The Aftermath of Lunch
On their way to join the others for lunch, Cynthia said to Bert, "I don't think that things with Luda and the senator will work out the way you intended."
"I don't think so either. You're the one he wants."
"Yes. That became pretty obvious. I'm sure you know that I've done things like that, but it's not something I undertake lightly."
"Of course not. I wouldn't dream of suggesting it."
"Since we're being so frank, may I ask what happened when you went to the group last night?"
"Yes. Luda did all right. No complaints from any source. I was paired with Elsa."
"Was it nirvana?"
"Damned near, but in a funny way. Not so much the sex as her personality. We went to a pizza parlor afterwards. I guess I could fall in love."
"But you won't?"
"No. Because of Joan. But I do want Elsa in my life somehow or other."
"I think you and she will have certain common interests. Did you discuss Luda?"
"Yes. I told her about the senator and the fact that Luda and the chief of staff seemed to strike up instead."
Cynthia was pleased. Once Elsa knew that Luda had such a connection, she'd never let her go. She asked only, "Did you tell her that it was Senator Munson?"
"Not initially, but Elsa said she could solve problems with some senators, and asked which one. When I told her, she said that both the North Dakota senators were better with animals than with people."
That was Elsa the professional, making light of it when she was told something important. That made it easy for people to forget that they had told at all. After they walked in silence for a moment, Cynthia burst out, "Look, Bert, my plans aren't working out either."
"Do they also involve Luda?"
"Yes. She's just not reliable enough."
"You sound as if you have some solution."
"A trade, as you might expect. I'll do Senator Munson and make him feel rewarded and willing to do whatever you want."
"And in return?"
"It'll be easy for you to do, but you'll find it very puzzling. It must also be kept strictly secret."
"Are you going to tell me more?"
"It hinges on the fact that Elsa and her husband are Soviet agents."
"My God! Have I been compromised in some way?"
"Not in the least. No need to be alarmed."
"Well, I certainly haven't given her any state secrets. I don't have any to give."
"You also shouldn't think the worse of her. Spies are usually honorable people. Most don't do it for the money. They accept risks, sometimes death, for things they believe in. That's Elsa."
"Are you also a spy, Cynthia?"
"Yes. But on our side."
"Do you know Elsa?"
"Quite well. I was a member of the group. But she also knows me, and would distrust anything you say to her if she knows that you know me."
"Right. And you have something you want me to say to her. Something that will go straight to Moscow."
"Well, this is a bit of a surprise. As they say, I'll have to think about it."
There were some advantages in having lunch with a senator. The whole group of eight was transported in two cars to an excellent restaurant with a table waiting for them. The maitre d' bowed and scraped, and a phalanx of waiters were ready to cater to any whim, no matter how bizarre. Senator Munson sat at the head of the table with Bert Howard on his left and Cynthia on his right. Cynthia spoke brightly, "I understand that you've already been playing tennis this morning, senator."
"Oh yes, we play every morning, rain, shine, or sleet."
"I expect the worst weather here is mild, compared to North Dakota."
“Well, when I'm there, I don't play when it's below ten degrees. Do you play, Miss Massey?"
"Yes, when I have a chance. Here in Washington, it's so hard to find a court."
"I can solve that problem for you. We have our own congressional courts right on the Mall. Would you like to play tomorrow?"
"I'd love to, if you aren't already booked up."
The senator wasn't booked up. Cynthia was reminded of how easy it was, and how easy it would continue to be. Two seats down the table, she noticed an extremely hostile stare from a Miss Ogilvy, to whom she had just been introduced. Was she the reigning mistress, or just the office manager who tried to protect her boss from designing women? Probably the latter. However, women in Miss Ogilvy's position usually didn't carry weaponry. Stares could be ignored.
Bert was also staring at Cynthia, but in a different way. It must look to him, she reasoned, that she was proceeding with her half of the bargain before getting his agreement on his part. Or did he think that she was just demonstrating what she could do for his benefit?
These thoughts became diffuse in the festive atmosphere of the luncheon. There were jokes and laughter, and Luda and Jamieson did a little showing off for each other. As if that were needed! The only dull spot was that surrounding Miss Ogilvy, but it didn't seem to bother anyone.
When lunch ended, and people went their various ways, Cynthia made for the ladies room. When she came out, Bert was waiting for her. Pointing to the door of the gents', he said, "I also went, but I was quicker."
