While the construction of the Berlin Wall challenges JFK with the first major crisis of his Presidency, young CIA agent Philip Marsden is sent on his first mission across into East Berlin. As the tanks face off at Checkpoint Charlie, he uncovers the difficult truth about his Russian-born mother.

"Very skilful job of blending the fictional with the factual. Captures the personas of the historical figures. Really enjoyed it."

Tod Hoffman, ex-officer CSIS, the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, also author of "The Spy Within", a non-fiction account of US domestic espionage. 

REVIEWS

Basingstone Book Reviews

"A brilliantly conceived trilogy. Even though the novels are political thrillers, they shed light on history, the Cold War, and an American tragedy as accurately and dramatically as any scholarly history book. These are stories we all know but the facts uncovered are a first-time revelation for most of us. The Kennedy Trilogy is a joy to read. I have a much better understanding of what went on in my country during a very troubling time.”

Caleb Pirtle, bestselling author of “Secrets of the Dead”.

"A political spy thriller set in 1960's Berlin. The author has cleverly woven historical fact with fiction to present a glimpse of the life in Berlin when the wall was erected, and an brief insight into the Cold War as seen from the Kennedy White House."

"A spy thriller with a difference. Real events and conversations between the President and his brother ring true. The novel is easy reading. It's one of a kind. I could easily see this as a serious spy thriller on celluloid. I enjoyed it."

Rikki White, book blogger, Amazon & Goodreads

"Leon Berger has clearly shown how fragile political and international relationships were. This backdrop to the spy element of the story adds all the necessary tension and drama required to make a very good novel."

John Johnstone, book blogger, Goodreads

"Berger is immensely engaging."

Donald Brown, Time magazine 

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READERS

"All of the real people in this story are brilliantly drawn and clearly based on serious research on the part of the author. The fictional characters are equally alive and fully human."

Amazon / Goodreads:

"Best books ever written on JFK!”

"The conversations between Jack and Bobby are always absolutely convincing, and the historical context - always complex - is made clear without ever stopping the story.”

"Leon Berger has done a very good job with a very difficult topic. He made it interesting from beginning to end.”

TRILOGY BOOK 1 THE KENNEDY IMPERATIVE

 

1



The crisis began in the early hours of August 13 with barbed wire strung across the Potsdamer Platz. Armored personnel carriers were stationed at key intersections and platoons of East German militia were disgorged into the gloom of the empty square to shield construction crews against the few jeering onlookers.


By breakfast on that warm Sunday morning, several miles had already been completed along the east-west divide. At noon, a crowd of five thousand gathered to demonstrate at the Brandenburg Gate as it was systematically sealed, then protests moved to the City Hall in Schöneberg where the numbers swelled to over a hundred thousand. Inside his office, Mayor Willy Brandt was powerless to prevent the bisection of his city, just like any of the other allied leaders: Kennedy, Adenauer, Macmillan, de Gaulle. Despite the guarantees and the treaties, all had been outmaneuvered and rendered impotent by the sheer rapidity of events. By evening, the entire western side of Berlin had become a sealed enclave within the Soviet bloc, the democratic hostage of a totalitarian empire, and the Cold War was finally frozen into position.


In the days and weeks that followed, an armada of heavy equipment created mountains of rubble as barriers of steel, concrete, brick and cinder block reinforced the wire forming a hundred mile barricade. To build what became known simply as der Mauer, the Wall, neighborhoods were bulldozed, streets were ripped up and houses evacuated. Some people were separated from their loved ones, others from their places of employment. Free passage between the occupation zones as stipulated in the postwar agreement was unilaterally terminated by the Soviets and many citizens now felt so trapped that they risked death in their attempt to escape. They clambered over debris, ran across rooftops, jumped from windows and crawled through sewers but most never made it. Walter Ulbricht, chairman of the East German politburo, ordered his soldiers to shoot their compatriots on sight and although some shirked such onerous duties, many more were only too willing to carry them out, either for the sake of Socialist ideology or, far more common, because that was the only job they could find.


The hurried construction of the Wall was meant to stem the endless flow of migrants to the west, already up to twenty per cent of the East German population and the cause of critical labor shortages. Yet in doing so, it not only severed a living city but came to symbolize the rift between entire hemispheres. This was now the world that Orwell had predicted. Continental forces faced each other with thermonuclear warheads, each a thousand times more lethal than the device which destroyed Hiroshima, and both sides' entire defense policies were based on M.A.D., the laughable acronym for "mutually assured destruction". Under such conditions, a single error by a fatigued corporal could trigger an escalation that would render the entire planet lifeless.


It was within this maelstrom, this newest locus of human folly, that Philip Thomas Marsden was awarded his initial field assignment.


In appearance, he was unremarkably average in both height and build, the kind of individual nobody would ever notice on a crowded street, with a pale everyman's face topped by an unkempt thatch of mousy hair. However, it wasn't for his physical prowess that the CIA had so readily scooped him out of the gentle backwaters of academia: it was for an exceptional intellect which only revealed itself in the secluded depths of the gray-green eyes that seemed to perceive everything even as they exhibited nothing. A political science prodigy who spoke fluent Russian, he'd been recruited directly from Harvard where he'd studied under an exceptional young professor of German origin by the name of Henry Kissinger.


The scheduled mission was relatively mundane and his own role secondary: to accompany a military officer across the recently sealed border for an officially sanctioned but otherwise clandestine rendezvous with equivalent ranking members of the Soviet Armed Forces and the Komitet Gosudarstvennoy Bezopasnosti, the state security service more commonly known by its abbreviation, KGB. The meeting had been scheduled to finalize protocols for the eight city checkpoints, including "B for Bravo" on the southern edge of Berlin at Drewitz near the Wannsee and "C for Charlie" in the heart of the city center. It was not meant as a strategic debate, more a tactical discussion of procedures to cope with the inevitable stupidities and misunderstandings that were bound to arise during the course of any given day.


The mid-morning briefing was a tense affair with no less than twelve attending, ten military and two CIA, perhaps a touch of overkill considering the nature of the task, but these were still early days of the new scenario and nobody really knew what to expect. Since the mission came under the nominal leadership of the former General Clay, it was appropriate that the session was taking place at the complex known as the Clay Headquarters of the USAB, the Berlin Brigade of the US Army, situated on the main artery now called Clayallee. Both the base and the street had been so named after the general's leadership during the Soviet military blockade of 1948/49, when the western sectors had been supplied by airlift for a full fifteen months, a monumental feat of logistics for which the citizens of West Berlin were immensely grateful. However, since Clay himself was still Stateside, this morning's meeting was held under the chairmanship of a barrel-chested New Yorker, Colonel William Fairfax of military intelligence.


On the wall of the conference room was a highly-detailed city plan, updated by the hour with tiny colored pins to indicate the Wall's construction, which the gravel-voiced Fairfax had just finished using to indicate the precise route that the lone Jeep would take. After the requisite Q&A session on geography, he now turned their attention to the key figures involved by tacking up grainy file photos while reading out their biographies from his notes. On the Soviet military side would be a certain Major Semyon Gavrikov, a decorated hero of Stalingrad, plus a representative of the KGB, Yuri Vasiliyev, about whom little was known. For the US, the mission commander would be a rangy, chisel-faced major from Wyoming by the name of Hank Leland, a veteran of Normandy and the Bulge; but since everyone in attendance already knew him and his well-earned reputation, Fairfax spent considerably longer on the credentials of the CIA junior who would be along for the ride, acquainting them especially with the young man's most unique talent, the ability to speak the Soviets' own language.


