Thursday, May 18, 2017

A Not-So-Real-Life Russian Spy Story as a Goofy Lesson in Fiction Writing

Mission Implausible: The Hunt on Moscow’s Arbat for a Double-Crossing Master Mole and His Murky Minions


(When I was working deep cover as a super-spy double agent in Moscow,
I made sure never to take photos in places that might reveal my location.
Instead, I stuck to generic public places like this anonymous church downtown.
A nondescript photo like this one could have been taken . . . well . . . anywhere.  
Trust me.  We professionals know what we're doing.)

1.  Introduction to a Tall Tale of Espionage

[writing tip: a story needs a main character with a mission]


            At the considerable risk of spilling vital national secrets of the world’s two foremost nuclear powers, I hereby clear my cluttered conscience and disclose a sort of sordid incident from my chess-and-checkered past.  Suspend your copious incredulity, dear reader, for truth is stranger than fiction.
            About a year ago, contrary to common beliefs, stereotypes, and media headlines, the governments of the United States and the Russian Federation joined forces to employ my super-subtle spycraft services in search of a double-crossing double agent who had played both sides for suckers by selling top-secret information from these two countries to each other at discount rates, angering not only the Yanks and the Russkies, but also the Chinese, the Saudis, the Iranians, the North Koreans, the Bangladeshis, the Tasmanians, and even the Peruvian shoe salesman and the Alaskan ice-cream pusher on the corner of Red Square, thereby forcing all of them to drop their prices on foreign intelligence tidbits just to keep themselves fed in a world awash with scandalous and juicy gossip.
            My mission, should I choose to accept it (and I did), was to go under deep cover and infiltrate the notorious tourist haven on the Arbat, a famous street in Moscow, where the diabolical mole had been rumored to be operating with his fickle fiendish friends and feral femme fatales.
            At the outset, I chose for my cover a counterintuitive anti-cover—myself.  This was a brilliant stroke of genius not usually practiced among professional spooks, fibbies, coppers, Chekists, forensic fishermen, or even nephrologists, who for all their special skills lack the creative undercover couth that empowers me to shoot my padded fees through the vaulted ceiling.  After all, not even your common, average imbecile would ever suspect that yours truly could possibly pass himself off as a world-class operator in the Russian underworld.  Which is a lesson to everyone not to underestimate your local neighborhood geek.


(The Russians gave me a bulldog to assist me.  I code-named him "Boris."
But I didn't trust him.  His collar was bugged, and not just with fleas.
On the other hand, he was a fascinating conversationalist whose Russian was superb.
One of his ancestors foiled an assassination plot against Peter the Great
by going undercover with a group of Cossacks.  He disguised himself as a horse.)

2.  The Obligatory Hooligan Scene

[writing tip: a story needs conflict]


            When I reached the famous lane, I immediately encountered trouble—a handful of soft and furry toughs on the hard streets of Moscow.  Definitely mercenaries of the mole.  Dressed up as cutesy cartoon characters, they played nice and cozy at first, sidling up to me and my son like Santa Claus solicitors at a charity dinner.  But I kept my piano-playing fingers firmly wrapped around my wallet.  



It was all fun and games until they put my unsuspecting son into a headlock, at which point we drew upon our years of mindless American TV to cowboy-karate-chop our way out of that dicey situation.



            Unfortunately, my son was traumatized.  He will never look at Cheburashka or the Russian Winnie the Pooh the same.  Few crimes are so atrocious as corrupting children’s innocence, especially via cuddly cartoons.  Such were the conscience-less monsters I was up against.


3.  The Obligatory Female Love Interest

[writing tip: many stories benefit from a subplot, especially a romantic one]


            Though usually impervious to femme fatales, I did divert my poor, beguiled eyes to look upon a Russian doll of full Siberian proportions, who proudly stood within a window of a shop, flaunting her considerable talents for all the world to see.  I coveted this cute, curvaceous cuddlemonger and cried within my melting masculine heart, “She shall be mine!”
            My goal, of course, was to transfer this buxom beauty of a plentiful possession to my lovely wife.



            A stackable matriozhka doll of Biblical enormousness!  A wonder of the Russian world to rival Noah’s Ark or the Trojan Horse!  Hers was a face to melt a million male American hearts and sink a thousand Yankee ships.  What a big and beautiful girl!  And she redefined with pleasing modesty the very concept of dangerous curves.  (Just try standing on her head or shoulders without falling off and bruising yourself.)
            I named her Anya—or, more affectionately, Annushka (pronounced AH-noosh-kuh).
            I wasn’t sure how I was going to stuff her into the overhead compartment on the plane home.  Truth be told, I couldn’t even smash her through the outer door of the fuselage.  “Annushka,” I told her, “you simply must lay off the greasy cheese-and-potato pirozhki.  You can blimp up like a true American after we get to the States.”
            In the end, I ignored the handful of petty passengers who shrieked their foul objections to my delicate trinket, and I bribed one of Aeroflot’s supermodel stewardesses to turn a blind eye while I hoisted Anya onto the top of the plane and tied her down with shoelaces.
            Alas, when I landed in New York, my Annushka, notwithstanding her aerodynamically smooth and impeccable skin, had disappeared.  Back home in Provo, I bent an elbow at my kitchen table to comfort my weeping soul with a cordial cup of lactose-free cocoa, and my mind turned to the timeless tune of an immortal tavern song, the chorus of which I belted out as loudly as I could while I swung back and forth, sloshing my frothy cocoa around my manly mug with reckless abandon:

My Anya lies over the ocean.
My Anya lies over the sea.
I lost her in all that commotion.
Oh where, tell me where could she be?

