Katarina “Kate” Hollister is a second-generation Foreign Service officer, recently assigned to Kyrgyzstan. She’s not there by chance. Kate is a Foreign Service brat who attended high school in the region; her uncle is the U.S. ambassador to the country, and he pulled a few strings to get her assigned to his mission.
U.S.–Kyrgyz relations are at a critical juncture. U.S. authorities have been negotiating with the Kyrgyz president on the lease of a massive airbase that would significantly expand the American footprint in Central Asia and could tip the scale in “the Great Game,” the competition among Russia, China, and the United States for influence in the region. The negotiations are controversial in the United States because of the Kyrgyz regime’s abysmal human-rights record. The fate of the airbase is balanced on a razor’s edge.
Amid these events, Kate’s uncle assigns her to infiltrate an underground democracy movement that has been sabotaging Kyrgyz security services and regime supporters. Washington has taken an interest in the movement, her uncle conveys, and may find it worth supporting if they understand more about the aims and leadership. And Kate has an in—many followers of the movement were high school classmates of hers.
But it soon becomes clear that nothing about Kate’s mission is as it seems . . . and that she might need to lay her life on the line for what she knows is right.
|Publisher:||Penguin Publishing Group|
|Product dimensions:||6.20(w) x 9.10(h) x 1.60(d)|
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
***This excerpt is from an advance uncorrected copy proof***
Copyright © 2017 Matthew Palmer
November 9, 2004
The basement was cool and damp and smelled of mildew and sour milk. There were only about twenty of them, hardly an army. The group included a few greybeards, but most were young, one or two of the boys barely old enough to shave. Zamira’s heart ached for the youngsters. She was almost fifty and if the secret police put a bullet through her skull tomorrow it would have been a rich and full life. The younger ones were risking so much more, even if they did not yet have the perspective needed to understand that, to recognize their own mortality.
The agents of the State Committee for National Security – the GKNB – were both ruthless and efficient. And they were getting closer. There were only a few places left in Bishkek where the Steering Group could meet. Temir, the owner of the restaurant, was a sympathizer and despite the dangers he let them use the basement. There was something about meeting literally underground that was deeply satisfying. It was something primal from hunter-gatherer days, she suspected, the association of the cave with safety and security. But this was their third time in the same place in as many months. And the meeting had already gone on too long.
They called themselves Azattyk, the Kyrgyz word for freedom, and their ultimate goal was nothing less than the overthrow of the corrupt and despotic regime of Nurlan Eraliev. The one-time Soviet apparatchik had given himself the title President for Life. Some in the movement hoped that Eraliev would read the writing on the wall and flee to Moscow or Beijing to live out his final days in exile. Others in Azattyk were perfectly willing to accept Eraliev’s title at face value. As far as they were concerned, he was welcome to reach the end of his reign at the end of a rope, just as long as that day came soon. No one doubted, however, that they would succeed. No one but Zamira.
Zamira cast an appraising glance around the room. These were her comrades, her brothers and sisters in the struggle for a democratic Kyrgyzstan. But for most of them it was a game. Even now, after almost six months of planning, organizing, and skulking in the shadows they had no idea what they were up against. What the thugs and enforcers of the GKNB would do to them if they were caught. They would learn, and hopefully not before it was too late.
A young man with pale skin, a neatly trimmed beard, and an old army jacket stood up, signaling for attention. His name was Fyodor. He was an ethnic Russian and the informal leader of their radical wing, Azattyk’s equivalent of the Young Turks. Hot-tempered and impatient, soaked in testosterone, and stupid.
