Sunday, October 25, 2009

Moscow Nights


I was recruited by Bill Casey to do counterespionage during the waning years of the Cold War. I got the job, in part because my mother was a Russian émigré. Russian, as well as German, were spoken at home. I also got the job because Bill knew my Dad–way back when they worked together at the OSS.

Bill showed up at the door of my dorm room one evening, unannounced–with two beefy, unsmiling aids in dark glasses who wordlessly persuaded my roommate that now might be an excellent time to go for a walk in the quad.

I remembered Bill from the times he used to visit my Dad, or vice versa. As I was bringing him a glass of bourbon, he offered me a Havana cigar while he lit up.

After a smoky exchange of pleasantries about how my Dad was doing, he got down to business. At first I rebuffed the offer. I enjoyed college. I’d already lived and traveled abroad with my Dad. While it was interesting, I tired of the nomadic lifestyle. The lack of stable friendships.

But Bill prevailed on my patriotism and adventurous streak. It wouldn’t be a full-time career. I didn’t have to join the agency. I’d report directly to him. This would all be off-the-books. A private, handshake sort of thing.


And that’s how I ended up in East Berlin. My assignment was to recruit high-level defectors from the Stasi or the KGB.

I hung out at The Blond Venus–a local nightclub, which was a popular watering hole for officers and apparatchiks representing various, indefinable affiliations. The nightclub was a throwback to a bygone era, like something out of A Foreign Affair, with Marlene Dietrich. Indeed, as local rumor had it, The Blond Venus was where Marlene got her first break–back in the Twenties.

And that’s where I met Maksima. She sang at The Blond Venus. Indeed, she’s the primary reason many of the clientele went there in the first place–drawn to her by the fateful allure of her iridescent eyes and her imperious stride.

If I could make her my contact, she’d give me entrée to all of her contacts. One-stop shopping.

However, Maksima was both approachable and unapproachable. Deeply cynical, she’d do anything if the price was right, but she held herself aloof.

She had no more reason to trust me than anyone else. And, indeed, my motives were just as calculating as hers. At least, that’s how it started out.

Maksima loved to dance and skate. That’s the only time she lowered her guard. Where she felt free to lose herself–there on the dance floor or the skating rink. Lose herself in time and space. Music in motion. Motion in music. A place to retreat and a time to forget.

So I’d take her to a local skating rink–hoping to make her fall for me. Afterwards, we swapped stories about our Russian mothers. At first she was suspicious, but I knew too much to be making it up. And that created an emotional opening. A little crack in her towering wall of distrust.


Unfortunately, or fortunately–as the case may be–there is always the risk in this little exercise that the intended effect should have an unintended side-effect. As it turned out, I was a little too successful for the good of the mission. As she was falling for me, I was falling for her.

So long as she was a stranger to me, so long as my cause was just, it was easy to lie to her. But as we got to know each other, I felt bad about feeding her lies. I had planned to turn her, but she was turning me. Not that she was turning me to the enemy cause. And, indeed, she herself was above politics, believing in nothing. But turning me to herself. It was reciprocal.

She became the sunlight to my moonlight, and the moonlight to my sunlight. We burned and shined in the mutual refulgence of each other’s light.

And I knew that I could offer her a better life. Encourage her to defect. Bring her back home with me to the States. And truly love her–as no other man had done. Behind the inner and outer walls of her cynicism was a passionate soul who yearned for something more, but was afraid to hope. Afraid to dream.


So, one evening, at an outdoor café, with no one else around, I disclosed my true identity. I offered to take her with me. By then I’d made enough contacts that, with a small favor over here and a discreet bribe over there, I could whisk her out of East Berlin.

We agreed to meet on Friedrichstraße at midnight, two days later. There I prearranged her passage through checkpoint Charlie.

As I walked to Friedrichstraße, my mind was a jumble of thoughts. Bill would be disappointed. I let him down. But I could always explain to him that I cut my own, off-the-books deal. He’d understand. Such is life.

At the same time, I began to harbor second thoughts. What was waiting for me at Friedrichstraße? Was Maksima waiting for me? Eager to begin our new life together?

Or was the Stasi lying in wait? What if she’d turned me in? Cut a better deal with the authorities?

When I first got to know her, I was playing her. But what if she was playing me–all along?

As I rounded the corner…

1 comment: