In this scene, the teenage cold war secret agent travels across his hometown of Adamston, NJ, to Mrs X’s house and accepts his mission.
Mrs X returned with the tea setup and poured me out a cup. Turning to my mother, she said “You should leave now. He has to make this decision on his own.”
My mother put her hand on my shoulder, squeezed for a second, then graced out Mrs X’s front door. When we could see her sitting in our 1979 Volvo through the bay window, Mrs X turned to me. “I can tell you’re smart, David. But you have so much to see. Are you ready for a mission?”
“Well, what would you have me do, Mrs. X?”
“We would need you carry a bunch of things to Moscow. Some presents from us to a few of our friends over there.”
“Presents? Like a Secret Santa?”
“If you wish.”
“What kind of stuff? Ataris and Cabbage Patch Dolls?”
“Smaller stuff. With more meaning. A little religious, a little political, a little literary -”
“So, like, heavy stuff, then?”
“The kind of stuff that can open up the world to people living in darkness, David.”
I sat back into the couch, breathed out even and cross my hands over my lap.
“So?” Mrs X asked. “Am I wasting my time?”
“Yes. Of course. I mean, no, you’re not wasting your time. I’ll do it. Why not?” my hands opened and I looked at Mrs. X, who just nodded and smiled.
I think this could get me laid, I thought.
“Any questions?” she asked.
“How about who are you? I mean, what are you? The government?”
“The government!” she laughed. “Listen to you. Do you think we could do what we do as a line-item in a congressional budget?” She was amused, but also resolute. There would be no misconceptions, but it was clear there would always be mystery.
“Government red tape is a velvet rope just like at Studio 54,” she continued, her house coat still breathing softly to the rhythm of the forced air heat moving through the house’s open plan. “We are supergovernmental, David. We fund ourselves and we operate with our own set of rules. We have complete independence, which is a good thing. But we also have no safety net. And if you ask the ‘government,’ we don’t exist. There will be nobody to confirm or deny your story if things go wrong. No embassy official will believe you; no consulate will comfort you. But, inside, you have to have known the risks here, or else you wouldn’t have come today, right?”
“Great. For a minute there, I thought this would be easy.”
“You have to take this seriously,” she said. “That’s probably going to be your biggest challenge, from what I can tell of you.”
“I’m not scared, if that’s what you mean.”
“You should be,” she said. “You’re going to have people’s lives in your hands.”
I looked away, out the bay window towards my mother in her 1979 Volvo. Mrs X changed the subject.
“On the lighter side, you’re going to have a code name.”
I looked back at her. That really heightened the get-laid quotient! “Do I get to choose it?”
“No. And you don’t get it until the day you’re leaving. The code names cycle and we don’t know who you’ll be yet.”
“A code name. Hm.” All of a sudden, the words generated gravity that betrayed their usual entertainment factor. I had just finished Falcon and The Snowman for Fr G-2’s English class and having a “code name” wasn’t always shits and giggles in those kind of stories.
Still, I thought, could get me laid.
“You will have 4 critical stops on your test. Each will require a script and an awareness level of your surroundings that you are not accustomed to. I am still skeptical that a 16 year old American teenage boy can pull this off. You will have to impress me. I can abort this mission at any time until you leave. But once you’re on that plane, you are basically on your own.”
I mulled on that quietly.
“Over the next 4 weeks, I will train you,” continued Mrs. X. “It’s more of a mental schooling; it’s not a marine boot camp. You need to be in control of your mind the entire time you are there. Have you ever done any stage acting?”
“I played Dick Deadeye in HMS Pinafore a couple years ago. I was really proud of my limp – and I was the only one who actually talked like a raggedy English sailor.”
“You are not a tourist, David. You are acting the role of a tourist. You understand the difference?”
“I’m to keep a secret,” I said. “a big frickin’ secret.”
“That’s right. Your advantage,” she said, “is also where your risk lies. You have no idea how large and dark the world is. You think you do. You’re a good looking smart well off American. You have no idea how good you have it.”
“I hate when people say that.”
“Wouldn’t bother you if it weren’t true,” she said, with zero emotion. And then added, “But it would bother me if it didn’t bother you.”
“I swear I’m a good person, Father, don’t cane me!” I sarcasticried. Mr. X shook her head.
“Interesting you say that because your first job, and the most critical job,” she said, “is to tell your trip chaperone, Fr. G, about your mission and swear him to secrecy, too.”
“I’m good with the Catholic priests. They love me.” Again, she shook her head. He’s just sixteeen, she thought. I am going to kick Frederic’s ass for this.
“We know your situation as the ‘lone jewish ranger’ -as you put it – at your school. You’re not here out of the blue. That’s why this is perfect. You’re a Jewish kid traveling with priests on a Catholic school trip to the USSR. As long as you’re cool, no one will suspect anything. We’ll have to find another courier if Fr G doesn’t want this to happen, though. You must tell him what you’re going to do tomorrow after class. Don’t ask his permission, though. Just tell him what you’re doing.”
“Really? Like, it’ll be that easy?”
“I’m hedging, yes. And you’re right to ask that. But don’t ask me to clarify too many things, okay? You have to learn how to unthink to do this mission. As to Fr G, that Cold War spy novel buff responds to confidence. We’ve done our research, Dave. Trust me. I’ll see you back here tomorrow, same time. After that, if he’s on board, and I’m pretty sure he will be, it’s every Wednesday and Friday until you leave.”
“Okay. Sure,” I said, unpeeling myself from the smooth white leather couch. I then left the house and got into my mother’s car.
“How’d it go?” she asked.
“Okay,” I said. ”I’m going on a mission.”
“Well, don’t fuck it up,” she said, and hit the rust-corduroy colored Volvo’s accelerator. The next 4 weeks were to be a blur of homework, winter track team meets, trip preparation and eight “training sessions” at Mrs X’s house.
next stop: Dave’s mixtape production and walkman selection process…
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