It was winter in Saint Petersburg, so everything was dark. On a dark day, I went down a dark alley into a dark building, through a dark hallway, and settled in a dark room, where a 7-foot-tall man started laying out his instruments.
If there’d been a Russian casting call for a gigantic Nazi-looking motherfucker with meat for face, this man would have snagged the part before he’d even ducked into the room.
I took off my shirt. I laid down on the table.
He took up his first instrument from the bedside table. He placed it in his palm, so the spike jutted out from between his ring and middle finger.
“Do you speak German?” he asked in German.
“No, do you speak English?” I said in Russian.
“No,” he said in English.
He nodded. I flipped onto my stomach. He dug in.
Ten thousand miles away, in an office in L.A., my little brother sat and told one of his professors about me. His professor pondered his description over an unlit pipe and said, “He’s been traveling for 10 years, you said?”
“Yep, all over. China, Korea, Thailand, Spain. He’s in Russia now.”
His professor, I imagine, crossed one leg over another, adjusted the collar on his tweed coat, and said, “Your brother works for the CIA.”
I looked up at my assailant. How did I get here? I thought. Two days earlier, I’d been complaining about shoulder pain. I was working in a startup of sorts at an address I’m not allowed to reveal (and couldn’t if I wanted to). I wasn’t allowed to tell anyone where I worked, what I did, or — most importantly — who I worked for. That wasn’t anything to do with the CIA — just my bosses’ run-of-the-mill Russian paranoia.
Trust. I had trusted. I forgot the first rule of spycraft.
Despite having nothing to do with government business, we still talked about our parent company and clients using code names dug from the pages of German literature (the…