Founded by the Phoenicians, conquered by the Romans, and enriched by the spice trade, Lisbon is a city with over twenty centuries of rich and tumultuous history. Early records depict a tempestuous upbringing. Constant battles subjugated the city as the Phoenicians, Greeks, and Carthaginians battled one another for supremacy. Then the Romans came, occupying the city for more than two hundred years. The Moors followed with four hundred years of Islamic law, until finally it was the Christians’ turn to rule.
The Age of Discovery had begun.
In 1434, a Portuguese ship sailed beyond the West African coast, past Cape Bojador, breaking a long-held maritime belief that the world ended abruptly. Then in 1497 came Vasco da Gama and the sea route to India. Discovery led to wealth. The expeditions that followed transformed Lisbon into the opulent seat of a vast empire. The best sailors, mapmakers, and shipbuilders swarmed to the capital, bringing with them the foundations for commerce and industry. In just a few decades, Lisbon became the world’s most popular trading center and a maritime superpower.
Unfortunately, Lisbon’s glory days on the world stage were short-lived. Torn apart by civil unrest, marred by military insurrection, and weakened by political chaos, the city was transformed into an authoritarian police state that lasted well into the twentieth century. While the country languished, Spain and then France surpassed its greatness. The British Empire flourished and then collapsed. Now it was America’s turn to rule as the world’s lone true superpower.
Despite Lisbon’s tumultuous past, or perhaps because of it, the well-dressed Italian loved the sprawling city nestled on the banks of the Tagus River. He relished its simplicity, the calm serenity of being close to the ocean. He saw the hodgepodge of time periods and eclectic cultures as a source of charm, not as an indictment or weakness. A natural explorer, he likened the city’s hills, the medieval facades, the wonderful art-nouveau buildings, the black-and-white mosaic sidewalks, and the open-air shops to more modern versions found in Tuscany or along the coastline of Ireland. Lisbon had developed, and lost, an illustrious empire, but the people reflected none of it. They had adapted well, overcoming history’s ills, decrying in the process the isolationist paranoia and malaise that many nations of its kind fall into.
He especially liked the people. Studious, hardworking, and religious, the Portuguese had a zest for life and a passion found nowhere else on earth. For that reason alone, he felt at home here, at peace.
Then there was the other reason he favored Lisbon, one that had nothing to do with the people or culture. Lisbon was the perfect place to be a spy. Like in Spain during World War II, the spooks swarmed to Lisbon. It was a breeding ground, an incubator, a place where information and loyalty were sold as cheap commodities. The intelligence community here was a carnivorous, incestuous group, preying on unsuspecting or untrained agents without mercy. While the rest of the world had polite, oftentimes antiquated rules of engagement, Lisbon had none. It was the one place, the last bastion held over from the Cold War, where governments could operate without remorse or reprisal. As such, Lisbon was a dangerous and deadly place for those in his profession. The risks of doing business here were enormous — but so were the rewards.
The Italian looked down at his unfinished meal and sighed. The bacalhau was luscious. Fresh caught, the large fish was prepared in traditional Portuguese fashion with small red potatoes and leeks broiled in a savory garlic, olive oil, and lemon sauce. The accompanying muscatel was equally delicious. Made in the sunny Douro Valley, the muscatel grapes grew in schisty soil on terraces built into the landscape. The only way to harvest these succulent grapes was to climb the hillside and pick them by hand. It was a harsh and inefficient way to run a vineyard, but the effort resulted in some of the world’s finest wines.
The Italian picked up his glass and sniffed the rich red liquid within. The hint of raspberry and cassis with overtones of rockroses and violets rose to greet him. He took a sip. The flavor was smooth, elegant, and balanced, with a complex softness that held little acidity. It was a marvelous wine, one that could be found only in this region of the world.
The Italian was seated alone at a small, inconspicuous table at the rear of the Casa da Comida, a small bistro on the Rua Rodgrigoda Fonseca. It was still light outside, but that would change quickly as the sun was close to the water. A Verdi opera played softly in the background. Barely above the opus simmered the effervescent murmur of hushed conversation, tasteful laughter, and polite dining sounds of patrons enjoying their meal.
