The Doomsday Conspiracy

Chapter Sixteen


How long is this assignment going to take? Robert wondered, as he strapped himself into his first-class seat on the Swissair flight. As the plane rushed down the runway, its huge Rolls-Royce engines hungrily swallowing the night air, Robert relaxed and closed his eyes. Was it really just a few years ago that I took this same flight with Susan to London? No. It was more like a lifetime ago.
The plane touched down at Heathrow at six twenty-nine p.m., on schedule. Robert made his way out of the maze, and took a taxi into the sprawling city. He passed a hundred familiar landmarks, and he could hear Susan's voice, excitedly commenting about them. In those golden days it had never mattered where they were. It was simply enough that they were together. They brought their own happiness with them, their own special excitement in each other. Theirs was the marriage that would have a happy ending.
Their problems had started innocently enough with an overseas call from Admiral Whittaker while Robert and Susan were travelling in Thailand. It had been six months since Robert had been discharged from the Navy, and he had not talked to the Admiral in all that time. The call, reaching them at the Oriental Hotel in Bangkok, was a surprise.
"Robert? Admiral Whittaker."
"Admiral! It's good to hear your voice."
"It hasn't been easy tracking you down. What have you been up to?"
"Not very much. Just taking it easy. Having a long honeymoon."
"How is Susan? It is Susan, isn't it?"
"Yes. She's fine, thank you."
"How soon can you get back to Washington?"
"I beg your pardon?"
"It hasn't been announced yet, but I've been given a new assignment, Robert. They've made me Director of 17th District Naval Intelligence. I'd like you to come aboard."
Robert was taken aback. "Naval Intelligence? Admiral, I don't know anything about ..."
"You can learn. You would be doing an important service- for your country, Robert. Will you come and discuss it with me?"
"Well ..."
"Good. I'll expect you in my office Monday morning at 0900. Say hello to Susan for me."
Robert repeated the conversation to Susan.
"Naval Intelligence? That sounds so exciting."
"Maybe," Robert said doubtfully. "I have no idea what's involved."
"You must find out."
He studied her for a moment. "You want me to take it, don't you?"
She put her arms around him. "I want you to do whatever you want to do. I think you're ready to go back to work. I've noticed in the last few weeks how restless you've become."
"I think you're trying to get rid of me," Robert teased. "The honeymoon is over."
Susan put her lips close to his. "Never. Did I ever tell you how crazy I am about you, sailor? Let me show you ..."
Thinking about it later - too late - Robert decided that that was the beginning of the end of their marriage. The offer had seemed wonderful at the time, and he had gone back to Washington to meet with Admiral Whittaker.
"This job requires brains, courage and initiative, Robert. You have all three. Our country has become a target for every little tin-horn dictatorship that can breed a terrorist group or build a chemical weapons factory. Half a dozen of those countries are working on atomic bombs at this moment, so that they can hold us at ransom. My job is to build an intelligence network to find out exactly what they're up to and to try to stop them. I want you to help me."
In the end, Robert had accepted the job with Naval Intelligence, and to his surprise, he found that he enjoyed it and had a natural aptitude for it. Susan found an attractive apartment in Rosslyn, Virginia, not far from where Robert worked, and busied herself furnishing it. Robert was sent to the Farm, the CIA training ground for secret service agents.
Located in a heavily guarded compound in the Virginia countryside, the Farm occupies twenty square miles, most of it covered in tall pine forest, with the central buildings in a ten-acre cleared area two miles from the front gate. A network of dirt roads branches off through the woods, with locked swinging barricades, and "No Entry" signs posted. At a small airfield, unmarked aircraft arrive and depart several times a day. The Farm has a deceptively bucolic setting, with leafy trees, deer running in the fields, and small buildings innocently scattered around the extensive grounds. Inside the compound, however, it is a different world.
Robert had expected to train with other Navy personnel, but to his surprise, the trainees were a mixture of CIA inductees and marines, and Army, Navy and Air Force personnel. Each student was assigned a number and housed in a dormitory-like room in one of several spartan two-storey brick buildings. At the Bachelor Officer Quarters, where Robert stayed, each man had his own room, and shared the bathroom with another. The Mess Hall was across the road from the BOQ cluster.
On the day Robert arrived, he was escorted to an auditorium with thirty other newcomers. A tall, powerfully built black Colonel in Air Force uniform addressed the group. He appeared to be in his middle fifties, and he gave the impression of quick, cold intelligence. He spoke clearly and crisply, with no wasted words.
