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 Chapter 15

Elsa and the Group

Madame Elsa Sombor, chairwoman of Capital Couples, was sitting in the living room of her Chevy Chase apartment with her feet up on the table and the late afternoon sunlight coming in the large windows. In summer that sunlight was brutal, but, now, a bit muted, it went comfortably with the coffee at her elbow. Looking productive in an old shirt and jeans, she was preparing for the evening's entertainment by filling in the forms for the Espionage game.

     The game had been invented by CIA operatives whose wives hadn't liked being excluded from the Friday night poker game. They had thus invented a game which stood to real espionage much as Monopoly stood to the real estate business. In the culture of the intelligence community, things that weren’t real secrets, and some things that were, made their way from one service to another, in this case to the St. B.

     The present game consisted of three teams, Black, Red, and Blue, each consisting of a Captain, Mate, and Yeoman. At the beginning, each player would receive a slip of paper headed, say, 'Black Captain' or 'Red Yeoman'. This paper, if not consumed orally, had to be destroyed after the information was memorized. That information consisted of passwords, counterpasses, and certain locations of importance in the game. Ideally, the members of a team would find each other, take a specified object to the goal, and declare victory.

     But, in practice, it was not so simple. The clues were tricky, and could be solved only by all the members of a team acting together.

     There was also the possibility of infiltrating an opposing team and leading it astray. Not only that, the tenth player was the Triple Agent, who knew the passwords of all three teams, but not the counterpasses. Elsa was now filling in the passwords on the slips of paper, making sure that the members of each team had the same password.

     In its own way, the Espionage game was a bit of cover. There would often be three or four games being played simultaneously, and they provided an explanation for a meeting of a few dozen people monthly in a somewhat obscure location. The outcomes of the games, very difficult to predict, also determined the nature of certain activities which were to follow.

     Since Elsa participated enthusiastically in the games, it might have been argued that, having made up the games and knowing the passwords and locations, she had an advantage. However, since there were so many games with similar passwords and locations, it was almost impossible to keep them straight. And, anyway, as the heart and soul of the organization, no one grudged her some slight advantage.

     That evening, the group met, as usual, at the Old Home Cafeteria in Rosslyn. It was a place mostly patronized by older people, among them nursing home residents whose institutions had bought tickets to the cafeteria wholesale. The restaurant, while short on glamour, was large enough to allow as many as fifty people to take over some of the long tables at the rear.

     It was easy to spot members of the group. Their ages ranged from the late twenties into the forties, and, unlike most of the nursing home folks, many were influential and affluent. Some were a good deal more than that, and looked it. All the members were attractive, and, again, some were much more than that.

     On this occasion, Elsa initially counted twenty eight. She could accommodate almost any number since a game could have as few as two teams of three, and there could be varying numbers of double and triple agents. Indeed, the different configurations could provide interesting challenges.

     Elsa was just sitting down to eat when a strange couple appeared. The woman was very young, some six feet tall, and red-haired. Comfortably over legal age, Elsa judged. The man with her was a little shorter, slim, and about forty. It took Elsa about three seconds, often less, to recognize powerful men. They moved so easily and naturally in their loose suits, but, above all, it was that aura of overwhelming self confidence. This man came up to her, and said cheerily, "You appear to be the hostess here. We were recommended by a friend whom I understand is not to be named."

"Yes. We don't mention third parties by name or description. But you've come to the right place, and I'm Elsa. Welcome!"

     The newcomers were named Bert and Luda, a wildly disparate couple, but they looked adventurous. Elsa sat them down and explained the game, adding,

"I'm sitting this one out, so I'll be the game mistress. I can help you along the way if you get confused."

Bert looked a little puzzled. He apparently didn't realize that the game preceded the main action. That suggested that the person sending him hadn't been around for some time.

