The Boisdale Restaurant in Victoria bustles with activity when Jeff Dalkin arrives ten minutes early at 7:20.
He doesn’t see his Brit sitting anywhere. "Do you have a reservation for a Thornington?" he asks.
Yes, of course," said the Spanish maitre d'. "He waits for you in back."
Dalkin peers through the restaurant. "In back where?"
"Out back door, across courtyard."
Dalkin shrugs and swaggers.
The back door, sure enough, leads to a courtyard across from which is a small pub, whose only access is through the restaurant.
"Kudos to you." Dalkin greets Thornington at the bar while perusing two rows of obscure single malts. "Laphroaig," he instructs the barkeep. "A few drops of water, a couple cubes. In a whiskey glass.”
"Part of my training at MI5 was to scout discreet meeting places," Thornington whispers. "This is the actually the first time I've been back since." He pauses. "I never meet Igor in the same place twice."
As Thornington says the Russian's name, Sokolov appears in the doorway, unzipping his anorak, removing the hood that obscured half his face. "Ah," he says, making his way to the bar.
"Another grand tour?" asks Dalkin.
Sokolov nods. "I know London better than taxi driver." He eyes Dalkin's bag.
"Yep." Dalkin looks down at the bag himself. "It's your brazhort—blow me."
"Your money—blow me."
Thornington guffaws. "Hungry?"
Igor shakes his head. "Nyet. I drink dinner." He orders a single-malt and the three men hunch around a corner bistro table.
Igor reaches into an inside pocket of his anorak and retrieves a manila envelope. "First, old notes." He hands four pages to Thornington. "I remember most things. And I ask helpful person in Moscow to look again and, how you say, refresh my head."
Thornington peruses the typed, single-spaced notes. "Brilliant."
"Next. Princess." Sokolov offers three pages bound by a paper clip back and forth to Dalkin and Thornington, as if he were playing a game of eeny meeny miny moe. He stops at the American.
Dalkin accepts the report with his left hand, raises a whisky glass with the other and savors smoke and peat from the Isle of Islay.
Then he reads.
Halfway down the first page, he looks up at Sokolov, eyebrows raised.
"It's good, no?" Sokolov grins.
Dalkin whistles. By page two his teeth are gnashing.
Thornington is curious, but maintains cool British reserve and asks no questions.
The Russian checks his cheapo wristwatch. "I leave soon." He eyes Dalkin's bag.
"Yeah, right." Dalkin unzips his bag. "You have something to put it in?"
"I put in my pockets."
Dalkin hands the bag to Sokolov. "Take it."
"Nyet." The Russian peers inside, makes a mental calculation and grunts. Then he stuffs his pockets. "Is things like this"—he gestures at the bag—“make problem later." He rises to leave.
"Wait a sec," says Dalkin.
Sokolov lowers himself.
"The MI5 mole," says Dalkin. "Remind me how much?"
"One million dollar US." The Russian chuckles. "Easy to remember."
"What's the best price you can do on that?"
Sokolov shrugs in puzzlement. "I tell you. One million dollar US."
"No. Your best price."
"One million dollar US."
"A quarter million," said Dalkin. "Cash—blow me."
"Is always cash. One million US."
Okay, half-a-million dollars—blow me," said Dalkin.
"Nyet. One million."
Thornington watches in amusement.
"C'mon, Igor," says Dalkin. "Cut me some slack here. I can't get you one million dollars—blow me. Not now, not ever. Never. But I can get you half-a-million—blow me. And it's a one-time offer because I’m running out of time.”
Sokolov considers this. "You make decision now, on spot?"
"Exactly. If you agree, we have a deal, this minute. But if you leave here without a deal, it'll never happen at any price."
The Russian nods, his mind absorbed with arithmetic.
"And I mean the works," Dalkin snaps him back to the moment. "Not just a name. When he was recruited, where he was recruited, the identity of his SVR case officer, how they communicate and how he gets paid."
Sokolov nods. "I try. No promise. I get all I can."
"This one difficult. Maybe three weeks."
"No good, Igor," say Dalkin. "I need it faster."
"Then you must pay one million US," he blurts in exasperation.
"No can do. Half-a-million—blow me—with a one-week turnaround."
"I try." Sokolov rises, peeks out a window, bundles himself into his anorak, nods goodbye and steals out into the damp night.
"I hope you actually have a half-million dollars," says Thornington.
Dalkin winks. "I actually do."
Thornington eyes the file in Dalkin's hands, his curiosity getting the better of him. "And Diana?"
"Trial run," says Dalkin. "No one needs to see it but me."