He felt comfortable in this surrounding, situated with his back against the wall in a small booth built for four. He was dining alone and had no plans for visitors. The waitress was not pleased to give up the prime location to a single patron, but he had insisted. The fact that he looked well-off dressed in his fine Italian silk suit, handmade leather shoes, and designer tortoise-shell glasses raised her hopes for a nice gratuity when the meal was done.
In a single glance, he could see every corner and recess inside the small restaurant. The kitchen exit was ten paces to his left, and the street entrance was forty-five degrees to the right, roughly thirty paces away. The narrow entrance door was sandwiched between two large windows overlooking the bay.
It was a beautiful afternoon; summer was in full bloom. Outside, he could see the yachts and sailboats rise and fall with the waves. When he closed his eyes, he could smell and taste the sea salt as it rode the breezes inland. The sidewalks were close to full capacity, and a steady stream of humanity passed both ways in front of the open windows. The restaurant’s awnings shielded most of the setting sun, but enough orange light penetrated to add soft ambience to the already fine surroundings.
The Italian casually checked his watch. The luminescent dial showed that it was just shy of eight o’clock. A few minutes later, he spotted his first target entering the restaurant. Right on time, he thought to himself. Give the Americans credit — if nothing else, they are punctual. The new patron was tall, well over six feet. The man scanned the room, swiveling his head on broad, muscular shoulders. His survey was quick, perfunctory, and obvious. The inexpensive blue wool suit he wore was typical of American agents: off the rack, ill-fitted, and wrinkled from too much travel and not enough care. The white shirt underneath was buttoned to the top, and a red-and-gray-striped tie hung just short of his waist. A few weeks on the street would have taught him to blend in better, assimilate to his surroundings. It also would have tempered his enthusiasm. This was a dangerous game, being played by equally dangerous individuals. There was no romance in what the Italian did. He learned that a long time ago. This agent was too green to realize it. As a result, everyone in the restaurant would see him for what he was: American. Every spook in town would have an entirely different assessment: fresh meat.
Foolish, the Italian thought with a slight shake of his head. You didn’t have to be an intelligence officer to know that this man worked for some government agency. His dress, demeanor, and posture advertised his occupation to anyone paying attention . . . anyone like the Italian, who missed nothing.
Special Agent Robert Peterson, nicknamed “Petey” by his FBI classmates at Quantico, was new to Lisbon. That didn’t mean he wasn’t well traveled. He had been all over the world while in the Army — Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Guatemala, miscellaneous parts of Europe — but never to Portugal. Intelligence work was also new to him. An ex-military man from a strong military family, he was the first male in generations who did not serve his twenty years until retirement. The only other one he knew of was an estranged uncle, someone he met once but didn’t quite remember. That uncle died in Vietnam, twenty-five years old and three tours into his service. For Peterson, six years was long enough. A blown knee during routine training at Fort Bragg ended his military career. After that, it was sheer luck — a chance encounter with a desperate recruiter — and glowing references from his Army superiors that got him into the Bureau. It certainly wasn’t his grades. He had barely graduated college and didn’t even bother enlisting as an officer candidate. Noncommissioned status was good enough for everyone else in the family, and it sufficed for him as well.
Agent Peterson was more than a little nervous. His palms were slick with sweat, and his right eye twitched slightly. This was his first real assignment, and he desperately wanted it to be a success. His peers had whispered that he could make a name for himself in Lisbon. He could prove himself quickly, move up the ladder, and take on more responsibility. He was green enough to believe what they said and naïve enough to think that he alone could make a difference. His role in this mission would be small, he knew that, but he was comforted in the knowledge that none of his classmates were chosen to make the trip. He was handpicked to join this team.
A small bulge at his left shoulder hinted at a concealed weapon, the Beretta M9 handgun. The Berretta 92FS, designated the M9 by the United States military, is one of the most tested and trusted 9mm sidearms in the world. Accurate and powerful with little recoil, the M9 will slow, or downright stop, whatever it hits. It was exactly what he wanted in a weapon, flexibility for use in both offensive and defensive situations.
As he was trained to do, Agent Peterson took in everything, including the lone man sitting in the back. Seemingly enjoying his meal, the finely dressed man was in his mid-fifties, hair graying at the temples, slightly overweight and out of shape. Too much time behind a desk, the agent surmised. He wasn’t a threat.
The restaurant appeared secure, so he made his way to an empty table along the left-hand wall. The man he was meeting would be along shortly. Peterson ordered a drink from the waitress and settled in to wait.
