Children and Marriage
Sidney Mainwaring's abortion in Mexico had been problem free, but she and Cliff now confronted a different problem. This one concerned, not an unborn child, but their two existing ones. They had accepted that they would themselves be killed if there was a nuclear exchange, but they wanted to save their children.
Sid kept her ears open at DRI, and also went through top secret documents when no one was looking. Like General Curtis LeMay, she believed that she could, perhaps not quite predict the attack, but pick out certain periods of maximum danger. It didn't seem to them that any part of the United States or Canada would be safe. Sid had discussed the problem with her old friend, Shirley, on her recent visit to Mexico, and the latter had volunteered,
"Whenever there's a particularly dangerous period, just bundle your kids up and send them to me on the first plane. They may wonder about it, but we'll call it a vacation and they'll soon settle down."
Sid had accepted the offer, and it was that arrangement which caused her to invite Shirley's children to visit Washington in what she considered a "safe" time.
The only trouble was that there were no non-stop flights, most of them stopping in New Orleans. The idea that most horrified Sid was that of getting her children killed in New Orleans while she and Cliff, by some miracle, survived in Washington. She also wondered what might happen to an airliner in the air in a nuclear attack.
By asking Goldstein a few unobtrusive questions, Sid had managed to settle most of these issues to her satisfaction. In case of attack, an airliner could climb high enough to be safe. It was also unlikely that a Soviet attack would penetrate all the way across the country to New Orleans. Moreover, New Orleans was only a target of secondary importance, and the plane would be on the ground for only a short time. She knew that Goldstein knew that she was up to something, but she doubted that he would ever guess that the plan was only for the children. There was nothing illegal in what she and Cliff were planning, but they had decided to add it to the various secrets they kept from even their close friends.
When Tom saw Boris at soccer on Saturday, there was, of course, no reference to the message he had sent Tom via Charles. Tom remained after the game only briefly, and, immediately after taking a shower at home, he set out for Fairmile. His earlier sense of betrayal had been replaced by a sort of euphoria. There could be no greater compliment that could be paid to a person than to spy on him.
Tom knew that it would be a slow subtle process, so as not to alarm him, but that, sooner or later, there would be some, seemingly offhand, request for information. This one wouldn't be a joke, although it might again be put forward as one. It also occurred to Tom that, with so much at stake, no sexual reward would be denied if it looked as if it might elicit information. But that, too, might be timed and delayed so as to have the maximum effect.
Half-way out to Fairmile, Tom turned into a gas station. As he raised the hood to check the oil, he was vaguely conscious of a large truck that was pulling up a little distance away. The driver of the truck, a large man about forty, hopped out and helped a woman down from the other side of the cab. It was unusual for a woman to travel in a truck, and Tom watched as the man escorted her toward the ladies' room on the side of the station. She was very attractive from the back, but it wasn't until she touched the man on the arm with familiarity and went through the door which he held for her that Tom realized that it was Elizaveta.
Without really thinking what he was doing, Tom went up to the truck driver and asked,
"Was she hitch-hiking?"
He thought for a moment that the man might reply,
"What's it to you, buddy?"
The driver instead looked at Tom searchingly, and only nodded his head. Tom explained,
"I was supposed to have a date with her in Fairmile, and here she is heading the opposite way."
"I told her I'd give her a ride to Alexandria. We'll just have to see what she says when she comes out."
When Elizaveta reappeared, she said pleasantly,
"Hello Tom. What brings you here?"
"I was going out to Fairmile to see you."
"But that's next week."
Tom was sure it wasn't, but, as always, she won the argument. After a moment, she looked at the truck driver and said to Tom,
"This gentleman has been giving me a ride, but, if you're free and he agrees, I'll go the rest of the way with you."
The truck driver seemed to be amused as Elizaveta thanked him elaborately and bade him farewell. After he pulled away, and they started up themselves, she looked at Tom with one of her expressions and said,
"I hope you aren't angry because of this little misunderstanding."
"No, but I can't imagine you out there hitch-hiking in a dress and high heels."
"As you know, I have no car and couldn't drive it if I did have one. I like to be properly dressed when I go to the city, and it seems to help me get picked up. I hardly had to wait a minute this time."
