The sharp ring of the phone startled them all.
“This is George. Cessna 310 is at the Elsinore Airport, cleared, warmed up and ready to go.”
“We’re on the way.”
The flight was choppy. The damnable northern European weather moved in and flung them around. Tamara Kuznetov became sick, adding to everyone’s discomfort in the small craft.
It turned dark and the weather had fallen nearly to the ground as they approached the British air base at Celle, in northern Germany.
From the Ground Controlled Approach shack on the strip, the voice of a British airman talked them down through the clouds and cross winds.
“Flaps down ... glide ...” The lights of the field burst through the fog. A sigh of relief as the little bird touched down. A
jeep led the Cessna back out to the end of the strip where Nordstrom’s plane with Department of the Interior markings was revved up and waiting.
In moments, his Convair was airborne, pushing through the turbulence toward the Atlantic ... America ... and Andrews Air Force Base.
HE HIGH-WALLED, LONG-LAWNED
house in Laurel, Maryland, was guarded by a quartet of Doberman watchdogs and three handlers, on shifts. Two guards were constantly on duty on the grounds, and in the house itself another guard slept within earshot of the terrified Kuznetov family.
Two weeks passed before Michael Nordstrom felt they had calmed sufficiently to send in Wilcox, the chief ININ interrogator, and his team.
Boris Kuznetov toyed with Wilcox, saying nearly nothing. Each session ended with the Russian’s daily depression, or he would order them away in a tantrum.
Nordstrom was in no hurry. The suitcase, retrieved by the baggage check in Copenhagen, was filled with tens of dozens of documents. Time would be needed to translate them from Russian, and they would be under study for months to determine whether they were of value or elaborate fakes.
From the first snap readings, W. Smith, the ININ Russian expert, ascertained that most of the papers dealt with NATO matters. This was a hopeful clue, because all NATO documents were numbered as to the copies made and the persons who had read them. It could eventually boil down to a question of finding a common reader of all the papers, in order to dredge up a great traitor inside NATO.
But, in reality, all that Baris Kuznetov had really done was to present them with a gigantic puzzle. Who, indeed, was Boris Kuznetov? How had the NATO documents gotten back to Moscow? As in any intelligence organization, Soviet KGB chiefs knew few names outside their immediate circle, and what Kuznetov knew he kept locked in his mind. Obviously, his wife and daughter were under orders to remain completely unresponsive.
At the end of a frustrating month, Wilcox complained bitterly to his boss.
“Nothing. Not even his birthplace. Nothing.”
“Keep at it.”
Wilcox reddened. “If you ask me, Mike, we ought to dump the bastard on the steps of the Russian Embassy.”
“Sure, and we’ll never get another Russian defector.”
“I’ve never run into one like this.”
“You’re tired, Wilcox. Take a few days off.”
The perplexed interrogator mumbled something derogatory about his chosen line of work, then apologized to Nordstrom for letting his chief down.
“We’ve been through defectors. They’re frightened animals. Alone, wanting to live, wanting to die. In strange waters. Keep loose, Wilcox, he’ll come around.”
Michael Nordstrom stayed outside the circle of interrogators, making himself available only as a friend to whom Kuznetov could complain and, perhaps, confide. Slowly, the Russian dropped hints that he knew the inside workings of many secret matters.
“Do you want me to tell you why you fired the German, Captain Von Behrmann, from his NATO command? I tell you. He talked too much in bed about how important he was, and of the placement of NATO submarines in Soviet waters.”
On every occasion of a visit to the Laurel house by Nordstrom, the Russian would try to startle him with a new piece of information.
“Come on, Boris. You’re always feeding me news that’s water under the bridge.”
“Water under bridge?”
“Then, how about this?”
Boris Kuznetov put on a startling display, revealing the depth of his knowledge. For over an hour he recited from memory the structure of the entire American intelligence establishment, the names of department heads, their assistants, special operators, secret posts. It was done with total accuracy.
