Madeline Spruce, certified CIA seductress and assassin, and her protégée, Cecily Branch, infiltrate the Russian Federation’s complex troll operations in America and Western Europe before their effects on national elections can tear the United States and the fragile European Union into shreds.
Working for the Deputy Director of Operations with her crack Agency team, Madeline must make every orgasm count to perform her mission and return to the embrace of Daniel Porter, her long-time friend and lover.
Dmitri Davidoff deported himself like an aristocrat walking into the bar of the Hotel Justus on Jauniela Street in the heart of the old town in Riga, Latvia. Madeline thought the man looked as tall and handsome, slender and refined as his file photos promised he would be. His Agency file indicated both his excellent hygiene and his fastidious tastes in dealing almost exclusively with beautiful women in his work. He hated dealing with men. A long string of deceased male business associates attested to that hatred.
Madeline Spruce, the woman he had come to meet, stood at one end of the oak bar in a blue cocktail dress, while Cecily Branch stood at the opposite end of the small bar, dressed in red. They offered a choice for Dmitri since each beautiful woman was a certified seductress and assassin for the American Central Intelligence Agency.
Cecily had bet ten euros that Davidoff would make a beeline for Madeline since his file indicated he favored women who wore the color blue. Besides, he had been emailed instructions to rendezvous here with a woman wearing a dark blue dress. When he veered toward Madeline to introduce himself, Cecily rubbed her thumb and index finger together subtly before she finished her drink. She left the bar and ascended the eighteenth-century spiral stairway to become Madeline’s supporting cast for the rest of the evening.
“Pardon me, but are you Madeline Spruce of Spruce Courier Service?” Davidoff asked Madeline in Russian. He seemed oblivious to Cecily’s departure.
Madeline furrowed her brow as she replied in Russian. “Yes, and you must be Mr. Dmitri Davidoff of Davidoff Holdings.”
“Yes, my name’s Dmitri Davidoff. Here’s my card.” He extracted a card from a gold case and set it on the oak bar. “Will you permit me to buy us both a vodka?”
Madeline appraised the mature, well-kempt, and handsome man with her critical eye. Then she lifted his business card and examined it closely. Liking what she saw, she nodded. “Dmitri, I’m pleased to meet you.” She extended her hand. Instead of shaking it, he raised it to his lips and kissed it gallantly.
She said, “I’ll gladly have one drink of vodka with you—as long as it’s Stolichnaya—before we get down to business.”
“Madeline, your Russian is excellent, but from your build and dress, I’ll guess you’re an American. Do you visit Riga often?” As he said this, he snapped his fingers and motioned for the bartender to pour Madeline a Stoli and to bring one of the same for himself. The drinks were provided immediately. The bottle remained on the bar as the bartender faded discreetly into the background.
She touched his glass and threw back the vodka in the Russian way. “Yes, I was born in New York City, but my mother was Russian and I did graduate studies in business at Moscow State University. I feel more comfortable in Europe than I do in America. Do I detect a slight variant of Moscow’s Arbat in your accent? And, if I didn’t know better, I’d guess you’ve spent some time recently in Brighton Beach.”
For a moment, Davidoff reddened and raised his right brow. He glared and threw back his vodka. “How could you possibly guess that?”
Madeline shrugged slightly without losing her fix on his smoldering brown eyes. “So I was right! She smiled. “A lucky guess. In my profession, it pays to listen for small details that can get you killed.”
“And by your profession, Madeline, I presume you mean your courier service?” The way he said courier service, it was clear he had doubts.
“That’s right. I run a very private courier service. Here’s my card.” She fetched a card from her slim, blue purse and handed it to him. He read it carefully while he poured another drink for both of them. Then he placed her card in his shirt pocket.
“Perhaps we can discuss what kinds of things you fetch and carry around the world. As I indicated, I might need your services very soon.”
“As I wrote you in my emails, Dmitri, my firm is open to carrying almost anything—as long as it’s legal. I’ve carried all forms of fiat currency, gold, diamonds and other precious stones, ashes of the deceased, documents and data, including cryptocurrency.”