It was Leland himself who addressed this very topic: "Just out of interest, how good is it, your Russian?" he said directly to Philip Marsden. "I mean, I get that you're fluent and all, but what exactly does that mean, fluent? What do you sound like when you speak?"


Philip saw all eyes turn his way, felt the cynical attitude of uniformed officers towards a fresh-faced civilian. "My mother's Russian," he replied quietly.


"Thanks, I read the file," said Leland. "We all read the file. But what I asked was how do you sound? How broad's your accent? What kind of dialect do you speak, what kind of slang? You understand why it's so critical I know this?"


"No, not exactly."


Leland was beginning to show his frustration. It was all too obvious he didn't like the notion of being saddled on this expedition with a rookie, magnified by the fact that there was no love lost between the military and the agency at the best of times. "It's because if you have to speak, I need you to sound like an American, someone who learned Russian by the book in a classroom. Any worse than that, they'll just dismiss you as incompetent. Any better, they might start to think you're a defector and that would change the whole tone, you follow me?"


"I understand."


"Ah, you understand, do you?" he said as if talking to a child. "Good, good, I'm glad you understand. In that case, maybe you'd be so kind as to answer the..." He took a breath. He'd been about to swear but had managed to hold himself in check. "Just answer the question, will you?"


Philip was determined to remain polite, his attitude cool but accommodating. "I can sound like anything you want. My mother's from Khovrino, so I can sound like I come from there. But, if you prefer, I can also sound like I learned it all at Langley."


"Where's Khovrino?"


"It's a district in the north of Moscow."


"In that case, gimme Langley."


Philip gave a single nod of acknowledgment which ended the interchange and allowed the meeting to move on.


At the end of the table, Colonel Fairfax took a moment to sort through his agenda while a couple of others used the opportunity to get up, stretch a little and refill their coffee mugs. Apart from Philip, the only other person not in uniform was the CIA liaison officer from Berlin Operations Base, a mid-level functionary who was only there to take notes and report back. He glanced briefly at his young colleague but they hardly knew each other and there was little complicity between them.


Despite his outward calm, Philip Marsden was only too conscious that he was on his own here, seconded to military intelligence for the duration of the assignment but neither wanted nor appreciated. Yet at the same time, he recognized that he was here to learn, that he was being put to the test, and he resolved once again to keep the more impulsive side of his nature safely hidden. It had emerged on sporadic occasions throughout his youth and had invariably caused so much disruption to himself and others that he'd been obliged to subjugate these inclinations in case they totally derailed his ambitions. 


* * *


At precisely 09.00 on the morning of Thursday, September 3rd, Philip Marsden was ready and waiting in the Jeep's passenger seat when Hank Leland clambered in beside him, stashed his cap and his attaché case, then made himself comfortable behind the wheel. Any animosity that might have lingered from the briefing seemed to have dissolved and the major had taken on a spirited, almost jaunty mood.


"So, kid, you ready for this?"


"Ready as I'll ever be."


While Leland was clad in his dress uniform bedecked with campaign ribbons, Philip had today abandoned his dark suit and tie, which he'd never liked anyway, in favor of an open blue shirt, loose khaki slacks and a black, golf-style zippered jacket that made him look like he was on a sightseeing excursion.


Once Leland was settled, he opened up the choke, coughed the engine into life and crunched into gear as if it were a symbolic gesture of departure. Then he gave a cheery wave towards the small dispatch committee led by Colonel Fairfax and eased out on to Friedrichstrasse, the central thoroughfare that had been sliced in two by the Wall like a shovel through an earthworm. Directly ahead was Checkpoint Charlie, as delineated on this side of the divide by the hastily-rigged control booth and the iconic sign inscribed in English, Russian, French and German: "You are leaving the American sector."


As they drove on past, the military police officer on duty offered a salute which Hank Leland returned. "Here we go," he muttered.


The young man didn't respond. He just kept his eyes focused on the Soviet emblem that loomed just a hundred yards beyond the windshield. From behind the red-and-white striped barriers, several Grenztruppen, guards of the East German border control, appeared to be watching them intently, one with binoculars, and Philip wondered how they were feeling at this moment: whether they were merely Communist automatons as imagined in the west, or whether they, too, were subject to the same fears and apprehensions. Were they truly aware of the stakes involved? How would they behave in a crisis? What would their response be to a direct challenge? Such were the realities they had to consider on this mission; the kind of critical, on-the-ground issues that would never be examined in the context of a Harvard thesis.


Next to Philip, Hank Leland was deliberately holding back the velocity of their approach, perhaps in a subconscious attempt not to spook the guards unnecessarily. In theory, the postwar treaty allowed military and other official personnel to travel anywhere in the city without hindrance but circumstances had changed with the Wall and it seemed judicious not to test such limits. They therefore came to a complete halt at the first barrier and Leland offered a salute to a senior officer, the only one in a Soviet uniform.


"Guten Tag," Leland announced. Then just for good measure, he added the Russian equivalent "Dobry den" with atrocious pronunciation. Both phrases represented the limit of his language abilities so he continued the introductions by reverting to English. "Major Henry Leland, US Army... this is Agent Marsden... here to attend a conference with Major Galganov."


The Soviet officer didn't reply, didn't display any noticeable expression to indicate that he'd understood before returning inside a metal-sided cabin, while three other men just stood and watched. All carried Kalashnikov automatic rifles slung casually over their shoulders. Beyond the immediate barrier were two more horizontal poles, and beyond that, the continuation of Friedrichstrasse, almost deserted, with dilapidated buildings still pockmarked by war damage even after sixteen years. Leland left the Jeep's motor running but after a full minute, nothing had happened. He exchanged a glance with his passenger but neither of them spoke. There was little they could do but sit there and wait. Another minute passed. Ultimately, the Soviet officer emerged, striding purposefully into the pale sunlight. He called out instructions in Russian-accented German and one of the men opened up the barrier.


Leland drove through but was again obliged to stop because while the arm dropped down behind, the second barrier ahead remained closed, trapping the Jeep between the two. Nevertheless, he patiently allowed the game to be played out, undoubtedly assuming that the guards who'd been given this unenviable sentry duty were as mixed up as everyone else about the new crossing protocols. This was, after all, why the conference had been scheduled.


By this time, the senior officer was gazing over towards the passenger side. "You are Philip Marsden?" he asked in a hesitant version of English. When Philip acknowledged, the man said: "Please exit."


It didn't sound like a request, it sounded more like a command, so Philip simply deferred to Hank Leland.


"Excuse me, is there a problem here?" asked the major. "Like I said, we're expected at a conference..."


He didn't even get to finish the sentence before the officer interrupted.


"Philip Marsden, please exit." Further orders were given and two of the guards walked around the Jeep to the passenger side and just stood there. They didn't try to open the door and their weapons remained in place on their shoulders but, nevertheless, the meaning was clear.


"Now just a minute..." replied Leland, his combat instincts in danger of superseding his diplomatic mandate. Then, quietly, to Philip: "Sit tight, kid."


