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Sunday, October 18, 2020


The King and Queen of Spain stroll below the fifth floor balcony
of the Hotel Attu, Madrid

A pastiche noir By H. deMayo 

Checking into Madrid’s Hotel Attu after an uneventful afternoon flight from Moscow, the tall American asked the hotel clerk if a FedEx package had arrived for him. 

“Please check with the concierge,” the clerk pointed across the lobby. 

The woman concierge, a posture perfect 40-something, who did justice to the hotel’s haute couture gold and green uniforms greeted the American. 

In contrast, the American was dressed in starched denims, silk black t-shirt and a Brooks Bros. blazer. "Such a beautiful day," he offered.

"It will be nice all week," she replied. "How may I help you?"

"I'm a guest of the hotel."

 "Yes, your FedEx package arrived. Safely."

 “Is it possible to have my assistant pick it up on Monday? I may be leaving before then.” 

She stared into his eyes for several moments until she nodded. “I’ll take care of it." 

He filled out a release form and signed it.

“One more thing,” he beamed, “how are the steaks in your restaurant?” 

“Our bistro is one of the best in Madrid. It specializes in Argentine beef. You’ll be pleased,” she smiled. “Here’s list of others in the downtown area.” 

The American took the dining guide brochure and tipped her $20. 

She smiled and placed the bill in a small charity box that sat at the far end of her desk. 

He opened his wallet and place a $100 note in the same box. “For the orphans.” 

Hotel Attu (center), where across the street you can see an orchestra rollout a blue carpet and get ready for a performance in front of Edificio Metropole building, Madrid.

The hotel’s quietude evaporated with his entry into the smoky bistro’s cocktail lounge. A Friday after hours crowd filled most of the seats. A three-piece combo’s lively jazz fought to be heard above the din of conversations. 

From the only empty table—farthest from the stage—the American admired the lithe singer but couldn’t hear a word of her song. 

Across the room, an older man with a dark, narrow face like a Goya painting, brushed drops of ice water that dripped off his vodka and tonic and on to the sleeve of his Saville Row suit. The jockey-sized man stared at the arriving Estadounidense. 

By contrast, the American, who was well over six feet tall, was easily the best looking man in the bar. His salt and pepper hair was cut short and brushed back at the sides. His bearing was that of an outdoorsman, who enjoyed keeping fit in his middle years. With an at rest grin on his face and strong posture, it was hard to camouflage his Americana. 

The man from the bar approached the new arrival. He seated himself before asking: “May I join you? I have something important to say concerning your stay in my city?” 

“Do I have a choice?” 

“You’re too kind. My name is Eduardo Ayunar. I am an attorney in private practice. I am representing the government.” 

“Which government?” 

 “Espana. And, I trust you are Senor Arturo Garcia, who owns an investigations firm in Stockholm?” 

The American tilted his head to one side and slipped into a Louisiana drawl that oozed of bayou flavored tabasco: “Alfred Pontchatrain, Fred.” 

The Spaniard grinned at the refusal of his handshake. “I see you have a sense of humor. If we're to play games, I know you by your other name belonging to a retired U.S. Customs special agent.” 

"To you, a total stranger, I'm Fred Pontchatrain." The American dropped his drawl. 

A skinny barmaid approached the table en chasse: “Senors?” She bent over to hear any order coming her way. 

Eduardo Ayunar glanced up at her face, “I won’t be long.” He handed her a 100 Euro note. “Please put this amount toward my friend’s bar tab. The change for you.“ Both ordered vodka. 

“Mr. Ponchatrain, your firm has a reputation for accepting difficult assignments.” His English trilled with a Castilian accent. 

The American stared at the apparatchik. He decided to make a game of it. Maybe he was being pitched for an assignment. He relaxed his tone in case he was being vetted. "It's all there in the dossier you have on me. My firm's expertise is corporate espionage. We like to end careers of hackers, kidnappers, blackmailers, including human traffickers." 

“So many customers for a one man operation.” 

 “I hire as needed.” 

Ayunar said, “You mentioned human slavery. That is an interesting term. It’s old as it is new. Name me a human slavery case you dealt with?” 

