Cynthia in Washington
Miss Cynthia Massingberd-Montgomery sat in her suite at Washington's Andrew Jackson Hotel with her feet up on the inlaid coffee table. In the course of shedding her English habits in order to pass as an American she had learned to put her feet up on things. She had, of course, removed her shoes.
Since her long hyphenated name was a bit of a giveaway, she was now known simply as Cynthia Massey. Her speech was that of American radio English, a little more polished and precise than that of the average American, but she gave it out that she was from Boston. She couldn't have fooled a professional phonologist, but her mission didn't lie with such people.
At present, she was editing the program for the post-Christmas meeting of the International Refugee Student Association. There was to be an address by the president, Professor Frederic Forwarth, and talks by a number of knowledgeable people on the status of refugee students, most particularly those from Eastern Europe.
In the interest of full attendance, the travel expenses of the young people were covered, and they were put up in one of the dormitories of Georgetown University, empty during the vacation. The students, used to managing on odd bits of food, drink, and clothing, were fed and entertained rather lavishly. When it came time for the guests to thank someone for their hospitality, there was no bejeweled hostess, but only Cynthia. She would accept these thanks graciously, and no one ever seemed to wonder where she got the money. In fact, the whole organization was funded, secretly, by the British Government. It was judged that the product was well worth the cost.
One of the overt objects of the meeting was to get the students supported by the Association together, and to allow Cynthia, the secretary general, to see to their welfare.
There were always a few who needed extra help, counseling, or just aid in adapting to American ways. After all, the Hungarian student who stood and thumped his desk with a ruler by way of applauding the professor had to learn a certain restraint.
Having carefully marked in her corrections, Cynthia stood with a certain satisfaction. She didn't take herself to be brilliant or excessively creative, but she was a hard and consistent worker who produced results, often in difficult circumstances.
The carpet made a good surface for floor exercises, and were followed by stretches. She doubted that such things were often done in such an opulent building, but, with all her travelling, she had to take exercise where she found it. After a quick shower, she slid into a pretty dress, mounted pumps, and took the fancy elevator down to the even fancier lobby.
Cynthia liked Washington, and liked walking the wide avenues. It seemed more like a capitol than London. Not only was there now more power here than in London, but there were fewer cultural institutions to divert the attention from the power.
Jay-walking occasionally and dodging a taxi whose driver was probably trying to scare her, Cynthia turned east on K Steet with its office buildings and nests of lobbyists. She had often enough invaded those buildings, but, this time, she was only headed for a small printing establishment with her copy.
Falling into step behind three men walking confidently in well-tailored suits, she guessed that they wielded some sort of power in no small degree. The man in the middle seemed to hear the drumming of her heels on the pavement and looked back. He then nudged one of the others, and all three slowed down. She knew that it was so that they could look at her as she passed.
As a young British agent in Nazi-occupied France during the war, Cynthia had gone to extremes to be as inconspicuous as possible. As she passed the men, she now luxuriated in their discreet stares. She heard murmurs when she was some distance in front, and knew what that meant. They had looked too proper and sophisticated to be now speculating on her appearance when naked, but, whatever they said, they were hoping that the fresh breeze would lift her skirt.
Another thought called Cynthia back to duty. She was charging forward with powerful straight strides, not knowing or caring about the status of her skirt. That wasn't very American. So many American women simpered along with a partly pretended modesty, always asking each other whether their slips were showing. These men, watching her long muscular legs, might be picking up something English about her. She slowed a little, put her hands to her skirt, and shot a glance that was meant to look furtive back over her shoulder.
At times, she wondered if pretending to be an American had become an obsession. However, her training as an agent had been rigorous in the extreme. Her cover had been that of a young widow of a fighter pilot of the Armee de l'Air , and there were lots of them. She had learned everything that the wife of a fighter pilot would have known, including the slang. However, the widows mostly disliked thinking, much less talking, about the deaths of their husbands in burning airplanes. Cynthia, with her good French, had usually managed to guide conversations away from danger. Indeed, her French was actually better than her American English, probably because there was no temptation to carry over the idioms of British English.
The upshot was that she now avoided English people as much as possible for fear of picking up their accent. It wasn't as if her life depended on such things any more. But, still, there could be problems. If she were caught doing naughty things, her nationality, if known, would tend to discredit, not only herself, but Britain.