She looked him in the eyes and smiled. “I’m expensive, but I guarantee results. My services are confidential, so providing references is going to be difficult.”
She saw Davidoff caught the unmistakable sexual innuendo in her pitch. He wasted no time taking control of the situation. Madeline was pleased, as her team had anticipated the target would assume a beautiful, sophisticated woman would not only be serviceable but also succumb to his charms.
“Madeline, I’ve checked your bona fides. My people and I stand ready to trust you on a trial basis. In that case, let’s finish our bottle of vodka and segue to my suite to explore your services and terms. I can order dinner with wine through room service, if you like. I may have a business proposition for you tonight.”
Madeline nodded. She did not miss a beat, playing the part of the modern business executive to perfection. “I’d like that very much. I can’t believe my luck to have met a potential client when I expected only to make a first introduction.”
“On the contrary, Madeline, I can’t believe my luck. As I mentioned in my emails, my primary courier service has just shut down unaccountably. They were my service for the last ten years. Now they’re gone, without a trace. I’ve been at wits’ end wondering how I was going to do an urgent, most important job. It seems more than coincidence that you happen along just at this time.”
She smiled. “Sometimes coincidences do happen. I hope we can come to terms.”
“The hotel room service offers wild duck with cherry sauce. How does that sound to you?”
“I love duck as long as it’s really wild and cooked thoroughly.”
“The hotelier informed me that two ducks were shot by local hunters the day before yesterday and hung fully dressed for two days. They should be ready shortly after I make the call to room service.”
They finished their vodka. Then Davidoff paid, leaving a generous tip on the bar. He extended his arm to Madeline. She placed her hand on his arm so he could guide her out of the bar to his suite.
As they walked, Dmitri told Madeline about the renovation of the hotel. “Russian film directors used the old, stone building as a location. A group of private investors has remade the Justus into a Four-Star establishment. Within a few blocks of the Daugava River, it’s one of the premiere hotels in the old town. I’ve booked what’s designated as a luxury suite. I think you’ll like it. The service is attentive. At least, over the years it’s never disappointed me.”
Madeline was familiar with Dmitri’s suite, as she had devised the surveillance for the room with her team. She knew that everything she and Dmitri said and did would be a matter of record. Cecily would observe in real time what was happening in the adjacent room. The Deputy Director for Operations, the formidable DDO of the CIA, would likewise be viewing and hearing everything in the secure room at Langley, Virginia, Headquarters. Madeline’s team members Don, Don’s wife Shirley, and Mandy would also be remotely experiencing the event. Ironically, she thought, the Hotel Justus was going to be a film location tonight with results more momentous than all those preceding it. She and Dmitri were going to be stars in their own limited engagement live showing.
Dmitri ordered the duck with cherry sauce and asparagus plus a claret from room service while he sat with her at a wooden table with an Art Nouveau lamp. Madeline was concerned he was beguiled by her beauty, so she decided to take initiative to drive their business conversation forward while they waited for their meal.
“You should know I’ve checked your bona fides in the same way you checked mine. I know you need courier services to make payments to your staff throughout Europe and America.”
Dmitri’s mouth formed an O of surprise. His eyes became hooded with suspicion.
She saw his reaction and cut off his pressing her for details. “Please don’t ask me how I obtained that information,” Madeline said. “Anyway, I assure you I can provide better service than your longstanding couriers.”
“Can you be more specific?” He seemed genuinely intrigued by her assertion.
“I can offer GPS tracking for your shipment on a portal-to-portal basis. This service can be provided for the courier or for the shipment, or for both. You’ll want both. In real time, you’ll be able to follow your shipment to its destination. Hitherto, your service has been limited to assured receipt at the terminal destination.”
“I don’t know how you obtained your information about my former service, but let’s say I require the highest assurance, with secure, portal-to-portal, real-time tracking of the courier and the package. What are your terms?”
