Molokov wished fervently it wasn't in such bad taste to shoot your champion. It didn't even have to be a fatal shot - it would be difficult to win the world chess championship with a dead grandmaster, but if he was only shot, say, in the leg and the bullet didn't hit any major arteries...
But again. Bad taste. Even if Molokov had been sent to deal with chess only because no one cared about it - it was chess, for God's sake - there was a certain amount of decorum that probably ought to be maintained.
The doors swung open abruptly, heralding the American delegation's entrance. A few members of the Soviet delegation shuffled uncertainly, while Molokov merely smirked. Of course the Americans would have to have a dramatic entrance.
And in the midst of so many stuffy, self-important chess-types, there was Walter de Courcey, with a confident smile, a presence that drew most, if not all eyes to him, and, Molokov was certain, a gun in a quick-draw holster underneath his suit jacket. The KGB had files on Mr. de Courcey, the most interesting involving him, Germany, a female KGB agent and her sudden disappearance.
That could be another reason they'd sent Molokov instead of any other agent. Everyone knew Mr. de Courcey could be swayed by a pretty face.
"Mr. de Courcey," Molokov said with a faint smile, holding out a hand to shake.
The smile already on his face - the sort of smile government agents cultivated, the cocky bastard smile - grew just a little as he took the offered hand, his eyes meeting Molokov's squarely. "Miss Molokov."
She smiled back politely before dropping his hand and turning to consider the American delegation. She didn't miss how Mr. de Courcey's eyes stayed on her. "I was led to believe the entire delegation would be present," she said, allowing a Russian accent to creep into her words. She could have managed it in near-perfect British English, but... people expected the accent. Anything else put them on their guard. "Miss Vassey..."
"Will be here," Mr. de Courcey said quickly. "Something just came up at the last minute. I wouldn't worry."
Knowing what she did of the American champion, Molokov could roughly guess that "something came up" translated to "Frederick Trumper is throwing a fit." Her smile flickered, still coldly polite. "I am not worried."
He looked momentarily unsure of how to answer, though it was only a flicker, something only someone who was looking for it would see. The smile didn't waver an inch. "And here I thought our Florence was the only female second on the chess circuit. Most of you stick to the womens' championship, don't you?"
As if this was even remotely about chess.
"I thought my country should have the best, for both its second and its champion." That, at least, was no lie, even if she knew nothing about chess. There were more important things at stake here.
"Well. May the best man win." Beneath Walter's carefully controlled expression, Molokov saw a spark of challenge - he didn't mean the chess. And he didn't put the slightest bit of emphasis on the word "man", which was both surprising and (to someone like Molokov, at least ) a little suspicious.
Her smiles widened a little, for a moment genuine. "Indeed. It's a pleasure to meet you, Mr. de Courcey."
"You can call me Walter, you know."
Molokov could tell he expected her to reciprocate, tell him he could call her Aleksandra, and so she simply smiled and turned away as the arbiter entered, and Florence shortly after. As she introduced herself to the two of them, Walter was still watching her.
Molokov knew where her responsibilities lay. She kept her champion in line, she did everything she could off the chess board to ensure that he won, and she kept an eye on the Americans - specifically, one Walter de Courcey - to ensure they didn't do anything to hinder Anatoly's win. And she knew very well that actually paying attention to the specifics of the chess match was not her responsibility. That was for seconds like Miss Vassey - and, of course, one of the agents they'd brought along as an "assistant", who actually had some working knowledge of chess.
Her presence, unfortunately, was required, which led to her sitting here, legs crossed, hands folded in her lap, as she stared at both grandmasters and thought of creative and painful ways to kill them, their families, and possibly everyone who ever remotely enjoyed the game of chess. It kept her occupied.
She didn't turn around when Walter walked up behind her, one hand on the back of her chair when he reached it. She didn't have to - Mr. de Courcey's footsteps were smooth and deliberate, and light as a cat's, impossible to mistake. "Thrilling, isn't it?"
"Depending on your definition of the word," she answered. In this case, the definition would have to include the word 'excruciating', but perhaps for some people that worked out to be the same thing... "It's nice to see you again, Mr. de Courcey."
"Oh, well, I wouldn't want to miss the game." She glanced back over her shoulder to see that sardonic smirk of his, and smiled just a little. No, of course not. Couldn't miss the game. That would be tragic.
He pulled up a chair beside her, and she couldn't really mind, considering that it gave her something to focus on other than the chess match. "But I came to ask something else."
She raised her eyebrows questioningly. It didn't surprise her that he'd come specifically to speak to her - he was no more a chess player than she - but exactly what he might want to speak to her about, she couldn't guess. "Oh?"
"I'd rather not discuss it here. Wouldn't want to distract you from the match." He flashed a quick grin that seemed surprisingly genuine - she wondered if he'd practiced that smile, or if perhaps it actually was real. "There's a restaurant not far from the hotel, if you wouldn't mind meeting me there later tonight..."
A startled laugh escaped her, soft enough to be lost in the soft murmurs and whirring of cameras and film equipment that filled the arena. "Are you asking me on a date, Mr. de Courcey?"
The smile stayed, and even grew a little. And it was, she had to admit, terribly charming. "I was asking you to have dinner with me so we could discuss matters of interest to people like us-"
"A second and a manager?" she said, and now she was smiling too, despite herself. So much for that cool reserve she'd cultivated over the years.
"Exactly. But if you care to see it another way... I can't say I'd argue."
She opened her mouth to reply, but was interrupted by a shout, a clatter, and the sudden uproar of raised voices. Both of their heads swung to face the champions, and found the chess board now on the floor, pieces scattered, Mr. Trumper on his feet and shouting, though Molokov couldn't hear exact words over the clamor, Sergievsky looking affronted and a little bemused. She sighed softly, already on her feet.
"I'm afraid I'll have to postpone this dinner," she said to Walter, fighting to keep annoyance and disappointment from her voice. "I'm apparently going to be otherwise engaged tonight."
This had all gone wrong. Absolutely, horribly wrong, and there's no way of turning it back.
Their player won - but now he was defecting, so he wasn't exactly their player anymore. The Soviet Union looked the fool because of it. And worst of all, Molokov, who had always managed to stay aloof and detached, had actually fallen for one Walter de Courcey.
It was disgusting. It was behavior unbecoming an agent of the state. It was wrong.
Those assertions didn't sound quite as strong in her head as they ought to be.
There was a plane leaving in the morning - well, morning meant nine AM, when it was already three in the morning now - for England, and on it would be Florence, Anatoly, and Walter de Courcey. Lying on her bed, staring at the ceiling, Molokov decided she hated them all, for very different reasons.
Nevertheless, when she heard a surreptitious knock on the door - a knock that seemed to want to go unnoticed, strange as that was - she stood and walked calmly to open the door in her nightgown, yanking open the door a little too fiercely, so it rebounded off the wall and swung back to hit her in the shoulder. She hardly noticed, glowering up at Mr. de Courcey. "If you've come to apologize, I don't want to hear it."
He did a creditable job of keeping his eyes on her face, his expression unwavering. "That never crossed my mind. I came to say goodbye."
Molokov studied his face silently for a moment, and then nodded shortly, stepping back and out of the doorway. "In that case, come in. And you're wearing far too many clothes."