“But that’s ridiculous, Tanner. Why not?”
I killed time with a sip of Scotch. I finished the drink and while he poured more whiskey into my glass and his I shuffled through my brain looking for a convenient lie. I thought of those star-crossed lovers, Karlis and Sofija, and I stopped shuffling. If I had to do something ludicrous, I might as well do it in a good cause. If I had to go traipsing around the world, I might better traipse to Latvia than to Colombia.
I said, “There’s another trip I have to take.”
“ Eastern Europe.”
“Be more specific.”
“The Baltic States.”
“Does it matter?”
He stared intently at me. I was playing a dangerous game, but I had a hunch I might get away with it. From what I knew about his agency (our agency?), one had a considerable amount of leeway. His men did not make written reports or follow instructions. They were given a job to do, they made their own plans and established their own contacts, and they went in and did it and came back and announced that it was done. Or they didn’t come back, and the Chief drank a toast to their memory.
“The Baltic States,” he said.
“An important mission?”
“Not government business, really. A favor for a friend.”
“Oh, come now, Tanner!”
“I’m afraid I know you too well for that, Tanner. You wouldn’t miss a chance at the Colombian job unless it were something very big indeed. There’s a missile center outside of Tallinn. Is that part of it?”
“I’d rather not say anything in advance.”
“Mmmm. Something bigger than Colombia. You won’t tell me what it is?”
“Let me just say that it’s an errand for a friend.”
He chuckled again, and I knew everything was going to be all right for the time being. “You and Dallmann,” he said. “You work best when you make your own plays. One of the best things Dallmann ever did was recruit you.” Dallmann, who was dead, could be counted on not to set the record straight. “Well, I’m sorry I can’t use you in Colombia. We don’t have anyone else handy who could turn the trick. I’ll have to hand it back to the Agency. Who knows? They might even do something right for a change.”
On the way home I stopped at the Western Union office. I wired a friend in Bogota. I sent the message in Spanish, but in English it would work out to something like this: BEST OF LUCK IN COMING VENTURE. UNDERSTAND BOY SCOUTS ARE COMING. TAKE CARE.
That night I took a train to Providence.
Karlis gave me her picture and her address and his blessing. He wanted desperately to come along, and it was not easy to talk him out of it. I kept reminding him that the Russians would know of his high position with the Latvian Army-In-Exile and that his presence in the country would endanger not only himself but me and Sofija in the bargain. He was disappointed, but he could appreciate the truth of that.
“The entry and escape will be difficult,” I told him. They would be impossible, I thought. “And I must travel as light as possible. One man, alone, might be able to get in. One man and one woman might be able to get out. But I won’t even take a suitcase, just a few things in a leather portfolio. I want to travel light.”
I didn’t want to travel at all. But I went home again and packed some things in my slim satchel and I studied maps of Europe and I thought of flying straight to Helsinki. Finland is just across the Baltic from Estonia, and that would be the simplest way of entering the region.
Then I remembered my son Todor. And for the first time the trip’s être had a raison. I couldn’t expect to rescue Sofija because that was plainly impossible. I could not honestly expect to get into Latvia at all. But I could damn well get into Yugoslavia and I could find Annalya and I could see my son.
The next morning, bright and early, I caught a TWA jet to Athens.
For three days and three nights I lived the good life in Macedonia. I gathered wood for the fire. I played with Todor and sported with Annalya. I cut myself a hardwood walking stick and took long treks over the rugged hillside. I breathed air a thousand times fresher than the black murk that hangs over New York. I drank pure spring water and fresh goat’s milk. I ate thick black bean soup and roasted lamb. I entertained fleeting thoughts of the ease with which I might go native, raising a thick and drooping Macedonian moustache, tending a brace of goats, and remaining forever with my ready-made family. In the cool, clean air of Macedonia, Riga and Manhattan seemed equally remote, equally non-essential to my personal happiness.
But one sun-brightened morning it was time. I looked at Annalya, and she looked at me, and her eyes clouded. She said, “Today?”
“You must go, then? It is time?”
“It is time, little dove.”
“I am a Macedonian woman,” she said, “and will not weep.”
There was nothing to pack. I tucked my slim satchel between two of my sweaters. I picked up my walking stick. Annalya came to me, and we kissed and held each other. Todor, alone upon his mattress, was but a young Macedonian; he cried, and Annalya picked him up and brought him to me. I held him up in the air and grinned at him, and he stopped crying.
“He is a good boy,” I said. “I am proud of him.”
“He brings me joy.”
“I am grateful for the picture of him. If, from time to time, you could have other pictures drawn and sent to me-”
“It shall be done.”
When I reached the door she said, “You will return, Evan?”
“Perhaps Todor shall have many brothers.”