“Enough of this shit!” Fyodor said loudly. He drained his glass and slammed it upside down on the table. The Uzbeks and the Russians, Fyodor among them, were drinking arak, a kind of local vodka. Zamira was Kyrgyz and most of her ethnic kin with their Asiatic features were drinking kumys, fermented mare’s milk. Zamira didn’t much like the taste, but there were those in the movement who still considered her foreign. She had lived most of her life in London, the daughter of dissidents who had fled Bishkek in the 1970s under suspicion – accurate as it would so happen – of being Kyrgyz nationalists before nationalism in Central Asia was fashionable. Moreover, her sister, Cholpon, was married to an American diplomat. Azattyk’s lefty student leaders had no more time for the CIA than they did for the GKNB. So, Zamira drank kumys more to establish her ethnic bona fides than because she appreciated the salty, buttery flavor.
“Enough of this shit,” Fyodor repeated. “It is time to stop hiding in the shadows. We are ready to meet our enemy face to face on the streets of the city. It is time to stop organizing and start acting.”
There was a murmur of assent from the assembled. Fyodor’s was a popular sentiment. Azattyk was an underground movement that, so far, had done little more than spray paint furtive pro-democracy and anti-regime graffiti on buildings and bridges. The entire membership numbered no more than several hundred and they had so little money that the Steering Group had not even bothered to appoint a treasurer.
They were far from formidable, but the regime seemed to be afraid of them, or at least afraid of what they represented. And some of Azyattky’s less experienced members, which was to say almost all of them, had begun to believe their own PR.
“It is too soon. The security services would break us like a dry twig.” The voice of reason belonged to one of Zamira’s contemporaries, a chemical engineer named Chorobek Rustamov who worked at the state-run fertilizer plant. Rustamov was smart and pragmatic, but he was blunt to a fault and the younger members of the movement considered him hopelessly bourgeois, which for them was often a synonym for cowardly.
“Chorobek is right,” Zamira said, not giving Fyodor a chance to respond. “This is exactly what Eraliev hopes we will do; show ourselves before we are ready. We must build our strength before we come out of hiding. There will be only one chance at this. Fail and we will all be spending the rest of our short, miserable lives in Prison Number One.” This was where Eraliev kept his political opponents and those the regime considered enemies of the state.
Fyodor was not rolling over, however. He was clearly ready to fight his corner.
He would not get his chance.
There was a loud crack from upstairs. A gunshot. The room froze into silence. This was a rough part of town. On a typical Saturday night, gunfire would not have been especially noteworthy. But tonight, the restaurant was closed and empty. There was supposed to be no one upstairs except Temir. And Temir, Zamira suspected, was now dead. Reflexively, they all looked up as though they would be able to see through the concrete ceiling.
A series of dull thuds followed, moving across the floor above. Footsteps. Heavy and unconcerned with stealth. That could only mean on thing. There were many of them, enough that it did not matter especially if those below knew they were coming.
The twenty or so conspirators in the basement reached that same conclusion at almost the same moment, their thought process supercharged by adrenaline, nicotine and fear. The basement had a back door, a narrow set of crumbling cement stairs that opened up onto the alley behind the restaurant. The would-be revolutionaries dashed for the exit, tripping each other in their haste to reach the illusionary safety of Bishkek’s back streets. All thoughts of comradeship were forgotten in the mad rush for the night air and the cloak of darkness. Zamira saw Mukhamed, a gigantic twenty-year old ethnic Kyrgyz prone to bragging about his cat-and-mouse games with the secret police, shove a diminutive Russian girl named Ludmila to the ground driven by an instinct for self-preservation inscribed in his DNA by millions of years of natural selection.
People were animals, Zamira thought. Herd animals mostly, but with a select few predators. People were both sheep and wolves. And civilization was a thin veneer that concealed nature red in tooth and claw. It was easier to slip the bonds of social norms than most people could imagine, and there was perhaps no society on earth that was more than two missed meals away from anarchy.
Zamira did not join the others in fighting for the stairs. The security services were professional and their agents were anything but dumb. The alley would be a trap.
