Tuesday, July 12, 2011

The General and The Magician: A Spy Story Untold


The park of a summer day spans across time. Its leafy greens sway in the same breezes as distant Eden, reaching back to a time of simple joy, no justification needed nor asked. Life's promise washes faces fresh with joy, wiping them clean for their Maker. Moments of endless summer transpire and you wonder why all life isn't like this; who would ever stand in the way of such paradise? How much have we forgotten, how much have we yet to learn? It's like stepping into a floating dream even time cannot sink. A dream both before and after Man.

But at night, friendly trees no longer sing and the ghosts of ancient Black Forests lament their fate. They wail of ages when men of steel crawled from the dark, taking lives as Terror's messengers to forever stain mankind's memory. But it's not the mere slaying of lives they seek but the purging of all peaceful rest. Drive them from their sleep till madness takes their minds; that's when man and ghost become one. Darkness, the time for hidden deeds, also suited well the two blank, sturdy assassins come to murder a tall, elderly Russian man, the General, as otherworldly eyes watched in recoiled pain.

Though long expatriated to America, for seven dicey years the General spied on his native country in the name of freedom. He was crafty and cunning, an observor of human nature as any spy needs to be - or any Russian general for that matter. But while a disciplined person, he was not a disciplined spy and as such he afforded himself a luxury no true spy ever would: a routine. The killers easily spotted their target with his cropped, grey hair, stiff khaki collar, and dangling Gauloise cigarette on his nightly walk of his terrier.

But why kill the old General? Because he was a fanatic who never stops. In the parable of the seeds, he was the soft and fertile ground, ferreting out truth to the very end, never letting it die. As others drop out, discouraged and depleted of faith, the General trudges onward following the light of freedom. And why not? Is not freedom the true desire of every soul ever born? For a man such as he, no other path was possible. But now the General's light shone too brightly with the evidence he'd found, making him the target for human imposters in the dark.


To the American Agency, the General was old news, a thorn in their side whom they had to pay heed since he was such a high ranking Soviet defection. But that was back in the Cold War days and many scoffed at the General's continuing efforts, calling him a relic of the past fighting a war already won. His fears were summarily dismissed. "The Russian state doesn't go around killing dissidents anymore. You're an old romantic, general!" But the General knew better, the danger real as the scorching sun.

No one wants to believe the Soviets are the Soviets anymore. The former Communists use this to their advantage. To the West they speak of their rejection of old style Communism, of embracing change and its ensuing enlightenment. They must be enlightened, they contend, for they are now like the West. This the West - and the Agency - like to hear.

And even when not believed, it is still believed. Such is the force of policy mandated.

Old ways die hard, taking new names and shapes - but what if only a guillotine’s veneer has changed? Is not the blade still as sharp? How very important the law of inertia: it matters not if the initial push is for ill will or love's labor, it takes time to stop a rolling boulder. The still sharp edge of the Russians can be understood, reasoned some. What can't be understood is when the crushing boulder destroys living lives in its path and comes a devil's brigade to push it anew, to turn back the clock of progress.

My, how things have not changed!

What the General had obtained was gold dust, evidence of incontrovertible proof of election rigging and voter fraud even now twenty years after the fall of the wall. The depths of subterfuge were so deep it would illegitimize the government and cause embarrassment to any country who continued to recognize the regime as a legitimate ruling power. If the appallingly phony numbers were released to the international community, there would be no choice but to put the truly elected victor into power.

Not that anyone elected in the West was of the General's ilk, relentlessly calling out for truth. But because a veneer of respectability has to be maintained by those nations who claim to be honest democracies.

The way the General learned the truth was through the Magician - a scruffy, wiry man hated by the Agency excepting for a few wise souls. He was called the Magician for the astoundingly detailed and deeply embedded information he could uncover. But others called him different names: pimp, degenerate, scoundrel, lowlife. This he was as well and in his weaker moments he'd provide flaky information on small time operations and people in the night he suspected. But on the big stuff - stuff aimed right at the heart of the Kremlin's powerbrokers - he was never wrong.

The Magician's magic rests in the very downfall of deception itself: a successful deceiver must be respectable to the world but needs a home for his true face. The Magician's power was in his lack of pretense, to provide a seemingly safe harbor that every liar must secretly visit. In the Magician's presence, words were spoken freely, as when a racist believes he's with his own kind. This does not mean state secrets flowed out into his hands - though that did happen on occasion - but it did mean he'd find their irresistible weaknesses. And when the time was right he'd mercilessly exploit that to his benefit.

