Washington, DC – Sunday, Feb. 23, 7:50 p.m. EST
“Tanner, it’s me,” Anna said, putting the phone on speaker again. It was her turn to bark. “I can’t believe you….”
“Not now, Jones. Listen!” Tanner said, as if they had already been in a conversation. “Remember, somebody tried to call Evy after she died? The number tracks back to a company based in Bangkok called Cutting Edge Forex.”
“How did you find that out?” she asked.
“I have my contacts here and there, Jones. I’ve been working in DC for three decades. It’s one of the only benefits of being old,” Tanner said.
“Thailand again,” Anna said, agitated. “But Tanner, now you listen! I have to ask you this. It’s important.”
“Alright, Jones,” Tanner acknowledged. “Settle down. I hear you. Fire away.”
“Did you send Raven to Miami to follow me?”
“You would’ve done the same thing, if you were in my position,” he replied without missing a beat. “Someday, you probably will be, you know. Anyway, that’s beside the point.”
“But all this time, I wasn’t sure if I could trust her. I even thought she might be sabotaging me!”
“Look, you’re new in my bureau. You might have needed back-up—or babysitting. How could I know? Besides, I was aware Raven was Torenmaas’ niece. Nice connection, right? Get over it, Jones. Move on. This story is hot, and you can’t be in two places at once. Understood?”
“OK,” she said with a sigh. “Truce.”
“So Raven wants to stick around Chiang Mai, and I’ve got the local hire checking out Cutting Edge Forex. What’s your next move?”
“Get in touch with Sara ASAP, then focus on Evy, find out who she was working for and what Sasha had to do with it.”
“Sounds good. Go ahead and warn Sara. Move on to Evy and Sasha. He’s Russian, right? What does that say about him? Call me when you have something.” Tanner hung up.
Anna turned to Mel. That was abrupt, she thought. “‘Sasha’s Russian, right? What does that say about him?’,” Anna repeated, mocking Tanner.
“What?” Mel asked.
“I mean, Sasha has a Russian background, sure. But so does Viktor—partly anyway. Viktor’s mother was German but his father was Russian. And so? ‘What does that say about him?’ What?! Just because he’s ethnically Russian, is that supposed to mean he’s running to aid the Kremlin?”
“I don’t know what he thinks.”
“Well, what is that supposed to mean?”
“It depends, right?”
“On what?” said Anna, exasperated.
Mel didn’t reply at first. Considering her answer carefully, she finally said, “A lot of things. Family, beliefs, circumstances. Tanner is just saying you should dredge Sasha’s background for clues.”
“Slippery slope, that.”
“True,” Mel agreed. “And yet—how many times have you told me your mom’s father was born in Georgia—and I know, the country, not the state—right? But his family fled to Poland when the Soviets took over at some point.”
“1921,” Anna said.
“And that his first wife died? Which was the reason he immigrated here before World War II?”
“1934. He was already 39, and he had to start all over again.”
“OK, so that’s when he found your grandmother, also from the Georgian émigré community. And that’s why you ended up learning Georgian and Russian, right?” Mel lowered her chin and raised her eyes at Anna, as if she had on reading glasses.
Anna sat there.
“We all have our roots,” Mel continued, shrugging. “It’s bad to generalize, obviously, but they affect us. Why don’t you tell me about Sasha? Details. It might help you recall something relevant.”
Anna gave Mel a knowing glance, a kind of capitulation. She sat back and looked at the ceiling. “He’s a poor loser,” she began. “We used to play tennis—he’s the type that throws his racket. He’s older than I am—maybe ten years? And, yes, he does have Russian background. His education was in England, though—hence the accent—and he’s American by citizenship. At least that’s what I thought.”
“OK,” she said. “Well, what about his extended family?”
“Don’t know much more than that.”
“Alright, so what else? How did you meet?”
“I was living in New York—he worked in finance.” Anna paused to remember. “We had a mutual friend, Valeria—studying art history. She’s the one who introduced us. She was always wearing bows in her hair, and knee-length poofy skirts, a 1950s look.” Anna chuckled at the memory. “Anyway, I lost track of her, but he and I kept in touch. When I was posted in Moscow, he’d call when he was in town, and now that I moved back here, we’ve hung out a few times.”
“And back then, what was he like?”
“A bit of a smart aleck, but also amusing. He’s always been fit—he used to go running a lot, still does. He had great clothes, you know, bespoke suits, and expensive taste in food, wine, restaurants. Also, he’s always been the player type, flirting—with everyone, me and everyone else,” Anna laughed. “Once we were standing on the subway platform, and he actually leaned toward me and said, ‘You know, if I weren’t dating Jules, you’re the type of girl I’d ask out’.”
Brow furrowed, Mel looked at Anna questioningly.
“No. Never. I laughed in his face. Too arrogant to make a good boyfriend. Besides, not my type—too blonde.”
“So why would he be involved in this? To support his lifestyle?”
“No, that can’t be it. His family has money.”
“Not 100%, but I am pretty sure,” Anna said. “I’m just so mad at myself. I can’t believe I didn’t see this coming. I knew he could be a jerk to his girlfriends, but this, I didn’t expect.”
“So what else is there? Revenge?”
“Love? Jealousy? Thirst for power?”
“What about ideology?”
“I just don’t buy it that he has any kind of ‘loyalty’ to Mother Russia,” Anna said, shaking her head. “What am I missing?”
Copyright © by Wolf Bahren. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, including photocopying, recording, or other electronic or mechanical methods, without the prior written permission of the publisher, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical reviews and certain other noncommercial uses permitted by copyright law. For permission requests, write to the publisher with “permission requests” in the subject line at email@example.com. This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.