Again, the officer spoke in English, repeating the same order but far more insistently: "Philip Marsden, please exit." He seemed to have learned that one word "exit" specifically for the occasion.


In very short order, the situation had escalated and Hank Leland was left with a tough decision to make. He could choose to hold his ground, daring them to take physical action, but if it were indeed just a misunderstanding, such a reaction could provoke a serious incident and he wouldn't be thanked by anyone for that. On the other hand, he could just allow the confrontation to evolve and perhaps cooler heads would prevail. Stand firm or acquiesce: these were the apparent choices and he didn't need a degree in political science to comprehend the sensitivity involved or the potential consequences of a misstep. In the end, much against his inclination, he came down on the side of caution and simply nodded his assent.


Philip now had no choice but to obey the mission commander. Somewhat reluctantly, he opened his side door, stepped out onto the roadway and instantly sensed the two guards edging in closer, one on each side, as if he'd now committed himself into their custody. He saw no further objection from Hank Leland, who appeared to have given up his leverage with that single nod. The young man was therefore obliged to follow the guards around the Jeep and into the cabin.


The last Philip saw of the major was an expression of encouragement, assuring him that this was no more than a slight hiccup, that all would soon be resolved.


* * *


"Major Leland? You there?"


"Yes, sir, right here."


Leland was back at Berlin base, on the phone to Washington. The long-distance connection was not all that clear but the familiar voice of former General Lucius D. Clay boomed through the crackling.


"What in hell's name happened?"


Leland took a moment to breathe. It would be the fourth time he'd debriefed but this was now the man himself. "I'm as furious about it as you are, sir."


"I seriously doubt that. Now spit it out, Major, every damn detail. Start from the beginning."


"Well, sir, there's really not that much to tell. We arrived at their side of the checkpoint on schedule for our meeting. I announced who we were, what we were there for, and they just ordered the kid out of the Jeep."


"The kid?"


"Sorry, sir, I meant Agent Marsden, of course."


"Were they Russian or German?"


"The officer was Soviet. The others were East German."


"Who spoke, the Russian?"


"Yes, sir, he seemed to be in command."


"And what did he say to you? Exactly."


"He spoke only to Agent Marsden. He said 'Philip Marsden, please exit.'"


"He said this in English?"


"Yes, sir."


"And he used Agent Marsden's first name?"


"Yes, sir. Then he repeated the instruction and two of the guards came around to Marsden's side of the vehicle. In my view, sir, it was a direct threat."


"Were they armed, these guards?"


"Yes, sir... AK-47's."


"Leveled?"


"No, sir."


"So why didn't you just back up your vehicle. Did you think they'd fire on you?"


"I was between the barriers, sir. It would have been impossible. And besides, I didn't want to risk an incident."


"So what the hell do you call this? All right, go on."


"Not much else. At that point, I gave Agent Marsden permission to step out. He was then escorted by the guards into the hut. That was the last I saw. Only at that point did they raise the barrier and order me back."


"Order? And since when do you take orders from them?"


"Sorry, sir, poor choice of words. They indicated that I should return and I decided that it would be the best course of action."


"So you deserted a fellow officer in the middle of an altercation? Is that what you're telling me?"


"Sir, with all due respect, I was trying to prevent an escalation."


"Damn it, Leland, you didn't put up a struggle? You didn't even object?"


"Sir..." Leland was about to erupt but managed to control himself in time. Already, he could foresee how this would pan out. They'd need a scapegoat and he was it, ready to be sacrificed on the altar of political expediency. Yet he couldn't just remain silent. He had to say something in his own defense, if only because he felt he'd genuinely tried in all good conscience to consider the bigger picture. He began again, this time with a tone of exaggerated patience. "Sir, we've been instructed endlessly over the past few weeks, ever since they carved the city in half, that we must show restraint, that we must appreciate how sensitive the situation might be. I thought... I believed I was doing the right thing."


The rebuke was sharp. "Well, obviously, it wasn't the right thing, was it? Otherwise we wouldn't be in this damn mess."


Leland didn't answer, because there was nothing more he could think to say. The pause extended while the general was either considering the matter or speaking to someone else in his office. Meanwhile, the phone line hissed and Leland just waited.


"All right," said Clay eventually. "Go back to your unit and wait there until further notice. You do not talk to anyone about this, you hear?"


"Yes sir."


"Not your buddies, not your family, no one. Are we clear?"


"No one. Got it, sir. How about my C.O.?"


"I'll be talking to him myself, rest assured."


"Yes sir."


"All right, enough. Now I gotta go explain all this to the White House. Helluva thing."


"Good luck with that, sir."


"What?" yelled Clay. "Is that insubordination I'm hearing, on top of everything?"


Hank Leland didn't feel like reminding Clay that it couldn't be insubordination if the general was no longer a serving officer but he held back. Instead, he just replied: "No sir, not at all." He already knew he'd be fortunate to make it out of this without a court-martial. Perhaps his service record would save him; or then again, perhaps not.


* * *


Nobody had yet said a word to Philip Marsden – neither the Soviet officer at Checkpoint Charlie, nor the middle-aged civilian in the bad suit who now sat with him in the back of the black Volga, bumping and bouncing on worn shocks through the colorless streets of East Berlin. Of course, he'd demanded to know what was happening, at first politely, then more vociferously, but there had not been a single word of response. Was the man a diplomat, a bureaucrat, or KGB? Philip had no way to tell. Was he, himself, a guest or a prisoner? He didn't know that, either.


As his eyes took in the drab cityscape beyond the window, he tried to force his mind to work. Everyone always said he possessed a good intellect but he was finding it difficult to piece together evidence from the scant information he'd been able to glean so far. He assumed, for example, that there was some logical reason for this action and that since they'd spoken his name, he'd been deliberately targeted. This wasn't just some random arrest. He also figured that they must want something from him, otherwise why go to all this trouble?


Where were they heading? This was another good question. He'd done his due diligence of the city grid but it was all very different viewing it at street level from the back of a car. The districts with their decrepit pre-war architecture looked pretty much alike and there were few landmarks he could recognize, just anonymous sections of the Wall or the river from which he tried to gauge their direction. As far as he could tell, they were heading east, away from the center.


This was his first time in the Soviet sector and his primary impression was in terms of the negative: all the features that were conspicuous by their absence. Here were no neon signs, no bright windows, no branded hoardings, not even much traffic. Everything seemed to be in monochrome, including the pedestrians who seemed to trudge the sidewalks like... His first thought was zombies but he quickly revised that opinion. These were not zombies, just sad people who'd long been deprived of normality. Within their lifetimes, they'd endured hyper-inflation, severe economic depression, devastating bombardment, the rape of invasion and grueling oppression; and they'd lost two generations of youth, sacrificed to the gods of war. Now, as if that weren't enough, they were being made to suffer the spiritual degradation of hopelessness. The past was bad but perhaps even worse was the lack of any future, which was why so many had tried to escape. Of course, any historian – or any political science graduate come to that – could make the argument that they'd brought this on themselves, that so many had been enthusiastic, even fanatical participants in their own extreme ideologies from Fascism to Communism that they possibly deserved their fate. For Philip Marsden, however, looking out at these people from the car window, it was all so bleak and somber that he couldn't bring himself to sneer like so many back home. The only emotion he could feel at their tragic state was pity.


