The Hague, Netherlands
Alexei Bukharin watched the woman on the witness stand break down, sobbing, gasping, trembling. He supposed even with your rapist under guard, sitting in the same room with him was daunting. The judge ordered a brief recess while a doctor and a nurse attended to the distraught woman. A noise caught Alexei's attention. The defendant, a Serb in his thirties, was sniggering, ignoring his lawyer's admonition to keep quiet. Alexei fixed his eyes on the back of the man's head and wished he could bore holes.
"Your Honor?" said the doctor. "The witness has seriously elevated blood pressure. She needs to be sedated."
Judge Amelie Richardson checked with the two junior judges on the panel then slammed her gavel down. "Court is recessed until 0900 tomorrow morning." Richardson stood up, caught Alexei's eye, then nodded toward the door leading to her chambers.
Alexei rose, and when he neared the defendant's seat, he heard him say, "They can't possibly think I'd put it in that dog."
Alexei hooked his foot around a leg of the defendant's chair and pulled it out from under him. The startled man landed hard on his ass, and Alexei smiled. "Sorry, I didn't see you there."
The defendant started to get up, but the guards moved in and subdued him.
"Was that really an appropriate action for the Secretary General's Special Liaison?" asked the defense lawyer.
"I'm sorry I didn't break his neck."
"Mr. Bukharin, my client is innocent until proven guilty."
"Yes, that's the law, and it's a good law. But I'm the one who liberated his rape camp. I know what I know."
Alexei strode away toward the door the judge indicated. He tapped lightly then entered.
Amelie had shed her robes and sat behind her desk, long fingers massaging her temples. She looked up at Alexei. "Is it too early for a drink?"
Alexei smiled and shook his head. "For the Scotch you keep here? Never too early. Keep your seat. I'll poor."
Aware Amelie's eyes were on him, Alexei went to the dry bar and poured two glasses of Scotch, neat.
"Thanks, Alexei. You look like hell, by the way. Don't you sleep?"
"It's tough, let me tell you, after hearing things like we heard today. Tougher for me because I'm a woman, I suppose."
Alexei handed her a glass then sat in a chair before the desk. "I think it's difficult for anyone, man or woman, to hear that the pain and humiliation linger even years later."
"How do people who were neighbors, hell, in-laws, for generations turn on each other?"
"I think you're in a unique position to understand that."
"Alexei, blacks and whites in the South when I was a kid might have lived near each other, but the white folks never considered us neighbors."
"Same hatred. Different ethnic group."
"How do you do it? Look at the evil you've seen and not be affected by it?"
"Don't assume I'm not affected. It's called compartmentalization."
"Well, my grandmere, she were a swamp witch, and she always said never let a wound fester."
"My mother wasn't a witch, just full of good sense, and she said much the same thing. I usually have Mai nearby to vent with."
"So, I know why I don't sleep, though my good-looking husband does his best to relax me. Why aren't you sleeping?"
"Who knows? Old age?"
"Loneliness?" Alexei shrugged and drank Scotch. "Do you know where she is?"
"In a tent or a barracks in Serbia or Croatia or Bosnia. Who knows? Back at our house in America. I'm not her favorite person right now."
"Why? 'Cause you wanted to stop doing all that dangerous shit?" He shrugged again and nodded. "Have you talked to her?"
"Her cell phone has Caller ID, so I get her voice mail."
Alexei rolled the glass between his hands and stared at its contents. "You know, the other day, I looked around the house I rented here, the one I rented for us, and I realized there's nothing of hers there. No cast-off underwear, no lipstick or earring left behind, nothing to show I have a wife. It's as if she doesn't exist." He drained his Scotch, upset he had bared too much.
"Take some time off. Mend fences," Amelie told him.
"I'm always the one who crawls back. Not this time."
"Cherie, if you're gonna wait on a woman to set aside her pride and crawl back, you could wait a long time."
"Oh, I'm well aware, so I'm certain I'll go ahead and relent. I just need to indulge my own pride a while longer."
"Well, you can get some sleep and stop living off coffee."
Alexei lifted the empty glass. "Maybe I'll switch to this. Much better than coffee, which the doctor did say I was drinking too much of."
"What were you at the doctor for?"
"Why did you call me in here?"
"Because you look like you're about to drop. Why were you at the doctor?"
"To get something to help me sleep. My blood pressure was elevated. Not much, but out of my normal range. He asked if anything unusual was going on in my life."
He and Amelie shared a laugh. "And you said?"
"Oh, nothing unusual at all, doctor. I sit day after day and listen to horrific accounts of torture, rape, murder—some of which I witnessed and couldn't stop—and my wife of twenty-one years prefers to spook about Eastern Europe rather than live with me."
"Sounds like the life of a retired spy."
"He said much the same."
"Why did you retire?"
"I've survived a long time in this business, and there were times when I almost didn't. I saw the signs. Slower reflexes. Reading glasses. I didn't want to be a liability to my partner."
"That would be your partner and wife, the adrenaline junkie?"
"Oh yes, and there was a time when I'd use that in her to my advantage; then, when I wanted to take fewer chances, she wanted to take more. Our lives have become full circle. We switched roles."
"Ain't love grand?"
"Oh, yes, the grandest."
"Do you doubt she loves you?"
"Sometimes. Right now, in particular."
Amelie leaned back in her chair, studying him, and Alexei realized he didn't like the scrutiny.
"You know," Amelia began, "what I know of Mai, I know she'd be even more pissed at this self-emasculation. Go for a walk, Alexei. Go to the gym and take your frustration out on a punching bag. Do something other than sit here and drink my good Scotch, that is, when you're not crying in it. So you're a retired spy approaching sixty with a marriage on the rocks. Welcome to the real world. Now, get up. Do something about it."
Alexei set his empty glass on the desk and rose, smiling. "You know, you sounded a lot like my mother."
"Why, thank you, and you at least listen, unlike my own, ungrateful offspring."
Alexei headed for the door.
"Look, Amelie, the lecture was enough, really."
"Just one more piece of advice. Fix that marriage up and soon, 'cause there's a torpedo headed your way named Anne Hobard."
"The chief prosecutor?"
"And a better one I haven't found, but you haven't noticed the sly glances and flirty remarks?"
Alexei considered and decided he must be getting old to miss seeing a good-looking woman interested in him. "Not really."
"Do not lie to an old Cajun prosecutor, cherie."
"Well, come to think of it, she has suggested drinks, lunch…"
"Knowing little Miss 'My Family Came Over on the Boat After the Mayflower,' she has a lot more in mind than drinks or lunch."
"Amelie, I could almost be her grandfather."
"Trust me, cherie, she is not interested in serving you warm milk."
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