I just went skiing.
I did the steeps at the top, and then stopped at my favorite lift, a slow little double that goes all the way back up. In the lift line I got to talking with an old guy who spent summers skiing in Chile. I remember remarking on his extremely savage tan when I suddenly found myself looking up at clear blue sky. A knot of people was gathered around, looking down at me with worried expressions.
“What happened?” asked someone a long way off who sounded almanbahis giriş vaguely like me.
Savage Tan was crouching next to me. “That girl came in hot. She looked like she was trying to bury you, but she lost her edge.”
I looked sideways. My neck hurt. My head hurt. There was Jana, on the ground too, still smiling, but sheepishly. “Sorry, Dave…. “
There are lots of ways to meet people, but injuring them turns out to be particularly effective. You can accompany them to the clinic, acting remorseful and caring, and wait around for the concussion assessment, and then you can follow them back to their room and say you owe them a drink. Then you change into something cute and bring some non-alcoholic, concussion-friendly drinks to their room, and then you offer to buy them dinner, during which you can ask them about all kinds of things, coincidentally including their politics and their next assignment. Then you can walk back to your rooms together and say you’re really sorry but in a way you’re glad because you had a nice time getting to know each other, and you stand a little close, rest your fingertips lightly on the side of their hip, and wait. Pretty good tradecraft.
I said I’d had a nice time too, concussion aside, and spent a moment at my door with her wondering what to do. Then I kissed her on the cheek and closed the door, because I was still mad. It was impossible that such a fucking awesome skier would try such a juvenile stunt, much less screw it up. Trying to spray snow on people in a lift line with a last-minute hockey stop is the clichéd stupid beginner trick, something you would never, ever do after years of skiing. Plus, just happening to find me again so fast, on a mountain packed with skiers?
It had been intentional.
I called Ralph again and said the game was afoot. He still seemed to be weighing the odds.
“Well,” he said, “the crash is interesting. But it’s not totally impossible to explain if she’s the playful type.”
“And she found me again, right away! I thought she gave me a pretty strong kiss-goodnight signal, too.”
“Oh… well, now, that’s interesting! But the question is still whether she’s after your secrets or your dick. Romance goes so fast these days that a quick hook-up is hardly a reliable indicator anymore. Maybe she just likes you.”
“A crash is a funny way to ingratiate yourself.”
“True. Maybe she did just slip, though. At this point I’d say, just keep seeing her. Keep up the dialog. She has no idea she’s the target now, so she might spill something… Hey, I know you’re not a field operative and I can’t ask you to screw her as a part of your job, but if she tries to seduce you, why not let her? It sounds trite, but it’s actually true that people are more likely to blab in bed. You might even encourage her! It’s win-win, either way, right?”
“I guess. She’s really cute, and she’s fun. Without this whole national security thing, I’d very interested. But of course I may never see her again, after I kind of brushed her off last night.”
“Well, don’t do that again!”
“OK. If she’s after me for information, I suppose there’ll be more contact. I just hope I survive it!”
“So now you want hazardous duty pay? C’mon, man! Get out there and fuck a hottie for your country!”
Ralph sounded like he really enjoyed his job. Or maybe he wasn’t taking me all that seriously.
At breakfast the next morning she wandered in right after me and plunked herself down at my table, still looking chagrined. “Hiya! Skiing today?” She was wearing only a silky, skin-tight underlayer that hid absolutely nothing, and, obviously, no bra. My curt good-night hadn’t put her off at all.
“The medic said to give it a rest, until the headache’s been gone for a day. I’m going to catch up on my email.”
She thought for a minute. “… You can’t do that all day. And this is your vacation! Let me keep you company. We’ll make this Dave Day. We can do something nice and calm together.”
“Are you sure? You’re paying a lot to stay here and ski.”
“Oh, no, that’s OK. I feel responsible, and we got a good workout yesterday. The visibility isn’t that great anyway. Snow showers all day, they say.”
“There isn’t that much else to do here, though. I guess we could go window shopping in the village, get lunch, and then… want to try out my hot tub?”
“I didn’t bring a bathing suit.”
“I bet we can buy one in the village.”
“If you insist!” Big grin.
I couldn’t help re-examining her motives as we wandered through the village in the lightly falling snow. The romance signals were getting stronger. It would be nice if they were real.
In favor of innocence, we enjoyed skiing together, and she might just want a quick fling to keep the week interesting.