Instead, she went the other way. There was a small storeroom in the basement where Temir kept supplies for the restaurant, Café Manas. A few weeks earlier, Zamira had stopped by the cafe for a drink. Temir, a friend of long-standing, had hurt his back and he had asked her to help him bring some potatoes and parsnips up from the basement. In the corner of the storeroom there was a small pile of burlap bags. Under the bags was a trapdoor that concealed a storage bin for root vegetables. Down here, the fall harvest would keep more or less fresh through the long winter until spring. It was March and the bin would be almost empty. There should be enough room for one.
Zamira slipped as quickly and quietly as she could into the storage bin, doing her best to slide the burlap bags back into place as she closed the trapdoor. The potatoes she was lying on were soft and mushy and they stank of rot. She hoped that there were no rats in the bin, not because she was afraid but because their scuttling might betray her hiding place.
The thumping of boots on the stairs told her that the police had found the door to the basement. There was a scream, followed by a wet smack that sounded to Zamira like a truncheon hitting flesh. The noise was muffled by the burlap bags that covered the cramped root cellar.
She concentrated on her breathing, in through the nose and out through the mouth. Slow and regular and, most importantly, quiet. There was a story she had read once by an American writer about a murderer who thought he could hear the heart of his victim beating under the floorboards of his house. Her own jackhammering heartbeat felt loud enough to be a tell-tale, and she willed it to slow. It obeyed reluctantly.
There was a creak as the door to the storeroom opened, followed by footsteps.
“Get the lights,” she heard a male voice say with the casual authority of someone used to giving orders. Zamira recognized the voice and a pulse of fear ran like acid through her veins. The language was Russian, but the accent was heavy and plodding as though the liquid Russian phrases had congealed into something thick and greasy. It was Georgian, the accent of gangsters and Stalin. And there was only one man it could be. His name was Anton Chalibashvili. But Kyrgyzstan’s democrats and members of Bishkek’s intelligentsia had another name for him. Torquemada. The Inquisitor.
There was a room in the sub-basement of Prison Number One where the Georgian, a former KGB major who learned his trade at Moscow’s infamous Lubjanka prison, practiced his dark arts in the service of the Eraliev regime. It was called the Pit.
The Inquisitor’s job was to secure confessions by whatever means necessary. Everyone confessed in the end.
Zamir shuddered as her mind conjured up medieval fantasies of the Pit and its elaborate methods of torture. And as awful as the visions were, Zamira suspected that her imagination had fallen short of the realities.
A small part of the outline of the trapdoor lit up and Zamira knew that there was no more than a single layer of burlap covering that corner of her hiding place.
“Are you sure you saw her come in here?” the inquisitor asked.
“I’m sure. There is nowhere else down here where she could be.”
Zamira recognized that voice as well. It belonged to a student named Aibek who had joined the group only a few months earlier. Aibek had demonstrated considerable promise as a future leader in the movement. He was smart, articulate, and passionate. He was also, it would seem, a traitor. It was the age old problem of cabals, conspiracies, and underground movements. Who could you trust? Ultimately, yourself alone, and sometimes not even that.
Temir, she remembered kept a tool in the storage bin, a steel poker with a fork at the end that could be used to help scoop out the beets, potatoes and carrots. In the dark, with her enemies standing over her body, Zamira felt frantically around the sides of the bin until her fingers closed around the wooden handle of the tool. With her other hand, she tested the tips of the tines at the business end. They were sharp and the metal was strong. They would find her here, but she would drive the tool into Aibek’s reptilian brain before they put her down.
There was a scraping sound as someone – likely Aibek – dragged the burlap sacks off the trapdoor.
“Look what we have here,” she heard the traitor say.
The light was bright, and the silhouette of Aibek’s head loomed over Zamira in sharp relief. She thrust the long fork up with all of her strength and had the satisfaction of feeling one of the tines pierce an eyeball as though it were a boiled egg. Warm, wet drops sprayed onto her hand and arm. Blood and ocular fluid.
“My eye! Goddam bitch blinded me.”