The printer's accent, drawly and southern, would have constituted excellent cover, but Cynthia knew, without even trying, that she wouldn't be able to produce it. Moreover, with her shoulder length rich brown hair and strong face, she was no one's idea of a southern belle.
The next stop was Capitol Hill. It was a long way to walk in high heels, and, having an appointment with an aide to Senator Munson of North Dakota, she flagged down a taxi. She hated taxi drivers who talked more than she hated the silent ones, and, with this one, she did her "no spika da Ingliss" routine. It was a little improbable, after having given her destination in clear language, but, whether it was convincing or not, it worked.
The pretext for the appointment was the fact that she'd be leading the refugee students on a tour of the capitol right after Christmas. The senators wouldn't be there then, but it would be nice if a staff member, holding the fort during the holidays, met with them. The real reason was that she wanted to get inside Munson's office and see how it worked. Then, too, there was always the chance that the senator would be coming in or out while she was there. Senators who were passing by often wanted to be introduced.
Since Britain had slipped to the status of junior ally of the United States in the cold war, even minor actions taken by the larger country, often without warning, could have a magnified effect on the smaller country. A statesman had recently likened it to sleeping with a friendly elephant.
In order to get some warning of such decisions, and to have some say in the making of them, Britain had found it necessary to go beyond the ordinary channels of diplomacy. In particular, it was desirable to deal, not only with the state department, but, discreetly, with the legislators themselves.
A former journalist, Cynthia had a flair for speech-writing. Indeed, she could adopt almost any political stance and compose something which would satisfy the adherents of that position while having a much wider appeal. The first object was accomplished with the use of quasi-code words, and phrases which would reassure the true believers. That having been done, they would pay little attention to the carefully worded promises made to those of quite different political persuasions.
It was not an effective use of one's time to simply show up in congressional offices with an offer to write speeches. The senators and congressmen already had all the speechwriters they needed, thank you very much. A more subtle approach was needed.
Many congressmen left their families in their home districts, occupying bachelor quarters in Washington while in session. Many were lonely, making do with the companionship of the waiters in their favorite restaurants. They could always count on a hearty welcome and some friendly chit-chat between courses. In addition, some politicians had favorite taxi drivers with whom they discussed affairs of state. After all, the common touch had often been what had gotten them elected in the first place.
These men were almost always pleased to be approached by a charming woman who wanted nothing more than a little help for some charitable organization which had constituents in the congressman's home district. It was then quite natural for her to help in drafting a statement for the congressman to make which was calculated to win the support of those very constituents. Nothing controversial of course. But the language would be graceful and compelling, and it would become clear that she had a gift with words. Words that could be put into other statements and speeches.
Even after Cynthia had made some substantial contributions to the congressman's political well-being, nothing very much was asked for in return, perhaps a vote on some obscure bill, or a tidbit of inside information.
She had begun with obscure younger congressmen from rural districts. They needed help in improving their standing, not only at home, but, even more, within their own party in Congress. These were also men who, in the euphoria of their recent election, thought that their attentions need not necessarily be confined to their absent wives. After all, they were now among the elite in the nation's capitol.
The word got around, and Cynthia was soon helping some more prominent politicians. Her most conspicuous success was with Senator Arthur H. Vandenburg of Michigan. Far from being a lonely first-term congressman, he was a big-state senator and a leader of his party with influence on both sides of the aisle. He could have been a dinner guest every night of the week if he had so wished, and it had taken Cynthia months to make proper contact. At that point, the office staff would send her right in to see Mr. Vandenburg without any preliminary discussion. A former newspaper editor, the senator was quick to recognize good writing when he saw it.
His speeches began to incorporate bits of that writing. Then, other things began to happen.
At that time, the British government found that it no longer had the resources to support the Greek government in its struggle against the Communist insurgents. They asked President Truman to take over this funding, but the American isolationists, led by Senator Vandenburg, stood in the way.
In fact, Vandenburg had shown some international inclinations, and had participated in the conference founding the United Nations Organization. Cynthia was able to move him along in this direction, and actually wrote the speech affirming support for the Greek government which he gave in the Senate. President Truman had been surprised and very pleased. Of course, there was a potential downside. If it ever became known that American policy had been steered by a foreign woman practicing the ancient arts of seduction, the backlash would be more than Cynthia, for one, cared to think about.
