Authors: William F. Buckley
A Blackford Oakes Mystery
William F. Buckley, Jr.
Six hours a day were given over to physical exercise, and Blackford Oakes decided he might just as well take the training along with the Special Platoon, the name given to designate the commando group Blackford had been instructed to help prepare.
He had just spent a year in Germany helping to reconstruct a small private chapel. His real purpose in Germany had engaged him in the most heinous postwar assignment he had ever been givenâthe most heinous imaginable, he had told himself a dozen times during the past two months, waking at midnight in physical and moral sweat. His mind and spirit had had extensive exercise during these weeks, but not his body; so he thought what the hell he might as well get back into prime physical shape, and here was a way to do this in the company of commandos. At the age of twenty-eight he wasn't yet willing to defer to any presumptive physical preeminence in any group, never mind that over half of them were five years younger and that his sedentary months in Germany might show him up during the first few days. So what?
Actually they didn't. He found himself able to do the forced marches without strain, as also the night work under the barbed wire, the push-ups and the pull-ups, the bayonet work, the whole arduous business. He studied jujitsu for the first time, greatly admiring the resourceful instructor, an English sergeant who had spent the war as a prisoner of the Japanese in Malaya where he had learned the martial art from a fellow prisoner, an Oriental who had earned the black belt.
The commandos were a cheerful lot and the groaning they indulged in when suddenly awakened in the middle of the night to be given emergency drills in the chill and wet air of late winter in England was all ritual. They were, however young, all of them experienced, all of them veterans of combat, either in the late days of the war or subsequently in Korea. The men did not know what their mission was, only that it would be dangerous (they were volunteers), but they knew from the intensity of their exercises that it would take place soon.
The afternoons were devoted to specialised training. Six men, one each from the six squads, went to Demolition. Six men, again one each from the six squads, to Radio Communications. Six to Medical First Aid. Six to Special Weapons. The balanceâthe officersâwent with their leader, known to them only as âHenry,' into a single-chambered room within the heavily guarded compound.
From the outside the shed looked like an abandoned theatre. And indeed, inside the shed the two dozen chairs were arranged in theatrical dimension, forming a circle, the stage in the centre. The diameter of the arena was twenty-four feet, and they stared, every day under relentless instruction, at a doll-house version of the city of Tirana, the capital of the little country squatting west of Yugoslavia and above Greece, a million and a half wretched people so Stalinised by now âas to make Stalin and Mao Tse-tung' (as the first lecturer on that first day put it) âweep in jealousy.' Operation Tirana intended, no less, to liberate Albania, the little communist enclave in the Adriatic which, providentially, abutted against no other communist country, now that Tito had declared the independence of Yugoslavia. There were five Albanians, two of whom spoke fluently in English; the other three spoke it well enough to make themselves understood. They would disperseâone Albanian with each of the parachute drops to cope with problems of language, though the operation was designed to make this only a very brief problemâon the way to the sudden change in government. There would be no end of native Albanians at their disposal, the political trigger having been pulled.
One evening at the officers' club Henry sat down with Blackford Oakes at a table by the little bar sequestered for use by the Special Platoon. It was rather like a railroad car in shape. The bar bisected it two thirds of the way down its length, the larger section for the enlisted men, the smaller for the officers, the same barman serving the lot. Henry, though English, sent back his whisky and soda. âPut more ice in that, old man,' he said to the barman, Angie, who had been brought out of retirement for brief and very special duty. And to Blackford, known at Camp Cromwell only as âErnie,' Henry said:
âI am aware, Ernie, that I am not to ask you anything about your background, and you are not to ask me anything about my background. Shall we practice?'
Blackford poured his beer into a glass and smiled at the large, rangy, weather-beaten, self-assured man in his thirties, with the black straight hair worn longer than commando style, with the teeth white, spasmodically visible given the cigarette he dangled from his tight lips.
âYes,' Blackford responded. âI don't suppose I should even tell you that I am practiced in deception?'