Sanderson Hooper, the Chief ININ Evaluator, was a disheveled-appearing, white-haired man in his early sixties, who would be better placed as a professor or an obscure poet. He was the one responsible for finding the key to fit into the lock to open the puzzle of the Russian. Nordstrom had always leaned on Hooper heavily, and as the mystery of Kuznetov thickened, he tried to press for an answer.
“As we all know,” Sanderson Hooper said calmly, not responding to the pressure, “this Kuznetov is an extremely skilled and highly placed agent, knowledgeable in NATO matters. He has a remarkable mind.”
“Is he authentic or the greatest fake and best actor of the decade?”
Sanderson Hooper’s bushy brows furled in concern. He fiddled with the tobacco in the omnipresent pipe. “What do we have, Mike? A defector who wants sanctuary and protection. He’s made no deals with us.”
“But he keeps feeding us just enough bait to let us know he’s important.”
Hooper puffed, folded his wrinkled hands and mulled. “Don’t lean on me yet for an official evaluation, Mike, but I will give you a guess. My guess is that Boris Kuznetov doesn’t really know what it is he wants. He fled because he thought his life was in danger, and now he can’t make up his mind.”
“Hoop, I’m not going to hold you to this, but are you saying he’s the real article?”
“My hunch is that Boris Kuznetov will turn out to be the most important defector we have ever received.”
’M COOPED UP HERE!
wife Olga complains day and night. Tamara is miserable.”
“What the hell do you expect?” Nordstrom answered. “You’ve locked yourself up for three months. You’re bound to be on edge.”
Kuznetov had grown sallow and morose. Michael knew the family was arguing more heatedly each day. Then Olga and Tamara made a few cautious ventures into the town, and one trip to Baltimore. The revelations whetted their desires.
“Why don’t we work out a trip for you to, say, New York?”
“Then out west.”
“No! You know I can’t leave,” he intoned shakily, with the glaze of fear returning to his eyes.
“You’ll be protected.”
Kuznetov shook his head “no.” “Perhaps, if we could move. If we could live in the country so I could at least go out for a walk.”
“Let me see what I can arrange.”
Boris studied the American with somewhat of a hint of guilt. “You are a fine man. If our positions were reversed, things would not be so easy for you,” the Russian said.
Camp Patrick was tucked snugly along the Patuxent River outside of Laurel and midway between Washington and Baltimore in catfish country, tobacco farms, and summer places.
The camp was built of logs and pine. A central complex held one major building that housed the office, kitchen, recreation room, and a number of smaller classrooms and briefing rooms. To one side stood a softball field and a pair of tennis courts, on the other side a riding paddock.
Along the riverfront there were a number of cottages with screened-in porches. The camp had been abandoned when Nordstrom took it over as an ININ training site. It was convenient for special schoolings and particularly for important weekend briefings. On occasion, he had hidden defectors there, as he now hid the Kuznetov family.
During the winter Kuznetov seemed to thrive in the new surroundings. True to his profession as an intelligence man, he read compulsively, devouring a dozen newspapers and periodicals daily, along with three or four books each week in English, French, and German, as well as his native language.
Nordstrom approached the Kuznetov’s cottage these days to the sound of Tamara’s piano. She played magnificently. Olga now attempted to prepare luncheons and dinners, still baffled by the array of electric kitchen utensils and the unlimited varieties of food.
The American and the Russian took long, unhurried winter walks along the river, during which Boris expounded Communist dialectic, literature, the American technical wonders, music. He was a well-informed buff on Western art and philosophy. Yet his only mention of personal matters was that Tamara had great promise as a musician and it was a pity to keep her from her studies.
As the winter wore on, the confinement of Camp Patrick began to play on the family’s nerves. The Kuznetovs had, in fact, traded a small cell in the Laurel house for a larger cell.
Yet Nordstrom sensed a softening. The interrogators, who had accomplished little, were called off at the turn of the year, much to Boris’s delight.
Michael Nordstrom’s patience paid off.
