Recognizing Spies

Recognizing Spies

Alex Tarrand

Vona awoke to the news, rattled throughout the crooked and parallel lines of her television, that Russia had just been announced to host the winter Olympics in 2014. She had been napping in her clothes and her cane had dropped from the chair. Reaching for it with her better leg she glanced at the screen. A promise for the country nearly a decade away. She, and the others of her generation, were used to promises. Encountering her cat as she bent to take the cane’s handle she remembered the reason for her strengthening rest. She had an errand. Placing her cap atop her head and wrapping a scarf about her head and chin she rose with a groan and stood with a relived smile.

Once out the door she put her keys into the lock, beginning with the upper most, and closed and opened each three times. Making sure the last clasped the lock shut. With movements accounting for ice, a wonderful winters evening in the town of Zvenigorod, she rounded the bend in fragile advances and was confronted by the familiar train station. Outside were a group, of mostly older, men dispersing from what she thought was a railway strike picket line. Nearing the crowd her improved focus revealed them to be a loitering assembly of relatives and friends waiting, no doubt, on a family members return. She heard a man along the edge mention the United Kingdom. Vona thought she might wait a minute on her chore and see the spectacle with them. If their friend was returning from the UK many in the crowd would be waiting to see his dress. Would he be in Russian kit or in impressive London fancy wares? A metamorphosis or a lack there of? His attitude, and allegiance, could be told without him ever speaking a word. Zvenigorod was cold tonight.

The inception of the plot was based on her cat’s wants and not her own. She left to go and get milk because it was hungry. She was hungry as well but could eat some bread; the cat was keen on reinforcing stereotypes and silently insisted on milk. There was a bicycle policeman who allowed the elderly of the town outdoors in the evening by making a noisy presence that would keep the youth and badies at bay until nine. Vona always returned home before eight.

But struggling the cold streets up to the large park, surrounded on all corners by covered faces, she wondered if she were being shadowed what would she do? Persist, retreat – she decided she might tactically skirt the boarder of the park and rely on the charity of brave strangers or the chance of a familiar town’s person. She couldn’t run in the literal sense, she hadn’t been able to for years, so it would have to be faith more than ability that saw her through. She watched television, specifically the weather out of habit, adjusting the rabbit ears to better receive the reports. Chance of fog, chance of showers, chance of snow. Her children would have called her mental health into question if there was money enough to send her to a retirement hotel. There was not, so they quietly acknowledged her innocuous madness and were allowed, by excuse, to keep their irregular visits curt. The question they asked while watching the news with her was always question of her generation, who was to blame for the failure. She had been so tied to the movement that she was half convinced she was symbiotically responsible for the collapse and felt coupled in the guilt. A party that, she had been told by a grandson, was making a reemergence. That she sometimes felt still asked allegiance of her.

Tonight she would cut through the park to throw the spies of track. She decided well before the errand that it was her duty to die with her secrets. She was also decisive about the fact that if she must be killed she would lead them to the bridge and whisper dlja vecherinki and deliver herself unto the chilled stream. Over the course of twenty minutes the waters would immobilize her body and probably end her life. Her loss would weaken the organization through both a demise of morale and a wealth of knowledge. But perhaps the example could inspire and add gleam to ideals and the bravery of the red star. She would be replaced, as it is true that we are all equals, but she would be missed.

Quite incited by her interior melodrama Vona decided before entering into the store that she would purchase the milk but steal a tin of tuna (as it was the one * third from the bottom to the far left* that contained the microfilm and should not be recorded by a price scanner.) But she knew she must take care, there were no cameras in the store but it was a place notoriously used for conspirative purposes. Not a fanatic but devoted to the cause, with a red beating heart, Vona proceeded through the difficult maneuver. Cunning she reached for two tins of tuna and returned only one, having the other disappear into her coat arm. Training had taught her much but this was, she boastfully considered, an invention of pure spontaneity. You can teach someone to be a good spy but you ascend to Vona’s level of ability by being able to think on your feet. Her identity had been elaborated so carefully that even the clerk called her by her alias.
“Dobrij vecher Vona.” He said, smile pulling hard his tight round cheeks.
She replied “Dobrij vecher.”
Rumbling for change she produced a gloved volume of varying coins. Counting them twice she came to the correct amount on her second try. Not out of nervousness, she reassured herself, but as a ruse. Using her machinated delirium as an advantage Vona drew wool over all eyes present. She even dared a breath after he opened the register. At the fatal moment when all agents, seasoned or new, suspect that everyone knows, their subterfuge is apparent, their deceptions transparent, the situation fixed, Vona knew only that her act was as secretive as her life. Like the others, act one was a success.

Darkness is a myth in the snowy seasons of Russia, particularly along the Moscow rim. By the refracted light of the snow Vona made her exit, the operation only partially completed, onto the curb and across the street once more to retrace her path towards her home. Tempted to walk in the same footmarks she came in, tempted to bury her cane in the same snowy pock marks she had stabbed only minutes before she stayed discreet but not obvious. She had established a safe route and was determined to have one more use of it before never taking it again. Dedication to silence, to confidentiality, that was the agency. The party, the morals required, often meant never looking back. Her peripheral vision was blurry and she did not see any reason to strain her neck by looking over her shoulder. However she had seen once, in an agency dossier at the pharmacy, that intelligence had theorized that it was easiest to assassinate Vona on a Thursday. It had been Thursday for the entire duration of her trip to the market, she had known this and it served only to quicken her steps.