It was less than a half-hour later that the car stopped in front of high barred gates for inspection. Beyond was a building he thought he recognized from the intelligence photographs he'd seen: a broad, three-story main structure with a sloping roof and a distinctive faux-classical entrance. On each side were extensive wings and behind, he knew, were yet more blocks and barracks, because this compound housed not only several military units but also the headquarters of the KGB. They’d arrived at the notorious Karlshorst complex in the borough of Lichtenberg.


Once inside the main front doors, Philip was escorted along echoing gray corridors, all the way through to an adjoining segment of the building, before being guided into a well-used cell. The paint on the walls was peeling, the cement ceiling was flaking and the bars on the door which closed behind him were thick with rust. The space measured about twelve feet square and was completely empty save for a single wooden bench. There was no sink, toilet or other facility and the only light came from a high cracked window, also barred, through which he could see nothing but a pale rectangle of cloud. He breathed a long sigh, then reluctantly sat himself down on the bench and stared at the filth-encrusted concrete floor beneath his feet. Somewhere under there, an extensive tunnel had once been dug all the way from the American sector by his own CIA in cooperation with the British. The aim was to tap into the Karlshorst telephone lines but the ruse had been discovered by the Soviets before it could be put to use; and although Philip Marsden knew the story, any idea that he could somehow drill through six feet of concrete and bedrock in order to access that tunnel was just a fanciful dream.


The reality was that on his first mission across to the east, he'd been taken into custody and was now in a KGB cell, yet he still had no idea why. He was in good shape, nobody had physically harmed him, but some of his usual quiet confidence had ebbed away.    





2



Due to his reputation as a paragon of US power in postwar Germany, Lucius Dubignon Clay had become known around Washington as "The Kaiser." In addition to the numerous honors he'd been awarded in Berlin, he'd also been the recipient of a ticker tape parade through New York and had appeared no less than three times on the cover of Time magazine. It was therefore with a certain measure of authority that he followed an intern along the corridors of the West Wing, from the portico to the Map room, where he was shown in to the presence of Robert Francis Kennedy.


"Hey, Bobby," he said as he strode in. Since he was a generation older than the president's brother, he felt he'd earned the right to address the newly appointed Attorney General by the more familiar diminutive.


With his easy eyes and floppy brown hair, RFK often looked as if he'd just woken from slumber but this morning, he was alert and deep in thought as he stood with his jacket off, his tie loosened and his hands in his pockets, gazing out at the Rose Garden. A raucous gang of crows seemed to have taken up residence on the lawn and their cries could be heard even from in here, piercing the silence like an offstage Greek chorus.


With the arrival of his guest, the younger Kennedy stepped across the room and shook hands. "Morning, General."


As they took their places in a couple of easy chairs, Clay took a moment to get himself acclimatized. Just behind him, right above the fireplace, was the last situation map ever prepared for FDR back in April, '45, opposite was the slightly damaged portrait of Andrew Jackson and all around were other elements of White House memorabilia, each with some obscure link to a past era. Yet unlike most visitors to this historic setting, he didn't even cast a glance at his surroundings. He was far too preoccupied with the present day.


Graciously, he waited for his host to speak first, sitting ramrod straight even though RFK chose a more relaxed posture, typically leaning on his elbow with a well-manicured finger on his temple.


"So what's the word, General?"


"To be frank, I wish I knew."


"Yeah, well let's not say that when we get in there, okay?"


Clay acknowledged the wisdom of that particular counsel. Here in the privacy of the Map room, there were just the two of them, a couple of guys who knew each other well enough, but the discussion that would follow as soon as they entered the sanctum of the Oval Office would not be so intimate. No doubt the president would also have several others attending: Dean Rusk from State; Bob McNamara, Defense; McGeorge Bundy, NSA; Kenny O' Donnell, chief of staff; and those were just the certainties. The number of advisers on the issue of Soviet relations – and Berlin in particular – were legion, as were the number of opinions about how to proceed on any given issue.


"Fact is," Clay was saying, "there's no rationale we can see for snatching him up like that, none at all."


"None we can see being the key point, General. Maybe we're just not looking hard enough."


"Maybe... But so far, I gotta tell you, it makes no damn sense any which way. They know how tense we are. They know as well as we do the stakes of such an action, so why would they try such a fool move, no matter what excuse they think they got?"


"I don't have an answer for you."


"No, I know that. Sorry, just thinking out loud. Been up all night with this."


"I appreciate that, General. Maybe they just want to tweak our noses. They seem fairly fond of that."


It was an attempt at irreverence and Clay offered a brief smile but then became instantly serious again. "Any word yet from Moscow?"


"Nope, nothing at all. Actually less than nothing. It's as if they're not even hearing us. If it's any consolation to you, State's also perplexed... and how often do they admit that?" He gave a slight shake of the head, as if to clear his brain. "All right, let's start with the young man in question. Who is he? What makes him special?"


"Well, we don't really know that he's special. By all accounts, a stellar student but he's still just a junior at the agency with a low grade classification. He doesn't have much to give them because he really doesn't know very much. Far as I can see, the only thing makes him unique is that he speaks a hell of a good Russian. In fact that's one of the reasons we chose him in the first place."


"Why would they take him because he speaks Russian?"


"Who can say? Might be nothing to do with anything. Might just be some internal thing they got going, some gesture they wanna make to their own people. Fact is, there's no way we can know."


It was a casual response, perhaps overly so under the circumstances, and Kennedy reacted with a flash of temper.


"Dammit, General, we're supposed to know." Then he calmed himself by taking a momentary time-out. "Okay, fine. I get it. Some internal gesture... and if that's the case, there's not much we can do about it. In the meantime, let's get back on track here, shall we? What else is there about this Marsden? Maybe there's something we overlooked."


Clay hesitated. He had a confession to make and he wasn't entirely sure how it would be received but given the gravity of the circumstance, he was certain he couldn't hide it any longer. "Listen, Bobby, I got something to say. Maybe I shoulda said it earlier but, well, I was the one who suggested him for this mission."


"You mean, you, personally? You knew him beforehand?"


"Not him, his mother."


RFK stared across at Clay, eyes suddenly intense. "Excuse me?"


"No, no... not what you're thinking. Nothing like that. What do you take me for?"


"Okay, cool your heels, General, didn't mean to imply anything." At best, it was a quasi-apology and Kennedy let it hang in the air between them for a while before moving on. "I understand she's a refugee, isn't she?"


Clay was relieved that the moment had passed. "That's right, a Russian Jew," he answered. "Sashenka Oborski... but she lives in London now with her father, goes by the name of Sheila Marsden."


"So what's her story?"


"Well, as I understand it, the old man was a top physician back in Moscow, reputation in lungs, I think. We're talking the inter-war period. Got wind of Stalin's purge on Jewish intellectuals, so he simply picked up his daughter from school one day and took the next train out. Arrived in England by way of Sweden. First thing you know, he's set himself up in a Harley Street practice and she's accepted at Cambridge. Talented family. Then she married a Canadian feller, name of Marsden, who'd been some kind of flyboy in Spain. Met him in a pub, or some such. At any rate, when the war began, they volunteered together for the RAF. He flew missions, while she learned Morse. All very exciting... but he didn't survive. Shot down over the Channel when she was already pregnant."


"And you knew her when?"


