So, Were You Impressed?

This is a piece I wrote for a class about a year ago.  I thought I had lost it in the last reformat, but behold!  It merely waited, tucked up safely in Dropbox, -allglorytoGoogle,- and here it is for you to enjoy.  I hope you do.

Beginning with the construction of LANL in 1943, New Mexico became a hub of Soviet and American espionage activity, lasting well into the Cold War.  There are many stories to tell from this era, and I have fictionalized two that I found especially entertaining.  The key points are true; only the dialogue was invented.

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So, were you impressed?

“Of course you were, you little slag.”

With a romantic flourish he signed the name by which she knew him and carefully sealed the letter.  “You’re impressed, and you will give me what I want, won’t you?” he said aloud as he lit a cigarette and began to pace the tiny hotel room.  His mind wandered from the insipid contents of the letter, to the absurd appearance of its recipient.  She tried so hard.  It really was too easy.

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Turning his thoughts to more important matters, he regarded the weapons at his disposal.  This was the difficult part, he decided; so personal.  He must choose something fitting.  But, there’s time yet.  He would know when the moment was at hand.

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“Sylvia, darling,” he tweaked her playfully on the chin, “you got my letter, I trust?”

She nodded, and blushed.  “It was lovely.  You said so many beautiful things.”

“Beautiful words for a beautiful lady,” he purred.  “And what of my meeting?”

“Oh, Frankie, I told him all about you, and he seemed suspicious, what with the ‘incident’ a few months ago, and who could blame him?  But I told him, I said you were a good man, an honest man, and that you had some thoughts to share with him, just like you said in your-“

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“The meeting, Sylvia, will he see me or not?”

Sylvia bit her lip and nodded.  “You- you can go in now, actually, if you want.  He told me to notify him when you-“

“You’re an angel.”  ‘Frank’ planted a kiss on her cheek and strode past into the proverbial lion’s den.

“Good afternoon, sir!” he hollered across the cavernous room to where Trotsky sat at his desk with a huge cigar.  “I’m Frank Jackson.”

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“Ah, yes, Sylvia spoke very highly of you.  Please, sit.  What is it you wanted to speak with me about?”

“Well, first off, I heard rumors of an attempt on your life not too long ago.  What a shame,” Frank shook his head dramatically.

“A shame that he escaped, yes.  We are led to believe he is in hiding out north of the border, probably in Santa Fe, but we’ve yet to find him.

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But he isn’t the first, and I suddenly realize he won’t be the last.”  Trotsky met his guest’s eyes and held them; not a blink, not a twitch, just the soul searching gaze of an old Russian who has seen more than he cared to.  “No, he won’t be the last.  Will he, ‘Frank’?”

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Frank smiled and shook his head as the pickaxe swung up and over.  With a strangely muffled crunch and squish it lodged itself in the same brain that Grigulevich’s bullets had missed.  There was no flinch, no look of surprise, and Trotsky held his gaze as the weight of the pickaxe forced his head onto the desk.  Frank watched as the blood began to pool and shouts rang out behind him with news of the attack.

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“I hope you don’t mind,” he said, lifting the cigar from his victim’s fingers.

“Help yourself,” Trotsky murmured, and Frank sat down to smoke and wait, wondering how long it would take this crazy old Russian to die.

As it happened, Trotsky lived an entire day with that pickaxe lodged in his brain.

“So, were you impressed?”

Mary sighed.  “I just don’t see how it can work.  You’ve made enemies in some very high places, and… Ed, I’m scared.”

“I know.  But just follow my lead and we’ll get out.  I’ll send for you when I get to Moscow.  You trust me, don’t you?”

She nodded unconvincingly.

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The rush was familiar and strangely welcome.  He’d been born for this kind of work, bred for it, and now more than ever it was vital that he had his faculties.  One little drink wouldn’t hurt, though, would it?  To calm his nerves, to solidify his resolve.  One little drink, or maybe two.

“Ed, you’re drunk.”

“Trust me,” he slurred, “I’m a professional.”

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They left the restaurant and headed for the car.  The fear of earlier in the night gripped him again… Where are they? He couldn’t feel their eyes, couldn’t distinguish the presence that he knew must be there.  The FBI had been watching his house for several weeks, waiting, knowing he would run, knowing he knew they knew, knowing he knew they were waiting.

He had thought of everything, even going so far as to call the babysitter to remind her of their return time; because not only were they watching, they were listening as well.

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As Mary drove, taking the unnatural path home he had outlined for her, he muttered about ‘those rat CIA bastards who had fired him, and the revenge he had exacted in revealing the secrets he knew to those in Russia to whom they were of interest.  GTTAW and GTVANQUISH; he’d killed some people in his treason, but then, they shouldn’t have fired him.  He had every right.  “They didn’t know who they were messing with!” he exclaimed.

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But he was scared too, now.  All of his instincts, all of his training and experience as a spy, as one who had been engineered to detect and evade tails were screaming in unison.  Confused, frustrated screams.  Where were they?  He’d bet his life they weren’t following him, but maybe that was that fourth shot talking.  Or the fifth.  “We have to stick to the plan,” he mumbled.

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Mary clenched the steering wheel, ignoring her husband and trying not to cry.

The car turned and doubled back, following a path that was sure to shake anyone tracking it from their rear view mirror, and to reveal anyone trailing behind.  All it revealed was their isolation on that dark Santa Fe road.  Edward Howard longed for another drink.

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His heart began to race long before his brain realized that the designated spot was just ahead.  Mary reached into the back seat to ready herself, as the lock clicked open and a sudden gust of wind replaced her husband in the passenger seat.  She tried to check on him, to make sure he was unscathed and safely hidden in the roadside bushes as she pulled the dummy up next to her.  Getting the door closed again was a detail she had not considered… the car swerved and jerked as she struggled for the handle.

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The nondescript cars Ed claimed were FBI still occupied their spots at various points along their street when she arrived home, alone.  She pulled into the garage and sat for several minutes, before heading inside and paying the sitter, using the story Ed had given her to explain his absence.  “Did you notice anything… strange?” she asked carefully.  The girl shook her head, confused, and left.

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Mary didn’t sleep that night, or any night afterward until she heard that Ed was safely in Moscow.

“So, were you impressed?”

“I was,” she admitted, “until I realized that no one followed us, no one checked the phone when you called from the restaurant, no one even knew we were gone.  And to top it off, you abandoned your family to take the fall for you.   You’re a swine, Ed Howard, and I hope you break your neck.”

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Well Mary, you’ll be happy to learn that in 2002 a divorced, drunken Edward Lee Howard fell down a flight of stairs in Moscow and died, unmourned, of a broken neck.

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So, were you impressed?

This was the question posed by atomic spy Klaus Fuchs  to KGB operative Harry Gold, just days after FAT MAN and LITTLE BOY devastated Japan in 1945.

Fuchs had been present for the testing at the Trinity site several weeks before, and now the entire world could see what the CIA and KGB had worked so hard to hide and steal.

“I was impressed,” Gold replied, “impressed, but horrified.”

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