FORTY YEARS A LIE - FORTY YEARS A SPY
The snow flurries were getting more persistent Brad noted as he surveyed the wintry scene from his bedroom window. It wouldn’t be long before it started to lay which was the last thing he wanted when faced with an hour and a half drive to Kansas City to pick up his wife Marci from the airport. He shuddered involuntarily at the thought and turned away from the window. Marci didn’t fly in until nine thirty tomorrow morning so with a bit of luck the weather would have picked up a little by then. He certainly hoped so, he no longer felt confident driving on the busy roads, which was ironic given he was a man who’d spent his life in the most dangerous of professions.
He felt his eyes being drawn across the room to a row of framed photographs perched on top of a chest of drawers. In the first, a much fitter twenty-four-year-old version of himself smiled mockingly from the cockpit of an F86 Sabre jet. The picture had been taken at Kimpo airbase back in 1953 and he’d just returned from a mission on which he’d shot down an enemy Mig 15.
Brad couldn’t help a wry smile as he picked up the photograph, the truth was he’d enjoyed every moment of being a fighter pilot and had never felt so alive as when he was throwing his Sabre around the war-torn Korean skies. What he wouldn’t give to be twenty-four again he thought holding the picture to one side so he could compare the boy in the cockpit to the wizened old man staring back at him from the bedroom mirror.
He could see both elements of the boy in the man and vice versa, but time had certainly taken its toll. If Brad was being honest, he always was a vain man, and the ageing process never sat well with him. First it had been the gradual loss of hair during his fifties, then the once handsome fighter pilot turned into a jowly old man when his face dropped in his early sixties. Finally, to add insult to injury, there was the stoop which he felt sure was a result of the bone crushing G forces he’d endured during his time as a test pilot.
He put the picture back down and picked up the one showing himself and Marci along with his good friend John Riker and his wife Beth enjoying a meal at a restaurant in Miami in 1964. Marci looked fantastic and no one more than Brad knew how lucky he’d been the day she rear-ended his Buick at a stop sign outside Edwards Air Force Base.
Brad couldn’t help grinning from ear to ear as he remembered the first time he’d set eyes on his future wife. She was absolutely stunning, a statuesque blonde in every sense, with sculpted cheek bones and the most expressive sapphire blue eyes. Whilst at the time Marci had been mortified at her untimely lapse in concentration and the damage she’d done to Brads car, he had been captivated, and in an act of chivalry said he would forgive her on the proviso she had dinner with him. The rest is history and here they were forty-five years, two daughters, five grandchildren and two great grandchildren later.
Brad felt he had been truly blessed. Not only had he followed his boyhood dream and become a fighter pilot he’d married an utterly amazing woman who’d stuck with him through thick and thin. The only time her support had wavered was when he passed Nasa’s astronaut selection process and was seconded to project Gemini. Poor Marci, she really hadn’t wanted him to go into space and had done everything bar beg at his feet to stop him. Looking back, it was an episode which bore him no little shame and he could see now what scant regard he’d had for his wife’s feelings. It was the one and only time when he put his career before his marriage. It wasn’t just his career though, there was more than a little pride and vanity involved. Astronauts were on the same level as Movie stars back then.
As it turned out Marci got her wish and he never did ride a rocket in to space having been struck down by inexplicable bouts of vertigo within a month of joining the project. Once again something he ascribed to his time as a test pilot when he and John Riker pitted themselves against the next generation of jet fighters.
He put the picture back down and shook his head, he hadn’t got time to dwell on the past, Marci had given him strict instructions to tidy out what they euphemistically referred to as their home office. By tidy she meant sort through forty years of accumulated junk and decide what to keep and what to throw away as she aspired to turn the room back into a bedroom.
It was a monumental task and one he should have started days ago. In his naivety Brad had thought it would be a simple task of stacking the keepers on one side of the room and those items which were to be ditched on the other. If only he wasn’t a sentimental old fool he thought after two hours hard graft during which the keepers pile had outstripped the ditchers, at a ratio of five to one. Brad was fairly sure this wasn’t what Marci had in mind.
He stood up and straightened his aching back, maybe it was time to take a break. Just then his eyes alighted on an object which he knew without doubt was a keeper. It was a Victorian writing slope, something which the discerning Gentleman or Lady of the day would take with them on their travels and use as a portable writing desk. Outwardly it looked like a plain mahogany box which, much like the man holding it, hadn’t fared well with the passage of time.
Brad carefully folded the top half of the box back through one hundred and eighty degrees to reveal the dog-eared writing slope within. Beneath the slope itself were numerous small compartments for items such as ink wells and writing materials. Despite its poor overall condition, it was unthinkable he could ever throw it away, the slope being the one and only tangible link Marci had to her past having originally belonged to her grandmother. The same grandmother who had single handidly raised her after her parents were killed in an automobile accident when she was five.
Brad had never met the old lady himself as she had passed two years before he and Marci met. It was a shame really as Marci had always spoken fondly of her and took pleasure in regaling her own grandchildren with stories of growing up in a harsh but loving environment in the back woods of Tennessee.
A sudden flash of inspiration came to him, Marci would be seventy-five in August and the writing slope fully restored to its former glory would be the perfect gift. Buoyed by the thought of the joy and happiness this would bring his wife he tucked the writing slope under his arm and headed downstairs to secret it away in the garage.
Unfortunately, he didn’t notice Spook their pet cat, fast asleep on the last stair but one until he stood on her. There was an ear-splitting shriek as man, feline and writing slope tumbled through the air, Brad landing flat on his face and bloodying his nose in the process.
“Goddamned cat,” he swore dabbing away at his nose with a handkerchief when he finally picked himself back up. Out of the corner of his eye he saw the writing slope had broken in two when it impacted with the tiled floor. Not only that, the base had come adrift and the various stringers which made up the interior compartments were scattered far and wide. He groaned and shuffled across to gather them up, it was only then when he noticed what he took to be two note books amongst the wreckage. Except they weren’t note books they were…
“What the hell?” he muttered, completely mystified as to why there were two foreign passports secreted away in the writing slope. Upon closer inspection he saw one was Canadian and one was British, which only served to deepen the mystery. He opened the Canadian one first and recoiled in horror at what he saw inside. He closed his eyes and opened them again hoping it was a bad dream. It wasn’t. With his hands shaking uncontrollably he opened the British passport and, as with its Canadian counterpart, saw a black and white image of Marci dating back to the 1950’s staring back at him.
He was at a total loss, more so when he read the names on each passport, on one she was listed as Linda Jenkins of Guildford, England. On the other Louise Walters from Revelstoke, British Columbia. A sickening thought started to gnaw away at him. No, she couldn’t be. Not Marci he told himself as he fought the urge to be physically sick. Then he saw what he took to be an envelope still wedged in the writing slopes false bottom. He teased it out and placed it next to the two passports. He could see now it wasn’t an envelope at all, but a perforated sleeve along with two single faced cards which when inserted would slide up and down inside of it. Brad knew straight away what they were, he’d seen an American version when he was in the Air Force. He wished he hadn’t, he really wished he hadn’t…
He sat down and placed all three on the kitchen table, trying his best to come up with a rational explanation as to why Marci would have possessed such provocatively disturbing items. Try as he might he could think of no plausible, legal reason and kept coming back to the same gut-wrenching conclusion. It was too much for him to take in. His whole life had been a lie. How could he not have seen what was right in front of him? In his mind he imagined the embarrassment and the shame when the news broke. That was when he felt the first bitter tears of betrayal running down his cheeks.
After an hour of tortured deliberation Brad picked up the phone and asked John Riker if he could come around. The Wiesner’s and Riker's having remained close friends long after Brad and John left the Air Force. It had seemed only natural they should settle in the same neighborhood when they retired.
“What’s wrong Brad, is it Marci?” John asked on hearing his emotionally distraught voice.
Brad scoffed as he fought back the tears. “Yeah, you could say that.”
“Is she alright. Has there been an accident?” John asked jumping to the obvious conclusion.
“No, no accident it’s… something far worse. Seems my whole life has been a lie.” There was a long-stunned silence on the end of the phone broken by a barely audible sigh.
“I’m on my way Brad, see you in five.”
John was as good as his word and five minutes later Brad was ushering both John and his wife Beth into his kitchen.
"My God Brad what’s wrong?” Beth gasped with genuine concern on seeing his ashen face.
“It’s bad Beth, really bad,” he said motioning for her to sit down..
“But Marci’s alright? She’s not…?” Beth let the unspoken question hang in the air.
“Dead you mean? No, no one’s died, and no one’s been hurt. Not physically anyway.”
“So what is it Brad?” John asked his eyes heavy with a mixture of both apprehension and concern.
“I found…” It was no good he couldn’t get the words out and instead pushed the two passports across the kitchen table. John and Beth picked them up in turn and Brad watched as concern was quickly replaced with shock and dismay.
“Where did you get these?” John asked swapping the passports over with his wife.
“They were hidden in the bottom of that,” he said pointing to the shattered remains of the writing slope. “Along with this.” With his hands still shaking he placed the most damning piece of evidence of all on the table for the Rikers to see. “It’s a code cypher. What secret agents used to use back in the day,” he said. More for Beth’s benefit than her husbands. “You might notice the letters on one of the cards are Russian.”
“Jesus Brad,” John said in a hushed voice.
“Now let’s all not jump to conclusions,” Beth said defensively.
“Hell, Beth there only is one conclusion. For forty years I’ve been married to a commie spy.”
“Marci’s a good woman Brad and you know it.”
“Do I? Do I really? Because right now it all looks like an act. I mean hell, she must have thought she’d hit the jackpot when I became part of Gemini.”
“That’s bull and you know it,” snapped Beth. “Marci never wanted you to go into space.”
“That’s as maybe, but I still have to tell the authorities. I still have to tell Mary and Louise their mother was a spy.”
“Nobody needs to tell anyone anything Brad. Marci has been a good, faithful wife. Think of the stress and pain it would cause your family,” John said placing a comforting hand on his friend’s shoulder.
“I don’t know whether I can do that John. I really don’t,” he said despairingly. “I keep going back to the day we met. When she rear-ended me outside Edwards. It must have been a set up.” Brads voice tailed off as a realization dawned. Marci hadn’t been alone in the car; her best friend Bethany had been sat right beside her. Brad and Beth’s eyes met across the table and he instinctively knew his worst fears had just been confirmed. Before he could say another word, he heard a loud metallic click to his left.
“How long have you known?” He asked calmly turning to John who was looking at him down the barrel of a snub nosed .38.
“Beth told me before we were wed. She didn’t want there to be any secrets between us.”
“Secrets? What about the oath you swore to your country?” Brad growled with no little disdain.
“I more than honored it over Korea and Vietnam. Don’t you throw that in my face Brad.”
“Brad,” Beth interrupted. “Forty-five years ago, Marci and I were assigned to ingratiate ourselves with American Pilots at Edwards, that is true. But what’s also true is when we met them, we fell in love with them. Nobody expected that… but it happened.”
Brad shook his head in disbelief. “And the KGB just let you walk away and live happily ever after?”
“They wouldn’t have if Marci didn’t have a lever. I don’t know what it was, but she told Alexi our handler if anyone came after us a letter would be sent to the press and the CIA. They must have taken it seriously because I never heard from him again.”
“And you knew all this?” Brad said accusingly to John who was still pointing the gun at him.
“I told Marci she should tell you,” Beth continued, “but she was afraid your pride and sense of duty would get in the way.”
“It’s called integrity,” Brad said sarcastically.
“You can call it what you like,” said John. “But I’m not letting you ruin both of our families Brad. Look me in the eye and tell me you can be the bigger man and move on from this.”
“Put the gun down Riker,” Brad scoffed. “We both know you’re not going to use it.”
“You look me in the eye first.”
“Go to hell and take your commie wife with you.”
John Riker swallowed hard, looked the man he had idolized for forty years in the eye and pulled the trigger…
Three weeks after her husband was murdered during a botched burglary Marci Wiesner, grieving widow, one time KGB operative and subsequent CIA double agent held her daughter’s hand as his best friend, John Riker, delivered the most heartfelt of speeches at his funeral. Later in the day she took John and Beth to one side and thanked them for being such good friends.
“That eulogy John, Brad would have been so proud…”