Those Who Sleep
by Bertil Falk
part 1 of 2
I had every reason to be depressed, but I was not. I was listless and I bore the stamp of indolence. It was a kind of satiety that had grown over the years. But depressed? No. Did I live too much before I reached the age of thirty-one? Married at nineteen. Divorced at twenty-two. At twenty-five I had used up five women, or maybe they had used up me. I don’t remember. Like a mountaintop, the memory of all that was wrapped in mist.
At twenty-seven, I knew I was a born loner and I found a position where unobtrusiveness was an asset. I joined the undercover business. And now I faced one of the few people I regularly met. The meetings were strictly business meetings.
“Sometimes I wonder how secret we secret agents are.” That’s what Wenda Klein said to me, the first thing when I entered her office. It was a puzzling remark. “Sit down, Peter,” she added.
Wenda is my boss. She is a brilliant leader, exercising the kind of leadership that extracts the very best of an indolent person like me. And she is the kind of woman who does not dwell on preliminaries.
“Twenty years ago,” she said, “a one-year old girl disappeared from her buggy in a certain Western country. Which one doesn’t matter. It happened when her mother was buying a hot dog. In full daylight on a busy street! The child was never found. Her mother, a single parent, later committed suicide.”
Wenda paused, and I had no idea what she was driving at.
“The girl was trained to become an agent. To make a long history short, she has been assigned to come over here and try to marry a specified secret agent.”
She paused and dropped it: “You!”
The silence in the room was deafening.
“Wasn’t kidnapping people a North Korean habit?” I asked.
“Did I say North Korea?” Wenda Klein asked in a delayed response to my question.
“Why would anyone kidnap a child?”
“There are two reasons. To begin with, our enemies are very good at long-term planning. The other reason is that they want individuals of the right ethnic look to mould as they want. This one has trained for her mission since childhood.”
“How do they know that I’m an agent?” I asked.
“For the same reason that we know that the kidnapped child now will return as a mole. Counterespionage. What else?”
Silly question on my part!
“So I’m rendered useless and have to take up begging,” I said.
Wenda smiled. “On the contrary,” she retorted. “You and I are both totally devoted to this job. As far as I am concerned, I’ve never married and I’ve been very careful when it comes to sex. Right now I’m avoiding having affairs.”
A confession like that, coming from Wenda Klein, was unbelievably personal, almost unprofessional. It put Strindberg’s Confessions of a Fool and memoirs of other compulsive egotists in the backseat of a roller-coaster vehicle. Why did she, of all reserved mystery-makers, bring that up? It was against the rules and her character. But Wenda Klein was not unprofessional. There was always a reason behind everything she said.
“Well, me too,” I said dryly. “Had I been sleeping around like James Bond, I would probably have been a very bad agent.” It sounded ridiculous. Why could I not have shut up?
“Hm,” she said, indicating that my lack of love affairs had not made me such a good agent. At least that was how I — using my oscillating self-confidence — interpreted her ‘hm’.
“What we have in mind...” she began.
“We?” I interrupted.
“This has been penetrated at the highest level,” she explained.
“The enemy’s plan is to plant her as a sleeper agent, married to an active agent. And since they’re aiming at you, we want you to...”
You do not interrupt Wenda Klein, but I did it again. And I heard my own voice. It was filled with unbelievity.
“Swallow the bait and marry her?”
“Correct!” she said.
“For how long?”
“Four years, ten years, a lifetime. Who knows?”
“Marry her and have sex with her?”
“I guess she is prepared for that, well prepared.”
“If she gets pregnant?”
“So much the better. Her employer wouldn’t mind. That would tie her even closer to you.”
“The end justifies the means,” the reluctant philosopher inside me belted out.
“Remember waterboarding?” my boss asked.
“That was not North Korea,” I replied.
“No. However, they used other, similar methods.” She paused, but added. “Only God knows how many countries stick to the habit of kidnapping for different purposes. In this case, I’m not talking about any specific nation. And I’m certainly not talking about North Korea. That much I can tell you. The rest is silence.”