"But it's dangerous. Who knows who might pick you up?"
"It reminds me of something I saw as a girl during the great retreat of the Russian army in the summer of forty one. There came through our town one day a car with a chauffeur and a general and his wife in back. The general may not have realized that Stalin was having his defeated generals executed on the spot. I watched as the military police stopped the car and took the general off. I knew he was going to be shot, but he acted as if he were entirely at ease, strolling along between two of the policemen."
"He couldn't have done that if he'd known, could he?"
"Perhaps. Millions of Russians have been executed, and I think very many of them have been completely fatalistic."
"Couldn't he have fought or made a run for it?"
"He wouldn't have had much chance, but I think it probably wasn't in his nature to disobey. Some of the generals still came from the old officer class, and it would have struck them as undignified to scuffle or run."
"Did you see him shot?"
"They took him behind the building, but I did hear the shots. I'm not sure his wife did. Or, even if she did, she might not have known what they meant. She continued to sit in the car without moving. When the policemen came back and asked her to get out, she did so as if nothing had happened."
"What did she look like?"
"A bit like me, or so I thought at the time. Of course, I was only a girl wearing discarded soldier's clothing, and she was dressed in the height of fashion, all in silk with a dress and shoes that probably came from Paris."
"Did they shoot her too?"
"No, they left her alone on the side of the road and went off with the chauffeur in the car. There was no one in sight except the woman and myself. I could have offered to help her, although even that might have been dangerous. But, more than that, I just wanted to see what would happen. We stood a hundred feet apart and just looked at one another. She was a beautiful woman, and I admired her a great deal."
"She must have known by then, didn't she?"
"Yes. I suppose the policemen must have told her that they'd shot her husband."
"But she didn't react either?"
"Not at all, not that I could see. After a few minutes, she began walking down the road, taking little steps and almost twisting her ankles in the ruts."
"She couldn't have walked very far like that."
"It wasn't long before an army truck came along. She waved and it stopped. The last I saw of her was when she was helped into the cab. Today, I imagined that I was the dead general's wife."
It was often hard to know what to make of Elizaveta. Tom's experiences seemed to be of an altogether different, and more mundane, order. He asked,
"Would the soldiers have been good to her?"
"It's impossible to say. They might have been extremely kind, or they might have been brutal. As it is here. The man who just picked me up was very much a gentleman."
Then, before Tom could say anything, she said,
"Let's be wild and abandoned tonight."
It was certainly a suggestive comment. The only trouble was that it sounded as if Tom was to propose some wild and abandoned scheme. It quickly occurred to him that he didn't know how to be wild and abandoned. He was about to suggest swimming naked in the Potomac, an idea that probably wouldn't have been taken well, when Elizaveta asked enthusiastically,
"Apart from me, who's the most beautiful and exciting woman you know?"
"Well, that would be Sid."
"Ah, you've mentioned her, the southern woman. She's married, isn't she?"
"Go call her now. Ask her to come out with us, bringing her husband."
They were about to pass another gas station, and Elizaveta grabbed the steering wheel, apparently under the impression that she could steer the car up to the telephone booth in front of it. It took quick work on Tom's part to avoid hitting the pole in front of the booth, but they skidded safely to a stop. When he got through to Sid, she was surprised but pleased.
"So you've got a new girl friend. That's great. We're not doing anything, and we'd love to go out."
When they arrived, Cliff greeted them, saying that Sid was almost finished getting ready. She must have done it in a rush, but, when she appeared, she looked even better than usual. It might have been that she was flushed from her quick shower, but it might also have been the immediate effect that Elizaveta had on her. Tom introduced Elizaveta as Anne-Marie, a French teacher of French at Fairmile Academy.
They set out immediately for a little place that Sid and Cliff knew. It was an odd place in the old part of Alexandria, a former stronghold of the Confederacy. There was beer and wine, and also dancing. There were some down-home boys, some people who might have been undertakers or optometrists, and some women who might once have been married to affluent lobbyists. It was the sort of place where the women dressed up in pretty clothes, because they wanted to, while the men also indulged their desires by going out without jackets and ties.
