Cynthia Visits the Girls
The Commander Hotel, near Harvard Square in Cambridge, was a nice relaxed place with a pleasant staff, none of whom were at all nosy. Of moderate size filling a funny little shape between streets, it was much favored by parents visiting their Harvard and Radcliffe students. These people were always coming and going, but Cynthia Massey, with many students to see to, kept coming back.
Once settled in her room with her feet up on the table, Cynthia went over her list of students. One of her functions was to pair the young refugees with "host parents." These latter were always established monied people who could help their charges in a number of ways, and she had recruited them carefully. It was usually the wife who did most of the host parenting, and, of course, any sort of match-making was always tricky. One tried to avoid the more obvious kinds of incompatibility, and, at the other extreme, it wasn't always a good thing to have a student seduce a host parent, or vice versa.
The pairing of Luda Yezhova with Mr. and Mrs. Bert Howard was part of Cynthia's larger plan. Mr. Howard, as an international entrepreneur, had business affected by decisions taken by the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations. He was himself well acquainted with Senator Munson, a Republican member.
Many of Mr. Howard's companies were in Latin American countries with backward, not to say dictatorial, regimes. These were often shaky, and had to be supported against their internal and external enemies. Revolutions weren't good for business, nor were they generally encouraged by the United States government. There was thus a vague agreement between government and business in this area, but it sometimes had to be sharpened and applied to particular cases.
While the committee usually had some sharp and knowledgeable members, and had been chaired by Vandenburg in the past, it was, at the moment, between chairmen. The octogenarian Walter George of Georgia had announced his retirement from the Senate, but his presumed replacement, the even older William Green of Rhode Island, had not yet been officially appointed. Even so, the committee was one of the oldest and most important in the Senate, and, as usual, was concerned with the great issues of war and peace in the world.
The leaders of the committee could hardly spare the time to worry about Guatamala's campaign against insurgents in the back country or Peru's squabbles with neighbors. Senator Munson took an interest in these smaller issues, particularly when it was profitable for him to do so. Indeed, when approached in the right way by Mr. Howard, he could sometimes sneak things through that didn't seem very important to the others. He wasn't a high flyer, but he did have a kind of low cunning.
Apart from its constituting a bridge from Mr. Howard to Senator Munson, and hence a potential bridge from Cynthia to the senator, neither she nor her principals cared about the well-being of Latin dictators. Moreover, the senator was most important, not for what he might do, but for what he might know. As a member of the committee, he would be present when extremely sensitive matters were being discussed. Some of those matters concerned the relations between the United States and Britain. However, Cynthia wasn't going to send anyone to worm those secrets out of him. It only needed to be credible that the chosen intermediary, possibly Luda Yezhova, was close enough to Senator Munson to have inside information.
In the circumstances, it didn't matter much that Joan Howard wasn't the strongest personality. She was providing Luda with good food and gifts, which was useful inasmuch as it maintained contact with Luda, and might also incline the girl favorably to suggestions that might be made to her. Since Cynthia knew Joan fairly well, she could, so to speak, manage the relationship. It was already arranged that there would be a party at which Luda would meet Mr. Bert Howard. Cynthia was sure that Luda would make a good impression.
Still, there was a large gap to be filled. Mr. Howard didn't ordinarily introduce young friends of his wife to Senator Munson, even if it was arranged for them to be in Washington at the right time. That would take some imagination.
In the very best case, the meeting would, not only take place, but result in the senator's taking Luda on as an unpaid volunteer in his office, along with the others. She would be noticed anywhere she went, and, if Cynthia was any judge, she would often be with Senator Munson.
There were observers, not necessarily gossip writers, who would assume that the average senator, most particularly Senator Munson, would be having an affair with any attractive young woman with whom he was often seen.
It was fairly easy to reach a Radcliffe student. Each house had a front desk and phone system which the girls took turns operating. They called it ‘being on bell.’ If a girl was home, Cynthia could go up to her room. Otherwise, she could leave a message to be called at the Commander.
In the event, Cynthia just turned up at a Radcliffe dormitory and asked the young lady on the desk for Luda. There was some ringing, and then the reply, "Luda doesn't answer, but she's around here somewhere. You might see if she's with Rachel and Barbara, up in 403."
Cynthia, as an Englishwoman, had no problem with stairs. Arriving in good order, she found the door of 403 open. There were two young ladies within, and she asked for Luda.
"She's coming up as soon as the cycle changes in the washing achine. Would you like some tea?"
Cynthia was delighted to introduce herself and sit down for tea. She then explained,
"I'm from the international student agency that sponsors Luda, and I drop around occasionally to see how things are going."
The one named Barbara, who looked a bit like a cheerleader, replied, "You must be the mysterious lady who does all kinds of things in Washington. We've been anxious to meet you."
"Mostly, just getting funding for our organization."
"She's done a lot of research, and she's told us all about you."
Cynthia had no idea what Luda's mode of research might have turned up, but she replied cheerfully, "She's also told me about you. Is one of you the young lady with a Russian background?"
