Charlie Ebersole thought he recognized the man in the sharp blue suit, white shirt,
and red tie sitting in Frank Morrison’s conference room, but his mind couldn’t
generate a name. The short hair should be a clue. Most men in the business world
wore their hair short, but this one looked as if a runaway razor had ploughed
through his head this very morning, leaving stubble in its path.
“Charlie, this is Agent Ted Robinson. You may remember him from your little incident
in Fort Lauderdale last year.”
The helpful comment by Frank, head of the fraud division at International Investments,
brought back not only who Robinson was, but a host of other memories at the same
time—some good, some horrific. No wonder he had suppressed them. Mentally shaking
his head to clear it of the bad ones, Charlie shook Robinson’s hand and mumbled
something about being happy to see him again. However, Robinson had only been a bit
player in that episode of his life, which had taken place in the spring of 1962, and
Charlie wondered what he was doing here now.
Before he had a chance to ask any questions, Elizabeth Reid bounced into the room. Liz,
as she was known by her friends, looked unusually happy even for her. She wore her
feelings on her sleeve, but, fortunately, she felt good most of the time.
When she saw Robinson her smile faded and she stopped in mid-stride and echoed
Charlie’s thought, saying, “What are you doing here?”
If Robinson was put off by this comment, he didn’t show it. He stuck out his hand and
said, “It’s good to see you, Miss Reid.” After hesitating for a moment, she shook it.
Frank spoke quickly. “Agent Robinson is here to talk to you about something he needs
help with. It’s outside the scope of what we do, and so you would be on loan to him.
Because the assignment is secret, he hasn’t briefed me on the details. Therefore,
I’m going to tiptoe out of here and let him tell you about it.” Frank stood. “One
more thing. You are both free to turn it down.”
Frank rose from his seat at the table and left the conference room, not waiting to
see if they had any questions, and closed the door behind him. Charlie saw Robinson
frowning, and surmised that he didn’t like what Frank had said about them turning
down the job. The man erased his frown and got down to business.
“Please have a seat.”
Charlie and Liz both sat on the opposite side of the wooden table from Robinson.
“First, let me say that the reason I’m speaking to you is because I was very
impressed with both of you when I talked to you in Fort Lauderdale.”
Robinson tried to make it sound as if it had been a social gathering, but it had
really been a criminal investigation. And the questions hadn’t just been lobbed
softballs, either—more like rising fastballs. Liz could think of several places
she’d rather be than here, but since Frank had let Robinson in the building, she
felt she had to give him a chance. She glanced at Charlie, and from his expression
she suspected he was thinking about the same thing.
Robinson continued. “I’m sure you’re wondering why I’m here. Usually, when we have a
job to do we select people from our own company. However, in this case we didn’t
have anyone with the right fit. We need someone who is good at analyzing financial
statements, and someone who knows German.”
“Our own company” being the CIA, as Liz recalled, with company often capitalized as
in “The Company.” Charlie was the financial whiz, although she had learned a lot
about financial statements during the past year. She was good at languages, but
surely Robinson could find someone better…
“German is probably my fourth best language, if you include English.”
Robinson cracked a smile. “But you have other qualities, including the fact that
you’re a spitfire when aroused.”
Robinson placed an attaché case on the table and clicked open the fasteners. He
produced two multi-page documents and put one in front of Charlie and the other
in front of Liz.
“We don’t have time to get you security clearances, but the background checks we’ve
done have been positive.”
So the government had been spying on him and Liz. Charlie didn’t like the sound of
that, but he figured there wasn’t a lot he could do about it.”
Robinson said, “These are standard nondisclosure forms that I need to have you sign
before I tell you more about what we need your help with.”
Robinson emphasized the word “standard.” Charlie flipped through the printed pages.
Liz was watching him, ready to follow his lead. Robinson obviously wasn’t going
to give them time to thoroughly study the documents or show them to the
International Investments legal staff. Charlie went back and read the first couple
of paragraphs and skimmed the rest. He took the pen proffered by Robinson.
“Well, we’re probably signing our lives away, but here goes.”
He signed and dated where instructed to do so and handed the pen to Liz. She did
likewise. Something akin to a smile passed over Robinson’s face as he took the
documents from them, replaced them in his case, and closed it. Had he expected
them to be reluctant to sign?
Robinson cleared his throat. “What do you know about the situation in Berlin?”
Charlie read the newspapers and knew things weren’t good in Berlin. He wasn’t sure
he wanted to go there either. While he was contemplating how to answer that
question, Liz spoke.
“The Russians have built a wall separating East Berlin and West Berlin, in order
to keep the East Germans from defecting to the West.”
Robinson smiled a real smile. “That’s pretty much it in a nutshell, although the
government of East Germany would say the purpose of the Wall is to protect its
citizens from the fascist and decadent West.”
“That’s bullshit.” Charlie was tired of people making excuses for the Russians.
“Before the Wall was built there was a tremendous brain drain of East Germany’s
smartest people to the West; over three million as I recall. Those people want
to be free.”
“I like the way you two don’t beat around the bush. My question to you is, would
you be willing to go into East Berlin and other parts of East Germany on an
Charlie and Liz looked at each other. That could be dangerous. They had both been
to Cuba, a country without personal freedom, so they were well aware of the
risks. It was probably also one of the reasons Robinson was considering them.
Their experience could be useful in a place like East Germany.
Charlie said, “And do what?”
Robinson apparently considered the fact that they hadn’t declined the assignment
yet as a signal to tell them more. He pulled another document out of his attaché
case and slid it across the table to Charlie.
“What do you make of this?”
Charlie glanced at the typed columns of figures with explanations in German. “It
appears to be some sort of a financial statement, or perhaps an addendum to a
financial statement, because I don’t think the figures represent money. I think
the currency in East Germany is the Deutsch Mark?”
The numbers are clear enough, except they apparently use periods instead of
commas. And they reverse the days and months in their dates. I can’t read the
He slid the document over so that Liz could see it. She made a quick appraisal.
“It’s a list showing quantities of an item, apparently stored in different
locations. I recognize a couple of city names, such as Leipzig and Dresden.
Kind of an inventory list.”
Robinson nodded his approval. “Just to ease your minds, this is not a classified
document. It was sort of a test. I just wanted to make sure you two are as
quick and as sharp as people say you are.
What people? Charlie wondered. Apparently, the people who had been answering
security-type questions about them. Their co-workers and friends. You never
knew what people were saying behind your back.