Having piqued his interest, Madeline smiled, crossed her legs and shifted to her business persona. “Our rates are per-shipment. Each will require prior payment of fifty-thousand US dollars into an escrow account, from which the per-shipment fixed price of fifteen-thousand US dollars plus expenses will be deducted and the remainder refunded to you upon assured receipt.”
Madeline watched the man as he calculated the difference between his old service and the new one. When he seemed to understand and acquiesce to her terms, she continued.
“My courier service, as you’ve no doubt just calculated, is cheaper by five-thousand dollars per shipment, and the portal-to-portal visibility is an additional no-cost benefit to you.”
“How can you make such an offer, given the risks?” Dmitri asked.
Madeline smiled again and delivered her prepared spiel. “My service is in the tracking technology. My people will track the courier and the shipment at the same time as you and your people do. As the guarantors of delivery, we’ll take care of any troubles that may arise.”
Dmitri nodded. “Since you’re unusually well informed, will you please tell me what happened to my former courier service?”
“We believe that your principal courier got greedy and absconded with your latest shipment. Evidently, she thought the shipment would be sufficient to provide for her retirement.”
Dmitri reddened with anger. Madeline thought he might become violent.
“For a fee of twenty-five-thousand dollars, I can give you the current location of the courier who escaped with your product. I can also assure you that the technology I offer will not allow any shipment to go off grid as your last transaction apparently did.”
Room service interrupted their conversation. The duck dinner was served. The claret, which had been opened to breathe, was poured. As Dmitri and Madeline ate, they continued their conversation.
“What do you think of the duck, Madeline?”
“It’s divine, Dmitri. Pairing it with this claret is an inspiration.”
Dmitri was becoming intoxicated with the wine.
“Madeline, did I tell you how beautiful you are?”
Madeline smiled. “You did not. But, Dmitri, let’s keep focused on our business deal for the moment. We’ll have time for pleasure afterward.”
While the pair finished their dinner, Madeline discovered the explicit requirements for the delivery Dmitri called his test case for her company’s services. It involved her arranging to pick up a package in Riga and delivering it to a location in Paris. He explained everything that would be required, including the verbal cues at each location.
Madeline pretended to be bored by the details he was imparting. She knew her Agency team would be plotting the itinerary and calculating the odds at every waypoint in the courier’s route.
By the time Dmitri had finished outlining his task, they had consumed the duck dinner and the bottle of claret.
“So, Dmitri, for this service, the structure of the deal is simple. You transfer the required fifty-thousand dollars to my account this evening. I’ll verify receipt of the amount and give you the tracking numbers for the courier and the package. You’ll then entrust your package to me. After that, you need only follow the trajectory of your shipment on your laptop computer to its destination.”
Dmitri was ecstatic. “Madeline, if this shipment works, I’ll give you all my courier business.” He paused. “Unfortunately, if it doesn’t work—for any reason, my people will track you down and kill you without mercy. That’s what will happen to the woman who betrayed me and my organization.”
Madeline laughed uncomfortably. This was the cue for Dmitri to bring out his own bottle of Stolichnaya vodka. Then their night began to play out in another key entirely.
“Before we drink more vodka, I’ll order the transfer of the the money—for the shipment and for the information as to the whereabouts of my former courier—and I’ll give you the package. How you perform will be evaluated after final delivery. We’ll plan to meet again here in this hotel to assess your performance in precisely three weeks. Does that satisfy you?”
“Dmitri, that satisfies me fully.” She extracted her laptop from her traveling case. “I’m waiting for you to deposit your money in the account.”
Dmitri brought out his laptop and transferred the funds—seventy-five thousand dollars. Madeline verified that the money had been transferred. Dmitri then gave her the package.
Madeline texted Cecily to pick the package up.
Cecily knocked at the door five minutes later dressed in her black pants suit and dark aviator glasses. Madeline handed her the package and the fobs with the GPS locators. Five minutes after Cecily had received the package and devices, Madeline showed Dmitri how he could access the tracking program with his computer to follow the courier and his package.