“Stole one plane, blew up another plane. Helped a top Yugoslav to defect, got translation rights to his book. Slipped an even dozen Latvian gymnasts into the States.” He turned to me. “You wouldn’t have any extra surprises for me, would you, Tanner?”
I lowered my eyes. I looked at my shoes, their heels fitted with rolls of microfilm from Kracow. I thought of the various packets taped to my skin, Milan’s book, the Chinese documents that Lajos had smuggled to me from Budapest. I looked at one of the other plush leather chairs and smiled at the sleeping form of Minna, direct descendant of Mindaugas, first and last reigning monarch of a free and independent Lithuania.
“Nothing else, I’m afraid,” I said.
“Well, I’m glad of that. Any more, and I’d have trouble believing it myself,” He laughed. “Another drink?”
“Just Butec alone would have been ample justification for your trip,” he said, pouring. “The rest are delightful dividends. And they reinforce my conviction that the best thing to do with a good agent is to give him his head and stay out of his way. I was desperate to send you to Colombia, but thank the Lord I had the good sense to leave you alone when you turned the job down. I felt you must know what you were doing, and you damn well did.”
“Oh,” I said, remembering. “Colombia.”
“Would have liked to see you have a shot at it, Tanner, but I doubt that you could have done much to change the outcome. The Colombian Agrarian Revolutionary Movement evidently had a much broader base of support than anyone suspected. You might have given them a run for their money, but I think they’d have come out on top at the end.”
“They won, then?”
“Oh, yes,” he said. “Yes, they did.” He dropped into his chair again and put his feet up onto the table. “When you opted out, I didn’t have anyone else I wanted to send. Passed the ball back to the quarterback, and it wound up going to the CIA. I was fairly certain the Agency would wind up with it and I wasn’t very happy at the thought. They can make a mess of things, you know.”
“You wouldn’t believe what a job they did of this, though. Seems CIA security isn’t what it’s cracked up to be. I always had the feeling that any broadly based organization like that one had to have a few big leaks in it. Well, this time they leaked all over the floor and then stepped in it. The CARM people had advance word that the Agency was taking over. You may not know it, but the CIA hasn’t got the best possible public image in South America.”
“Is that so?”
“Well, Cuba and all that. Seems they went in there quietly with a batch of top Washington men and some good counterrevolutionary types who haven’t had much work since Batista left Cuba. CARM knew they were coming and spread the word all over Colombia. Most astonishing thing. Minute the Agency came in, popular opinion swung completely to the side of the rebels. Not just the peasantry and the workers, either. We expected that much. But the military went over to CARM as well, and that hardly ever happens. When there’s a military uprising, it’s almost always right wing.”
“So what they had was hardly what you’d call a revolution at all. A bloodless coup, really. When you’ve got the army and the peasantry and the workers all on one side, and nothing but foreign business interests and the CIA on the other side, well, the result is a foregone conclusion. Wasn’t completely bloodless, of course. The top government officials got it in the neck. They hanged the dictator, uh, the president, right out in front of the palace. All that money in his Swiss bank account, and he never got to spend it. And then they did put a batch of CIA personnel in front of a firing squad. Mostly the Cubans, the ones from the old Batista regime. Most of the Washington types got back home again.” He chuckled. “Though I’ll bet some of them would just as soon be dead. I don’t think they can hold their heads high right now.”
“I can imagine. Then Colombia’s gone Communist?”
He thought about this. “Well, not exactly,” he said. “You remember when we discussed the situation, and you said they weren’t exactly Commie? Looks as though you were right. They might do a Fidel sooner or later, but right now they seem pretty middle-of-the-road, if you follow me. Of course they’re nationalizing the big oil and land interests right and left, and some of our petroleum people aren’t exactly thrilled, but they haven’t gotten on their knees to Moscow or Peking either. Of course it’s too early to tell what’ll happen later on.”
So CARM had won, I thought. In a way that was the best news of all.
He passed me a fat envelope. “For your expenses,” he said. “Don’t argue, take it. Your plane’s refueled by now. You’ll be flown to a private airport on Staten Island and from there you can get back to your home base easily enough.” He nodded toward Minna. “She’ll be going with you?”
“For the time being.”
“Mmmm. Pretty little thing. You’ll find a good home for her, of course.” He got to his feet. “This Colombia thing didn’t turn out all that badly, I don’t suppose. The only really rocky thing about it is the security leak at the Agency. Gives them one hell of a black eye. A lot of men are burning to get hold of the bastard who tipped it.”
“I don’t blame them.”
“That’s one damned good thing about our own operation, Tanner,” he told me. “You’ll never find a security leak in our bunch.”
“Thank God for that,” I said.