     At the outset, Elsa had realized that Luda was Russian. There was the name, the usual abbreviation of 'Ludmila', but, even more, the bearing and attitude. As a Hungarian, she didn't like Russians. However. The men in the group would love Luda. All that length and places to touch. Elsa hoped that she hadn't been raped often enough by the Red Army to lose sensitivity.

     After a light, and fairly unsatisfying, meal, the group walked across the Key Bridge to Georgetown in the fading light. The black water of the Potomac, far below, could have passed for the Danube, or any other big river. Such associations were only fleeting for Elsa, who had little time for romantic river foolishness. At the moment, she was concentrating on organizing the game in the entertainment district of Georgetown.

     Originally played in the darkened mansion of a rich CIA agent, Elsa had moved it outdoors among ordinary people. Some adjustments were made, but the players managed quite well.

     Elsa soon fell into step with Bert and Luda, sizing them up. They did need new blood from time to time, but many of the members greatly feared disclosure. An undercover newspaper reporter would be a disaster. And, of course, Elsa had other motives. Many members of the group had information well worth having. While the rather hurried sexual contacts on meeting nights weren't conducive to useful chats, members were free to meet one another at other times. However, if the group folded, meetings of every sort would be likely to wither away.

     Luda wasn't hard for Elsa to read. A wild and willful girl who'd never be able to stick to anything long enough to produce results. Something out of Dostoyevsky, perhaps. She certainly was no newspaper reporter. Bert was totally different. He could possibly be an ace reporter on a lark, taking a vacation from political or economic analysis. But Elsa had the feeling that, if he were from the press, he'd be so prominent that she'd already know him. It was just an intuition on her part, but she had long lived on her intuitions.

     The couple didn't even pretend to be married, and, from something said or unsaid, she gathered that Bert's wife knew Luda, and might be relieved that she didn't have to go out on the town with him herself. That happened often enough.

     Bert was naturally curious about the group, and Elsa explained, "Some free love groups think they've discovered the secret of human happiness, and want to convert everyone everywhere. We're not Messianic. We just want to relax and enjoy one another."

That seemed to fit Bert's attitude pretty well, but, of course, there was no telling about Luda.

     Elsa watched closely the game in which she had placed Bert and Luda, on different teams. One didn't want two beginners on the same team. At the start, people strolled around near street corners, chatting and trying to match passwords and counter-passes. Elsa had given the three teams pass and counter-pass words dealing with marital problems. It was 'divorce' and 'alimony' for RED, 'infidelity' and 'adultery' for BLUE, and 'bigamy' and 'litigation' for BLACK. Skilled players worked these words into conversation in such a way that people not belonging to the team wouldn't know which word was the password or counterpass. Elsa expected Luda to spill the beans quickly and get her team infiltrated by an enemy.

     As it happened, Luda was more reticent than Elsa expected, if anything, too careful to protect her password. Bert, on the other hand, was a natural for the game. As the BLACK captain, he quickly found his mate, and had both of them searching for the yeoman. Luda, through no fault of her own except inexperience, got herself arrested by the BLUE captain.

     In the original game, the person arrested had to follow the arresting captain to an obscure location designated as the jail and wait silently in his or her underwear until released by someone other than the arresting captain. That was in the darkened mansion. In Elsa's version, played in public, the detainee, while standing silently, disarranged his or her costume. A loosened tie askew, a coat off one shoulder, or a stocking falling down were the usual things. Elsa followed Luda to the jail, a little alleyway between two buildings, where she took off one shoe and held it in her hand.

     Although she wasn't supposed to intervene in the game in any way, Elsa gave a hint to an experienced player who quickly released Luda from jail. It wasn't good for a beginner's morale to spend most of her first game in jail.

     It was in the end Bert who persuaded the members of another team that he was their mate, and got them to declare victory by mounting the steps to the closed Riggs bank and waving their arms. Since he was an infiltrator, in fact the captain of another team, the infiltrated team lost, and Bert was the individual winner of the game. So far as Elsa knew, he was the first beginner to ever accomplish that feat.