“I’m of course ready to sacrifice — I almost swallowed the word — everything for my country. But...”
“Fine,” she said and I knew she considered it settled. “Now, let’s go into details. They’ve chosen you as the target and they must contact you.”
“Target? Why not the victim?”
She ignored my comment. “We’ll help them and give them the opportunity they need. We have many options. You and I will discuss them and decide on which to choose.”
“I’ll be used to make it easy for her to spy.”
“No, no. She’ll not be spying.”
“She’ll be a sleeper agent. A sleeper, by definition, does nothing at all but sleep. She’ll be asleep until she is awakened. However... when awakened... well, then she’ll be used for something.”
“Destroying the very heart of our country and its defense. That’s just one example of what she could do.”
It took some time for us to sort out what we could do, but after a while, we concentrated on the fact that I had lunch every so often at a restaurant connected to the lounge of Hôtel de la Paix. Instead of now and then, I would go there at least three times a week. Since I most certainly was under surveillance, we guessed that they knew about my movements and that the restaurant was the only spot were I showed a visible habit.
The restaurant was situated so that one could survey the reception desk as well as the entrance of the hotel. From now on, it was decided, I would eat my lunch meals there on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. I had always been very observant as to what is around me. Now I was even more watchful. But over the next months, I noticed nothing intimating that I was being observed.
My private life was encapsulated in my work. When not on a mission somewhere in the world, I slept at the agency, where I had been allocated a small apartment, actually a small room with a small bathroom, a small kitchenette and a big TV screen. It was structured according to a Japanese formula used by hotels in central Tokyo, and it was, in spite of its size, very functional and comfortable. I had never heard anyone complain and ask for more Lebensraum.
Our secret agency is a small one compared with the giants, but the building is a six-storeyed house covering a full block. Mostly, I ate at the cafeteria. I rarely cooked. I used the kitchenette for boiling tea water. In my spare time, I read books on agents and spying, above all true stories and technical literature. In that sense, our small library is probably one of the best in the world, not quantitatively but qualitatively.
On top of the building was a garden with a running track, where I ran fifty laps most days of the week. Every day I trained in weapons and worked out at the gym, but that was done in the basement of the agency, so no outsider could use that place for contacting me. In order to contact me, they were practically forced to do it at the Hôtel de la Paix restaurant.
I had been on quite a few assignments to other countries over the years, but I had never faced anything of the kind that James Bond attracted. I was no 007. In spite of my daily shooting sessions, I was not permitted to shoot, much less to kill. I never carried a weapon. I had never slept with the enemy. Stuff had been handed over to me, but it had never been any problem at all. I had returned home with the information I had been sent to collect. It had always been like any business trip.
But this new thing was different. It topped anything and everything that all the fictional characters I knew of and all I had been through. The sheer boldness of the woman’s assignment was staggering. The individual implications for the woman and me were on the verge of impossible to fathom.
Wenda Klein had no idea how my prospective wife looked. The only thing we knew about her was that she was twenty-one years old and had been groomed to be an agent of no return. I spent a lot of time pondering over what she was like and how she would act, how she looked. Sometimes, I imagined her to be an ordinary woman, sometimes I visualized her to be gorgeous but I knew that however I pictured her to myself, she would most probably come as a surprise when that day dawned.
My ordinary listlessness was softened for a while, but after two months nothing had happened, and my character returned to its former indolence. Since I was aware of how dangerous it could be to relax, I nurtured my vigilance, which had become an unconsciously exercised habit over the years.
It was at 1:00 pm on a spring day that the expected drama began. I had enjoyed my raw spiced salmon with mashed potatoes and lemon and was just about to down a cup of coffee when I caught sight of a woman standing by the reception desk looking at me.
She looked ordinary, her light hair resting on her shoulders, and she turned her eyes away from me when she saw that I was looking at her, as if avoiding eye contact. To me she was a disappointment, not at all what I had expected. And what had I been expecting? Anyhow, all of a sudden, I was in fuller possession of my senses than ever.
Copyright © 2011 by Bertil Falk