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 Chapter 21

Elsa and Peter

Elsa Sombor, believing in direct methods, invited Luda Yezhova to lunch at a little Italian place on seventeenth street which was much favored by young people. Luda arrived, a little late, and dressed rather dramatically with a touch of the Cossack. It did cause a stir among the diners, but, instead of soaking up attention, she quickly slid into the vacant chair at Elsa's corner table with a look of confusion.

     Elsa understood. Luda had had one idea when getting dressed, but, by the time she got to the restaurant, other, less triumphant, thoughts had intruded on her consciousness.

     Although Elsa had no children of her own, she could combine elegance and glamour, which were only affectations, with something close to maternal concern. In that spirit, she could be a little bit nosy, in a light-hearted way, about boy friends.

"Bert told me that, when he took you to Senator Munson's office, you found someone much more interesting. How exciting!"

Elsa's enthusiasm was catching, and the shadow on Luda'a face disappeared. Moreover, she had lots of enthusiasm of her own on the subject of Harry Jamieson. Elsa wanted to know exactly what he looked like, what he sounded like when he spoke, and then, very confidentially, "What was it like when he looked at you?”

"Like eating me up with his eyes. And I have some little tricks, ways of standing and holding myself. Nothing vulgar, just a way of communicating.”

Elsa nodded sympathetically. The tricks in question seemed to have worked very well indeed. But, then, the unease returned to Luda's face. Harry had an ogress of a wife who was being difficult about a divorce. Luda said she had great contempt for women who tried to hang on to a man who just wanted to be free. Elsa shared her contempt, adding a few examples of her own. It was a little hard not to show amusement at the naivete of someone who treated some of the world's oldest stories as if they were unprecedented. However, Elsa eventually brought the conversation back to the senate office. Luda allowed, "Of course, Bert did take me there to meet the senator, but, after I saw Harry, there was no question."

"So many operas start with an arranged affair between a beautiful girl and a powerful older man. But, then, she sees her true love and kicks over the traces."

Elsa watched closely to see how the phrase, 'true love', went down. It seemed to be accepted readily. As Luda went on to list the many talents and accomplishments of Harry Jamieson, Elsa waited for a pause and asked, "But the poor old senator. Was he very sad?"

"No, not at all. He liked the woman Bert brought with us, and they seemed to take up."

"One of Bert's Washington friends?"

"Actually, the one who sent us around to Capitol Couples."

That was interesting. The woman in question hadn't prepared Bert and Luda for the Espionage game, which dated her membership back some time. Very few people dropped out, and they were usually people posted to some distant place. The only one Elsa could think of whom she knew to still be in Washington was Cynthia Massey. But Luda looked as if she thought she had said too much. Since Elsa could settle the matter by checking her lists when she got home, there was no need to pursue the matter further. She then changed the subject, back to Mr. Jamieson.   

     Luda talked too much, and in disconnected ways. However, anything that was of interest would be coming out sooner or later. Elsa only wondered how many lunches she would have to endure to find out what was being discussed in the closed-door sessions of the Committee on Foreign Relations.

     After rather too much lunch with Luda, Elsa went off to a supposedly clandestine meeting with her supposed controller, a Slovak code-named Peter. Peter's normal approach to people might have been summarized as, "You can't fool me. I know what you're thinking." Indeed, on one of their first encounters, he had said exactly that. She had replied, "Since you do, why do you ask questions?”

That led to a full and frank exchange of views. Peter, short, dark, and beetle-browed, had shouted at her publicly in a shocking breach of the conventions of espionage. Elsa had simply ignored the next two meetings. On the third, she had turned up with a borrowed dog, a large black one with an ugly disposition.

     Things had settled down a bit since then. After all, Peter couldn't call up the FBI and ask them to put Elsa in jail for disobedience and disrespect. On the contrary, she and Eric were espionage stars. Eric had actually managed to get a job with the CIA itself, first as a translator, and then as an analyst. Elsa had sent back reams of secret material, some of it derived from contacts in the Capitol Couples. Peter needed them much more than anyone needed Peter.

     On the other hand, there did need to be a channel of communication with the St. B and the KGB. The Sombors also received funds to support them in their work, and, while they could manage without them, Elsa was compensated richly for her occasional, and brief, meetings with Peter.  

     Half the time, Peter botched up the arranged signals, the passwords, and so on. The people in the Espionage game were much better at these things. In the unlikely event of Peter being asked to join the Capitol Couples, his team would have been infiltrated in the first ten minutes. That thought set Elsa laughing inwardly. What would be the reactions of the ladies in the group if she, Elsa arrived one night with Peter on her arm. They might be best expressed by words such as ‘eeyow’, ‘yech’, and ‘gurp’ that delighted Elsa when she came upon them in MAD magazine. Now seated side-by-side on the park bench, Peter wanted to know what was so funny. Elsa could hardly tell him.

     Elsa gave a sketchy report of her doings, and suggested that she would shortly have something interesting. Peter grunted, and started telling her what they wanted to know. She replied, "Espionage doesn't work that way, Peter. You don't set out in advance to answer a certain question. You reach likely sources of information, take note of whatever is slipped, usually unknowingly, and then reason out the implications."

This little speech seemed to do no good. Peter demanded that she find out how many nuclear weapons the Americans had. Elsa threw up her hands and replied,

"I have no way of finding that out! Only a very few people know. They don't drink, go to parties, or associate with loose women. They tell their wives that they work in the payroll department at a company making tires for jeeps. It would take an extraordinary streak of luck to even find out who most of these people are, much less what they know."

Nothing said to Peter seemed to have much impact. He kept on in much the same way until Elsa finally said, "Peter, if anyone gives you information of that nature, you can be sure that they're just guessing. It's important that you do not report any rumors of that sort as fact."

The trouble was that, if Peter invented numbers out of whole cloth, no one back at Centre would be in a position to dispute them. He might possibly get a promotion for providing what had been asked for. Peter was smart enough to understand that, but not smart enough to see beyond it. Cursing inwardly, she realized that she might have to seduce him to gain enough influence over him to put a stop to such craziness. She herself might be thinking, or even saying, some words from MAD as she felt brutish hairy hands on her bare skin."  

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