     The other games soon wound down, and, by prior agreement, everyone proceeded to the nearby house of one of the members.

     Elsa had put a good deal of thought into the next item on the procedure. It would be disastrous to let people choose their partners. How would the last people to be chosen feel? It was bad enough to be a wallflower at a dance, but this would be much worse!

     Instead, the winners of the games would be the first to put their hands blindly into a bowl of cards with the names of persons of the other sex on them. Since there were only a limited number of bedrooms in the houses they used, there was an advantage in being among the first to draw. The convention was for, roughly, a half hour occupancy, and that ran to some sixteen couples over the evening. The others could have drinks while waiting or use various couches or rugs.

     It wasn't an orgiastic group, just one that wanted variety in their partners, and a certain intimacy. Sometimes it was one of words rather than actions, and the basic rule was only that both persons had to be agreeable to whatever might take place.

     Elsa walked Bert and Luda to the Prentiss house, and so had a chance to explain these things. She added,

"If you don't mind, since you're new, I'll pair Bert with myself and Luda with my husband."
     Elsa was confident that no man would object to being paired with herself, and, although Luda had barely met Eric, she knew that he'd be gentle and understanding.

     As they entered the master bedroom, Elsa noticed a large mirror on one side of the room. Leading Bert to it, she stood close to him and asked, "Who are we?"

"Is that a peasant blouse you have on?

"Yes. Hungarian, from my homeland."

"But you're far from being a peasant."

"Peasants don't wear things this elaborate. They make them and sell them to women in Budapest."

"So. A highly sophisticated Washington woman doesn't have to wear a black cocktail dress. Something a little humorous, a touch of fun, and plenty of color."

"I accept that. And you?"

"A commercial adventurer who disguises himself with a Sears Roebuck suit. It's actually the 'good' category, as opposed to the 'better' or the 'best.'"

"A new experience for me. Shall we dance?"

"Certainly. I assume there's music here."

"A slow dance station on the radio."

It turned out that Bert danced fairly well. He said, "We're now in a working-class bar in a steel town. You're the waitress and I'm the bartender. We're celebrating because the last drunk has just left."

"My outfit has drinks and food spilled on it, and your shirt is dirty. We'd better fix that."

Elsa liked to remove things smoothly without apparent haste. Bert watched closely the unbuttoning of the blouse and the loosing of the skirt. In her slip, she came to him and helped with his shirt. Dancing again, he said, “My specialty as a bartender is getting people drunk and short-changing them. I also water their drinks and pocket the difference."

"That's admirable, Bert. I manage to rifle the occasional purse that's left unattended."

"Before I was a bartender I was a professional pick-pocket."

"What was your specialty there?"

"My best thing was on trolleys. I'd stick my newspaper under a man's chin and go through the inside pockets of his jacket without his feeling anything."

"Could you make off with my panties without my noticing?"

"Someone's peeking in the window!"

Elsa found herself momentarily frozen in place. When she did look to the window, she felt something missing. Recovering herself and laughing, she said, "That was quite good, Bert. I gather that distraction is part of the pick-pocket procedure."

"Certainly. That and lightness of touch."

Elsa felt herself being touched lightly here and there, not mostly in the erogenous zones. She was then picked up gently and raised high off the floor. Then, more things began to happen.

     In fact, everything happened without her being penetrated, and still in most of her underclothing. When Bert finally put her down, exhausted, on the bed, she exclaimed,  "That never happened before!"

"You're a very sexy lady. It doesn't take a great deal."

"But, what about you?"

"I'm fine. Next time, I'll do some things."

Elsa, unwilling to let it go at that, took his pants down and did some things that brought satisfaction. Eventually, he asked, "Do you have other trysts tonight?"

"No. Most people do, but I'd like to go out with you. I'll just take a quick shower and put on fresh underwear."

"Okay. That dinner wasn't the greatest. Perhaps a pizza."

"It's a date."

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