She was way too cute to be chasing me, though! I had upgraded her to a 9 over breakfast, while appreciating the assets jiggling in that thin little top. And zeroing right in on mini-nukes almanbahis güvenilirmi — what were the chances of that being random? Also, that crash, and finding me again so fast? Had she waited and followed me out of the restaurant? Had she planted some kind of tracker on me? That sounded paranoid, even to me. And last but not least, the paging — there was no good explanation for that!
So this had to be more than just flirting. It had to be tradecraft.
Too bad she was so much fun. And so hot.
Apparently the naked hot-tubbing had been an empty threat, because we stopped into one of the overpriced clothing stores and Jana slowly cycled through a million hangers of tiny, celebrity-worthy swimsuits. She modelled a few for me by holding them up against herself, sticking out her chest and pivoting to tease me, wearing her perma-grin. Smiling back, I picked the raunchiest one. She shook her head with a bigger smile and put it back. But it was fun. We both knew exactly what we were doing. And where this was going. And, unfortunately, why.
After shopping we had lunch, and Jana asked whether I was looking forward to Prague.
“Well, yes and no…. I’ll have a lot more responsibility this time, but it will be another post a long way from home. Not as bad as Pakistan, but the language is just as incomprehensible.”
She laughed. “Oh, don’t worry, everyone speaks English! Will the work be interesting?”
It was time to drop a few harmless crumbs. “Hard to tell, in advance. I hear the intelligence unit is always pretty active there, so diplomats sometimes get involved, like it or not.”
“Sounds cool! What kind of thing would you get to do?”
“Mostly making contacts outside the embassy. But I’m really not allowed to discuss it.”
“Even with me? I have ‘confidential’ clearance.”
“I don’t know that. I think I’d better wait.”
“Awww… OK…. “
If this was a feeler, it wasn’t a patient, subtle one. It seemed like amateur hour again. Odd. Maybe I was over-reacting.
At five there was a knock on my door, and in came Jana. She was wearing a short little hotel robe, flip-flops, her perma-grin, and possibly not much else. She was equipped with a cold six pack. “Hey there, hot stuff! How are you feeling?”
“Much better, thanks!” Her cheerfulness was infectious.
“I think you missed most of my cognitive parts.” Actually, I had been in a mild sexual haze all afternoon just thinking about her, and her shapely, chiseled legs were now interfering big time with rational thought. They were utterly fantastic.
“You’re lucky I wasn’t aiming! Are you just being a tough guy, or are you ready for some action?” She was trying to seem shy. It was cute, but implausible.
“Sure, if it’s not too strenuous.” I grinned back. “Wha’d ya have in mind?”
“Let’s discuss it in the tub!” She walked over to the slider and waited while I opened it and ushered her out.
The sun was already low, and the air was freezing. We hastily removed the top of the tub together, which made her robe fall open a bit and gave me a nice look at some squished cleavage. We turned on the bubbles, and she dropped the robe and clambered in, deliberately flashing a skimpily clad butt at me. It was cradled in a tiny bikini bottom with a deeply gathered seam that separated two sensational ass cheeks. She slid into the water up to her neck, grinning coyly.
I hopped in beside her, in my board shorts, and casually put an arm behind her on the rim of the tub. It felt like a first date at the movies, except that she was practically naked. We popped open two cans, clinked, and sipped while we watched the last few skiers cruising home in the waning, reddish light. Long tree shadows were patterning the slopes and tiny ice crystals glinted and sparkled in the air. Faraway clouds were starting to glow orange against a deep blue sky. It was nature being awesome. I wondered whether she had treason on her mind. Somehow, despite the logic, I just couldn’t believe it. I supposed this was why they sent 8’s. Or sometimes, 9’s.
“Hey,” I began, “I meant to say I’m sorry for being so secretive about my work. I mean, it’s mostly shuffling papers around anyway, but they really don’t want us to talk about it.”
“Only ‘mostly,’ Mr. Bond?”
Hmmm. “How’d you find me so fast this afternoon, anyway? That was amazing.”
“Partly luck. Partly we like the same trails, though, I guess. I followed you halfway down that run so I could surprise you.”
“Do you always try to bury people in lift lines?”
“I’m really good at it! Usually…. Look, Dave, I’m sorry I hurt you. It was unbelievably dumb. I just wanted to be sure I had your attention. But now it’s Dave Day. Maybe I can make it all better?” She very deliberately put her can down, leaned over, put a hand on my cheek and slowly kissed me right on the lips.
The kiss broke, but we looked carefully at each other and reconnected. The new kiss started to linger. Her hand moved down to my chest. Our tongues met, and as we flicked each other’s tongue tips I could feel her smile. I was starting to get short of breath when she finally drew back. She wasn’t grinning anymore, and her boob was pressed hard against my arm as we gave each other a long look.
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