It wasn't until Tom was dancing with Sid, rather closely, that she had a chance to say.
"She's spectacular, Tom, just about the most fascinating woman I've ever met."
Tom still preferred Sid herself, quite apart from the fact that she wasn't detailed to spy on him, but he knew he wasn't supposed to say so. As they continued dancing, Sid gliding and Tom improvising as best he could, she said,
"In the ladies' room she told me all about being Russian and your being sent to see her."
Tom was certainly surprised that Elizaveta had said such a thing to a relative stranger, but that was partly what made him realize that the two women had fallen in love. It wasn't sexual love, but something Tom hardly understood, at least apart from whatever it was that he felt for Sid. It had apparently happened within an hour of their meeting without his realizing it. A few minutes later, when Tom was standing with Cliff, he said,
"Sid and Anne-Marie seem to like each other."
"Either of them would trade both you and me for the other one."
He also didn't mean that they were potential lesbians. It was just that those two women communicated in a way that no man and woman ever could.
A little later, the women danced together for a joke. Sid was in a white dress with quite a full skirt, and Elizaveta was wearing a rather similar dress, except that it was black. That, in addition to their contrasting blonde and dark hair, made an unforgettable picture, particularly as they swirled and moved in response to one another.
Even before the dancing, the presence of two such women together attracted people. Sid and Elizaveta continued to talk and murmur with each other while, at the same time, being at the center of a larger group with conversations flowing across and through them. And then, in the periods of dancing, everyone went spinning off only to join together ten minutes later. A number of men said complimentary things about the women to Cliff and Tom, things which had a definite sexual component, but which stopped short of being offensive. They were viewed as lucky men, but Tom felt no real jealousy coming from them. He said to Cliff,
"I'm not used to being with a woman everyone admires. You must be."
"Yeah, it's been awkward at times, but it still feels good."
He smiled at Tom, as if to recommend that he find himself such a woman, or, perhaps, marry the one he was with. Tom wondered idly whether, in the circumstances, such a thing was really possible.
When they finally left, they were a little drunk and quite hungry. The night was fine, warm and star-filled, and they headed for a pizza place down the street. They were about to go in when Sid suggested getting a couple of big pizzas and taking them to a nearby park to eat.
The park was a rather small one, known only to the local people, and it sat on a hilltop which commanded a view of the Potomac and the city of Washington. The twisting drive led up to a small but completely empty parking lot surrounded by steep grassy slopes, all but invisible in the dark. Tom pulled over to the edge of the grass, and Cliff said,
"There aren't any picnic tables here, but we can eat sitting on the slope."
Sid replied, in a rather sober voice,
"Between the grass and the pizza, not to mention the wine, dresses are going to get ruined. I hope no one minds if I take mine off."
No one did, and Sid, standing at the edge of the grass in the moonlight, looked quickly around before beginning to unfasten herself. A minute later, in a full white slip that caught the light, she was almost as covered as she had been, except for her bare shoulders and arms. She then handed Tom the pizza boxes and, carrying the salad boxes, took his arm to steady her over the steep rough ground. The others were a little behind, and Sid whispered to Tom,
"Now, Elizaveta will take off her dress too, and you'll like that."
Tom was, in fact, entirely focussed on Sid. He had seen Ellie in less, and had done things with her that he knew he would never do with Sid, but this was incomparably more important for reasons that he couldn't have begun to explain. It somehow didn't matter that Cliff was there too, or that their only contact was her cool hand on his bare arm.
After they had gone a little distance and settled down on the grass, they looked back to see Elizaveta and Cliff still standing talking by the car, Elizaveta's pretty ankles on a level with their heads. Sid said,
"I hope I haven't shocked her."
Then, before Tom could reply, Sid said,
"Give me your shirt. Anne-Marie can put it on instead of her dress."
Sid helped Tom unbutton it, and went off to Elizaveta with it. As the women went behind the car, Cliff joined Tom and said
"She was shy about taking off her dress. Sid loves to take off her clothes. You should see her at the beach."
