Two of Bukharin’s black-suited goons handcuffed me and took me down two flights of stairs. One of them had his eyes scanned in order to unlock a steel vault door that slid smoothly into the wall to let us through.

“The CIA will figure out where I am,” I blustered. If I didn’t manage to get out of here, the CIA wouldn’t even remember me until Edward decided to clean up his files. “Then you guys are in for a world of trouble.”

We passed a door with a male stick figure on it, so I said, “Hey, can I use the bathroom?” When they didn’t respond, I tried it in Russian, but that didn’t fare any better.

They pushed me into a bare, windowless room, and locked my handcuffs to the back of the chair that was bolted to the floor in the center. The cement floor was stained reddish brown around the drain under the chair.

“This isn’t supposed to be the bathroom, is it?” I asked.

Ignoring me, they locked the door behind them.


* * *


When I was sixteen years old, I worked up the courage to flirt with a cute cheerleader from the local high school in the food court at a mall. After a few forgotten attempts, she thought I was funny enough that she invited me to a party at her house that night, writing down the address with pink ink on a paper napkin. I knew she wouldn’t remember me, but I fantasized I would just flirt again and maybe we’d end up making out.

When I got to her house, the party was in full swing, with some kids already drunk enough that they were throwing up on the lawn. Her parents must have been rich, because the house was huge — three stories tall, with so many rooms filled with so many people that after half an hour of searching, I still hadn’t found the cheerleader.

One guy heard me asking about her, and he said she was his sister and he knew where she was. He called it the ‘secret party within the party.’ I showed him the napkin, and he said since she’d invited me personally, he’d take me to her. Like an idiot, I followed him. He unlocked a door and shoved me inside, then closed it.

It was not a secret party within a party. After I managed to find a light switch, I discovered it was a windowless storage room.

I could hear him and his friends laughing outside, but soon they forgot me and wandered off. I reached for my lockpicks, and to my horror I discovered that in changing into nicer clothes for the party, I had left them in my other pants. I cursed myself for my stupidity.

Looking around the storage room for something I could use to unlock the door, I noticed lots of ceramic figurines, silver candlesticks, crystal vases, and other assorted fragile or valuable items. I realized that in finding a secure place to lock me up, the brother had put me in the same place that he and his sister had locked up the things they didn’t want people breaking or stealing during the party.

I laughed when I found their mother’s jewelry box. The party had turned out to be worthwhile after all — and not just because I’d learned that people sometimes locked up the thief with the treasure.


* * *


Yelena had executed the first part of the plan to perfection: I was in the secured area of the Bukharins’ headquarters, and in less than a minute only she and I would know that. Now it was my turn.

It took a few minutes to get one of the lockpicks out from the waistband of my underwear. Fortunately, the Bukharin syndicate had not yet upgraded to magnetic-lock handcuffs, so it only took me moments to undo them. I slipped them into my pocket just in case.

I removed the rest of the lockpick set from my waistband and made quick work of the door lock.

I looked back at the chair. Its solid construction might make it useful. Using a pair of pliers decorated with some suspiciously blood-like stains, I managed to unbolt the four legs from the floor.

Peeking out, I made sure the hallway was clear and then, carrying the chair, made my way back to the bathroom I had spotted. I waited in one of the stalls.

Eventually, someone would have to go.

Since they’d taken my watch, I wasn’t sure how long it took, but it seemed like hours before someone entered the bathroom and walked to a urinal.

I flushed the toilet and opened the stall door. The man at the urinal, back toward me, wore the type of black suit that seemed to be the security guard uniform of the Bukharins. I lifted the chair and charged.

The chair legs squeezed on either side of him, pinning his arms in front of him, and the crossbars pushed him up against the wall and urinal. The urinal flushed as he yelped in surprise.

Leaning against the chair with as much strength as I could muster, I reached under his suit coat and pulled his gun from its holster.

He pushed back against the chair. I couldn’t hold him, so I let go and jumped out of the way, allowing him to crash to the floor.

Aiming the gun at his chest, I said, “Nye dvigat’sya,” and added, “Don’t move,” in case he was bilingual.

“Who are you?” he asked.

“CIA assassin,” I said. “But I’m not after you. Turn face-down and you will live.”

He complied.

“I’m going out into the hall. If you come out of that door in less than five minutes, I will kill you. Understand?” He’d forget my warning in less time than that, but for now I wanted it to sound convincing.

“I understand.”

“Good. I’m going to ask you a few questions, some of which I already know the answer to. If you lie, you die. Where is the records room?” While Yelena had been to both the interrogation room and the records room a few times, she wasn’t able to give me detailed instructions as to how to get from one to the other.

“Turn right, go to end of hall. Turn left. Is glass doors on left.”

“How many guards inside?”


“Thank you. Now stay here.”

Gun held tightly in one hand and chair in the other, I slipped out into the hallway. I took the chair because I didn’t want to give the guard any physical evidence that he did anything but slip and fall. He might spend some time looking for his gun before probably concluding that he had left it somewhere accidentally.

I left the chair in the hallway. If someone recognized it as the chair from the interrogation room, they might waste a little time trying to figure out why it was there. Anything that kept people away from the records room helped.

The guard hadn’t lied — I found the records room exactly where he said it was. Beyond the glass doors, I saw a man’s head and shoulders above dual computer monitors.