A short distance away, the Italian was smiling to himself. So, the information he had was correct. The agent appeared exactly like he did on his dossier: young and naïve. Clearly, the FBI’s Counterterrorism Unit considered this a low priority to send someone so junior. He should have known better than to doubt his source. Still, he hadn’t been given much time to set up this operation, and the information had come to him secondhand. There was always the chance for error or misinterpretation. What if the meeting place was wrong or had been changed? What if the time for the meet had been this morning instead of this evening? Too many variables existed. He had been given no time to verify the facts or plan for contingencies. As it was, he had arrived only a few short hours ago, just enough time to get ready and into place. And wait.
None of his worries mattered now, as the second man entered shortly after the first. This one was more circumspect, professional. His head never strayed from his objective, yet his eyes never stopped moving. They absorbed every detail, memorizing faces, planning escape routes, looking for any sign or warning that this was a setup. The smile on his face was for show only, the straight white teeth a distraction to the man’s real purpose and nature. His eyes held no warmth, only drive and intent.
The information the Italian had on the Russian was sketchy at best. Still, it took but a few seconds for him to judge the man. It was all there, if you knew where to look. It was in his walk, the way he carried himself on the balls of his feet, the compact, economical sway of his arms. Every movement had a purpose, a function meant to bring him one step closer to his goal. Even the act of blinking his eyes and breathing in and out was done without any wasted effort. The Italian had seen men like this before. He had trained with them, fought alongside them in combat. In a few instances he had been forced to kill men like this. The Russian was a predator, a cold-blooded killer, someone trained by the military and experienced in the field. He was a deadly weapon, not to be trifled with or underestimated.
The Russian agent showed no signs that he was armed. The broad Slavic features included high cheekbones, a wide nose, and bushy black eyebrows that were placed impossibly close together. Peterson guessed that the man was a full head shorter than him, though equally broad at the shoulders. The man rippled with energy. His forearms were thick and sinewy, the muscles and veins twisting and turning, intertwined until they reached his strong hands.
The Russian approached the table and sat opposite him. He set a small brown valise between his feet. As instructed, Agent Peterson did not offer to shake the man’s hand or engage in pleasantries. This meeting was all business. When the waitress arrived a few seconds later, he waved her off. The drink he had ordered sat untouched, a ring of condensation collecting on the wooden table. The agent’s pulse quickened. The game had begun in earnest.
“Do you have what I seek?” the Russian asked, coming straight to the point. His voice was baritone deep and heavily accented.
Peterson motioned toward his suit jacket. “The facility plans, grounds layout, personnel briefs, I have everything you asked for. Do you have something for me?”
“One hundred thousand American dollars,” the Russian replied, his eyes glancing down at the valise between his feet. “You know,” he said in a patronizing way, “it’s very dangerous for me to be carrying this around. Someone could get hurt with so much money.”
“I don’t think you’ll have to worry about that anymore,” Peterson said, equally condescending in his reply. “You have what you seek, and I’m going to enjoy my vacation.” So far, everything was going according to plan. He pulled out the thick envelope and slid it across the table.
The Russian opened the envelope and peered at the contents within. Satisfied, he tucked the envelope into his breast pocket. “To betray your country like this, it must bother you a little, no?” he prompted with false sincerity.
“Not really,” Peterson replied a little too quickly. Stick to the cover, he told himself. “The Army discarded me. I got injured serving my country, and what did they do? They didn’t want me anymore, so why shouldn’t I take care of myself? No one else is going to.”
“Indeed,” the Russian replied. He pulled his briefcase onto the table and laid it in front of him. “Think you can handle this?” he asked.
Peterson smiled broadly, relief flooding through him. The deal was coming to a close. He had succeeded. His feet were set upon a new path, one he knew was destined for greatness.
The Russian smiled in return, his teeth large and white. For the first time since the meeting began, the man’s eyes sparkled. But they did not sparkle with warmth. Instead, they displayed immense cruelty and utter lack of compassion.
Peterson blinked hard, not able to comprehend the sharp pain in his chest or his sudden lack of breath. Things were going so smoothly; now was not the time for a panic attack. His eyes drifted down to his chest, but strong, calloused fingers under his chin kept his head from following.
“Don’t worry, my friend.” He heard the Russian say. “This was meant to be. Nothing personal, you understand.”