"I'm Colonel Frank Johnson. I want to welcome you here. During your stay, you will use only your first names. From this moment on, your lives will be a closed book. You've all been sworn to secrecy. I would advise you to take that oath very, very seriously. You are never to discuss your work with anyone - your wives, your family, your friends. You've been selected to come here because you have special qualifications. There's a lot of hard work ahead of you to develop those qualifications, and not all of you are going to make it. You're going to be involved in things you have never even heard of before. I cannot stress enough the importance of the work you will be doing when you finish here. It has become fashionable in certain liberal circles to attack our intelligence services, whether it's the CIA, Army, Navy or the Air Force, but I can assure you, gentlemen, that without dedicated people like yourselves, this country would be in one hell of a lot of trouble. It's going to be your job to help prevent that. Those of you who do pass will become Case Officers. To put it bluntly, a Case Officer is a spy. He works under cover.~"
"While you're here, you're going to get the best training in the world. You'll be trained in surveillance and counter-surveillance. You'll have courses in radio communications, encoding, and weaponry and map reading.~"
"You'll attend a class in interpersonal relations. You'll be taught how to build a rapport, how to draw out an individual's motivations, how to make your target feel at ease."
The class was hanging on every word.
"You'll learn how to meet and recruit an agent. You'll be trained in how to make sure meeting places are secure.~"
"You'll learn about dead drops, how to covertly communicate with your contacts. If you're successful at what you do, you will carry out your assignments unnoticed and undetected."
Robert could feel the excitement that charged the air.
"Some of you will work under official cover. It could be diplomatic or military. Others will work under non-official cover as private individuals - as a businessman, or archaeologist, or novelist - any profession that will give you access to the areas and types of people likely to have the information you're looking for. And now, I'm going to turn you over to your instructors. Good luck."
Robert found the training fascinating. The instructors were men who had worked in the field and were experienced professionals. Robert absorbed the technical information easily. In addition to the courses Colonel Johnson had mentioned, there was a brush-up course on languages, and one on cryptic codes.
Colonel Johnson was an enigma to Robert. The rumour circulating about him was that he had strong connections at the White House, and was involved in high-level covert activities. He would disappear from the Farm for days at a time, and suddenly reappear.
An agent named Ron was conducting a class.
"There are six phases to the clandestine operational process. The first is spotting. When you know what information you need, your first challenge is to identify and target individuals who have access to that information. The second phase is assessment. Once you have spotted your target, you have to decide if he really has the information you need, and if he might be susceptible to recruitment. What motivates him? Is he happy in his job? Does he have a grudge against his boss? Is he over his head financially? If the prospect has accessibility and there's a motivation that can be exploited, you move along to phase three.~"
"Phase three is development. You build up a relationship with a prospect. You manage to run into him as often as possible, and built a rapport. The next phase is recruitment. When you think he is ready, you go to work on him psychologically. You use whatever psychological weapons you've got - revenge against his boss, money, the thrill of it. If a Case Officer has done his job well, the prospect usually says yes.~"
"So far so good. You have a spy working for you. The next step is handling him. You must protect not only yourself, but him. You will arrange surreptitious meetings, and train him in the use of microfilm and, where appropriate, clandestine radio. You will teach him how to detect surveillance, what to say if questioned, and so on.~"
"The last phase is disconnecting. After some period of time, perhaps your recruit will be transferred to a different job and no longer have access to the information, or maybe we will no longer need the information to which he does have access. In any case, the relationship is ended but it's important to end it in such a way that the recruit doesn't feel he has been used, and is looking for vengeance ..."
Colonel Johnson had been right. Not everyone made it through the course. Familiar faces kept disappearing. Washed out. No one knew why. No one asked.
One day, as a group was preparing to go into Richmond for a surveillance exercise, Robert's instructor said, "We're going to see how good you are, Robert. I'm going to send someone to tail you. I want you to lose him. Do you think you can do that?"
"Yes, sir."
"Good luck."
Robert took the bus into Richmond and began strolling the streets. Within five minutes he identified his trackers. There were two of them. One was on foot and one was in an automobile. Robert tried ducking into restaurants and shops and hurrying out back doors, but he was unable to shake them. They were too well trained. Finally, it was almost time to return to the Farm and Robert still had not been able to get away from them. They were watching him too closely. Robert walked into a department store and the two men took up positions where they could cover the entrances and exits. Robert went up the escalator to the men's department. Thirty minutes later, when he came down, he was wearing a different suit, a coat and hat, talking to a woman and carrying a baby in his arms. He walked past his pursuers without being recognized.
He was the only one that day who had successfully avoided surveillance.
The jargon taught at the Farm was a language unto itself.
"You probably won't use all these terms," the instructor told the class, "but you had better know them. There are two different kinds of agents; an 'agent of influence' and an 'agent provocateur'. The agent of influence tries to change opinion in the country where he operates. An agent provocateur is sent to stir up trouble and create chaos. 'Biographic leverage' is CIA code for blackmail. There are also 'black bag jobs', which can range from bribes to burglary. Watergate was a black bag job."