Tom didn't quite tell Cliff that he would love to see Sid at the beach, but he probably could have. He was gradually discovering that Sid and Cliff both liked to flirt, sometimes quite strenuously, but that each liked to do it in the presence of the other. Cliff had evidently been trying to persuade Elizaveta to disrobe, but, before they could discuss the matter further, Elizaveta appeared smiling, Tom's shirt coming almost down to the hem of her slip.
Even though the shirt was ridiculously large on her, she still looked cute and appealing. Tom remembered that Ellie, on a similar occasion, had also borrowed one of his shirts. The resemblence there ended. Ellie had looked a little like a waif, but Elizaveta looked energetic and dominant as she ran lightly over the grass in her stocking feet and sat down among them. She said,
"I'm sorry, we Russians are terribly puritanical. A peasant woman may nurse her baby in the street, but we're over- decorous the rest of the time."
She had apparently also told Cliff that she was Russian, which hardly mattered at this point. He asked her some questions, and it came out gradually that they had a somewhat false idea of Soviet Russia. The communist revolution had supposedly eliminated social classes, but, nonetheless, Elizaveta was definitely a lady, a lady of a Central European sort. In fact, she was almost a stickler for the rules of decorum. Appearances somewhat to the contrary, she was far less relaxed than Sid. Tom said to Elizaveta somewhat teasingly,
"You said this was to be a night of wild abandon."
"Indeed I did. But that doesn't mean doing things that might inspire a young man like you to lust. It's a matter of unleashing feelings and thoughts which might produce something ideologically or aesthetically shocking."
That set the others back a little. After all, they didn't live in a society in which it was possible for a party to end with an expression of sentiment which might literally cause the participants to be sent to Siberia. That was wild abandon indeed, and the only thing they could do instead was to eat and drink with a somewhat more modest abandon.
The original slicing of the pizza had been rather perfunctory, and no one tried to improve on it. They instead pulled the wedges apart with streamers of cheese and sauce dangling down, and then stuffed them into their mouths with both hands. It also turned out to be Elizaveta's first encounter with pizza, and her face and hands were soon covered with it. Sid called out,
"I've just discovered that we don't have any napkins. Let's drink enough wine so that it won't matter."
The wine, whatever it was, was the sort that made one thirstier the more one drank. They drank a lot, and, at one point, Elizaveta said,
"This hill is so steep that we might roll down it if we got too drunk."
Sid immediately lay cross-ways to the hill and started rolling. She called to Elizaveta to race her, and Elizaveta, to Tom's surprise, actually did. Both ladies, aiding gravity as much as they could, went rolling down. Sid got dizzy first and stopped, but Elizaveta keep going until it wasn't clear that she could stop if she wanted to.
Tom eventually caught up with her and stopped her with his arm around her waist. Her lithe body was throbbing with excitement as he helped her up. She was speaking Russian a mile a minute, waving her arms, and seemingly calling out to people in the darkness. He had to carry her back up, whereupon she threw herself into Sid's arms. Sid was herself pretty unsteady, but the four of them, hanging on one another, managed to stagger and lurch their way back to the car.
Sid suddenly began speaking French to Elizaveta's Russian, but, in the somewhat chaotic conversation, it seemed to be agreed that they should return to Sid and Cliff's house for coffee. As Sid said,
"The kids are visiting grandparents, so there isn't even a baby-sitter to drive home."
Tom was aware that some people disapproved of drunk driving. They seemed to have visions of cute children being mown down by a drunken maniac who hit the school crossing at eighty. But, for Tom, the drunk driver was a friendly figure, happily and humorously zig-zagging down a road and taking out nothing beyond the occasional shrub. Children should be expected to have sense enough to keep out of the way.
On this occasion, Tom didn't zig-zag. He drove straight and true down from the hilltop. It was unfortunate that the road did zig-zag, but, as his fair half-clad companions bounced up and down with delighted laughter, he made the car leap and bound over curbs and short stretches of meadow where the road should have been. Drivers in Tom's condition often had trees "step out on the road in front of them," but, when they did come to a big tree beside the raod, he was far enough from the road to miss it.
Down on the level, Tom did surprisingly well on the city streets. It was late enough so that they were largely empty, and, even though Cliff and Sid were calling out conflicting directions, he managed with only a few screeching right- angled turns.