The traitor pulled his head back and Zamira’s second thrust hit nothing but air.
She crouched on the mash of rotten vegetables on the floor of the bin and raised her modest weapon to eye level. If she could take the inquisitor in the throat or the groin, she could make a run for the stairs.
Aibek rolled helplessly on the floor, both hands pressed up against his left eye. He was whimpering like a dog and Zamira enjoyed a brief moment of satisfaction.
It was a fleeting sensation.
Chalibashvili would not be as carless as Aibek had been. He was not a young man, Zamira would have guessed that he was in his late fifties. But he carried himself with a military bearing and he exuded both confidence and competence. He was tall and broad and his grey hair was cut close to his scalp. He wore a dark suit under a knee-length leather coat that was open at the front. There was a black truncheon in one hand and Zamira could see the butt of a pistol in a holster on his hip.
Chalibashvili just watched as Zamira crawled out of the pit, an amused smirk on his lips.
It was as easy for him to take the weapon from her as it would have been to take a toy from an ill-behaved child.
The handcuffs he used to bind her hands behind her back were heavy and cold.
Chalibashvili led her up the stairs and out the front door, leaving his mole in their group writhing on the basement floor in pain and humiliation, his utility to the security services used up.
There was a black truck parked in front of the restaurant and Zamira’s colleagues were being loaded in the back.
Zamira looked up at the night sky. It was late and there were few lights to hide the stars. Her breath formed wispy clouds of vapor in the cold air.
“Yes.” Standing behind her, the Georgian whispered in her ear. “Look up. Drink in the sky. It will be a long, long time until next you see the stars.”
Twelve Years Later
March 1, 2016
The five people gathered in the Tank were judge and jury. The executioner already had his orders.
“It’s a death sentence,” Kate Hollister said, embarrassed by the note of pleading that she could not quite keep out of her voice. As happened so often she was the only woman in the room, and women, she knew, had to be careful about tone. Match the men for toughness and risk being branded a bitch. Speak elliptically and you were weak. Speak plainly and you were a shrew. Kate wanted desperately to hit just the right note. Get it wrong, and her friends were dead.
“I’m sorry, Kate. But Mike’s right. We can’t take action on what we know without risking the source.”
Charlie DelBarco was in over his head, Kate thought. He was a perfectly competent management officer with no meaningful policy experience who had found himself elevated to the position of charge d’affaires of the American embassy in Havana when the Deputy Chief of Mission had been medevaced ten days ago with appendicitis. The DCM was actually the top dog in the Mission. The position of ambassador was vacant because one of Florida’s two Republican Senators had put an indefinite hold on the nominee’s confirmation. The United States and Cuba had restored diplomatic relations after an estrangement lasting more than half a century, but not everyone had gotten the memo.
Temporarily at least, it was DelBarco’s embassy, and what happened next was up to him.
The Tank, a secure room-within-a-room in the basement of the Embassy, was the only place in the country where the American staff could hold sensitive conversations. The Cuban services were aggressive and technically competent. The Tank was about the size and shape of a shipping container and sat on a top of a bed of springs that dampened vibrations. The air inside was pressurized and oppressive, and the sound maskers emitted a low and steady headache-inducing hum. The air conditions were cranked up high enough to give Kate goose pimples.
In addition to Kate and Charlie, the group in the tank included the Embassy’s Regional Security Officer, the CIA station chief, and Kate’s boss in the political section, Barry Kriegler. One of the RSO’s contacts in the Cuban police had let slip that there would be a raid on a meeting of pro-democracy dissidents at an abandoned cigar factory on the outskirts of Havana that same evening. As ties with America improved, the Cuban government had grown only more paranoid about the aspirations of its own citizens. Tonight the police were targeting three of the leading lights in the Cuban democracy movement including Reuben Morales, who had become popular enough to represent a threat to the regime.
