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Tara first met him at an arts festival in Moscow. As she scanned the room, she caught the eye of the man whose six feet four frame was a head taller than most of the people at the reception. Their eyes met and as she continued to skim the room, she knew that he repeatedly looked her way. She had that effect on most men, thanks to the stunning good looks that her Indian-Chinese parentage had bestowed on her.

Working the crowd, Tara took care to avoid his direction but knew that he was watching her. Peeling away from a knot of people, she strolled towards a table with an empty stemware in her hand.

“Vladimir Plustarch, Russian Police.”

Hearing the faintly stammering voice, Tara turned and looked up into eyes of crystal aquamarine. He had boyish good looks, small well-chiselled teeth and blonde hair that crawled in tight curls on his head. She noticed his well-manicured hands, just the way she liked her men. Then, there was his broad smile –

“Banks,” she replied, returning his smile and taking his outstretched hand. “Tara Banks, cultural attaché.” They met again during the intermission, exchanged more smiles and made some deliberately safe and forgettable talk. During the performance, she noticed him studying her from his balcony.

At the post-performance reception, he held her eyes in his for a pronounced second before slipping away behind the door. Okay thought Tara. She excused herself and slipped out the door.

In the special lot for diplomatic staff, she found her black BMW. Though her eyes were on the sleek salon, her senses swept the surroundings. A tiny smile lifted the corner of her lips as she slipped behind the steering wheel.

There was a light tap on the driver’s side window. Plustarch leaned forward, a bottle and two glass flutes clutched in one gloved hand. “Champagne?” he asked, wearing that broad permanent smile. A heavy black overcoat draped him and a white silk scarf around his neck wafted in the breeze.

She wound down the window, taking in his soft and easy smile and noticed the hint of hard muscle beneath his clothes.

“That’s very subtle,” she replied, her voice tinkling with a tiny laughter.

“The champagne or the white scarf?” he asked, grinning and stammering as he spoke, as though grappling with the translation in his mind.

“The fact that you’re not Russian Police.” She smiled, her eyes half closed as she slowly moved her right hand away from the centre console.

“Ouch!” The icy wind froze and snatched away his breath. “Is it that obvious?”

“So, who’re you with, SVR, FSB or god forbid, the GRU?”

“Does it really matter?” He leaned down, his face close to hers, a musky cologne emanating from him. “Any more than you’re not a cultural attaché.”

“Ah, a dark night, one for secrets,” Tara whispered, her voice turning husky.

“I’m intrigued. Your car or mine?”

“Mine,” Tara replied.

“Your place or mine,” Plustarch asked.

Tara smiled and slipped over to the passenger seat as she said, “I feel like a swim.”

For a moment, the tall Russian hesitated. Then he threw his head back with a short laugh. Opening the door of the Beemer, he slipped behind the wheel and adjusted the mirrors. “I’m impressed. What else do you already know about me?”

On that first night, she dived into the pool in the nude. He dropped his clothes and followed suit.

About two hours later, the champagne bottle dipped in the ice bucket, its butt pointing to the ceiling of the heated pool. He watched her pull up her clothes over her damp taut body and the thought struck him.

“I can assure you I had no hidden microphones in my clothes.” He anchored his elbows over the edge of the pool, his legs floating idly under him in the water. “But I’m not complaining about the precaution you took.”

“Neither am I,” Tara said. She buttoned her shirt, her sharp nipples both teasing and challenging him. She twisted her hair and secured it with a broad clip, careful not to dislodge the Cartier ear studs.

Blowing him a kiss, she swung her jacket over her shoulder and walked away, her heels echoing within the confines of the indoor pool on the rooftop of his apartment block.

“How do I reach you?”

“I’ll call you.” She kept strutting away, without looking back, placing one foot directly in front of the other, her shoulders back and pelvis slightly forward,

“Yasenevo is not too far away.” She called out and cat-walked into the elevator. He burst out laughing.

 ——

The two technicians had their hands pressed against their headphones and looked at each other, puzzled. They were one of several dozen people working the night shift in the headquarters building of the SVR, the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service situated in Yasenevo.

(An extract from Code Shield, A Peek Into Singapore’s Secret Services)

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