"Would you believe that I spend time fussing with my hair in front of the mirror?"
"No. You don't seem like the sort of woman who's constantly worried about her appearance. In fact, I remember Luda telling me that Barbara told her that you're actually English, not American."
Quickly and internally, Cynthia damned Barbara. She could fool people like Luda and Adam, whose native language wasn't English, but, of course, her Bostonian act didn't fool a Bostonian like Barbara. Why couldn't she keep her mouth shut? Anyhow, she casually acknowledged her nationality to Bert. He asked, "Does that mean that you're a British spy rather than an American one."
"The two services are now operating in such close coordination that it hardly matters. The matter that I have in mind will benefit America as well as England."
This was a casual lie, but, then, Cynthia realized, it might turn
out to be more or less true. That is, the proposed operation might well
benefit America, even though the American service probably wouldn't
permit it if informed. Anyway, Bert seemed reasonably satisfied.
When it came time to thank Senator Munson for lunch, Rachel and Barbara, declining a ride, decided to walk back with Miss Ogilvy. Rachel suspected that Luda and Jamieson were headed for a tryst, and Miss Ogilvy, as if reading her mind, said, "Well girls, in Washington it's power, money, and sex."
Rachel asked, "Which is most important?"
"In the long term, power. A man who has power can come by money, but money doesn't necessarily buy power."
"A man who has either power or money can get any kind of sex he wants, as often as he wants it."
"Doesn't it sometimes ruin politicians when it gets discovered?"
“Yes indeed. But the fish can't always resist the bait dangling in
front of him."
Barbara replied, "I'm good at resisting bait. So is Rachel."
"Oh, I knew that neither of you would go that way. Unlike some others. Anyhow, I just thought of an afternoon project for you. In the real Washington, not the congressional part."
Rachel couldn't imagine what the real part could be, but it turned out to be OMB, the Office of Management and the Budget. Their instructions were, "You can go there claiming to be working on a college project, which it might well turn out to be. The object is to start from the top, which is how much money is allocated to the various departments, and see how far downwards you can trace the money within any given department or unit within it."
It sounded interesting and challenging, and they were pointed in the right direction. As they walked, Barbara said, "You were asleep when Luda came in last night, but she told all. She and Bert went to a place where people trade sexual partners temporarily. She had sex with three different men."
"My family would consider that totally depraved and sick. What do you think?"
"It'd be totally out of character for you. Even for me. But Luda doesn't have that kind of family. Or any family, really."
"Is family all that matters?"
"Not strictly speaking, but I think most people mediate between it and what they see as practical necessity."
"So for Luda, there's only practical necessity."
"Well, she said it was good, much better than anything in the past."
"The men in those groups are probably experts at sex."
"I guess so. She wants to practice what she's learned with Mr. Jamieson."
"I bet they're doing that right now."
"Too bad we won't be at the office to see them come back."
OMB turned out to be fun. Their proposed college project was accepted without question, and they eventually wound up, of all things, with a retired colonel. Colonel Murphy, having risen from a private to that rank, had had a heart attack while leading his regiment on an extended march. He told the story in a humorous way, including the horrified looks on the faces of his subordinates as he was taken away. "Some wanted to continue the march, some wanted to cancel it, and the major wanted to come to the hospital with me. I told them to turn the men loose in the local bars."
"I didn't know you could do that."
"You can't, but I knew I'd be retired, so it didn't matter. I never did find out what happened."
Upon retirement, Colonel Murphy became a federal bureaucrat, eventually ending up at OMB. As he said, "This is the best place to be if you want to be a detective. Wherever there's corruption in the federal government, there'll be traces of it here."
Barbara asked cheerfully, "Can we find some this afternoon?"
"My dear young lady, it'll be so carefully hidden under so many layers that you wouldn't find it in ten years. But here's a place to start. The Coast Guard is part of the Department of Transportation, not the military. I'll take you to the record of their congressional appropriations. Look for anything that stands out."
Rachel and Barbara were soon seated at a long table in the colonel's outer office with stacks of paper in binders in front of them. There were two jolly secretaries who traded jibes with the colonel and people who came into the office.
After a while, Barbara said to one of them, "The colonel's really created a nice environment."