"Me? Right after VE Day, just arrived in Berlin. I needed a Russian-speaker and she was sent over from London by the Brits, came with the highest references. They were right, too, she was damned reliable, one of the few Russians I ever met who gave me a straight answer."


"Where was the boy?"


"Didn't even know he existed, not at the time. Turns out, she'd already shipped him out to her husband's folks in Canada. Later, she went over to join him."


"So that's where he was raised? Canada?"


"Montreal, I think. Bright as all get-out, just like his momma. As I said, he speaks her language like a native. Won a scholarship to Harvard at the age of seventeen, studied under Kissinger, I believe."


RFK grunted. "Just the kind of youngster we need these days."


"What the agency thought, too. Skill set like that, recruiters were all over him."


"And?"


"And that's pretty much it. Did well in training as you'd expect, then transferred to Europe. Nothing else to report."


"It's not much."


"No, it's not."


"All right, I think I got the picture. I suggest we don't mention you know his mother when we go in. I'm not sure it's especially relevant."


"I appreciate that."


RFK looked at the large chronometer on his wrist. "So, General, in a nutshell... Your recommendations?"


"At this point, they're fourfold," Clay replied. "First, the president should raise the military alert level. Second, State should fire off communiqués, call Menshikov on the carpet, whole bag o' tricks. 'Course, neither of those actions will achieve much but it'll let 'em know we're pissed." Soviet ambassador Menshikov had been a veteran in DC since Eisenhower's time. "Next, O' Donnell must keep it all opaque for public consumption, at least until we have some kind of a theory, otherwise we'll just look clueless."


"We are clueless."


"Which brings me to the fourth point. I think you should make another appointment with your pal, Georgi."


RFK looked at Clay, then came back with a confession of his own. "Tell you the truth, General, he already called me."


"He did?"


"Not long before you arrived. On my private line, no less. Was kinda hoping I'd never have to deal with that son-of-a-bitch again."


"Don't think you've got much choice this time."


Kennedy made a face to show his distaste "That's what I was afraid of."


Lacking any direct line of communication between the White House and the Kremlin, RFK had previously used the Washington-based agent, Georgi Bolshakov, as a backdoor conduit in order to ferry messages back and forth between the president and Soviet chairman, Nikita Khrushchev. It was a convenient artifice, the only real problem being the asymmetry of the arrangement. While Bobby obviously had Jack's fraternal ear, Bolshakov was at arm's length to his own boss. For sure, the man had permission to circumvent his own GRU military intelligence apparatus but he obviously wasn't in Khrushchev's inner circle, so while he seemed to pass on discussion points in a fairly faithful manner, RFK's confidence in his pronouncements, or even his suggestions, just wasn't that high. Nevertheless, as Clay said, in this instance he didn't really have much choice but to delve once more into a secretive world he despised in order to deliver his brother's presidency from what appeared to be yet another unholy mess.


The administration was only eight months into their term but they'd already suffered more than their share of failures. This included the disastrous invasion of Castro's Cuba by CIA-backed exiles at the Bay of Pigs; the shock of the Soviets launching the first manned space flight ahead of the US; then came that humiliating summit in Vienna when a bullying Khrushchev seemed to dominate the new president; and most recently, it was the sudden construction of the Wall that had taken them all by surprise. Now, in addition to all of that, they were obliged to contend with this latest affront, the bare-faced kidnapping of a CIA agent. So far, it wasn't an enviable record. In terms of foreign policy, they'd been mauled and it seemed like it was only getting worse.


* * *


At Karlshorst, Philip Marsden endured an uncomfortable night on the makeshift cot that they'd set up in his cell. He was given a hard pillow and an army blanket, both of which smelled of disinfectant but that was no bad thing. In training, he'd been told that contracting disease was one of the biggest problems when cast into somebody else's jail.


Finally, at daybreak, he was escorted to the latrines by a guard who wouldn't answer any of his questions, refused even to speak. Then on his return, while the guard waited by the door, he received breakfast from a chesty German woman of indeterminate age with straw blond hair, ice blue eyes and an offhand attitude. Philip wasn't especially interested in establishing a friendship but since she, too, seemed beholden to the Russians, he felt he should maybe try to develop a connection in case she might be useful in some unforeseen way. As she leaned over to place a tray of cottage cheese, stale black bread and ersatz coffee on the bench next to him, he kept his eyes on her, willing her as if by telepathy to make some kind of initial contact. Even a glance would have been sufficient but it didn't happen. She refused even to look at him. The technique had worked well enough with Moira Beauregard back in eighth grade but he was a long way from Westmount High. Yet he didn't want to admit defeat, so he attempted a smile but this was yet another tactical error, because all it got him in return was scorn.


"You're an idiot," she told him in her own Berlin dialect, her guttural syntax direct from the streets. "What are you going to offer me? Chocolate? Nylons? A career in Hollywood?" She was throwing every cliché of American occupation back in his face. Then for good measure, she added "Grow up," before she turned and strode out, hips swaying and buttocks bulging, leaving her male cohort to raise his thick eyebrows in amusement as he relocked the cell.


Philip Marsden's German was nowhere near as good as his Russian but he knew enough to feel a mild sense of embarrassment at her insults, even if she was just a prison guard. He tried to shrug it off, content only in the knowledge that he'd be feeling a whole lot worse if he hadn't at least summoned up the courage to try.


For several hours after that, nothing happened and he was beginning to think his instructors had it wrong: the biggest danger wasn't disease but boredom; and that's when they came to take him. There were two of them, both male, the same silent guard as before, plus another who was evidently his superior. This second one was just as taciturn as the first and neither of them spoke as they marched him along the corridor, up a flight of stairs and across a landing to an office with a frosted glass door. Here, the senior man knocked and from inside came an answer in harsh northern Russian, maybe originating in Leningrad.


"Yes? What now?"


They entered an office not much larger than Philip's cell to find a middle-aged man with the yellow-gray hair of a smoker. Both his suit and shirt were threadbare and his tie was frayed. He was sitting at a desk crammed with files and reports, plus a large black telephone. Behind him was an ancient radiator and a window thick with grime that let in the noon light but little else.


"Ah, yes, Comrade Marsden..." said the man, still speaking Russian but changing his tone to one of cynical welcome and fake gentility. "Come in, make yourself comfortable. I hope you had a pleasant night." On his signal, the guards left, closing the door behind them. "My name is Vasiliyev." Then, once he and his captive were alone, he threw a packet of Belomorkanal across the desk, a cigarette invented before the war, known to be cheap and very strong.


Philip ignored the offer but displayed some recognition. "Yuri Vasiliyev?"


"You've heard of me?"


"You were supposed to be at the protocol conference."


"Correct, as indeed were you."


Philip sat back in the rickety metal chair. In fact, everything in the small office seemed rickety: the scratched desk, the cheap pen-holder, the gilt picture frame which contained a scene of a horse-drawn troika in the Russian snows.


"What do you want with me?" he said in his quiet voice, trying to find comfort behind a mask of calm.


"Well, now, let's see. What do I want, what do I want?" The man was just toying with the question. "Well, to begin, I'd like you to drop that false CIA accent. We know you can speak the language like a native, so let's just kill the act, shall we?"


Philip had slipped into the Americanized version of Russian because that's what Major Leland had advised and he wasn't quite ready to give it up. "I think you've made some kind of mistake," he replied.