The Magician - like the General - was old school, playing by old school rules. But the Agency has fanatics of its own, preachers to whom pretense means victory. Church on Sunday means as much as work on Monday. They were a clean people running a clean agency for the benefit of a clean country. Such were their unquestionable gods. For an obvious heathen like the Magician to be given credence was intolerable and - to their perception - suicidal. To hell with the message, only the messenger counts.

The General's dead body complicated all that. He'd been assassinated by the Russians who'd made it obvious by using a soft nosed bullet to the face, their calling card of old. The news the General brought - discarded because it was gathered by the Magician - had to be reconsidered as a matter of course for the investigation. "Damn that little man!" cursed one pious operative of the Magician. Giving credit to the likes of him was in complete violation of her personally purified agenda.

Agents were sent out to find the direct evidence held by the Magician, who kept no known home address. Sex clubs, swinger houses and seedy apartments across Germany were excavated in the search. Finally, in a camp of indigents and ne'er-do-wells who indulged their freedom in debauchery and laziness, a shack was found that claimed to be his. Unfortunately, a place so loose and easy to live in unnoticed also makes an easy place to die unnoticed. His tortured body lay in the corner, the look of horror still frozen upon it.

Professional torturers are hard to find nowadays. It is supposed any thug will do as long as he's willing to go the distance. (Abu Ghraib didn't change world policy but rather hardened it in pride.) But a thug only indulges his perverted desires, not the unearthing of truth. He does not let his victim retreat to gather hope, to patiently let him tell his story over and over until only the truth remains. No, he acts unthinkingly - his true goal all along - and if he goes too far the truth is never retrieved. As happened here.

A truthseeker?

They beat him, they electrocuted him, they persistently punished his pain until the Magician was no more. But this man - this pimp, whore, sex maniac - would not break, the brutes only inflaming his resolve. It was a godsend they never let up, for each second he got closer to death the closer the Magician knew he could bury his secret with him. All he need do was keep holding out. It was not just the proof he was keeping safe but the forever freedom of his soul. He fought for a free Russia because he needed a free life. In a world built on facades, the Magician never hid his face.

The incompetent thugs left empty handed. Young and unschooled in tradecraft, they'd never heard of oldtime Moscow Rules and thus never noticed a seemingly innocuous chalk line by the ceiling that marked a fishing line that could not be seen even when staring directly at it. But since the General was from the old days an oldtime investigator was sent in who knew right away what the chalk line meant. He traced the fishing line to a drain pipe outside where a carefully packaged USB flash drive contained news of the world known to few.


The memo on the President's desk was clear and definitive: the Russian Prime Minister was a fraud and a crook. Russia, having morphed into a corporate oligarchy protected by an equally corrupt government would be forced to undergo drastic changes with an honest man at the helm. The country's current structure holds an economic stranglehold on millions as the infrastructure and common good decay while only an elite few participate in the wealth - talk about a merging with the West!

The anxious eyes of men who'd also built lives sustained by the chains on their fellow man sat waiting in velvet chairs while their professorial leader ingested the situation in the Oval Office. Will he propose an intellectual response outside our agenda? Will he be blind for the need for greed? Will my wife still love me if I lose this position of power? Every prop man there was a smart man who knew they lived in a house of cards one day doomed to fold. But not this day. The conspirators mentally armed for battle were their leader to finally face the music of the times.

The President pushed the Top Secret paper to the edge of his desk. "We have too many deals in place with them already. I don't believe it would be pragmatic to pursue this."

"Who will ever know of my mistake?"

Relieved smiles exchanged underhanded assurances the evidence would be destroyed, denied and disdained - all in the name of mythical national security. That men had died getting this information caused secret delight to these cowardly creatures. That the voice of the Russian people was to be betrayed also pleased these misfit mutants (who'd also betrayed an American election and saw this as a vindication). Truth came knocking but no one had ears. These men weren't fanatics of justice like the General nor devoted to freedom like the Magician. No, these men claim a pretended piety above Nature's law.

But one day the Day of Reckoning will come, and what was once considered "pragmatic" will then be seen for what it is: an invitation to treason. No man - or country - can be a true ally who does not pursue freedom.

Tracing the last footsteps of the General

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