Kate was the embassy’s human rights officer. It was her job to network with Cuba’s political dissidents, to report on government abuses, and to do what she could to advance the goal of democratic reforms in what was still very much an authoritarian state. Morales was an important contact – and a friend.
“What good is the source if we can’t do anything with the information?” Kate said carefully. “Isn’t that the point of intelligence? Morales isn’t just another activist; he’s a symbol of hope. If the authorities lock him up they’d be taking the chance that he becomes like Nelson Mandela on Robbin’s Island. They won’t do that. They’ll just kill him and dump his body in the sea.”
“And what about my guy?” the RSO asked. “What about the risk to him if the Cubans go looking for who blew the op and the find my guy sitting there when they turn over the rock?”
“This is a big operation,” Kate explained for what felt to her like the tenth time. “There are bound to be a lot of people in a position to tip off the dissidents. If we move fast enough, there’s no reason the government needs to know it came from the Americans.”
“They would assume it was us,” the station chief chimed in. “When we sneeze the G2 says bless you. The Cuban services know more about me than my wife does.” The G2 was the Direccion General de Inteligencia, the widely reviled and universally feared foreign intelligence arm of the Cuban state.
“I could get Morales a message through cutouts,” Kate insisted. “The dissidents know how to get information to each other under the radar of the G2 and without tripping any alarms. They do it all the time.”
“It’s too risky,” DelBarco said. “I can’t authorize it without instructions from Washington. We’ve asked for guidance. We need to be patient.”
“It’ll take a week for DC to make up its mind,” Kate protested. “We have four hours.”
Kate looked over at Barry Kriegler. He was a good boss. Smart, experienced, and supportive. Although Kate was only a first-tour officer, he had given her considerable responsibility and backed her up when she had pressed the Front Office and Washington for more open support of Cuba’s embattled democrats. Now Kriegler could only shrug.
“You’re tilting at windmills, Kate. I know Reuben’s important. But we have to play the long game on this island, and that means protecting sources and methods at all cost.”
“Five decades isn’t long enough for you?” Kate asked incredulous. “We’re on the cusp of real change in Cuba. Finally. And Morales could be the catalyst. But only if he’s alive and free.”
“If they miss him tonight, they’ll just pick him up next week,” the station chief said. “Or the week of after that. It’s an island. There’s nowhere to go.”
“He could go underground,” Kate said. “There’s a system in place to move dissidents house to house. They could keep him safe. If it came to it, they could smuggle him out to Dominica or even Miami. We just need to warn him.”
“I’m sorry,” DelBarco said again. “The answer is the same. No.”
Wordlessly, Kate stood up and left. She needed two hands to operate the lever that locked the door to the Tank tight against the rubber seals.
Kriegler followed her.
He put a hand on her shoulder and forced her to slow down.
“Don’t do anything stupid.”
“Don’t worry about me, Barry.”
There was no ambiguity in her instructions. There was no way, however, that Kate was going to allow her superiors to feed Morales to the sharks. She understood what she was risking. Kate was only on her first tour as a Foreign Service Officer, but she had grown up in and around embassies as a diplomatic brat and she had absorbed many of the State Department’s rules and norms by osmosis. What she was about to do was the very definition of insubordination. As an untenured officer, she could be dismissed from the Service for cause easily. But there was such a thing as right and wrong. And while it was not always easy to tell the difference between the two, when it was clear there was no excuse for inaction. She would take the risk.
Despite what Kate had argued in the Tank, getting a message to her dissident friends proved harder than she had anticipated. None of her contacts had cell phones or regular e-mail access, and even if they had, all telephone and electronic communications were monitored obsessively by the security services. Kate knocked on a few doors and tried a couple of the cafes the dissident and activist community would frequent, but she was not able to find anyone in a position to help.