On a particular night in early spring he stayed over for the running of the weekly film for the family in their living room. A new breed of spy literature was being born. This film had the usual suave British hero lipping sly
being pursued by a bevy of half-naked girls, and using technical gadgetry to challenge the imagination. The dark Russians were depicted as men with dirty fingernails, ill-fitting clothes, sinister, brutal, mysterious, dedicated to false gods. Except for one Russian, a female agent of KGB, portrayed by a large-busted Italian actress whose Russian accent was unbelievable.
There was a bedroom showdown. As the scene flickered on the screen, Boris Kuznetov put his head back and roared with laughter and he laughed till he nearly gagged.
Michael had never heard him laugh before.
After the film, Kuznetov treated himself to a rare drink of liquor. On his walks, he often commented, as an aside, that the Western agents drank too much. He, himself, was virtually a total abstainer. But on this night he felt good.
“The days are long,” he said, placing a log on the fire and weighing his words with meticulous care. “I would like some company. Someone from my own part of the world. A fellow European.”
Nordstrom raised his eyebrows. “Do you have anyone particular in mind?”
“As a matter of fact, yes.”
Boris stirred his drink, took a short sip, looked into the budding fire. “Devereaux. André Devereaux.”
“SDECE, the French Secret Service. Your ININ Counterpart in Washington. You know him quite well.”
Boris looked at Michael’s poker face.
“Frenchmen are jolly.”
“I need some jolly company.”
Nordstrom did not reply. The request was coldly calculated and Kuznetov wanted to speak no more about it.
“I’ll think it over,” Nordstrom said.
Marshall McKittrick, the President’s Intelligence Adviser, appeared to be exactly what he was, a well-groomed, silver-haired, meticulously dressed, dollar-a-year executive, who had served three Presidents without portfolio and was known as a member of the White House inner circle and the President’s personal watchdog on intelligence matters. He grimaced as Sanderson Hooper spilled tobacco over his highly polished desk.
“How did Kuznetov know about Devereaux?” McKittrick asked.
Hooper swept up the tobacco like bread crumbs and placed them in the large crystal ashtray, a gift of the President.
“Possibly through one of the British defectors in the last several years. Or he could have been briefed by a Soviet resident back from Paris or Washington.”
“I’ve worked with André Devereaux for twelve years,” Nordstrom said. “We set up ININ together, Marsh, and he’s the one man in Washington I’d stake my life on.”
“Devereaux is not the question, Mike. He’s French. He’s obligated to report to his own people in Paris. You know as well as I how leaky the SDECE is and how careful we have to be in turning over information to them. Question, is, do we share this secret with the French?”
“On the other hand,” Sanderson Hooper intoned, as if debating it out with himself, “Kuznetov made a well-calculated, deliberate request. He wants to see Devereaux for a particular reason. Perhaps the reason is that he’s ready to open up.”
“What do you think, Mike?” McKittrick asked.
“I’ve had the feeling he’s ready to talk. We have to take the risk of sharing Kuznetov with the French.”
“Whatever,” Hooper added, “the Russian holds the cards and he’s playing the hand.”
“All right,” McKittrick said decisively, “take Devereaux to see him.”
E IS A
thief and a robber!”
“André! Will you stop making a spectacle of yourself.”
“But my God, woman. Did you see that play? He was safe by a mile!”
Nicole Devereaux tugged at her husband’s jacket, and he sat down as the argument raged around the umpire at home plate. “Safe! Safe! He was safe!” yelled Devereaux. And, being French, he made a brandishing gesture at his throat to the umpire and sulked to regain control of his temper. He chomped through the hot-dog bun, then fished around beneath his seat for the paper cup of beer.
He was what one would define as a charming-looking man in his mid-forties, complete with graying temples. Most women thought him sexy. He had a way with his eyes, with his gestures.
As play resumed, Nicole returned to her deliberate mask of boredom.
Mickey Mantle strode to the plate.
André caught her fixed icy glare from the corner of his eye. Oh, well, he thought, she will only have to suffer two more innings.
The drive home was in silence. André took the long way, past the Capitol and along the Mall. The cherry blossoms were ready to burst and the city was bathed in the full breath of early spring. He looked at the Lincoln Memorial, never tiring of it. It was his city, this Washington, in many ways, even more than Paris.