He looked around to make sure that the class was paying attention. They were spellbound.
"From time to time some of you may need a 'cobbler' - that's a man who forges passports."
Robert wondered whether he would ever use a cobbler.
"The phrase to 'demote maximally' is a nasty one. It means to purge by killing. So does the word 'terminate'. If you hear someone talking about the 'Firm', it's the nickname we use to refer to the British Secret Service. If you're asked to 'fumigate' an office, you won't be looking for termites, you'll be looking for listening devices."
The arcane expressions fascinated Robert.
"'Ladies' is a euphemism for females sent to compromise the opposition. A 'legend' is the faked biography of a spy, to provide him with a cover. 'Going private' means leaving the service."
The instructor scanned the class. "Any of you know what a 'lion tamer' is?"
He waited for an answer. Silence.
"When an agent is sacked, he sometimes gets upset and may make threats to reveal what he knows. A muscleman, or lion tamer, is called in to soften him up. I'm sure none of you will ever have to deal with one."
That drew nervous laughter.
"Then, there's the word 'measles'. If a target dies of measles, it means he was murdered so efficiently that death appeared to be accidental or due to natural causes. One method of inducing measles is tabun. That's a colourless or brownish liquid compound that causes nerve paralysis when absorbed through the skin. If someone offers you a 'music box', they're offering you a wireless transmitter. The transmitter operator is called a 'musician'. In the future, some of you will be operating 'naked'. Don't rush to take off your clothes, it simply means that you're alone and without any assistance from outside.~"
"There's one more thing I want to discuss today. Coincidence. In our work, there is no such animal. It usually spells danger. If you keep running into the same person again and again, or you keep spotting the same automobile when you're on the move, cover your ass. You're probably in trouble.~"
"I think that's enough for today, gentlemen. We will take up where we left off tomorrow."
From time to time, Colonel Johnson called Robert into his office, "to have a chat," as he put it. The conversations were deceptively casual, but Robert was aware of an underlying probing being carried on.
"I understand you're happily married, Robert."
"That's right."
They spent the next half hour talking about marriage, fidelity and trust.
Another time: "Admiral Whittaker thinks of you as a son, Robert. Did you know that?"
"Yes." The pain of Edward's death was something that would never go away.
They talked about loyalty and duty and death.
"You've faced death more than once, Robert. Are you afraid to die?"
"No." But to die for a good reason, Robert thought. Not senselessly.
The meetings were frustrating to Robert, because they were like looking into a trick mirror. Colonel Johnson could see him clearly, but the Colonel remained invisible, an enigma cloaked in secrecy.
The course lasted sixteen weeks, and during that time none of the men was permitted to communicate with the outside world. Robert missed Susan desperately. It was the longest they had ever been apart. When the four months were up, Colonel Johnson called Robert into his office.
"This is goodbye. You've done an excellent job, Commander. I think you're going to find your future very interesting."
"Thank you, sir. I hope so."
"Good luck."
Colonel Johnson watched Robert leave. He sat there for five minutes without moving, then reached a decision. He walked over to the door and locked it. Then he picked up the telephone and made a call.
Susan was waiting for him. She opened the door of their apartment, wearing a sheer negligee that concealed nothing. She flew into his arms and held him close. "Hi, sailor. Want to have a good time?"
"I'm having one," Robert said happily, "just holding you."
"God, I missed you so much!" Susan drew back and said, fiercely, "If anything ever happened to you, I think I would die."
"Nothing is ever going to happen to me."
She studied him a moment, concerned. "You look so tired."
"It was a pretty intensive course," Robert admitted. He was understating it. With all the texts and manuals to study, in addition to the practical, hands-on lessons, none of the recruits had been able to sleep more than a few hours a night. There was little grumbling, for a very simple reason: they were well aware that what they were learning could one day save their lives.
"I know exactly what you need," Susan decided.
Robert grinned. "I'll say." He reached for her.
"Wait. Give me five minutes. Get undressed."
He watched her walk away and thought, How damned lucky can a man get? He began to get undressed.
Susan returned a few minutes later. She said softly, "Umm. I like you naked."
He heard his instructor's voice saying, "Some of you will be operating naked. It means you're alone and without any assistance." What have I gotten into? What have I gotten Susan into?
She led him into the bathroom. The tub was filled with warm scented water, and the room was dark except for four candles flickering on the basin.
"Welcome home, darling." She slipped out of her negligee, and stepped into the bathtub. He followed her.
"Susan ..."
"Don't talk. Lean back against me."
He felt her hands gently caressing his back and shoulders and he felt the soft curves of her body against him, and he forgot how tired he was. They made love in the warm water and when they had dried themselves, Susan said, "So much for the foreplay. Now, let's get serious."
They made love again, and later, as Robert fell asleep, holding Susan in his arms, he thought, It will always be like this. Forever.