The KGB man wiped his face with his broad hands, then made a show of stretching his shoulders, first one then the other. "You know, I'd hoped we could have an intelligent conversation. Maybe I was wrong. Maybe you're just another nobody who doesn't understand this crazy game we're all playing. Fine, suit yourself. Go back to your cell and stew."


He reached for the phone as if to call back the guards, which forced Philip Marsden to make an instant calculation. What would he be conceding, he wondered, if he reverted to his natural language abilities? Very little, he decided. It was evident they knew who he was and obvious, too, that he'd been singled out for some reason. Now he just had to find out why.


"Fine," he agreed, managing to produce a nonchalant shrug. It was the mental break he needed in order to re-adapt his accent, from the fake to the real, from Langley back to Khovrino. "Let's play your crazy game if that's what we have to do."


Vasiliyev replaced the receiver and sat back again. "Better," he said simply. "You want some coffee?"


"Is that what you call it? No thanks."


"Sorry I can't offer you Maxwell House. It's not that we're ignorant of such things here in the people's paradise, you understand, it's just that it's not, shall we say, a great priority at the current time." Instead of coffee, Vasiliyev plucked a lighter from his pocket and lit up one of the cigarettes that Philip had refused. "Tell me about yourself," he said, taking a satisfying draw before puckering to exhale. From his mouth came a series of lazy smoke circles which drifted across the room on currents from the drafty window.


"You seem to know everything already. I'd prefer to talk about why I'm here."


There was a slight smile from the other side of the desk. "You see? Now you're getting it. We go back and forth, we probe here and there, we push and we pull, and finally we both end up with nothing... except that we get to know each other a little better. And that's exactly what this is all about, wouldn't you say?"


"All I want to know is why I'm here. Why me?"


"Why you? Oh my goodness, that's an easy one. Because you're unique."


"I am?"


"Of course."


"Because I speak Russian?"


"My dear Comrade Marsden, there are two hundred million of us who speak Russian. Why would that make you unique? May I call you Philip by the way? Or do you prefer Phil? No, I think Philip, it's more dignified. You can call me Yuri... just like our famous cosmonaut."


The name of the first man in orbit was indeed Yuri Gagarin but Philip chose to ignore the implied swagger of Soviet technological prowess. "You still haven't answered me."


"Ah, but I have. You just don't realize it."


"How? How have you answered me? Explain it to me like the simpleton you take me for."


Vasiliyev smiled again. "I think I'm starting to like you, Philip. All right, I'll explain it in the most basic terms, just for you. Here it is... If you're unique, it means we need you. Are you with me so far? And if we need you, it means we're going to treat you well. See? Simple. Yes, yes, I know, you're going to tell me you're in a KGB jail with an armed guard but it needn't be too unpleasant. We'll treat you well enough. We'll let you sleep, get a good rest each night, which we don't do for everybody, believe me. We'll feed you the same food we get ourselves which, granted, is no great gift, but at least it'll be served by our very own German bombshell, Helga. You've already had the pleasure of meeting her, I believe? You can thank me personally for that. Oh, and tell you what, a little bonus. Since you speak our language so well, we'll even bring you a fresh copy of Pravda each morning to keep you informed and entertained, how about that? And when you get back, you can say you stayed at the five-star Ritz Karlshorst." Vasiliyev said the words with exaggerated pride, then couldn't resist a chuckle at his own joke.


"I'm going back?"


"Didn't I mention that? Yes, naturally, you're going back. At least, that's the intention."


"And what does that mean? The intention?"


"It means what you think it means. Listen, Philip, my young friend, I'm playing the game but I'm not playing any tricks, I can assure you. Despite everything you've heard, we're basically pragmatists over on this side."


"So my release... or should I say my intended release. What does it depend on?"


"Another simple one. These are what Americans call softballs, right?" Yuri Vasiliyev took a long, satisfying puff, then extinguished the cigarette in a souvenir ashtray that was already full of half-smoked stubs. "Your government," he replied. "It all depends on your own government."


That's when it became a little clearer for Philip Marsden, when he began to see through the thick clouds of smoke that were still suffocating the office. "An exchange," he said.


"Ah! The light dawns."


"Who is it? Another agent? A sleeper? A defector who escaped your clutches?"


"It's somebody we want."


"That tells me nothing."


"That's right, it tells you nothing. You see how I keep my promises?"


"Nor does it answer the question of why I'm so unique."


"No, it doesn't do that either. But maybe you can work that one out for yourself. Let's see if you're as smart as your people think you are. I'll send you back now, let you consider it for a while." Again he lifted the phone, instructed the guards to reappear, then placed the receiver back in its cradle, this time with some finality. "Lunch will be delivered to your suite."


"Room service."


"That's right, just like the Ritz."


"What happens if my government doesn't respond? What happens if they refuse to make the exchange?"


Vasiliyev nodded, a serious look on his face. "You ever heard of our gulags?" Then he instantly broke into a broad grin, revealing a set of smoker's teeth, discolored and uneven. "Just joking, my friend, just joking." There was a long pause. "Or am I?"


"I thought you were playing it straight."


"That's what I said but maybe that, too, was a joke. You see how it works, this crazy game of ours? I win, no matter what you do."


* * *


It was just before cocktail hour when RFK arrived at the Jockey Club bar and restaurant on Massachusetts Avenue.


He was driven around the back to the kitchen door and personally met by the manager, a balding, portly man with a neat moustache, already dressed in his black tuxedo for the evening shift. From the semi-hidden entrance, the president's brother was escorted past startled chefs as they stirred their bouillabaisse, arranged their lobster claws and dressed their racks of lamb for the select clientele who would be rolling up in just a couple of hours. It was a newly opened eatery and still on the discovery list for the elites and brokers of this pressurized town.


Bobby Kennedy, however, wasn't interested in the food. He was here for the disagreeable purpose of once again meeting with agent extraordinaire and diplomatic go-between, Georgi Bolshakov. This time, RFK didn't need his press officer, Ed Guthman, who had arranged their first encounter earlier in the year. He was here accompanied only by his Secret Service detail and he stormed upstairs to the reserved private room, annoyed that this ridiculous Marsden incident was happening now of all times. Unlike the construction of the Wall, which was already being viewed as an event of infamy in the history of east-west relations, this abduction of a very minor CIA officer seemed like a distraction, an irrelevance that could only serve to divert the administration's purpose. Even worse for him was all this tomfoolery, this cloak-and-dagger nonsense of having to sidle through kitchens for surreptitious meetings, and the displeasure showed clearly on his face. He felt it was demeaning for the United States Attorney General to be sneaking around like a Mafia bagman.


The individual he'd come to see was already there in the manager's personal  lounge, seated in a red velour armchair with a martini in his hand. There was nothing exceptional about him, except a fondness for Brylcreem so slick that his black hair reflected the overhead lighting. When the door opened, he smiled his greeting, placed the glass down on a coaster and rose to his feet. They shook briefly but RFK wasn't interested in niceties and didn't want anything at all from the bar, not even a soda. He was here on business and it was all too evident that he wanted to get right to it. 


They sat down, then waited for the manager to take his leave and shut the door after him. The two Secret Service officers remained outside.


"Okay, Georgi," said RFK, "I don't have all night. What's going on? What's this thing all about?"


"My dear Bobby, you look terribly harassed. Relax, you'll give yourself a heart attack."


