Twice a Spy
“Do you see a ghost?” Alice asked.
“You’d know if I did because I’d mention it.” Charlie fixated on someone or something behind her, rather than meet her eyes as he usually did. “Or faint.”
“Interpol would be an upgrade.” Charlie laughed a stream of vapor into the thin Alpine air. “After the past couple of weeks, it’s hard to find anybody who doesn’t look like a veteran hit man.”
Charlie Clark owned no Hawaiian shirts. He didn’t chomp on a cigar. In no way did he match anyone’s conception of a horseplayer: He was a youthful thirty with a pleasant demeanor and strong features in spite of Alice’s efforts to alter them-a brown wig hid his sandy blond hair, fake sideburns and a silicone nose bridge blunted the sharp contours of his face, and oversized sunglasses veiled his intelligent blue eyes. But-tragically, Alice thought-until being thrust on the lam two weeks ago, Charlie had spent 364 days a year at racetracks. And that number would have been 365 if tracks didn’t close on Christmas Day. He lived for the thrill not merely of winning but of being right. As he’d often said: “Where else besides the track can you get that?”
So why, Alice wondered, had his attention veered from the race?
Especially this race, a “white turf” mile with thoroughbreds blazing around a course dug from sparkling snow atop the frozen Lac de Morat in Avenches, Switzerland, framed by hills that looked like they had been dispensed by a soft-serve ice cream machine, sprinkled with chalets, and surrounded by blindingly white peaks. Probably it was on an afternoon just like this in 1868 that the British adventurer Edward Whymper said of Switzerland, “However magnificent the imagination may be, it always remains inferior to reality.”
And Edward Whymper didn’t have a horse poised to take the lead.
Flying past four of the nine entries, Charlie’s choice, Poser Le Lapin, spotted a gap between the remaining two.
Knowing almost nothing about the horses besides their names, Charlie had taken a glance at the auburn filly during the post parade and muttered that her turndowns-iron plates bent toward the ground at a forty-five-degree angle on the open end of the horseshoes-would provide better traction than the other entrants’ shoes today.
Alice followed his sight line now, up from the snowy track apron where they stood and into the packed grandstand. Ten thousand heads pivoted at once as the horses thundered around the oval.
It was odd that Charlie wasn’t watching the race. More than odd. Like an eight-year-old walking past a candy store without a glance.
The horses charged into the final turn. Alice saw only a cloud of kicked-up snowflakes and ice. As the cloud neared the grandstand, the jockeys came into view, their face masks bobbing above the haze. A moment later, the entire pack of thoroughbreds was visible. Cheers from the crowd drowned out the announcer’s rat-a-tat call.
Poser Le Lapin crossed the wire with a lead of four lengths.
Alice looked to Charlie expecting elation. He remained focused on the grandstand behind him, via the strips of mirrored film she’d glued inside each of his lenses-an old spook trick.
“Your horse won, John!” she said, using his alias.
He shrugged. “Every once in a while, I’m right.”
“Don’t tell me the thrill is gone.”
“At the moment, I’m hoping to be wrong.”
A chill crept up her spine. “Who is it?”
“Guy in a red ski hat, top of the grandstand, just under the Mercedes banner, drinking champagne.”
She shifted her stance, as if to watch the trophy presentation like everyone else. Really she looked into the “rearview mirrors” inside her own sunglasses.
The red ski hat was like a beacon.
“I see him. What, you think it’s weird that he’s drinking champagne?”
“Well, yeah, because it’s, like, two degrees out.”
Alice usually put great stock in Charlie’s observational skill. During their escape from Manhattan, in residential Morningside Heights, he’d pegged two men out of a crowd of hundreds as government agents when they slowed at a curb for a sign changing to DON’T WALK; real New Yorkers sped up. But after two harrowing weeks of being hunted by spies and misguided lawmen who shot first and asked questions later, anyone would see ghosts, even an operator with as much experience as she had.
“Sweetheart, half the people here are drinking champagne.”
“Yeah, I know-the Swiss Miss commercials sure got Switzerland wrong. The thing is the red hat.”
“Is there something unusual about it?”
“No. But he was wearing a green hat at lunch.”
The man in the blood-red knitted ski cap looked as if he were in his late twenties. Gaunt and pallid, he was Central Casting’s idea of a doctoral candidate. Which hardly ruled him out as an assassin. Since he had been dragged into this mess two weeks ago, the killers Charlie had eluded had been disguised as a jocular middle-aged insurance salesman, a pair of wet-behind-the-ears lawyers, and a fresh fruit vendor on the Lower East Side.
“You’re sure you saw him at the cafe?” Alice asked.
“When I doubled back to our table to leave the tip, I noticed him in the corner, flagging the waitress all of a sudden. What’s that spook saying about coincidences?”
“There are none?”
“I always wondered about that saying.”
“In any case, why don’t we go toast your win?”
One of their exit strategies commenced with a walk to the nearest concession stand. “I would love a drink, actually,” Charlie said.
Leaving the track apron, they stepped into a long corridor between the rear of the grandstand and Lac de Morat’s southern bank. While his nerves verged on exploding, she retained her character’s bounce. In fact, if he hadn’t been in the same room this morning when she was getting dressed, he might not recognize her now. She remained a stunning woman despite a drab wig and a prosthetic nose that called to mind a plastic surgeon’s “before” photo. Ordinarily she moved like a ballerina. Now the thick parka, along with the marble she’d placed in her