“The kidnapping of a teenage Follies Maxim dancer last year from Paris. She was sold to a Saudi prince to lower the demographics on his aging harem. That’s one example.” 

“I would think such a venerable organization as the Follies would avoid hiring children.” 

“Quite a few 18 or 19 year olds dance in the chorus line. Technically teenagers, but women nonetheless.” 

“How did it end?” the lawyer asked. 

“We traced her to middle eastern embassy in San Francisco."

“I assume the case is still open?” 

 “For now."

“Ah, I hear the bravado your nation is known for.” 

The waitress approached sideways through the narrow aisles to deliver their drinks.  
A long silence ensued until the Spaniard offered: "I have a present for you," He handed a cellophane wrapped cigar across the table." 

"I appreciate the gesture, but I don't smoke." 

"It's Cuban." 

"No, it's not." The American pointed to the small print on the cigar band. “See, right here. It says it was made in the Dominican Republic.” 

“Yes, from Cuban seeds.” 

 “Not the same.” The American rolled his eyes. 

 “Desde luego.” 

They sipped their drinks. 

The Spaniard cleared his throat. “We find it interesting that a businessman is travelling under an assumed name when there is no reason to do so. Unless, you here to import or export embarrassments toward the monarchy?" 

 “I’m a tourist nothing more.” 

 “Claro, but understand there will be serious problems for you if you misbehave while you’re here. Do you agree?” 

 "Misbehave? That's such an old fashioned word. I have no intention of upsetting anyone. Especially such a distinguished royalist as yourself.” 

 “Bueno. Now we’re having a good conversation. Our monarchy doesn't need new scandals to become public." 

The American asked, “That’s understandable given all the embarrassing financial misconduct your king has brought upon himself.” 

"Ah, you’ve heard of them.” 

“Yes—I’m amazed such a high profile personality can spend so much treasury money on a mistress.” 

“We have centuries of experience.” 

The American laughed. 

The attorney was quick to rattle off, “That’s why we don’t want more bad light on us. You have an unsavory reputation for—how shall I say--being in the middle of trouble wherever you go. We prefer you stay out of our country. Don’t be a scandal to us, Mr. Pontchatrain. And, because you arrived from Moscow. Are you fleeing Russia for any reason?” 

“I'm in transit. Madrid airport is the easiest connection for me to get back to Stockholm. And, please understand my business began and ended outside of Spain. So, this conversation is over, Senor Ayunar.” 

“One more little question. Why did you select this hotel on this particular weekend?” 

“No reason. My assistant handles all my travel details. I’ve stayed here before. I like it here and there’s no rush for me to go home. I'm ready to be a tourist. Tonight's the night." 

"I wish you the best of luck while you're in transit. Good night, Mr. Pontchatrain. This has been very entertaining.” 

The American smiled “I promise not to misbehave and my compliments for finding me. I haven’t been in Spain for more than a few hours and here we are having an interrogation...” 

“I’m good at what I do. When I retire you may consider me for employment with your firm, no?" 

"If you can cope with Swedish winters.” 

“I was thinking more of your San Francisco office. It’s convenient to Silicon Valley.” 

 “Maybe so.” 

 The older man stood up. His soigne intact. He offered no handshake. “You’re a spy, Mr. Garcia. I know you are Art Garcia. I’m not fooled by your clever banter. My confusion is whether you are a very good spy or you are an amateur." 

Half listening through a medley of Joao Gilberto songs, the American heard the hotel singer/combo much better now that the after work crowd had thinned. At the same time, he was preoccupied with Eduardo Ayunar’s visit. It made him uneasy knowing “they” knew he was in town. Benign, perhaps, but nonetheless disturbing. He let his dining guide slip from his hands to the floor under the small table. 

Twisting in his chair, he looked around for the waitress to bring him a dinner menu. As he did, he noticed another stranger—a much prettier one—approaching his table. 

In the dim light, he couldn't tell her age—mid-30’s? But one thing was clear: she was lithe, stunning in her noir cocktail dress with a white bolero style blazer and black spiked heels. Only the ponytail was out of place. “May, I bother you for a light?” She held her Gitane in the cleft of between her ringless index and middle fingers of her right hand. 