The sky turned from blue to purple and then indigo as twilight fell on Havana. Kate checked the time obsessively, but she knew that a meeting of Cuban dissidents was not run like a meeting of South Korean engineers. The start time for the meeting was notional and there was no official agenda and no chairman. It would start when there were enough people there to begin, and it would last for as long as they had something to say. The debate would be free-wheeling and passionately intense. It was Cuba. And Kate had grown to love it. There was no way to know just how much time she had to work with, but she knew that it was not much. Likely not enough.
Finally, at a second-hand bookstore run out of the back of a private house in a residential part of town, she found Paco, a middle-aged man who wrote terrible poetry and cultivated a bohemian air that he used to hit on Scandinavian tourists half his age. Kate thought he was a little skeevy and he was really a fringe player on the dissident scene, but he was the best she could find. In hushed tones, she asked Paco to get a message to Morales that the meeting later that evening would be the target of a police raid. In typically florid language, Paco swore a blood oath that he would get the message to Morales. Kate’s level of confidence in the third-rate poet was low.
Night had fallen and Havana was a city that only really stirred itself from its tropical torpor after dark. The scattered sodium-vapor lamps cast an ugly yellow-orange glow over Centro Habana. It was still too early for the streets to be crowded and Kate found herself standing alone in front of a crumbling Batista-era villa now boarded up and abandoned. She checked her watch again. It was almost 8:00 pm, the time that had been set, in principle, for Morales’ meeting.
She made up her mind.
“Okay, here we go,” Kate said out loud to no one in particular.
It took her twenty minutes to get to her apartment. Three minutes after that, she was rocketing through the backstreets of Havana headed for the municipality of Boyeros in the direction of the airport. Kate’s car, a twelve-year-old BMW 5-series, handled smoothly at high speeds, and in the socialist paradise of Cuba there was little traffic to contend with.
She made it to the old cigar factory in less than fifteen minutes. This part of Boyeros was industrial, or rather post-industrial as most of the factories and workshops that lined the backstreets had closed their doors decades earlier. The Castillo-Barzaga factory had ceased rolling cigars sometime in the 1970s, but there was still a hint of tobacco smell in the air from where the juices had worked their way deep into the building’s timbers.
Kate parked in the shadows and walked up to the front door. From inside, she could hear the buzz of conversation in machine-gun Spanish. Kate let herself in. As soon as she opened the door, the conversation stopped.
There were, perhaps, two dozen people in the room. Kate recognized about half of them. The room was large and lit only by three naked light bulbs hanging from the rafters.
“Katie? How did you know we would be here?” Reuben Morales’ voice was deep and raspy.
“I’m not supposed to know,” Kate replied in fluent Spanish. “But I do. Which means…”
“Others know it as well,” Morales finished her sentence. “G2?”
“Regular police, I think.”
“Just as bad. Are they on their way?”
“Gracias, Senorita.” Morales stood. He was dressed in jeans and white shirt open at the collar. It was hot in the poorly-ventilated factory and there was a thin film of sweat on his chest. Morales was no longer young, but his hair was still dark and curly and his moustache was so distinctive it had become a symbol of resistance to the Castro regime. A basic right of passage for aspiring activists was to draw a Morales moustache on posters of Cuba’s unelected leadership. He was an attractive man, Kate thought. Magnetic. The future of the island. But only if he could stay out of prison. Stay alive.
“You have to get out of here, Reuben,” she said.
A beam of light shining through the window briefly pierced the gloom in the factory and swept across the far wall like a searchlight.
Morales looked quickly out the window. “It’s too late, Katie. They’re here.”
Kate moved to stand beside Reuben and saw a small convoy of cars turning onto the road that led towards the factory.
“Come with me. I can get you out of here.”
“No, Katie. I appreciate what you’ve done. And I know that it was not without risk to you. But I will not leave my friends.”
An idea born of desperation clawed its way to the front of Kate’s conscious. She tried to push it back, but she could not. It made sense to her. It could also get her killed.
She swallowed hard. There was no time to think it through, no time to weigh the pros and cons.