After that things got back to normal, or as close to normal as they generally get. Minna and I flew to some airport in Staten Island, still not knowing in what part of the country the meeting with the Chief had taken place. We went to my apartment, bought some fresh clothes for Minna, and I got to work tying up loose ends.
In among the sacks of mail that had come while I was gone was my passport. It had been mailed from London, and so it was in perfect order except for the lack of an English exit visa stamp. This didn’t bother me very much. Passports get stamped all over the place, and no one pays too much attention to the chronological order of things. Besides, the passport was a fake anyway; I’d bought it in Greece some months ago to replace one the Czechs had confiscated from me. It had the right number and photograph, so it couldn’t have been any better for me if it had been the original.
Along with the passport was an effusive note from Pindaris. He was enjoying himself in London, he had a good job at a restaurant, and he would love me forever for the great sacrifices I had undertaken on his behalf, as would the entire membership of the Pan-Hellenic Friendship Society, united as we were toward the restoration of Greece to its legitimate historic boundaries, and so on ad nauseam.
The Lettish girls went to Providence in a body as soon as the State Department decided to leave them alone. A theatrical booking agent had signed them up, and they were scheduled to embark soon on a tour of the United States with a program entitled Gymnastics and Free Enterprise. They were not quite sure what this meant but did know that their salaries were quite generous. I went up to Providence myself to be best man at the wedding of Sofija Lazdinja and Karlis Mielovicius, a three-day bonanza during which time a great deal of alcoholic beverages were consumed, and of which I have only an imperfect recollection at best. Afterward Zenta came back to New York with me and stayed around for a while before the group went off to play its first engagement in Cleveland.
Igor Radek turned up briefly, unrecognizable in tapered slacks, polka-dot shirt, short double-breasted blazer, and mirror sunglasses. He had auditioned successfully for the trombonist slot with a small jazz-rock band that had since landed an engagement at a small club in the Village. An original composition of his was being recorded on the band’s first LP; the title, he told me, was Russian To and Fro.
Milan Butec is living under an assumed name at a large residential hotel on West 23rd Street and taking a Berlitz course in English and doing fairly well at it. The translation went well, and a friend of mine has a publisher interested. Milan plans to use the advance to buy a small and unproductive farm somewhere in Virginia or North Carolina. He has learned that he will not have to grow anything on the farm, but will be able to live quite comfortably on the book’s future royalties plus the soil bank subsidies he will receive for not growing either tobacco or hogs, depending upon the location of the farm. He already understands the entire farm subsidy program far better than I do and feels that it is marvelous. “A Balkan mind is better equipped to appreciate this sort of program,” he has told me more than once. “A Balkan mind must have formulated it originally. Masterful.”
The Polish microfilm went to its specified destination, Polish exile leaders in New York and Chicago. They were glad to receive it and happy to have word that Tadeusz was alive and well; they had heard he had been executed by the Polish secret police. I reassured them on that point, and they went off with their microfilm to plot the overthrow of the Gomulka regime.
The Chinese garbage turned out to be almost entirely garbage, old interoffice memoranda and other such trivia. A friend of mine who teaches Far Eastern History at Columbia (the university, not the erstwhile dictatorship) went through the lot and translated enough for me to tell whether various documents were worth keeping. Most were not and went into the garbage can. But among the chaff there was one nice grain of wheat, a dossier of plans for the subversion of one of the little neutralist states in Africa. It had extensive analyses of various groups and factions in the government, names of Chinese agents, names of U.S. and Russian and French and British agents, and all sorts of vital bits of information and theory.
I had the feeling the Chinese had no real intention of putting the plan into effect, certainly not for the time being, with China too much in the grip of internal problems. The dossier had the tone of something drawn up by some bureaucrats who never expected to see it put into play. Still, it was worth more than consignment to the incinerator.
I thought of turning it over to the Chief, then changed my mind. The program was the sort of thing that anyone could put to use, and I rather like that little neutralist nation; I’d hate to see the Chinese overthrow it, but I wouldn’t be much happier to see the CIA turn the same trick. And, after all, they do seem to have internal leaks.
I thought it over some more and wound up taking it to Washington and hiring a messenger to deliver it anonymously to the African nation’s tiny embassy. Forewarned, I felt, was forearmed; now they would be better equipped to stave off attacks from Peking. Or, for that matter, from Washington.
A letter from Colombia (the country, not the college this time) was delivered to me by hand just the other morning. In careful language I was thanked at great length for my services and assured I would always be welcome. Should I care to come for a visit, I could expect the finest treatment.
If I can find the time, I’d like to go.
So that wraps it up, doesn’t it? The Chinese documents, Milan and his book, Igor and his plane, Sofija and her gymnasts, Tadeusz and his microfilm, the passport, everything.