Let the games begin.

“Of course, but my cigarette lighter is in my suite: No. 555 and knock 3 times before you enter.” 

She laughed at his joke. “Do I ask for Hernando?” 

The banter went back and forth about crowded subways, tourist sites and her office job, a branch office marketing assistant for a London advertising agency. 

He offered little about himself except he had just arrived at the hotel: ...estoy en Madrid por negocios

“Your accent is very good...” 

“For an American?” he interrupted. He didn’t reveal he spent most of his 25 years speaking Spanish in Latin American countries chasing narcobandits. 

The singer blew kisses to the audience. Few applauded her departure. 

“Did you enjoy the singer?” she asked. 

“To be honest, I wasn’t listening.” He wanted to take her at face value: a happy hour patron taking in the music. But his guard was up. Thanks to Eduardo and his slicked back matinee idol hair he wondered if she could be part two of a Spanish or Russian intelligence double team? Or simply a whore, who was classy enough to be allowed in the hotel. 

“They only play here on Friday nights,” she said, “I come as often as I can to hear them.” 

“Is the alto saxman your boyfriend?” 

She blushed so quickly it made him laugh. He reached across the table for her hand. “Will you join me for dinner?” he asked and kept reading her eyes. For now, he decided to ease off on his paranoia and let the evening play itself out. 

Dinner in the Hotel Attu steak house was good as the concierge promised. 

Friday night was now wee hours on Saturday. 

Their waiter lingered at the bar smoking a cigarette with the bartender. 

Physical beauty aside, the American's new friend had a coy sense of humor and was overt at flirting under the table with the toe of her foot against his ankle. He spent a lot of time staring at her generous cleavage. He gripped the neck of the bottle of Kopke Colheita, a tawny port 1986 vintage and voiced his command of the obvious: “What if we finish the bottle in my suite?” 

He reached for the check. 

She put her hand on top of his. 

“It’s mine.” The waiter completed the transaction on his portable credit card device at the table. He was pleased with her tip and bowed in her direction. 

The American put his express credit card into his wallet. From it, he fumbled to pull out a coin about the size of a vintage U.S. half-dollar. He placed the gold coin in her hand. 

“What is this?” 

“10 Russian Rubles in gold.” 


“It’s an antique coin minted in 1899. I’d say it's worth close to 1000 Euro.” 

 “Are you a collector?” “Gold interests me. When I travel I pick up a gold coin from each country as a memento." 

“Do you have a Spanish coin, yet?" 

"Not yet." 

"Are you giving me the coin?” 


 “Why so generous?” 

 “I’m intrigued by you. And, I don’t have the time to court you as you deserve. I’m hoping the coin will bring us as much joy as it’s worth.” 

Neither happy nor upset, she ran her fingers over the coin then studied his face. “One condition.” 

His eyebrows raised. "What's that?"

“I will hold it as insurance,” she said. 

“That you’ll have to explain to me.” 

 “A coin is nothing more than a promise. I will keep it only if you turn out to be a louse. But if we have a wonderful time, I will return it. Good time insurance, n’est-ce-pas,” she grinned. 

By late Saturday night they were easily on first name basis: Fred and Sonia. When they weren’t making love, he continued his mind game of trying to figure out who she was while never asking her--fact to face.

She asked, “We don’t have much to say, do we?” 

He turned on the pillow to face her, “We’re doing exactly what we both need.” 

She smiled, “So, please continue." 

He asked if she could undo her ponytail. 

She sat up, shook her hair as it fell across her shoulders. The cleavage he had been enchanted with all evening had doubled in size and became an ample free flowing amazement to him. 

By Sunday morning they had never left suite 555 from the moment they entered Friday evening. The do-not-disturb sign kept room service trays stacked and the bed unmade. 

She also missed Sunday Mass for the first time since she could remember. And guessed that the Priest might ask her next Sunday: “It must have something special to keep you away?” 

She decided somehow saying father forgive me. I spent a weekend in bed gorging myself with a stranger in the name of my country would not be good for her image. Not if she were standing next to her husband and eight-year-old twin boys. 

Instead, she would offer in Russian only because she could: “...uspokoyte zvera.” That way she would not be lying to a representative of God, who she hoped didn’t know a blessing of Russian. Or so she thought. 