When they successfully reached the street on which his friends lived, Tom celebrated by putting the pedal to the metal. The old car responded triumphantly with a burst of power and speed, and, just as Tom was about to brake, he made Pete Helton's mistake.
The trolley island, with no lighting whatsoever, was right in the middle of the street, where anyone might have hit it. The noise was truly appalling as the car bucked but kept going over the island, coming down on the other side without axles and a good deal else. As they skidded to a grinding ear-tearing stop, everyone poured out of the smoking car as out of a bomber that had just made a crash landing on its return from a mission. By some miracle, the gas tank, almost full, hadn't ruptured and burst into flame.
As they collected themselves and their thoughts, Tom noticed that the trunk had sprung open, its contents being bounced out on the street. Cliff picked up a tire iron and neatly ripped the license plates off what remained of the car. As lights came on up and down the street, they caught up with the ladies, who were already running for the house. When they got to the house, Elizaveta, seemingly no longer very drunk, remarked gently,
"Our dresses must still be back in the car."
Tom was detailed to made a quick return, which he did. Having found the dresses in the back seat, he ran off in a circuitous direction before approaching the house from the back and jumping the fence. He neither wanted to be responsible for removing the wreckage nor questioned as to the events leading to the wreck. As he said to Sid,
"I don't think I'll take the pieces of car back to my apartment."
They awoke the next morning on various beds and couches with blankets and coats spread over them. No one seemed to suffer very much from the previous night, and Sid got coffee and pancakes going. Tom and Cliff peeked furtively from a window at Tom's car, and saw it still in the middle of the street surrounded by the neighborhood children. Some circled it on bicycles, but others were rather systematically looting it. Tom was strongly tempted to intervene when he saw his new soccer ball going off down the street, but Cliff said,
"There are the police coming around the corner. It'd probably be cheaper to buy a new ball than to reveal yourself and have to get the car towed."
Tom agreed reluctantly, and they thought no more about the car until, in the middle of breakfast, they heard a noise like chalk on a blackboard hideously magnified. Running to the front windows, they saw the car being towed away by a large wrecker. Since none of the wheels turned or supported weight, the bare metal of the rear end was being dragged by main force over the cobblestones. The children, including the one with Tom's soccer ball, followed in fascination, picking up and examining little bits of car that broke off. Cliff said,
"They're dropping those pieces of metal mighty fast when they pick them up. They must be hot from the friction."
Soon after breakfast, Elizaveta said something about hitch- hiking back to Fairmile. Cliff enthusiastically offered to drive her, and Elizaveta, after looking questioningly at Sid, accepted. Immediately after they left, Sid said,
"I told Cliff I wanted to be sure to have a chance to relay to you some things Elizaveta told me."
Tom waited a little nervously, and Sid went on,
"She told me that she's spying on you for the Russians."
That wasn't news to Tom, but it amazed him, yet again, that Elizaveta should have told Sid so much. Sid, always able to read Tom, asked,
"You knew that already, didn't you?"
"Yeah, but her telling you is very convenient. I did know, but I couldn't say how I knew, even to our own people, and I couldn't admit knowing. I can now, and that will simplify matters. I can't imagine why she told you."
"Well, things happen between women. Besides, she must have at least half wanted you to know. She knows how I feel about you, and she must know I wouldn't let you walk unaware into a dangerous situation."
"When did she tell you?"
"After you and Cliff fell asleep. We stayed up until almost three talking and drinking coffee."
"She must have left her judgment behind somewhere in the evening. That wasn't a smart thing for her to do."
"She may have some way of taking advantage of it. She's fascinating and I love her, but watch out. She's just too smart and complex and unpredictable not to be dangerous."
"What does Cliff think of all this?"
"He loves it. He says it's as good as meeting Mata Hari. I'm sure he's enjoying himself to the hilt now."
Early on Monday morning, Tom called Mr. D. O. A. Desmond. Desmond replied,
"Well, sure, Tom, I don't have much on this morning. Come on over, and we'll have a chat."
