“Good evening, Mr. Peterson,” the gate guard greeted as Frank Peterson walked out of the U.S. embassy. Consumed with arrogant self-confidence, he didn’t like the evening’s assignment.

Fourteen years as a black operative for the CIA, he had grown to love his Stockholm station. To “assist” in a CIA-ordered assassination was beneath him. Worse, he was acquainted with the local killer for hire, who was waiting in the battered Volvo.

Why the hell didn’t the local do the wet work alone? The job didn’t require two operatives. But his orders had arrived directly from Langley, Virginia only hours earlier.

“Hello, Hans.” Peterson shook hands with the slender, mustached driver in a tweed hat.

“Hello, Frank. Long time, no see,” Hans said in heavily accented English. “We can do our number this evening at, say, nine tonight. We knock on his door, bang bang, and have beer and steak by ten.”

Peterson nodded. CIA procedure required silence. He had no intention of socializing with this common thug. “Not we. You will pull the trigger. I remain unarmed. I can’t get caught with a firearm in Sweden.”

They squeezed into the noisy car, and Hans drove them to a small cottage in the countryside. Window down, Peterson could see and hear aircraft from a small airport directly behind the house. Why on earth would anyone voluntarily live near all that noise? No matter, the occupant wasn’t going to live much longer.

Paranoia was a necessary mindset in Peterson’s business. Should the Swedish authorities challenge him, he could fall back on the history his handlers had carefully crafted for him: a quiet man who enjoyed traveling, graduate of a major university, unmarried, and a trusted CIA operative cloaked as a staffer in the U.S. Embassy, Stockholm. The file proved he had never had so much as a traffic ticket.

The file was counterfeit, a perfect fit in his clandestine world where everything was at least partly fabricated. The real Frank Peterson had disappeared while sailing in the Pacific over twenty years earlier. Should any old photographs of the original Peterson be located, age alone would make comparison impossible.

Classified assignments had insured isolation from any chance encounters with the real Peterson’s past associates or family. Most important: investigation had disclosed that the real Peterson had no fingerprints on record

The new Peterson had survived the scrutiny of security investigation and many polygraphs. The charade had worked perfectly: he was a trusted operative of the CIA.

Hans parked the Volvo and carefully opened the squeaky front gate of the cottage. Hans tapped on the front door, holding his silenced, High Standard 22 pistol at his side. After a second rap, the door swung open. A slender man stood in the dim light.

Hans partially raised his weapon. Then, startled, he said, “Good God, you’re not—”

A hand holding a pistol appeared beside the man. Two nearly inaudible clicks and muzzle flashes of a silenced gun froze Peterson. Hans fell, his death gurgle quickly followed by silence. Peterson waited, terrified, for his turn.

Two other men materialized from the darkened house and pinned Peterson against the doorframe. One spat in English, “Mister super-spy, you’re screwed.”

They dragged Peterson inside, duct-taped his hands and feet and shoved him into a small, windowless room. His heart pounding, he struggled to avoid throwing up.

He heard one of the men say, as they left the room, “Get the aircraft ready.” He realized he’d walked into a trap. The men had to be Russians. He needn’t fear any political situation; he had full diplomatic immunity.

As he struggled in darkness to rip his hands free, he bumped a small table. Incredibly, he heard the ding of an old telephone bell. He fumbled for the phone and quickly dialed a local number.

“Russian Embassy. How may I help you?” a pleasant female voice said in Russian.

Peterson gasped, “This is FSB Major Alexei Olegovich Petrov, section 42X, code name Iceman. I am confirmed in your gamma file Emergency. Connect me to Colonel Boris Gavnov immediately.” Surely the FSB would protect such an important operative as their mole.

In seconds, a male voice rasped, “Hello, Alexei Olegovich, how may I help you? Why are you calling from an unsecured line?”

“Your FSB people have me. They’ve killed Hans Karlson. In the name of God, help me. Our own people are going to throw me out of an airplane.”

A computer tone wafted through the telephone. “Yes, Alexei, I recognize you. We attended a seminar in Moscow about ten—”

“To hell with that. I’m FSB working inside the CIA. I’ve just told you they murdered Hans.”

“I see the file we created for you, Alexei. It is exemplary. You are a trusted citizen from Ohio. We don’t know Hans, but we would not kill him or you. Those must be Americans holding you.”

“The CIA? My God, they can’t just—”

“You said something about being thrown out of an airplane. Do they have an aircraft at hand, Alexei Olegovich?”

“Mother of God, yes,” he gasped, stricken with a wave of nausea. “They know who I am.” The assassination assignment had been a ruse, designed to isolate him for ease of whisking him away. The nearby airport made it easy for the CIA to kidnap him.

The door opened. A man in a bulky topcoat, waving handcuffs, came in. “Well, Alexei, we’ve been on to you for some time. We found a flaw in the cover identity the FSB prepared for you many years ago. That bugged telephone was a nice joke, wasn’t it? Now you can tell us all about the FSB, or you may find the Atlantic difficult swimming this time of year.”

Peterson frantically shouted into the receiver. “Bring Colonel Boris Gavnov to the phone, or I am dead.”

“We have no Colonel Gavnov. Nor ‘Iceman.’ Yes, Peterson is dead.” The call disconnected.

Iceman dropped the telephone and heaved on himself.

The husky American chuckled. “Behold, the iceman melteth.”

Copyright © 2018 by Gary Clifton
Originally published: Bewildering Stories Magazine, issue 765.

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