The priest would say, “Yo Hablo Rusa?” , which would add more embarrassment to her absence.

"Come to bed," Fred Pontchatrain asked. He had been busy admiring her smooth nakedness while she leaned over the terrace railing. She held the bed sheet tight to her chest. 

Awaiting the arrival of the King and Queen.  Photo take from the penthouse balcony of Hotel Attu.

"No." She turned toward him and waved for him to join her. “Down there,” she pointed down five floors to where the Gran Via spills into Calle de Alcala. 

The American reluctantly put on his white hotel robe and joined her on the balcony. 

Below, an entire orchestra sat in front of the Edifico Metropolis square. They were making the disjointed awkward noises symphonies make before a performance. 

Blue carpeting extended from the maestro’s dais to what appeared to be a cloth covered statue. 

What caught his eye more than the musicians was seeing the plaza awash with security personnel and gathering citizenry. And, if he could pick out the Guardia lining ambient rooftops and the square below, they no doubt had him framed in their crosshairs as well. 

The small balcony was a perfect sniper's nest. 

Distracted by the pomp below, she failed to see him duck back into the suite. "Isn't the queen, beautiful? Such a sophisticated yet simple white suit," she said turning to him for his reaction. Gone. “Where are you?” Her eyes widened Her face turned anxious. To her, it was not the time for him to be out of sight. Because the building’s design curved she could not see the suite’s other balcony from where she stood. 

If he were an assassin all he had to do was pull away from her.  Put two bullets from a silenced .22 handgun in her head; then raise the rifle from where he had hidden it and fire at his targets from inside the suite.

Needing to move fast, she dropped the sheet and ran to the next balcony. Not there. She turned toward the suite. "Fred?" She moved toward the kitchen and dug into her purse. It was then passing the bathroom, she heard the shower running. She stopped. Closed her eyes and slowly turned the knob. 

He was lathering his face to begin shaving. His back was to the still naked woman, who was holding her purse. 

He wiped the steamed over mirror and asked, "Have you come to pay me for my services?" 

"There's not enough gold in the King's castle to pay you," she mocked.

"Of course, not the King has spent it all."

She waved off his satire and proceeded to announce: “You missed the royals unveil a historic plaque right in front of us. The Queen waved at me!” 

He grabbed her by the arm. “This is what I missed most." He pulled her into an embrace. Pulling away, she added, “It was the fastest ceremony I’ve ever seen. The orchestra played one tune. Then the Queen went to the microphone and saluted
the 100th anniversary of the Gran Via boulevard." 

“What happened to the sheet?” he grinned. Nude, she held her hands out from her sides. Her purse fell to the floor.  

They laughed at his disinterest at the royal event. 

"Please, come here," he led her to the bed. 

She relented.  It was obvious to her she had not exhausted him. And, she had met her match but she was not going to stop trying. Horizontal, she waltzed when it was time to waltz and samba-ed under him for hours if need be. 

Suite 555 with terrace balcony behind doors at left.  Foreground. Desk where Fred Pontchatrain wrote a note.

But the tryst only lasted an hour.  After wrapping herself in one of the hotel's courtesy robes, she was decidedly happy.  She had done her job keeping her eyes on an infamous international soldier of fortune. Now, thanks to her service her king and queen were safe. She moved to the small desk, where he sat still shirtless but now in his denims writing a note. 

Gathering her thick hair off her shoulders, she tied it back into a ponytail, she said, “I’ve had no clothes on for days. Let me dress. Let’s go someplace for lunch.” 

He sealed the letter before turning to her. "There's no tomorrow," he insisted and reached for her breasts. 

She dodged away, “No, no, que basta, Senor Garcia,” she laughed, Es una hermosa mañana, no perdamos el día dentro cama de hotel?” 

At that instance his body and mind hit a freeze frame. His face drained of expression. 

The game was even. Both now lost the element of surprise.

He never gave her his real name. How did she know? “Yes,” he said," Let's go out for lunch. Any ideas?” 