"You bet I'm harassed. Now, are you going to tell me, or is this just a waste of my time?"


"Take it easy, take it easy. It's complicated."


"Everything's complicated with you guys."


Bolshakov gave a self-deprecating smile, almost apologetic. "You're right, it is. But this is more so."


"Georgi, for pete's sake, get on with it, will you? Just spit it out, complicated or not."


Bolshakov gave out with a world-weary sigh, as if the weight of responsibility was just too much for one man to bear. "As you wish. So to be succinct... This is the right word? To be succinct, the KGB would like an exchange."


"Thanks, we'd already guessed that much for ourselves. First of all, who is it who wants the exchange? Who exactly?"


"Ah, well here's the difficulty. I'm required to tell you... to explain... that this initiative did not originate in Moscow. At least, not in the Kremlin."


"No? So how about the Lubyanka?" This was the operational center of the KGB in Moscow.


"We don't think it was their idea either."


"Not in the Kremlin, not in the Lubyanka. So who's responsible? Are you telling me some little shit in Berlin has gone rogue?"


"No, I'm not saying that at all."


"So what are you saying?"


"I'm saying that we're still trying to find out how this happened, the sequence of events and how they originated."


"Who's we?"


"All of us. Moscow, Berlin..."


"What do you think, Georgi, we're all idiots? Moscow, Berlin... These are cities. I want organizations, I want departments, I want names. Give me names, Georgi, or get out right now."


"Bobby, Bobby..."


"Don't give me Bobby, Bobby. That's Mister Attorney General to you."


"Sorry...  Mister Attorney General, sir."


RFK allowed the sarcasm to disappear without comment. "Answer the damn question, if you can."


Another sigh-like noise emanated from Bolshakov's throat, this time more of a complaint at the treatment he was receiving. It hadn't been as abrasive as this last time they met. "We believe... No, we think the initiative was launched at KGB Karlshorst."


"Rogue, like I said."


"Perhaps... but not some little shit. Something like this would have taken senior authorization, as you well know."


"Right now, I know nothing except what you're telling me."


"That's why I'm here."


"Okay, so let's start at the beginning. Why this particular young man? Why now?"


"Mr. Attorney General, those are valid questions but my answers would only be speculation, which would be of no help at this time. All I've been authorized to say is that you can expect their demands..."


"Demands?"


"Sorry, my English... Their requests. You can expect their requests very soon."


"We've heard nothing yet."


"No... and to be frank, that's inexcusable. It's something we're trying to rectify as soon as possible."


"Who are you in contact with on this? I mean, you personally. Who's giving you your authority?"


"I'm in contact with various people."


"What the hell does that mean?"


"It means there are many who thought I should try to renew this personal channel of communication with you... but I'd say the most insistent voice came from the Foreign Ministry."


"Gromyko?"


"I'm not authorized to confirm that."


"No, of course not." A degree of sarcasm had edged its way into Kennedy's own voice. "All right, so let's say for the sake of argument that it's Gromyko. Is he in touch with Shelepin on this? Are they cooperating?" Andrei Gromyko was the Foreign Minister, a stone-faced realist well-used to dealing with the west, while Aleksandr Shelepin was a relative newcomer, a stolid trade union leader who became Khrushchev's own choice to clean up the KGB in 1958 after a series of defections.


"I couldn't say for certain who's in touch with who at this point."


RFK clenched his fist until the knuckles turned white. "Can I ever get a straight answer?" The sheer frustration of dealing with the Soviet instinct for denial and obfuscation was getting to him. "Come on, give me something to work with here. Gromyko and Shelepin, Abbott and Costello, Laurel and Hardy... Who should we be dealing with here?" The words just came tumbling out.


"Mister Attorney General, please."


"Yeah, yeah, get all huffy if you want but you kidnapped one of our boys, remember? If your nose is all out of joint, well that's just tough."


"I just think we need to preserve a little dignity."


"Screw dignity. All right, now listen up, Georgi. The message you need to take back to both those fellers from this little reunion of ours is that we're not just upset, we're angry as all hell. Steam coming from our ears, you get me?"


"I get you."


"What you need to do... and do it right now, mind, just as soon as you leave here... is tell your bosses, both of 'em, Gromyko and Shelepin, that we'll need to hear from one or the other in the next twenty-four hours. Twenty-four, Georgi, not a minute more. You got until..." RFK made a show of tapping that big dial on his wrist. "Let's say, you got until 6 p.m. tomorrow, Eastern Standard Time. Failing that, all bets are off."


"Excuse me, but what precisely does this mean? This phrase, all bets are off?"


"It means if nothing happens, your people won't know what hit 'em."


Bolshakov looked genuinely shocked. "Is this an ultimatum? Are you... Are you talking about a physical threat?"


"A physical threat? You mean like putting up a Wall, cutting Berlin in half? That kind of physical threat?"


"Well..."


"Gimme a break, Georgi, you know exactly what I mean. Your English is good enough. We're not gonna push any buttons, launch any missiles. Not yet, anyways. What I meant was escalation on a scale you can't possibly imagine. We'll turn up the heat so high, the snow's gonna melt in Siberia."


Bolshakov wasn't too sure how to deal with this outright hostility, so he tried to bring it back down to a practical level. "Are we talking more troops, because you already sent extra units into Berlin." He was referring to a modest reinforcement after the barbed wire went up when the president ordered a convoy carrying fifteen hundred men of the 2nd Battalion 18th Infantry to trundle along the Autobahn through Checkpoint Alpha at Marienborn as a show of support. Although the squad arrived to a rapturous reception by West Berliners, it meant little militarily and did nothing at all to change the situation. "You know, really, I'm not sure what other options..."


"Trust me," snapped RFK, "we've a long ways to go before we run out of options."


"Can you be more precise?"


"What? You want me to be more precise? That's gotta be a joke."


"I just meant..."


"No, dammit. What's the point of a little heat, if nobody sweats? Now, you get what I'm saying or not?"


"Yes, I believe I do."


"Good, so you go tell 'em, Georgi. Go tell 'em it comes direct from me."


"And from the president, too?"


RFK stared at him. "You have my message." It was all he was prepared to say.

Then, with great deliberation, he stood up, buttoned his jacket and strode out, fully determined that, as of today, this kind of encounter would never be repeated. He loathed operating at such a level and while he was prepared to do almost anything at all to help his brother, he felt that this particular methodology, these sleazy meetings with scumbags and slime balls, the kind of thing he'd been doing ever since the start of the campaign trail, could only end up being counter-productive. One day, he was sure, it would all come back to bite them in the ass.


* * *


Philip Marsden well understood his own reputation as one of the brightest of the young stars to emerge from the agency training program, because they kept telling him as much. Big things were expected, they said. He had great potential, they wrote in their evaluations. Yet, as he sat in that Karlshorst cell with the meager remains of his supper tray next to him, he just couldn't seem to solve the riddle that Yuri Vasiliyev had set for him. Fine, he was unique but so was everybody in some way. What made him so special that they would go to all this trouble? The only answer he could find was his language ability and it had been made abundantly clear that it wasn't that at all.