The other girl, cute with a lot of curly black hair, replied, "That's me. My parents came from Russia as children, but I'm pretty much straight up American."
"Really? Luda gave me the impression that you might have gotten separated from your parents."
Both Barbara and Rachel laughed heartily. Barbara replied, "Both Rachel and Luda consider Rachel's parents to be inadequate, and Luda is always trying to find substitute parents for her. She also claims that Rachel, despite appearances, is really Russian."
"That's amusing. I can imagine her rushing around arranging things. But, Barbara, I gather that you don't find Rachel's parents inadequate."
"They're just country people who've had to work hard to survive in America. But I guess it would be nice if she knew some better-educated older people."
"That can certainly be arranged. I'm the general secretary of the organization, and, since I answer only to a committee that hardly ever meets, I have a lot of leeway. You might both like to come along with Luda to our post-Christmas meeting in Washington. We see to transportation and room and board for everyone."
That drew an enthusiastic response from Rachel, with Barbara wondering only if her mother would be willing to accept her absence from some of the holiday festivities. Just then, Luda arrived.
"Hi Cynthia, I heard you were in town."
As always, Luda's manner was that of one moderately close friend to another: a little casual, less than overjoyed, but genuinely happy to see her. That was all right for the time being. However, soon afterwards, in discussing their organization, Luda said, "Of course, it's full of spies of all kinds, Russians, Americans, British, probably East Germans and Bolivians."
This was not all right! The whole dormitory must be full of such talk, and massive leaks of this sort might go anywhere. Full of panic, Cynthia responded calmly, "Any organization that deals with refugees gets the occasional spy. But I don't think we have very many."
She then asked Luda where she had got such an idea. Luda replied, "I've talked with a number of the others, and there are certainly some shady characters among them."
“If that gets to the government, our funding might be cut off. We can't stop the talk, but tell people that the gossip concerns the International Student Union. That's a communist organization, already under heavy surveillance."
Barbara laughed and replied, "So we just blame all rumors on the opposition."
Cynthia smiled, and Luda added, "It might be fun to be counter-spies, spying on the spies."
That wasn't so bad. So long as she, Cynthia, was thought to be American, it did no harm for people to think that she belonged somewhere in the American intelligence system. Without admitting or denying, she moved up a level of abstraction, “It's all a matter of information exchange. Governments release huge quantities of information, most of it of no political or diplomatic interest. The remaining portion, while not usually entirely false, is carefully crafted. But there's another, less public, channel of diplomatic interaction."
"Is that one where they don't lie to one another?"
"More precisely, one in which they come to implicit agreements, but also agree not to expose the lies each government tells its own people."
“So an American official can pretend to be totally anti-communist while, at the same time, entering into secret deals with the communists?"
"Yes. And vice versa."
It seemed to be Barbara who was getting the message most quickly. She was, in a way, even more wordly than Luda. Cynthia continued, “And, then, one reads about outright espionage. It's sometimes a matter of stealing information, but, I've been told, it's at least as often a matter of communicating lies in such a way that they'll be believed."
Barbara replied, "Luda and Rachel would love to do all those things.
just to do embroidery."
Jumping on the opportunity to change the subject, Cynthia said, "Back to Rachel, does she really have time to meet a whole new set of people?"
Barbara replied, "She does all her work lickedy-split in half the time it takes me, and she wanders around aimlessly the rest of the time. Part of it may be because she's only sixteen."
“Do you two always talk about Rachel as if she weren't here?"
"Oh yes. It makes her feel secure."
Luda said, "Seriously, she does need someone more parent-like than Barbara and myself."
Barbara replied, "My mother would adopt her in an instant, but I've already got two sisters too many. I don't want a third."
"Yes. Well, Luda's host mother doesn't have any children of her own. She'd probably be happy to adopt another surrogate."
Luda responded favorably, adding, "Joan isn't exactly set up to give advice on burning issues, but she's nice and she gives me lots of clothes. Rachel will start to have a whole new look if she comes along to visit there."
"I'm sure she will. You haven't met Joan's husband have you?"
"No. I go there in the afternoons, and he's always at his office."
"Joan's arranging some evening things so that you can meet Bert and other people."
Luda replied, smiling, "Whoever Bert may turn out to be, I bet he'll like Rachel."
Nodding agreement, Cynthia thought fast. Rachel might be used effectively with Bert and other men, perhaps even more effectively than Luda. But, then, she realized that Senator Munson would be afraid to be alone with a girl that young. She said, "I often find that young people just don’t want to be around the sorts of sometimes rather dull and stuffy middle-aged men who have money and power. However, it’s just those men who are likely to make decisions that ultimately affect us, sometimes in ways we don’t like. It’s good to get used to them and figure out what they may be up to next.”
Barbara asked, "Is this Introduction to Espionage 101?"
"Oh, certainly not. Nothing cloak and dagger, and nothing dangerous. You, too, can join in, Barbara."
"You may not think it dangerous, but it's too dangerous for me. I'm a scaredy-cat."