Tom doubted very much that Desmond ever had any unscheduled time, much less time to chat, but he was happy to participate in the illusion. Tom caught a taxi on Wisconsin Avenue and, at ruinous expense, took it all the way.
Desmond actually had his feet up on his desk when Tom arrived, and he insisted on getting coffee in for him before they began. Tom gave him a ten minute synopsis of Elizaveta, ending with the events of Saturday night. He omitted the car wreck, but ended by saying,
"After I was asleep, she told Sid that she was spying on me for the Russians."
Desmond hardly looked surprised, and he replied at some length.
"While you were on your way, I sent out an inquiry about the defector you were sent to see. There was some mis- communication within the Agency here. I see you've already guessed it."
Tom began to wonder if there was anyone who couldn't read his thoughts, but he replied,
"As I make it, she had nothing and no one to spy on until I was sent to see her."
"Yes. Some of us thought she might have been an agent all along. The defection was rather clumsy. But Seiss didn't know that. No harm done, really. You were already trained not to scatter secrets around. Still, we should have warned you."
"I might have been a bit more careful about my inquiries. She's probably figured out what sort of thing I'm most interested in."
"Possibly. Of course, you have to take into account the motives of an intelligence service when they arrange a defection. They hope that their agent will be used in some important role, or perhaps turned back against them. The agent can then be used as a conduit for some mixture of information and disinformation which will be accepted by the opposition. They very likely wrote off this lady when we sent her off to teach school in Fairmile."
"What would they then think when I was sent to see her?"
"They probably put it down to a routine follow-up interrogation. They might have thought that we were letting a young person like yourself practice on her."
An unpleasant thought then hit Tom. He burst out,
"I wonder if I've let anything slip which indicates that I don't work for the CIA. I'm sure I haven't mentioned DRI, but she's sharp. She might have picked up something."
"It would probably be far too vague to impress the people she reports to. I don't think it would occur to them that you aren't one of ours. But someone might still be interested in what questions you asked her."
"The only thing I thought especially important was something she volunteered without being asked. But she could probably tell that it interested me."
Desmond smiled, no doubt certain in his own mind that Elizaveta would know exactly what had interested Tom. Tom then told him about Stalinabad. He didn't seem exactly to be impressed, but he allowed,
"That could be useful information. But she won't voluntarily report telling you."
Tom looked at him questioningly, and he replied,
"If an agent thinks she's let something important slip accidentally, she won't report it. That would make her look bad. But, if she doesn't realize that it's important, then it won't be worth reporting. So it would come out only if she's periodically and thoroughly debriefed, with someone taking her through every minute of her meetings with you. That's unlikely. But, of course, it is possible that she's gotten them interested in you to that extent."
Mr. Desmond didn't seem particularly anxious about that possibility, but, as he looked at Tom lazily, Tom remembered Boris' warning. Elizaveta must have gotten them interested in him. He said, somewhat lamely,
"It was quite by accident that I found her hitch-hiking into Washington. She might have come in to meet her supervisors."
That surprised Desmond. He shook his head and said,
"All intelligence services avoid unnecessary risks. I can't imagine their sending a beautiful woman out to hitch-hike. Isn't there some other way she could come in?"
"She doesn't know how to drive, and the bus would be very inconvenient for her."
"Well, it's possible that she doesn't tell them how she comes in, and they don't think to ask. Still, it's very unprofessional."
"That may be, but what am I supposed to do?"
"Are you getting anything useful from her?"
"A good deal, I think. I'm most interested in finding out what the top people are like, what kinds of attitudes they have about defence and economic growth, and even what they're like on a personal level. She's been around them, and I don't think she has any reason to misrepresent them."
"Well, then, keep seeing her. You're in a position to allow for any biases she may have."
"Will she eventually try to get secrets out of me?"
"Tom, if she, or the people behind her, ever catch on to the fact that you have secrets, they'll probably try. That'll be interesting."
He then added as an afterthought,
"I have a feeling that this may be quite a mixed-up lady. Most likely, she can't decide which side she wants to be on, and is trying to keep her options open. If you offer to marry her, she'll probably really defect to us."
That was another joke. Tom didn't think it as funny as Desmond, but he laughed with him as he left.