Agent Peterson’s mind raced, but he could not find the words to speak. His eyes rose to meet those of the Russian. The last thoughts to ever cross his mind were how cold they looked, how different the assassin now looked. Then he slipped away into nothingness.
No one paid any attention to the two men. Patrons were completely absorbed in their meals, their partners, or in the beauty of Lisbon outside. Their ignorance was a blessing for the Italian, as it gave him one less thing to worry about. It allowed him to focus his complete attention on the meeting.
“Is the meal not to your satisfaction?”
The sudden appearance of the waitress startled the spy, forcing him to tear his eyes away from the agents. “Delicious,” he replied smoothly, hiding his irritation. He spoke in perfect Portuguese with only the hint of an Italian accent. “The bacalhau is excellent. Please give my thanks to the chef. And the wine, every bit as good as I remember it.”
The waitress looked down at him with a raised eyebrow. The fish on the plate was cold and the wine was warm. It was clear that the Italian had simply been moving the food around, having taken but a few bites.
“I just arrived this morning,” he said with a sheepish grin. He needed to move the waitress along without alerting the two men of his interest. “Forgive me. My body hasn’t caught up with the change in time zones yet.” Movement at the American’s table caught his attention, but he forced himself to ignore it. Not yet, he told himself. “Truly, the meal was excellent, as well as the service.” He added the last with a flourish.
The waitress smiled broadly and bowed her head. Having caught the compliment she wanted, she sauntered off to the next table, confident that a healthy tip was in hand.
Frustrated by the interruption, the Italian refocused on the two men, only to find the Russian standing. His hand was on the American’s shoulder. What happened? Did the exchange take place? Damn that woman, he thought. The Russian nodded his head to the passing waitress and turned to the door, briefcase back in hand. His right hand rose and absently patted his breast pocket, confirming to the Italian that a transaction had taken place. He strode quickly to the door, pausing briefly in the bright sunset before joining the throng of pedestrians.
The Italian looked back at the American. The agent was seated upright, his eyes focused on the Russian as he left. What did I miss? the Italian thought.
The presence of a foreign but familiar odor fought its way into his consciousness. His heart sank. It was only a trace amount, but the burnt, acrid smell was distinctive. It was a smell he knew intimately. Cordite. The pungent smell carried the faint but unmistakable odor of cheap gunpowder, the kind made in Eastern Europe for subsonic ammunitions. It was intermingled with the pleasant odor of Portuguese cooking but was recognizable nonetheless.
The American had still not moved. The Italian now knew why. He was dead, a gunshot to the heart. The hint of a red stain appeared on the man’s cheap pants. A larger bloom covered his breast, under his rumpled suit. Soon it would be visible for everyone to see.
“Shit,” the Italian swore out loud, not caring who heard him.
Ignoring the looks of disturbed patrons, the Italian sprang into action. He threw Euros at the table, not caring whether the amount was right or wrong. He raced to the door and then outside, standing on his toes to see if he could spot the Russian on the crowded sidewalk. His spirits lifted. He saw him fifty yards away, walking at a brisk pace up the Rua Rodgrigoda Fonseca. The Italian took off after him, carefully threading through the crowd, eager to close the distance. After twenty yards of frantic running, he came to an abrupt halt. He was not alone in his pursuit. Ahead of him were two more agents, one a man, the other a woman.
Probably American, the Italian surmised. Both were doing their best to blend in with the afternoon’s mass of people.
He frowned deeply. Neither agent was included in the dossier he received yesterday, but here they were, only slightly less obvious than their dead counterpart. So, the rookie agent had backup waiting outside the restaurant, he thought. These two didn’t know their partner was deceased, or else they would have taken action by now. The Russian would never have walked out of the restaurant alive. Instead, they were conducting surveillance, following whatever script had been agreed to beforehand. The man inside made the transfer and identified the mark. These two were following the Russian to see where he led them.
The information passed to the Russian was worth killing for. That surprised him. The two agents waiting outside the restaurant weren’t supposed to be there. That bothered him. Were there more agents involved? What about the Russian? Did he have backup? If so, where? This mission had too many variables, too many holes that needed to be filled. Nothing had gone as expected. He fell in step behind a tall, shapely woman with a wide-brimmed straw hat. His stride matched hers perfectly.