He could already make out the pinprick stars through the solitary high window, yet he continued trying to work it out, obstinately refusing to give up. He tried looking at it from every angle – from his own, from the agency, from the KGB – asking himself what each had to gain, or to lose. In his mind, he went over everything he'd learned since recruitment, wondering if somehow he'd managed, however unwittingly, to acquire some profound secret, perhaps some detail from a classified document that even he didn't know was critical. Yet still, he couldn't think of anything, not a thing. Sure, there were some low level memoranda to which he was privy, even some minor code functions, but nothing that could be called valuable, nothing that would warrant this kind of melodrama to obtain. The entire episode was like a page out of Kafka: a man held and put on trial without even being told what he'd done. He even found it difficult to believe he was actually here in this situation, that it wasn't some hallucination, until his guards showed up to clear his tray and set up his cot, the dumb male and the bombshell female, whose name he now knew was Helga.


"Do you know why I'm here?" he tried asking her in his limited German.


In response, she just looked at him blankly, almost as if she hadn't understood. This time, she was as silent as her partner and Philip was left to wonder what her status here might be in this place. Was she regarded as a fellow comrade of the glorious Socialist international, or was she a slave laborer, as much a prisoner within this compound as he was himself? Either extreme could be true; or perhaps she was just a hired hand, just an ordinary citizen who'd found a way to make an income. Perhaps to attain it, she'd had to become somebody's unwilling mistress and if that were true, he strongly suspected that the somebody might just be Yuri Vasiliyev.


After they were gone and the light extinguished, he tried to turn his mind back to the problem at hand but he was interrupted by a scratching on the floor. It was possibly a small rodent of some sort but he couldn't be bothered worrying about it and he collapsed back down on the cot, exhausted both from the effort of concentration and stress of not knowing. Then, for no apparent reason other than to keep himself company, he began to think again about Moira Beauregard, the girl from Westmount High he'd remembered earlier in the day. He hadn't thought about her in years but at sixteen she was the most beautiful girl he'd ever seen and, in his mind, he began to relive that magical summer evening under the school bleachers after the game against Hudson: the touch of that silky  hair, the peach-like skin, those delicate breasts straining to be released; and they would have been, too, despite his naive fumbling, if only Madame Proulx, the janitor's wife, hadn't shown up with a flashlight looking for her cat. Then that led to another thought, about how useful such an animal would be right about now to catch the rodent; but that was just one too many tangents for his tired brain and he drifted into an intermittent sleep.


It was now his second night in captivity and he was no closer to learning the reason he was here. If they'd wanted someone for an exchange, he thought at one stage when he awoke, they could just as easily have taken Hank Leland. Surely, the rank of major in military intelligence would have been worth far more than a very junior agent, even if that agent did speak Russian.


* * *


The following day, Lucius Clay took a break, enjoying the crisp afternoon of early fall at a veterans' cookout on the historic grounds of the Marine Commandant's house on Washington's 8th Street. It was a special invitation on the anniversary of the Japanese surrender of Wake Island and there was no way he was going to miss it, crisis or not.


As he often did on such occasions, he altered his personality from the charge-ahead General Clay into his alter ego of good ol' Uncle Luke, hamming it up at the barbecue grill by demonstrating to an appreciative audience of young service moms and their kids how to dab marinade on a rack of ribs as if he were Rembrandt finishing a portrait. Each round of applause only served to encourage him further in his comedy act until he was called by the host's wife to take a telephone call.


"Now how'd they find me here?" he said to his audience by way of apology. Yet he knew perfectly well how they found him, because he'd left the various numbers where he could be reached at all times of the day and night with staffers at the White House.


With make-believe solemnity, he handed over his marinade brush to a young corporal as if it were a magic sword, making him promise to use it for good never for evil, then eased his way through the folksy crowd to take the call in the study. He closed the French doors behind him to give himself some privacy but he could still see all the activity through the glass, like he was watching it on a television screen with the volume lowered.


"Clay," he said, announcing himself.


It was RFK himself on the line. "Okay, they called," said the familiar voice.

There was no attempt at a greeting, no small talk at all.


"Who was it?"


"Gromyko... through Tommy to Dean."


Tommy was the nickname of Llewellyn Thompson, US Ambassador to Moscow and Dean was Dean Rusk, Secretary of State. It meant they'd returned via the most formal diplomatic channels and Clay allowed himself some minor satisfaction.


"My, my, so we actually got through to them."


"I think so. It's not Gromyko's mess, he wants us to know that, but he's taken on the job of cleaning it up."


"Whose mess is it?"


"KGB... probably Berlin but they're not saying."


"So now they have to follow through in order to save face. It figures. Do we know what they want?"


"Yeah... but it ain't pretty. How's the line?"


"It's private, I checked. We're okay."


For the next several minutes, Lucius Clay stood there listening to the rundown and to the possible courses of action that had already been discussed; but as everybody knew, there was really only one option and that was to give them what they wanted and try to spin it the best way possible. "Who'll be spearheading?" he asked eventually.


"That's why I'm calling, General. We want you to do it."


"Me? Now hold on, Bobby."


"Choose your own team, handle it how you want, but just get it done, efficiently and with a minimum of fuss. That's your specialty, General. There's no one better and that's why we're asking you. Or should I say, that's why I'm asking you. I'd consider it a personal favor."


Clay was both flattered and dismayed at the same time. He didn't really want to do it, would have preferred to stay a million miles away, but what could he say to such an appeal? This was the president's brother on the phone asking for a favor. It was impossible to refuse. "My choice for operations would be Hank Leland," he said. "Any objections?" Better to get it out there right now, he thought, see if young Bobby really meant what he said about handling it.


"If that's who you want, that's who you got. Need anything else?"


"If I do, I'll let you know. Thanks for the confidence, Bobby."


"You've earned it, General. Keep me apprised."


"Will do."


"No, I mean it. It's your show but I need to be fully abreast on this one."


"Absolutely."


"Good luck, General."


"Hope I won't need it. Thanks again."


Clay put down the phone, opened up the French doors and the noise hit him once again. There were scores of people milling around, everyone having a grand old time: crew-cut husbands in Hawaiian shirts; bouffant wives still in their summer polka-dots; overexcited kids guzzling their Coke; and above all the chatter and the laughter, the sticky-sweet sounds of the Everly Brothers from some teenager's turntable. Clay loved it all. This was his kind of affair and it was a shame he'd have to make his excuses and leave but this thing would need his full attention from the get-go.


In so many ways, the job he was being asked to do was thankless, except for the hazy benefits of White House gratitude; and even that could change at any time depending on whim or circumstance. As merely an adviser, he had no real power, no lines of authority, no battalions reporting directly to him, not like he once had in Berlin. All he had now was his reputation, his personality and an uncompromising can-do attitude which had carried him through so many past crises – that plus direct access to the highest office. These were the only resources he could bring to bear and he was hoping they'd prove sufficient.


Fundamentally, his mandate could be labeled as trouble-shooting: to make an explosive incident disappear from sight; to accomplish it so impeccably that it would be instantly forgotten, allowing the world – or at least this administration – to move on. With such a task, anything less than a perfect operation would be regarded as a failure. Even the slightest error could further the global perception of weakness, not just of JFK but of America's commitment to its own ideals. For Lucius Clay, the only consolation, such as it was, came from this news that Andrei Gromyko had taken it upon himself to get involved, which meant that dread of the ultimate scenario had been removed, if only temporarily, from the equation. In Clay's own vernacular, the pot was off the boil and for that alone, he was thankful.



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