I ducked away and considered how to proceed. According to Yelena, the doors to the records room were always locked from the inside by the guard on duty. There was a keyed lock to get in, though, in case of emergency, but only the guard on duty and the three Bukharin brothers had keys. At least that meant there was something for me to pick.

However, Yelena must have forgotten that the doors were made out of glass. I felt a twinge of satisfaction at the evidence that she could be “sloppy,” too. But that didn’t solve the problem: picking the lock would take me a few minutes, and the glass doors would allow the guard to see me.

And there was no way I was going to break through the glass, even if I went back for the chair: it was almost two inches thick, reinforced by wires embedded in the glass. A bullet from the gun would leave a mark, but that was about it.

So I had to convince the guard inside to open the door, or else scrap this attempt, escape, and try again later with a plan taking the glass doors into account. And I wasn’t ready to face Yelena and admit that I hadn’t been able to help her.

Delivering a pizza here wasn’t going to work. But perhaps I could lure him to the door and see what happened. So I marched right up to the door and knocked.

The guard looked up and frowned when he saw me. I smiled and beckoned him over.

He got up and walked over. “Who are you?” he asked in Russian.

“There’s a CIA assassin in the building,” I said. “Maintain radio silence and make sure no one gets through this door.” Then I turned and ran down the corridor until he couldn’t see me any more.


* * *


From what I had seen, there were two possible outcomes when the memory of me disappeared from people’s minds and they found themselves in a different situation than they had been before meeting me.

If there was no plausible explanation that didn’t involve me or another third party, then there would be a disconnect — like the sudden appearance of pizzas for Carlos the guard at InterQuan. He couldn’t remember me bringing the pizzas, but he wouldn’t be able to remember someone else bringing the pizzas, either.

However, if there was a plausible explanation for the new situation, then that explanation became the new memory. For example, the security guard in the bathroom had been at a urinal before our encounter, but on the floor after. If I had not been there, a plausible explanation would be that he had slipped, so that would be what he remembered.

Sometimes that plausible reason worked in my favor.


* * *


I could only guess what the security guard in the records room remembered once he forgot about me. He had been in his chair and now he was next to the door, so a plausible explanation was that he was going to exit the room for some reason — maybe to go to the bathroom.

He unlocked the door and came out.

I aimed the gun at him and said, “Nye dvigat’sya. Don’t move.”

He froze. Then he dived back into the records room. I ran to the door, before he could close it behind him. He had his gun partway out of his holster before I was able to aim at him again.

“Let go of the gun, or I will kill you,” I said in Russian.

He released the gun and raised his hands over his head. I took his gun and threw it in the wastebasket. Using the handcuffs I’d removed earlier, I cuffed him to the door, which was far enough away from the computer terminal that I wouldn’t have to worry about interference.

“Who are you?” he asked in English. My atrocious Russian accent must have given me away.

“CIA assassin,” I said, “but you’re not my assignment so I won’t kill you unless you try something.”


* * *


In seven years as a CIA officer, I had never killed anyone. I had only shot at someone three times, and only hit someone once, in the leg — and that had been a ricochet.

So I was not, in fact, a CIA assassin. I used the CIA assassin line on paid guards because it worked. If they believed I was a deadly killer, but that I wasn’t going to kill them, they usually decided that their lives were more important than their paychecks.

Of course, if I had wanted to be a CIA assassin, I could have been. After I’d been with the CIA for a couple of years, Edward broached the subject, pointing out that my talent would help avoid one of the biggest problems faced by close-range assassins: getting away without being caught.

I told him I didn’t like killing, and he must have made a note of it in my file, because he never brought it up again.


* * *


At the computer terminal, I had to hunt-and-peck on the Cyrillic keyboard in order to spell out the names of Yelena’s sisters in order to run a file contents search. Because it might take several minutes to scan through all the files on the hard drives, I took the time to put my lockpicks back into my waistband.

The file search brought up a list of several files containing the names Ekaterina and Oksana.

I clicked on the one with the most recent date and it opened. The file showed a picture of twin blondes with mouths that smiled and eyes that didn’t. Their identical faces matched the photo Yelena had shown me.

Skimming the file as quickly as I could, I discovered that Ekaterina and Oksana had been auctioned off eight months ago to Bidder 948, who wanted them for a private brothel at a remote work location.

Earlier I had seen a folder labeled Bidders, so I found it and located the file on Bidder 948. I opened it up. The photo in the document was of a completely bald, obese man who looked vaguely familiar to me. I sounded out the Cyrillic characters of his name: zh-a-m-sh-ee-d-ee. Jamshidi.

So the Bukharins were supplying Jamshidi with more than just stolen technology.

Excitedly, I began looking through the file to see if there was any information about the location of the secret lab. This private mission to help Yelena had suddenly turned into my real assignment.

The door lock clicked. I looked up to see four guards burst into the room, followed by Dmitri Bukharin and Yelena. The guards all had their guns trained on me.

I had placed my gun on the desk during the search. They couldn’t see my hands, but I didn’t reach for it. Instead, I used the mouse to start the computer’s shutdown process. I didn’t want to endanger Yelena and her sisters by letting Bukharin see what files I’d accessed before my talent had a chance to affect the computer’s memory.

“He’s a CIA assassin!” yelled the guard I had handcuffed to the door.

“Keep him alive for questioning,” said Dmitri.

“Raise your hands,” said one of the guards.

I raised my hands. “Here we go again,” I said as they handcuffed me.

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