However it was when she saw the emergence of the bicycle cop that she knew she had exaggerated the trouble free nature of the mission. She was over a hundred meters into the park, and approaching the bridge, when she spied a man at the light post near the bridges mouth. He seemed unusual and had glasses. Knowing he was a spy, but uncertain of his allegiances Vona continued. Then the ruse dropped as she became aware of the presence of another. A body rattled in the snowcapped brush to her oncoming left. From it emerged the police officer, his trousers half down. He was no doubt removing a concealed weapon, or perhaps relieving himself of the explosive he planned to use to collapse the bridge. Either way, with a dismissive smile he steadied his bike and prepared to walk onto the bridge with her and the unidentified. Vona contemplated making a nervous run for the edge of the park; to hurl herself underneath the horses that drove the taxi carriages along its edge. Realizing the wheels would certainly finish the job the hooves might not she began skirting towards the left edge of the path but soon struck upon the notion that the carts may not be there, and knew that she didn’t want to have to jump in front of a car as her knee was already starting to act up in the cold. Being daring and self sacrificing she quickly consigned herself to the contingency. She would have to jump from the bridge.

Standing motionless as she strategized Vona realized she may be drawing attention. And after solidifying her reflections for a moment she noticed the police officer keenly noticing her reflecting. She was silent, her head dropped slowly, and began nervously walking again, posturing herself as the old woman – cold, confused. She saw the officer wave as he begin to mount his bike. She knew then that she must certainly die. Calmly, firmly she walked to the point, the very moment, of her life’s end with state pride upon her face. She raised her head as a gesture of her own defiance and accomplishments; her daring in getting this far. At the bridges edge she peered down into the nearly two feet of deep, sinuous flowing water just slightly cooler than the ice that laced its pebbly edges.

Her confidence quickly receded however as she just peered into the morphing brook. She thought of her cat, her children and grandchildren, the newsman who once read a part of a letter of hers on the air. Arms on the bridges edge, the unusual man only yards away from her, Vona realized she was, in her heart, opposed to sudden death. As an artist paints a pupil she carefully reached into her sleeve and pinched the tin, deciding to discard it in her place. She had long begged for the honor of this morning’s assignment, but realizing the extent which it demanded decided, even though this could be the end of her career with the party, that she must live. She also noted that she must destroy the microfilm and the tuna as well, viewing the best way to do so in one watery, cold, consignment. She crossed her arms and thought at the appropriate time she would let the tin roll from her sleeve into the water then glance into the woods following the splash. In congruent curiosity with the counter agent next to her she would look bewildered and just might leave with her life. The impromptu disposal could not be disrupted at any- Isus! She screamed, the tin crashing from her hands that were increasingly frail from the cold. The can hit the primary ledge, then a secondary ledge with a dull clunk before crashing into the stream.
“Tvoju mat.” She exclaimed beneath her breath, her blunder apparent to the suspected agent.
Turning to him, if only to see what caliber of pistol she would be shot with, Vona looked past his spectacles and into his shadowed eyes.
He turned and said, “Ne volnujsja, ti mojesh kupit eshe.”
I can get another? What the hell does that mean?
Vexed Vona nodded and turned to see the policeman bicycling towards the direction of her home. He wouldn’t ran-sack it, there’s no need now. She was no longer important enough to kill; a fate that meant true retirement for a spy. She also knew this failure would make another attempt on receiving the micro film impossible for quite sometime. To painful to touch upon any further she scampered forth wanting only to bring the milk to the sole companion she would most likely have left. She excused herself and followed in the direction of the cycling officer who rode ahead.

The milk became a burden at her side. Heart pounding like a hammer against cast iron she would have gladly left it but that meant the mission would be a personal failure as well as a professional one. Clearing the trees Vona surfaced from the parks bare tree thicket and came into the molded orange street light. Walking at a long distance from the road, staying in the gloom until she could take the well lit high street towards her home. She appeared calm now, taking comfort in the routine of walking her most used path. At a lazed pace she confronted the notion that perhaps she may have done the right thing after all. In a city peopled with spies it was expected to encounter frequent turmoil, and congruently a higher volume of failures. In her report, which she might draft later that evening, she would most certainly site the frequency of such conditions in the field and how the organization might even look to her particularly dangerous episode as an example of how to handle the unexpected. She had been watched by spies and saw need to liquidate the project, her identity compromised she retained the will to look her opponent right in the eye. Let it be a lesson to the younger, to the entering prospects who ask what is necessary for the life, the jizn! She did not know if they would publicly commend her cautiousness but she knew behind the closed doors of the real movers and the discreet shakers quiet applause would be given. The light changed and she was allowed to cross. During the brief and brisk walk she also accepted the notion that her years of accumulated courage would never see print. The newspapers would never know her name despite what they, and the public they served, owed her actions. The cast behind the curtain must stay behind the curtain. However, she noted passively as she transferred the sack with the milk from one hand to the other, such is the life of a spy.

Recognizing Spies


Joined January 2008

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Can you recognize them?

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