"He's an expert at that. Even in the army, I think he always managed to find a nice little niche for himself."
She then nodded meaningfully at the laughter coming out of the inner office where the colonel had a visitor, a congressional aide.
Finally, Rachel nudged Barbara and asked, "Why is there a special act of congress deleting the words 'lieutenant commander' in the description of the position of the leader of the Coast Guard Band and substituting the word, 'commander'?"
"Looks like the band leader got promoted."
"Does it take a special act of congress to do that?"
When the colonel next passed by with his coffee, Rachel pointed out the text to him. He replied,
"You've found something funny, girls. A full commander would be the captain of a two thousand ton cutter. That's way too high a rank for a band leader."
"How would you follow this up."
"You'd find out which congressman put that item into a much larger bill. That would be difficult to do. Then you'd find out whether the congressman is the band leader's cousin or whatever."
"Could it be bribery?"
"Probably not. Band leaders usually don't have enough money to bribe a congressman. It was a little throwaway favor for someone. Not a big enough thing to make a case. But you're learning, girls."
In the next two hours they still didn't find anything substantial
enough to justify an investigation. As they left, Colonel Murphy said
to them, "There's a reporter who comes in several times a week doing
what you've been doing. He's found a couple of minor things that
embarrassed a few people, but he's looking for the big one. If he ever
does find it, you'll read about it in the newspapers."
Instead of going to lunch with the office staff, Joan had arranged a luncheon with her old college room-mate and her husband, a doctor in Washington. Adam could have gone with the others, but, sensing that he felt uncomfortable about it, Joan invited him to go with her.
Jackie Mostyn talked a good deal more than her husband, Howie. Naturally flirtatious and naturally blonde, she quizzed Adam humorously about his life in Cambridge, seemingly in search of something sexual. When it came out that he spent most of his time studying, and most of his leisure time at the Medical School Library, she responded delightedly, "I used to study there in the hope of meeting a future doctor! It worked. That's where I met Howie."
Howie looked a little embarrassed, but asked Joan, with a smile, "What did you think when your room-mate went on calculated man hunts?"
"I thought she was being realistic. In those days it had to be a doctor, a lawyer, or a businessman. It seemed that doctors were the best choices, and it still seems so. I just drifted, and wound up with a businessman."
Jackie broke in, "But he's a nice businessman. Anyway, Adam, why does a historian spend so much time at the medical school. Are you hoping for a lady doctor?"
Adam actually blushed, but, then, the saga of his parents came out.
Howie Mostyn, an internist, was the sort of doctor who was fascinated by symptoms, particularly ones that seemed paradoxical, in any person. Even one thousands of miles away. Adam had detailed knowledge of his father's condition, and, as the two men fell into discussion, Joan and Jackie discussed things of lighter moment over their own corner of the table. After a while, Howie was seen writing in a notebook, and handing pages to Adam. He explained to the others, "I've had some luck with a couple of patients with similar symptoms, and so I've written down a description of the treatment. Adam's going to translate it into Russian and send it to his father and his doctor in Kiev."
Adam looked more delighted than Joan had seen him, and said that he would do the translation that evening.
Jackie was, among many other things, an enthusiastic amateur match-maker. However, when she started talking about all the beautiful young eligible ladies she knew, Joan interjected, "I've already been taking Adam around Washington with two very attractive young ladies, and a third, a Russian refugee, in the offing."
Jackie immediately asked, "What's the Russian one like?"
When Joan responded with a thumbnail sketch of Luda, Jackie said, "She sounds irresistible. Are you going for her, Adam?"
Adam almost recoiled as he replied, "I'm already much too familiar with wild young Russians who do crazy things. In the last century, young noblemen in St. Petersburg would tie a hapless citizen to a bear and throw them both into the Neva. Here you have the Potomac."
This was said with an air of humor, but Joan protested, "Luda isn't going to tie anyone to a bear, Adam."
"No, but she'd cheer and encourage those who would."
"Well, anyway, Adam, you don't suspect Rachel and Barbara of such things, do you?"
"Of course not. They're very well-balanced young ladies."
As the conversation turned to other things, Joan occasionally found herself wondering where and how Adam would end up. Probably, she thought, in some very conventional arrangement, one with mutual support and as little uncertainty as possible. Did she herself have enough spirit of adventure to want more than that? She wasn’t sure.