I turned to her, and saw the radiance of her eyes and the set of her jaw and the great strength and beauty of her. And Latvia, after all, was miles and miles away over cold and distant lands. So I reentered the hut and closed the door, and we put Todor to sleep on his own little straw mattress, and it was another warm, sweet hour before I got out of there.
The map I had drawn on the floor of the hut remained brightly outlined in my mind. While I worked my way north through Yugoslavia I spent my time planning the route I would have to take. There was a simple way to do it, one that would involve crossing only two borders. I could cross from Yugoslavia to Rumania and from Rumania to the Soviet Union and then, once inside Russia, I could make my way north to Latvia. That cut down on the border hopping, but it also meant I would have to travel a great distance within the confines of the Soviet Union.
I was not especially anxious to do this. From what I understood, internal security within Russia is honed to a keener edge than in the Eastern European satellite nations. Even the police in countries like Hungary and Poland will occasionally overlook subversive activity on the grounds that it is not so much anti-Hungarian or anti-Polish as it is anti-Russian. The Russian authorities, on the other hand, cannot gift themselves with this convenient excuse, and a conspirator’s lot is proportionately more difficult there.
That was only part of it. The political crazy quilt of Eastern Europe was dotted with friends and comrades of mine, political oases in a desert of officialdom. And, while I had a smattering of such friends in Russia itself, notably my Armenian Nationalist friends in the south and a handful of Ukrainians and White Russians, they were scattered far and wide and came under rather close government scrutiny.
A final factor: I had never been to Russia. The new and unknown carries its own special terrors.
I planned my route. North through Yugoslavia to Belgrade, the capital. On into Hungary, bypassing Budapest to the east. Cutting across Czechoslovakia at the extreme eastern corner of Slovakia, and on into Poland with a stopover at either Krakow or Lublin. Then due north through Poland to Lithuania, and onward from Lithuania to Latvia, and then-
Then home again, home again, jiggety-jig.
Of course I would have to find a simpler and more direct route home. If I actually did manage to get into Latvia, I could go home via Finland. If I found it too hazardous to cross into Russia – and this certainly seemed likely – I could choose between crossing the sea from Poland to Finland or Sweden or working my way westward through Germany and France. Any of these possible courses would take a good long time, and time was one thing I had in abundance. If nothing else, I had to stay out of the States long enough for the CARM revolution to take place. It would probably fail – the vast majority of revolutions do – but if it failed, at least it would do so without my having contributed to its defeat.
Meanwhile I was in Yugoslavia, a political absurdity, the last stronghold of prewar Balkan nationalism, an ill-sorted lot of Serbs and Croats and Slovenes and Bosnians and Montenegrins and Macedonians, of Stalinists and revisionists and anarchists and monarchists and social democrats and assorted unclassifiable madmen, all nestled among jagged mountains and pea-green valleys and winding blue rivers.
I love Yugoslavia.
Once I had reached Belgrade, it was no particular problem to find Janos Papilov’s house. I had been there before on a trip that had led south through Yugoslavia, and his house was still the same, dark and unimposing on the outside, immaculate and tastefully furnished within. Janos himself met me at the door with a smile and a firm handshake. No rough embraces; Janos, Professor of Indo-European Languages at the University of Belgrade, is a man of infinite culture and sophistication. He led me to the dining room, where his wife and father-in-law were seated. There was a place already set for me.
“You see,” he said, “I knew that you were coming, my friend.” He smiled at my surprise. “In my country,” he said, “news travels even faster than an American agent provocateur. But be seated, Evan. There will be the whole night for conversation. May I strongly recommend the wine? It is Slovenian, the sort of dry white wine they do rather well there. You might almost mistake it for a Moselle.”
We gossiped pleasantly during dinner. A fairly important officer of the New York chapter of the Serbian Brotherhood had been involved in an amusing scandal with another brother’s wife, and Janos was hungry for details. Some of the details, and some of his comments upon them, were not entirely suited for the ears of Mrs. Papilov or her father, so our conversation was not conducted exclusively in Serbo-Croat. Janos’s wife spoke French and Russian and a little English. But Janos himself spoke all of the major European languages and a few others as well, and the conversation bounced from one tongue to another, from Rumanian to Hungarian to Greek, as we elaborated upon the strange bedfellows that politics makes.
After dinner Janos led me to his study. He was a long, lean man, with sparse gray hair and thick wire rimmed spectacles. He sat at his desk, and I sat in a comfortable leather chair, and for a few moments we chatted idly of political friends. Then the conversation ran out of momentum, and he sat back in his desk chair and regarded me thoughtfully.
“It is providential that you have come at this time,” he said finally.
“Because there is something you must read. Something you will find quite fascinating.”