Bring back, bring back, bring back my Anya to me, to me!
Bring back, bring back, bring back my Anya to me!

            Oh, Annushka, you gentle soul.  Perhaps you were for my eyes only.
            But much of that mushy side-plot happened later.  With this forward-flash now behind us, we must cut back to the action on the Arbat.

4.  The Obligatory Encounter with Another Agent

[writing tip: some stories could use more than one subplot; 

or, alternatively, a focal character could use an ally now and then]


             I knew from the run-in with the fulsome femme fatale that I was getting close to the mole's infamous lair, but I was distracted once more when I ran into my long-lost brother, Michael. 



It turned out he was working under deep cover as well, which explains the otherwise inexcusable inversion of his jersey number.  With the standard “23,” everyone would have spotted him immediately, but the “32” made him all but unrecognizable.  Good thing, too, because he and I look so much alike that if his cover had been blown, then my own cover, a fortiori, would probably have been blown also.

5.  The Obligatory Dramatic and Danger-Loaded Climax

[writing tip: end your story with a climax and a resolution]


            Anyway, to make a short story shorter, I finally tracked down a muddle-minded munchkin minion masquerading as a master maven marketer in Moscow’s major mecca for macho American money-spending tourists like myself. 

(Don't be fooled by the cute costume.
This agent of the mole is a consummate killer,
a cunning, conniving, creamy-smooth cutthroat,
squishy on the outside with poison on the inside.
I assigned him the code name "Twinkie.")

I closed in and sent the signal to my manhandling Russian case handlers, who swooped down from silent helicopters to bag this clown and haul him to the Lubyanka, where we willy-nilly waterboarded the four-eyed chubby cheese puff until the yellow devil squealed and ratted out his ratfink boss, the mole—whose identity I cannot disclose because of national security reasons.  But he was bad, trust me.  Aldrich Ames bad.  Robert Hanssen bad.  And I got to him before the Russians did.  Smuggled him out on a U.S. Navy mini-sub that sailed right down the Oka, Volga, and Don rivers to the Black Sea, where it squeezed past that nice new bridge to Crimea and rendezvoused with an aircraft carrier in the Mediterranean.
            But I stayed behind in Moscow, of course, for the sake of Annushka.
            Poor girl.

(These three manhandlers from the Russian intelligence
services helped me to waterboard the minion.
Nice guys if you're on their side, but you better not mess with them
unless you're armed with light sabers and nuclear hand grenades.)

            As anyone can see from the indisputable photographic evidence I present here, this account of high-level international espionage is well-grounded in hard, undeniable facts, and probably deserves a Pulitzer in investigative journalism, considering the magnitude of the issues involved.

(After nabbing the mole, I returned to Red Square
and reported directly to the Russian president, who went
undercover himself as a guard so that I would not have to
enter the Kremlin compound.  Look closely, and you'll see that it's really him.
I communicated my results by blinking at him from a distance, 
and he confirmed receipt of my message by standing absolutely still 
for a long time.  Talk about an unbreakable code!
Then I passed along this top-secret photo of him to my true bosses
at the CIA station house, which at the time was disguised as a McDonald's.
He used me, I used him, we double-crossed each other
it's all just business, nothing personal, standard operating procedure,
the way the game is played in the big leagues.)

            With my mission accomplished and both countries a little safer—and I do love both, though my passport shall always remain true blueI returned to my obscure life in the U.S. under my safe generic alias of John Q. Public, a pseudonym that I can take with me almost anywhere, especially because it translates so well into other languages—e.g. Ivan K. Publikov (Russian); Jean Q. Publique (French); Juan Q. Publico (Spanish); Johann Q. Publische (Germanesque if not quite pure German); Giovanni Pubblico (Italian); etc.  For the time being, I’m at a loss regarding possible Chinese, Arabic, and Swahili equivalents, so I’ll limit my sophisticated spycraft travels to the U.S., Russia, and maybe parts of Europe.
            But should my country call upon me once again to hunt down minion miscreants in Moscow, I’ll be ready.

(Nothing beats the satisfaction of a tough job well done—which
reminds me of the steak dinner I was served at the CIA awards
banquet.  But that spooky culinary scandal is a story for another day.)


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