"We'll explore." she said as she dressed in what she had worn Friday evening

Mercado de Miguel, Madrid

Despite the noon sun, they walked West along serpentine streets.  Such a well dressed woman stood out in the crowd of tourists.

They decided on the popular deciding Mercado de San Miguel. There they mixed breakfast and lunch with pastries and tapas. And, wine, always wine. 

Conversations swayed like the wind. 



Then she asked a question in Spanish that faded smiles from their faces: ?estas casado?"

"Married? No, never.” He responded with a quick question of his own. “How did you get the scars on your knees?” Out of politeness, he didn’t ask about the elongated healed incision across her lower abdomen that to him indicated a Caesarian section scar. 

“Car accident. My father was an immigrant from Russia. He always wanted me to be a dancer. He paid for ballet lessons in St. Petersburg. It was a six week program, but my luck was bad. My father came with me and was driving a rented car. We were from Valencia he had forgotten how to drive in a Russian blizzard. We skidded off the road and hit a tree. My knees were crushed as the engine came through the dashboard. I was lucky to walk, again. And, I never danced, again.” 

“That’s a shame,” he offered. If it had been earlier in the morning when they awoke in each others arms he would have held her tight. But now he had to ask who is this woman? She was no whore and she was no school teacher trolling bars for musicians, but who? Was she Russian SVR? Have they tracked him here? Why not? He flew commercial from Moscow to Madrid. Easy enough to follow him. Who was she working for? 

The American attempted to tip the Mercado waiter. He reasoned they had monopolized the table too long. 

But she resisted, “This is Madrid.” Her message was clear. Lovers or liars need time to whisper in each other’s ears. Brush lips with slow fingers while they sip coffee, Spanish red wine or French Champagne, she insisted. 

He shrugged and left a large tip.

How will this end? she asked herself, but instead said aloud: "I’m curious. Have you fallen in love with me?” 

He pursed his lips but said nothing. Since they met there had been no talk of romances present, past or future. At one point, the night before, he wondered if she would like Stockholm? If not, they could return to San Francisco, his home before Scandinavia? Would late in life children have green eyes like their mother? Until this morning she had him twirling like a top. 

Now, he was being an actor with what he now knew about her. The leisurely interlude with a wonderful woman was over. He was back at work, on the dime—the fucking dime. 

"Not even a little spark?" she asked.  His silenced put a furrow in her brow, "I didn’t mean that to be so dramatic. I know we just met. Ignore me. I tend to blurt my thoughts out loud." 

"Of course, I fell in love with you," he said. "But then we both know we had no choice.  It was meant to be good but not forever."
"I want to return your coin. Little dream inside me says I don’t want this to end.” 

"The coin is yours. Keep it as a memory of how close two strangers can be over a weekend.  If it's meant to be more we will find each other." 

"When are you leaving?" "I haven't decided." His voice had an edge to it. Something she hadn’t heard all weekend together. "Tell me when so I won't..." “I've answered that." Feeling chastised, she stopped talking. 

They exited the Mercado into a soft rain. They strolled toward Calle Mayor until his voice brightened. “There.” 

Ahead, they ducked into a nearby Basilica to hear a concert by a cellist and a violinist. 

He slipped her arm into his. She rested her cheek against his shoulder to listen to Chopin.  He needed the calmness of the concert. The interlude refocused him. 

Leaving the concert, they window shopped along Calle Mayor. The rain became more intense. “Let's take a taxi back to the hotel?” 

“No,” she said, “It will pass.” 

Strolling, they made it no farther than Puerta del Sol. The summer hive of visitors were gone avoiding the slanting rain. They dodged under street awnings, passed the nearby metro station entrance and finally the skies opened into a drenching storm that forced then to take a detour into the Hotel Europa. 

They were still a mile from his hotel. “Let’s have a latte and wait out the storm,” he offered and led her by the hand into the Europa’s famous coffee café. They took a small table in the rear away from view of the lobby. They ordered espressos. 

He excused himself pointing in the direction of the toilets. She felt a pang of sadness. Would he say good-bye when he returned? Sunday on a cloudy afternoon was a good time to end a whirlwind romance. She knew tomorrow was Monday, a business day when businessmen arrange for departures or arrivals. It was time to end the romance, but she wanted to hear him frame the conversation. Would he be lighthearted or serious? 