“Get the others out the back. I’ll buy you as much time as I can.”
“What are you going to do?”
Kate ran for her car. Within seconds, the heavy BMW sedan was screaming down the road towards the line of Cuban police cars.
The car in front flashed its lights, but there was no siren. The driver did not want to be too conspicuous. As far as the police knew, this was just a routine raid. Kate ignored the lights and the instinct hard-wired in her brain to turn away from danger, to turn the car. The distance between them closed with frightening speed. Absurdly, Kate thought of it like a junior high school word problem. A car is approaching Boyeros at forty miles an hour. A second car is heading towards Havana at sixty miles an hour. How long does Kate Hollister have to live?
The cars barreled towards each other. At the last possible moment, Kate flinched and the BMW struck the Cuban police car in the left front quarter panel. Kate’s car spun wildly and the airbag deployed blocking her view and keeping her from flying through the windshield. Her head cracked painfully against the side window, starring the glass as the force of the spin flung her into the door. Her vision greyed at the edges and she wanted to vomit.
Within seconds of the car coming to a stop, the door was ripped open and powerful hands were dragging her onto the ground. Blood ran down her face from a gash at her temple
Kate lay flat on her belly and she felt the cold muzzle of a pistol pressed up against the back of her skull.
“Quien coño eres tu?” Who the fuck are you?
Kate looked Charlie DelBarco right in the eyes, refusing to avert her gaze, to submit to his authority.
“Do you have any idea what you’ve done?” DelBarco’s voice was calm and even, but the vein throbbing in his neck made it clear what an effort it was for him to keep from yelling. They were in his office in the embassy. Only an hour earlier, Kate had been cooling her heels in a Cuban jail. Barry Kriegler had come to get her out, something he had told her had been a heavy lift with the Cuban authorities.
“I had a car accident Charlie.” She touched the bandage on her head like it was a Saint Christopher’s medallion.
“Bullshit. I had to call the Justice Minister himself to get you out of jail, I should have left you there to rot for a week or two, diplomatic immunity be damned.”
“What did you tell them?” Kate asked.
“That it was a car accident.”
“Well then, that’s what it was. It’s policy now.”
The chargé waved his hands dismissively.
“It doesn’t really matter. You won’t be my problem for long.” DelBarco picked up a legal size piece of paper from his desk and thrust it angrily in front of Kate’s face. “We got a dip note this morning from the Cubans. They’ve declared you persona non grata. You have thirty-six hours to leave Cuba forever.”
The news stung. Kate had known it was a possibility, but to hear it put in such stark terms was painful. She had come to love this island with its warm people and vibrant culture. The loss would hurt. But Kriegler had told her when he escorted her from prison that no one knew where Morales was. The police had not found him and he had gone into hiding. It would cost Kate, cost her a great deal. But it was worth it. She had no regrets.
“The only problem,” DelBarco continued, “is that we can’t punish you for insubordination in the way you deserve to be punished. Being PNG’d actually protects you. We can’t let the Cubans feel they got the upper hand by damaging one of our own. So we won’t sanction you, just to spite them.”
“Thanks, Charlie. I appreciate the compassion.”
DelBarco ignored the sarcasm.
“But it looks like you aren’t completely insulated from the consequences of your actions.”
“How so?” Kate asked nervously.
DelBarco picked up another document from his desk. This one a regular letter-size paper.
“A transfer cable with your name on it, Kate. Say goodbye to mojitos and salsa music. I hope you packed a parka.”
“Where are they sending me?”
“The icky-stans. You’re going to Bishkek. I can’t even remember which one of those central Asian backwaters that’s the capital of.”
“Kyrgyzstan,” Kate answered flatly.
“Whatever. Seems they asked for you specifically. I’m not sure if that means someone’s looking out for you or they have it in for you.”
“Me neither,” Kate agreed. “But I know who it is.”
Most Helpful Customer Reviews