That was some years ago in a different administration. The present potential operation involving Senator Munson was much simpler and easier. No one would be asking him to radically change his political stance. Nor would he be asked to reveal any secret information from the Senate Foreign Affairs Committee. The information which would purportedly come from him would be invented. There needed only to be a visible connection strong enough to lead third persons to believe that the story really did come from the senator.
In contrast to the hoped-for simplicity of the operation, the results could be more than significant, at least for Britain.
Cynthia could have handled it herself, but feared that she might become too well known in certain circles. Moreover, if it should come out that she were involved in any serious way with Senator Munson, people might ask about involvements with other senators in the past. She needed an understudy, and, for same time, she had been thinking of Ludmila Yezhova up at Radcliffe. In fact, she had already made some arrangements.
It seemed to be Cynthia's luck to encounter crazy people when she came to the congressional office buildings. Those with placards were allowed to demonstrate in an orderly way on the sidewalks, but shouting drew the attention of the police. This man had drawn their attention in the shape of a middle-aged sergeant with three stripes on his sleeve and an Irish face. Cynthia had liked policemen ever since her days as a very young reporter in the meaner districts of London, and she thought that, except in the matter of guns, the British and American versions were much the same. When she approached the sergeant and pointed quizzically at the man now screeching and jumping up and down, the officer responded pleasantly, "He's reciting the American constitution over and over. That makes it hard to arrest him."
"I see. The very document that guarantees free speech."
"Yes. If you want to yell and carry on in public, that's the best way to do it, particularly right here."
"So he's really quite clever. Is that why they have a sergeant watching him?"
"Yeah, a young patrolman might hit him with his nightstick and drag him away. Then, even an assigned legal defense lawyer could make us look foolish in court. Maybe get into the papers."
"He does have the sidewalk effectively blocked with people going out into the street."
"If you want to test the law, you can walk right by him. If he molests you, I'll arrest him."
People had said that Cynthia had no sense of humor, perhaps because she always missed the punch-line of jokes. On the other hand, she was amused by the situations in which she landed, and, on this occasion, she laughed and replied, "I'll go just far enough away so that he'll have to move to touch me."
When she did so, the man didn't touch, but followed briefly and shouted, in a voice full of accusation, "No person shall be a Representative who shall not have attained to the age of twenty-five years, and been seven years a citizen of the United States, and who shall not, when elected, be an inhabitant of that State in which he shall be chosen."
It sounded as if he thought that Cynthia wanted to be a
Representative. She made the age barrier, but
could he see that she wasn't a citizen?
The senate office building was peaceful by comparison, and the office of Senator Munson suggested deep sleep. He was one of those small-state senators who could be virtually bought by a large corporation, and Munson was popularly known as the General Motors senator. The company provided massive campaign funds per voter in the state, and all senators had a large staff no matter how many, or how few, people they represented. There would be a couple of eager beavers on the staff who helped constituents with the federal bureaucracy, and gave the senator credit for their efforts. The rest of the staff would be chosen for congeniality and, since Munson was said to have a roving eye, good looks. Cynthia actually had to knock on a desk in the empty outer office to announce herself. A secretary then came out of an inner office, followed by other staff members. Cynthia guessed that she had interrupted either a gossip session or a card game.
The senator's choice of female staff was instructive. They weren't the dewy-eyed blondes favored by certain southern legislators, but tall elegant young women. A couple could have been the sorts of models who scowled in the process of looking rich. One even looked rather like Luda.
That was what Cynthia really wanted to know, but she carried on nonetheless.
Directed to an inner office and a Mr. Jamieson, she tried to place him. He appeared from the plaque on his desk to be the chief of staff, but he seemed too young for that. He was also tall and strikingly good looking. Was it possible that the senator favored good looks in either sex, and made his appointments accordingly? In any case, she tried to make her pitch as charmingly as possible. He was also charming and allowed, "The place won't be fully staffed at that time of year, but I'll probably be here, and I'd be delighted to show your young people around. They can even practice giving speeches in the empty chamber."
"That would be lovely. Actually, I think someone told me that the senator himself is sometimes in town at Christmas time."
"Well, yes. It's not publicly known that he's estranged from his wife, but he spends as little time in North Dakota as possible. He has a nice place in Chevy Chase, and, in session or out, I never really know when he's going to turn up."
This was said quietly in an air of confidence and mild complaint. Cynthia nodded sympathetically with mild condolences. They then parted on the best of terms.