Things were never the same for John Q. Smith after the Cold War ended.
Of course, John Q. Smith wasn’t his real name. Just as he knew Yuri wasn’t the real name of the man he met for coffee every Thursday morning near Red Square in Moscow.
He wondered why they maintained the charade now that each of them had gone into private consulting. Habit, he supposed. His life of secrecy and paranoia was built on a mountain of habits, after all. What else was training but layer upon layer of habit?
Yuri was two minutes and seventeen seconds late entering the cafe. Something about him seemed different; his appearance was nondescript as ever, but there was an odd shift in his movements that betrayed some change in attitude.
“I bid you good morning, John Q.,” Yuri said as he sat across from the American, setting his cup carefully on the table with its handle toward his hand.
“You’re late, Yuri,” John said. “You’ve never been late in 23 years.”
The Russian took off his hat and gloves. “Times change, John Q. You know this as well as I.”
John took a sip of his cappuccino. “Are you seeing someone?”
Yuri’s eyebrow tilted. “Another … contact? No.”
“You’ve gone back … haven’t you?”
Yuri gazed at his companion for a long moment. “We have reconciled, yes.”
The was a long pause. “Why now? Was it money?”
“Money is easy to come by, my friend. You know that. What I was lacking was certainty.”
Although Smith understood, he could not help feel a pang of resentment and jealousy. Yuri, a man he’d been buying secrets from for two decades, was going back to the KGB.
“I have given you a lot.”
“Yes. Always just enough to keep me coming back, eh?”
“We’ve shared a lot. We have secrets.”
“Secrets are never kept for long in our business. Promises are rarely kept.”
February wind was blowing last night’s snow in swirling eddies around the street outside. The sun was hidden beyond a steely blanket of clouds. The day was cold and colorless.
“You are feeling … jilted?” Yuri asked, his mouth curling into a smirk. “It stings, I know. Yet, this will pass.”
“What does this mean, Yuri? Is this our last meeting?”
“We had many good years together, John Q. And yet, in the end, my needs are more than you could provide.”
“How can you say that? After Chechnya? After Afghanistan?”
“You promised we would defect to China. Did we ever?”
Smith fiddled with his cup. “We still could.”
“Too late. I need stability.” Yuri took a deep swig of his black coffee. “Adventure is for the young. The Lubyanka is as boring is it ever was, but I know I will always have a place there.”
Yuri stood, swiping his hat and gloves. Smith sat silently.
“Farewell, John Q. We will not meet again.”
Smith wanted to leap up and chase after this man—not his friend, certainly, but a close colleague, a sharer of secrets for many years—and beg him to take him back, even as an occasional contact … but gone were the wild and carefree days after the Fall. The world was a less forgiving place now. Yuri’s betrayal was painful, but Smith understood it.
His training kept any outward emotion in check. Habit was still the mask he wore, always.
John Q. Smith drained the dregs of his coffee and unlocked his phone. The number for the Company was still there, buried within a coded contact listing. He stared at it for a long time.
“Two can play that game,” he muttered as he touched the call button.