Puerta del Sol Metro entrance to the left

The barista flirted with her after placing the cortados on the small table. 

Ignoring him because a coldness swept over her: he had been away longer than a normal for a trip to the toilet. Her hand darted into her purse grabbing her cellphone. 

"Digame," a man's voice at the National Central Bureau (NCB), the Madrid branch of Interpol office answered the call. 

“Eddy, I may have lost him,” she said. She slapped a 20 Euro bill on the counter for the barista and rushed to the toilets. She pushed the door into the mens room. It was empty. She hurried out into the plaza. “I can’t see him,” she shouted into the phone. 

“Senorita, Senorita!” She spun around. 

The barista was running toward her holding up an envelope. 

“Damn,” she mumbled, “I don’t need the change.” 

“Que, Que?" the voice on the other end of the line flipped from Spanish to English, "Do you need back up?" 

 “He’s gone," she said, "Make sure someone is at his hotel. If he grabbed a taxi he should be there soon.” She turned to the Barista and slapped on her biggest phony smile. 

 “Senorita, this fell from your purse,” the young man shouted in Spanish. "Si, Si, I said, keep the change,” she insisted fighting off his distraction. 

 “No, the envelope...,” the café man said, shaking his head. "It fell from your purse as you left the café.” 

Now focusing on the 4”x5” envelope that was addressed to Sonia Enriques, she thanked the barista and pointed at her phone. She held it up to an ear. 

He understood the gesture and backed away. 

Sonia kept scanning the plaza one more time fighting off a wave of acid reflux in her throat. It was then she noticed the entrance to the Metro, and the simple truth: the Puerta del Sol was on the subway line to the airport. 

She tore open the envelope. Inside was a small note on hotel stationery. The note read: Sonia, if that is your real name, I didn’t come to Madrid to shoot your King. Besides, you spent so much time with me I didn’t have time to “misbehave.” Thanks for distracting me. You deserve a raise. And, if it helps tell Eduardo you stopped me cold. And, as for your other assignment, what did they promise you to turn me over to the Russians?” 

“He knew. He knew all along, BASTARD!” She didn't realize while they listened to the chamber music in the church he had put the note in her purse. 

Earlier in the morning. Alone, in his morning shower, he had time to slip his passport inside the front pocket of his denims. It was the document he used to enter and exit Moscow and Madrid as American travel writer Fred Pontchatrain. 

His KLM flight departed Madrid Airport about the same time the Spanish authorities crashed into his hotel suite. In five hours, he would be home in Stockholm. Safe. His Moscow mission complete. 

By mid-afternoon Sunday, an attractive Eurasian woman presented her ID to the on duty concierge at Hotel Attu in order to retrieve a FedEx package left in her name. Upon retrieving it the assistant placed her package inside a double wide leather briefcase and left the hotel. 

Inside, the package was a fake vintage Hasselblad. Inside the hollowed out camera was the coin of the realm, the fucking dime in the form of an original Faberge egg fashioned in 1889 during the reign of Tsar Nicholas II. 

The Faberge Easter egg, made for the Romanov family, if sold on the open market today it would yield upwards from $50 to $75 million. 

Fetched from a black marketer with ice water in his veins, who offered no details on how he obtained the egg, the American in turn asked no questions. 

(Above): Museum called the Kremlin Amoury.  It houses many artifacts from the Romanov period.

It wasn’t his job. Fred Pontchartrain's assignment was to make contact a man with a Hasselblad camera hanging from a shoulder strap. Fred was not informed his contact was a rogue security guard from the Kremlin Armoury. The guard spent his entire career plotting how to lift one of the Faberge eggs, sell it and not get caught. 

Two anonymous men exchanged cameras--one Hasselblad for another. From the Kofe Durrell coffee house near Red Square, the American crossed Nikolskaya Street to the nearby FedEx ship center. From there, the camera was packaged and boarded into an L-1011 jumbo along with thousands of other deliveries and jetted to Madrid. 

