The market did a brisk business, from chefs buying for the dinner fare to housewives buying for their families. Given Paris’ place in the long history of espionage, Mai thought it likely she and Alexei were not the first spies here. And Alexei, the gourmet cook, blended, though he drew amused laughter at his bad French. She suspected she was the alien, the outsider; she couldn’t tell a ripe avocado from a stone, but Alexei played his part well, holding up fruits and vegetables for her approval.
He paid for a bright, red apple, then took out his pocket knife and began to pare off slices for her then him as they walked, keeping the man in view. The stiff, vinyl coat he wore reminded her of some beetle’s carapace. It didn’t flow when he walked; it rode on him like a suit of armor. A disguise, she supposed, for anyone who might recognize him.
Among the man’s purchases from the market were a loaf of bread, some expensive chocolates, a bottle of red wine—all tucked away in a plain, canvas carryall—and an armful of yellow roses.
“He’s a cliché,” Alexei said.
“But yellow roses mean ‘I care,’ and just because you’ve never brought me flowers, don’t assume he’s a cliché,” Mai replied. Alexei looked at her, a frown creasing his broad forehead. “No, you’ve never brought me flowers.”
“You detest shallow gestures,” he said.
“That’s true, but…”
“I’ll bring you flowers.”
“It should be spontaneous.”
“It’ll be a surprise.”
The continued consumption of the apple and the whispered conversation covered them well. Their quarry never noticed when they turned down the same street as he. Alexei slowed their pace and tossed the apple core into a trash bin as they passed. The man’s steps, however, quickened, and before he could ascend the stairs to a house at the end of a row, the door flew open. A young woman, chic in a knee-length black skirt and a white silk blouse, bounded down the stairs and into the man’s arms, her mouth pressing against his. Handling the carryall, the flowers, and his lover was a bit much for him, but he broke the kiss to glance over his shoulder.
Deftly, Alexei turned Mai toward one of the houses and pointed at something about the architecture. When Mai looked around again the man and woman climbed the steps arm in arm. The door closed behind them.
Mindful the man might watch the street from a window of the house, Alexei and Mai continued their stroll until they rounded a corner. Now out of sight of the house, they jogged down an alley to the rowhouse directly across from the other. From his pocket, Alexei took a key and let them in, then he led the way up the stairs to the third floor.
In a small bedroom, surveillance equipment sat ready for them—a parabolic mic, a tape recorder, a video camera, and an SLR with a zoom lens. Alexei went for the parabolic mic, taking it up as he put on the headset. Then he turned on the recorder. Mai made certain the video camera lined up with the top-floor bedroom of the other house. She checked the SLR and the camera bag and saw she had plenty of film.
“She’s effusing over the flowers,” Alexei said, listening. “A little too much, maybe.”
“She knows what she’s doing,” Mai replied.
It was the oldest of gambits: pick a politician you wanted to influence, discover his weakness—in this case women a third his age—use someone to seduce him, take pictures of their liaisons, and use those to get him to do what you wanted. Aptly called a honey trap, it was a tried and true device.
“Ah, they’re headed to the bedroom,” Alexei said. “Stand-by on the camera.”
“I hope she can convince him to leave the curtains open this time,” Mai said. “But I know how much you enjoy being a voyeur.” She heard his low chuckle at her mock disapproval.
Mai stood back, far enough from the window so no one from the street or the house across the way could see her and the camera. In the corner of her eye, she saw Alexei adjust the angle of the mic as well. She snapped a few shots of their honey trap moving about the room, her lover staying in the shadows. The woman had her back to the window, but Mai saw her hands, moving as she talked; then, the woman turned, looked directly at Mai’s window, and pushed the curtains further open. Mai saw the woman’s amused smile.
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