When you’re in the spy business it pays to remember that you’re never off the job, even at a party.
He adjusted the parabolic microphone to aim at the apartment building across the street. The angle wasn’t perfect for this type of surveillance since he had to hide in the shadows of an air conditioning unit under a clear night sky with a rising full moon. With advanced notice, he could’ve gotten a room a few floors below with a better line of sight than this.
With the small binoculars hanging around his neck, he surveyed the apartment at the southwest corner of the building and thirteen stories above downtown. The kitchen window on the south side was brightly illuminated to reveal two women—one older, one younger—fussing over something coming out of the oven. He turned up the volume for his headphones.
“Hey, Gracie,” a woman voice said, not visible from the window. “Where’s your husband?”
“George should be here any minute,” the older woman said, putting a tray of appetizers into the oven. “Unless he got stuck in traffic or caught up with work.”
Indeed, he mused, where‘s George tonight?
The west side of the apartment was where the darkened bedroom windows were located. Satisfied that no one occupied those rooms, he readjusted that parabolic microphone to the balcony on the southwest corner, with glass doors looking into the living room. Three old men in business suits stood together at the railing, paying more attention to their drinks than either the traffic below or the night skies above.
“Do you think George should retire?” the man on the left said. “Seventy-five is too old even for the civil service and it’s very unlikely that the next administration will appoint him to anything important.”
“Of course not,” the man on the right said. “The Agency should assign him a desk job to push paperwork like the rest of us, and let him choke to death on a Philly steak sandwich during his lunch break.”
“That’s being cruel,” the middle man said. Before the right man could respond, he turned towards the balcony doors and shouted: “Where’s your husband?”
“He’ll be dead if he doesn’t show up soon,” Gracie shouted back, sounding close but far away. She wasn’t visible in either the kitchen or living room windows. “Retirement will be the least of his problems.”
He chuckled. Gracie could always be counted to ride the tail end of a conversation.
“I think—” the middle man started.
“Let’s not go there,” the right man jumped in. “A thinking spook is always bad for the spy business.”
The left man choked on his drink trying to laugh.
“Thinking is bad for you,” the middle man retorted. “No, I was thinking that we should have George assigned as the station chief in Moscow.”
“Moscow!” the right man said, spilling his drink. “What the hell for?”
The middle man held up his hand. “He’s the last of the old school Kremlinologists still working. If the Russian spies were returning to the KGB playbook of spies assassinating spies in Europe, and pushing for another Cold War with the United States, a veteran spymaster like him would be perfect. His appointment would create a stir in the intelligence community since he’s so well known. While everyone watches him, we can insert a younger agent to run the show behind his back.”
“The perfect figurehead,” the left man mused. “Good idea.”
He snorted. What are these idiots thinking?
Then he noticed the curtain twitching in the rear bedroom window. Pointing his binoculars in that direction, he saw the brief opening and closing of the bedroom door against a brightly lit hallway. He frowned.
“Exactly,” the middle man chimed in. “He’s more paranoid than the Russians are themselves.”
The old men laughed.
The right man spoke over his shoulder to the balcony doors. “I don’t suppose Gracie would care to live in Moscow again?”
“Oh, hell no,” she replied, still sounding very close and far away, and not visible from any window. “You can’t have a decent fight with your husband without half the wives of the Politburo finding out first. The eighties were the pits.”
He smiled as the old men chuckled. The eighties were the pits. When had serving in Moscow ever been a good thing?
Scanning all the windows again, he still couldn’t see Gracie. The other women—including the one he heard but hadn’t seen before—gathered up trays of food to take out of the kitchen. The old men went back inside as the women cried out that the food was ready. The headphones buzzed with small talk of food, grandkids and real estate prices.
He leaned back against the air conditioning unit to ponder what he heard so far this evening. What’s an old spook supposed to do at the end of his career? It’s a question that had bothered him for years. Neither a desk job nor a figurehead position sounded appealing. Short of dying in the field or writing a kiss-and-tell memoir, there’s never been a good alternative for an old spook.
With the headphones on he didn’t hear the rooftop door open with a loud click behind him. He did feel the business end of a semiautomatic gun nestled itself behind his right ear, and he held still as a shadow loomed over him. His headphones were jerked off his head and thrown against the parabolic microphone.
“What’s wrong with you?” Gracie asked in a tight whisper. He looked over his shoulder. It was just the two of them on the roof, with a gentle breeze and moonlight reflecting off of her Glock 23. He’d given it to her as an anniversary present a few years ago. “You were supposed to be home an hour ago.”
He pushed the gun away from with one gloved finger. “There are spooks in our apartment.”
“The only friends you have are spooks, honey,” she said, withdrawing the gun. “It’s supposed to be a surprise birthday party for you.”
“Why didn’t you tell me?”
“It was meant to be a surprise.”
“What part of surprise don’t you understand?”
“You didn’t tell me.”
“God!” she screamed at the night sky, scaring some nearby roosting birds into flight. “My mother was right that I should’ve never married a spook—especially a paranoid Kremlinologist. You and your stupid games.”
“I don’t want to hear it. Pack up your equipment and come home. You better have a good excuse for being late when you show up. I’m not covering for you.”
“I was spying on the roof, listening to my traitorous friends talk shop, and my beloved wife of thirty years pulls a gun on me.”
“That’ll work,” she said, pocketing her gun. “Except no one will believe that you’re a pistol-whipped husband.”
He chortled. “How about shooting me in the leg so I can stagger in to tell a wild story?”
“Don’t tempt me.” She turned around and left, letting the rooftop door slam behind her.
He smiled and looked back through the binoculars. Now it was time to play the spooks at their own game with a suave entrance and witty party conversation based on the intelligence he gathered. This was going to be the best “surprise” birthday party he had in years.
C. D. Reimer lives and works in Silicon Valley. His interests are ceramics, painting, tropical fish, and web programming. These keep him out of trouble when he’s not fixing broken users and consoling hurt computers. He is currently working on his first novel, two short story collections, and various short stories.
“The Uninvited Spook” was first published in The Storyteller (July/August/September 2008).