The American went through Russian customs as a tourist. Clean. Smiling with Vodka on his breath. Spanish customs saw no reason to give him more than a cursory look as they would any businessman.  As Fred Pontchatrain, he arrived at Hotel Attu in time to collect his FedEx package and place it in the hotel safe. The concierge was paid with a $50,000 bearer bond for guarding and transferring the package into a large valise. At that price, she was not a curious woman. 

By midnight on Sunday, Fred’s Eurasian operative had the Hasselblad camera she picked up at the Hotel Attu and had it reshipped via Fedex to San Francisco. She would arrive in San Francisco in time to retrieve a recently arrived package in her name at the FedEx office in the lobby of the Fairbanks Hotel on Nob Hill (not the Fairmont). By noon on Monday, the Faberge Egg would be in the hands of its new California owners personally delivered by Art Garcia. 

A week after she parted with Fred Pontchatrain, Sonia watched television with her twins. She glanced at her husband but her mind was elsewhere. Her husband was finishing cleaning dinner dishes. He endured her assignments—ones that she could not share with him. This time she was grateful for that. 

Now, she had another secret and a gold coin that she placed inside a small music box on her vanity. Tomorrow, would be another day of bureaucracy filled with expected meetings, debriefings, explanations and then the agony of composing reports and, if she was lucky a new assignment would land on her desk like a bright new shiny dime. 

Sonia was one of ICPC’s top agents. The former Interpol operative based in Spain was tasked to stop Art Garcia, a soldier of fortune masquerading as a industrial spy from what ever trouble they believed he was in Madrid to commit. 

Then, she would turn him over to the Russian agents, who had made a desperate call to her Madrid office seeking assistance to stop Art Garcia. They also knew of his reputation. And, he most definitely was a person of interest regarding the disappearance of the missing Faberge Egg in question. The theft was big news on European television. 

And, if they ever met again, Sonia would not ask the bastard if he had actually fallen in love with her. She believed he had and that was good enough for her. But what bothered her most was simply if he was under her spell how did he to slip through her fingers? 

She read him wrong. 

How did he know? 

What gave her away? 

And, how disappointing it was for her being so close to making the biggest arrest of her career. When she calmed down, she mumbled who was the bigger fraud? 

But to the muses watching from the silver clouds above, they knew it was that moment of playful laughter when he landed on top of her, tickling and kissing her on the bed. She would never remember calling him Mr. Garcia, a name she was not supposed to reveal that she knew. 

But the American caught the slip up as soon as his real name came out of her mouth. And, he accepted her lack of immediate awareness as to what she said that allowed him to stay in the game. Now it was clear she wasn’t the office worker out for a Friday happy hour drink and listen to the music. And her gaffe alerted him. He was able to avoid being grabbed by her goons, the same pair that rifled the suite looking for anything damning on Pontchatrain. 
Early evening arrival at Stockholm's Arlanda International from Madrid

What kept him awake for most of the return flight to Stockholm, was the reality that he didn't know who originated the assignment.  Who paid him handsomely to meet in a Moscow coffee house?  It had been done with a wire transfer of a large sum into his company's day-to-day Swiss bank account.  It was followed by a telephone call when a stranger's voice, a woman gave him a brief perimeter of the job.  

If he agreed to take on the job he had to call a phone number he didn't recognize and ask how the weather was in Madrid.  Within 24 hours a FedEx arrived with precise instructions.

It would not be until sometime later in the same decade that Fred Pontchatrain would discover who hired him.  It happened when he was invited to a dinner party in San Francisco.  There on the mantle of a penthouse fireplace he came face to face with the same Faberge egg.  He was stunned.  He knew his client all his life.  They were friends, who had drifted apart because of careers not friendships.

It took Fred a week to wipe the smile off his face.   By the time he left the dinner party he was given another assignment by the same man.  He accepted.

Monday late afternoon Eduardo Ayunar sat in his office with Sonia Enriques. They both looked tired. She had accepted a glass of Vodka he offered. 

“The Russians are angry at us. They think you let him get away.” 

She answered, “He got away but I didn’t help him. He was on to us all along.” 

“You did your job. If they had someone in Moscow watching him like you did—they’d still have their precious egg.” 

“Absolutely,” she smiled. 

Eduardo Ayunar raised his glass. “To the egg that flew the nest!”

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