“It is kind of stuffy in here,” Clark Newman whispered, as he walked past the heavy-set man pacing in front of the Alitalia ticket counter.
Upon hearing the prearranged code, the stranger stopped in midstep, relief flashing across his round face. He lifted his left hand clutching passport and ticket. “7649-B, I presume?”
“Correct.” Clark now held up identical documents. “And you must be 7649-A?”
The other man’s fleshy lips parted into a toothy grin. He opened up his passport and placed his index finger on the photograph. “Today this fellow is Robert Stone. He looks rather mysterious, don’t you think?”
“Yes, indeed.” Clark nodded, opening his own passport. “Just like the one in here, a certain Timothy Black.” Then he looked around. “And where is 7649-C?”
“You are to meet up with her for a drink over there in that liquor joint.” The so-called Robert Stone pointed straight across the terminal. “She’s supposed to appear at 7:30 p.m.”
“Yes, I happen to know that our third link is a gorgeous blonde. I have seen a picture of her. But beyond that, I am not familiar with her at all.”
“Okay, we’ll wait.” Clark dropped his carryon to the floor. “By the way, how was your flight? Any difficulties at all making it through passport control?”
“Hardly! With a name like Robert Stone and a baby face like mine, they let me in just about anywhere. I also didn’t encounter any problems as a Peter Miller or a John Farmer, but I wonder what might actually happen if I ever crossed the border as a Piotr Dimitri Konsolevitch or something similar.”
“That may indeed raise a few eyebrows.” Clark laughed. “Any idea yet who you are destined to be next time?”
“Oh, some Stanley Gardner, maybe.”
They both grinned.
“There!” 7649-B suddenly whispered.
“What?” Clark spun around. “Where?”
“7649-C—she is here.”
As they both watched, a slender, long-legged woman, wearing oversized, dark glasses stalked off the escalator. Passport and ticket in her left hand, she headed straight toward the designated bar.
Clark followed her.
He waited until she was seated at a small table near the emergency exit, her gaze firmly fixed on the entrance, before he slowly approached her.
Muttering, “It is stuffy in here,” he switched his papers from left to right.
She smiled. “7649-B, I guess?”
Her voice betrayed a slight, hard to identify, foreign accent.
He was struck by her exquisite beauty. What in the world was a lady like that doing in this type of business?
He leaned forward. “Would you care for a drink?”
“Any kind of wine would be fine,” she said.
After fetching two glasses of Chardonnay from the bar, he sat down across from her.
Toasting her, he handed her his travel documents.
She opened his passport, scrutinized the photo, then nodded.
That’s when he opened his briefcase and retrieved a bulging manila envelope. Glancing about, he quickly covered it with the restaurant’s white linen napkin and slid it across the table.
She painstakingly stashed the package away in her baggy purse, before rummaging around in it a bit more.
Finally she handed his airline ticket back to him. “Here, you may want to hold onto this as a precious souvenir.”
He felt the heavy padding inside the ticket’s cover.
“How much?” he asked.
“The agreed upon amount,” she said. “My country is very grateful.”
Sipping his wine, he motioned toward the door. “7649-A is expecting you at the Alitalia counter. Good luck.”
She gave him a glorious smile, then left abruptly.
He lingered a bit longer, staring at his drink, imagining what her eyes might have looked like without those sinister butterfly glasses blotting them out.
Then he drank up, rose, and walked out of the bar.
When he strolled down the hall, he observed the blonde interacting with 7649-A.
It was a familiar scenario. She took hold of the heavy-set guy’s documents, inspected his passport, accepted his delivery, then handed his airline ticket back to him.
Different spy, same routine, Clark thought wistfully.
After interacting briefly with the clerk at the check-in counter, she hurried past the security officer toward the flight gate.
Business concluded, the two men bumped into each other at the exit.
“Need a ride?” Clark asked. “I’ve an SUV waiting for me.”
7649-A grinned. “So do I.”
Together they strolled out of the terminal and made their way to the car rentals.
There they shook hands and parted.
The next day, a group of high-level government officials gathered in a conference room of the military headquarters of an eastern country. They were anxiously waiting for a set of photographs being processed in a special laboratory. The expected images were crucial to deciphering several intricately coded, classified documents that contained detailed descriptions of a rival country’s planned development of new missiles, their construction, set-up, and targets.
Finally, after hours of agonizing anticipation, the following message flashed across the huge wall-mounted computer screen:
7649 COMPLETED—BUT MISSION A DISASTER
IDIOT FORGOT TO REMOVE CAP FROM LENS
BIO: Helga Gruendler-Schierloh is a bilingual writer with a degree in journalism and graduate credits in linguistics. Her articles, essays, short stories, and poetry have appeared in the USA, the UK, and Canada. The author’s debut novel, “Burying Leo,” a #MeToo story released in 2017, won second place in women’s fiction during PenCraft Awards’ 2018 writing contest.