The asset sensed trouble, both a threat to his operation and a threat to himself, and it immediately occurred to him that he was screwed.
The American had been trained through decades of fieldwork to miss nothing, to question everything. While most people lived in a world of black and white, he saw shades of gray, and he knew how to navigate his way through them. It had kept him alive thus far, but he did not yet know if he’d identified tonight’s problem in time for his training to save him now.
It was a small thing, but to the asset it was unmistakable. Simply put: his target’s mannerisms were all wrong for a wanted man.
This target had tradecraft. Just like the asset, both of them had spent most of their lives doing this shit. The target would know to have his head on a swivel; it would be second nature by now, and the fact that the fifty-five-year-old American moved through the market street stalls alone this warm Caracas evening, idly looking over handmade leather goods and wall art, without a care as to what was going on around him, meant to the asset that this just might be an attempt to lure him into a trap.
The asset did not overreact in the face of this danger. Instead he turned slightly to his left, ending the foot-follow, and strolled lazily into an alley, leaving the throngs of marketgoers behind. He feigned nonchalance, but all his senses were on fire, his mind racing, secure only in the knowledge that he needed to get the fuck out of here.
He only picked up his pace when he was out of sight of the market.
This was the time for action, not reflection, but as he moved quietly alone through the dark, the asset still couldn’t help but wonder what had gone wrong. How the hell did he get made? He was new to Caracas; this wasn’t his turf, but still he was confident in his abilities to blend in with the crowd, any crowd.
But clearly he was blown, nothing else made any sense, and his only objective now was to minimize the damage to the overall op by contacting his masters as soon as he was clear.
He was fifty yards away from his rented Toyota Hilux, just down Calle Cecillio Acosta, on the far side of the heavily trafficked street, and he knew that by climbing into his vehicle and pulling a U-turn he could be on the Francisco Fajardo Highway in just minutes.
The asset thought he was home free.
He was not.
Eight men, Venezuelans by the look of them, government goons by the smell. These weren’t cops. No, from the weight of their bearing and their obvious confidence, the asset took them for state security. They had that air of authority, that posture of coordination, and their sharp eyes locked onto him as they closed the distance in the alleyway.
He didn’t see guns, but there would be guns. The asset knew that no one in this situation would approach him without a firearm.
The American could have drawn his own weapon; he kept a 9-millimeter Walther PPQ inside his waistband, but this wasn’t that kind of an op. He could throw some fists if things got rough, but he wasn’t going to start shooting Venezuelan spooks.
Not because he gave a shit if any of them lived or died, really. These dudes were government thugs of a dirty regime. But he couldn’t shoot them because he knew he’d be strung up by his masters if he turned this into a bloodbath. The gun was under his shirt to handle unavoidable street crime, not to create international incidents.
The asset didn’t speak much Spanish, so his words were in English when he got close enough to the men, who were now blocking his path in the alley. “All right, boys, what’s on tonight’s agenda?”
One of the hard-eyed plainclothed men walked up to him, his hands empty and out to his sides, and when he got within striking distance, he threw a right cross.
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