âYou may. But you must remember that I am not to take for granted
that is told me here, unless it is told me by Colonel Mac or Joe Louis.' Henry's voice was public school English with, as becomes the accent of a professional commando, a light varnish of Humphrey Bogart. âColonel Mac' was how the company addressed the Ulsterman in charge of the Special Platoon while at Camp Cromwell, the officer who presided over their administrative schedule and their physical training. Joe Louis, the second in command, was a huge West Indian major who was supposed to be addressed as âMajor Joe,' but cheerfully yielded to just plain Joe Louis when the similarity in appearance between him and the American champion was remarked, on the first day, by Henry. Joe Louis's brother, commando Isaac Abraham Ezra, couldn't, under the rules, fraternise with his older brother at the officers' end of the building, a problem they solved by taking their mugs of beer outside where, impervious to the cold notwithstanding their early life in the tropics, they sat together hour after hour, laughing, talking earnestly and, when the dinner gong sounded, walking together toward the mess hall, parting only at the bifurcation that separated the officers from the men.
âI suppose,' Blackford volunteered, âI could talk to you about the stock market and you might believe I was not deceiving you?'
âThe stock market? I say, what's that?' Henry asked, taking a gulp from his glass, stirring the ice with his index finger and rubbing the same finger thoughtfully up the cleft of his bristly chin (Henry was always about one day late in shaving). He reached now into his fatigue jacket and brought out a packet of cigarettes. It was empty. He leaned over to the bar and said to Angie in his distinctively peremptory style: âA packet of Virginia Rounds.' He took the pack without comment. Angie knew betterâafter his initial experience six weeks earlier when he had presented the chit for Henry to signâthan to repeat a gesture that had got from Henry on that first day a frosty, â
sign it. I have other things to do.' Henry now opened the packet and offered a cigarette to Blackford.
âThanks, no â¦ Virginia Rounds! I'll be damned. My father smokes those things. Didn't know you could find them in this part of the world.'
âI'd kill for Virginia Rounds,' Henry said. âOn the other hand, that doesn't say very much, does it, since I kill as a matter of course.' He smiled his tight smile and then added, âIt's true you can't find them just anywhere, but they're about. I told Angie to lay in a store.'
Blackford: âYou were asking about the stock market? You don't know what it is? Well, the stock market is the instrument through which Wall Street dominates all life west of the Democratic Republic of Germany, and east of the People's Republic of China.'
âFunny,' Henry smiled, drawing on his cigarette, âthat under the circumstances I haven't heard of the stock market. Next time you run into it, say hello.'
They spent a relaxed hour talking about this and that, with that odd sense of total relaxation engendered by the knowledge of great tension directly ahead. Blackford was dealing, he soon knew, with a commando much experienced, whose conversation revealed traces of general knowledge not associated with bayonets or explosives. And, he saw, the commando chief was by nature impatient. But impatient men can, as his mentor Rufus once remarked, sublimate impatience into the kind of patience required of men engaged in clandestine activity. Someone impatient to find his prey is prepared to await his appearance patiently, hour after hour. When the dinner gong sounded, Henry in midsentence rose to its summons. They ate together, a dinner positively memorable (sole, steak, mince pies), Blackford commented to Henry after dessert, by military standards.
âHa! I have you!' Henry said with mock excitement. âHow would you know it was memorable by military standards unless you had spent time in the military?'
Blackford laughed. He decided he could go autobiographically even a little further without endangering the operation. âYes. I was a fighter pilot. While I am at the business of divulging my past, I'll go further and say that this dinner is epicurean by comparison with what you poor English boys have to eat at your fashionable schools, and how do I know that? You guessed it, Henry, I was indentured in one.'
Blackford paused, but only briefly; security was security, but after three years he found himself worrying less about security than about being ridiculous in pursuit of security.
âI was in school here.' He was careful not to disclose that he had been at Greyburn. âMy parents divorced in 1941 and my mother was remarried, to an Englishman who took me and my education in charge just before Pearl Harbor.'
âSo that's where the Japs hid you on the Day That Will Live in Infamy. Trust old Tojo. I mean, don't trust old Tojo. I mean, what do you say we take a walk?'
During those briskly cold weeks in January and February Blackford and Henry became friends. They followed the formal rules closely enough so that, under hypothetical torture, neither could reveal anything comprehensively identifying about the other. They experienced each other as professionals with a common cultural background. Henry, Blackford guessed, might have served in a prewar cavalry unitâcertainly he had spent time on horseback. He was, oddly, an addict of American baseball who knew and loved more things about the New York Giants than interested Blackford. And he had a clear strategic sense of the importance of the forthcoming enterprise. He was diligentlyâon occasion brutallyâinsistent on quality performance from his men. No letting up. No unnecessary physical exposure. No compromise with the camouflage on their faces and hands. Late one afternoon Blackford came on him slapping with open hand and with full force first the right cheek, then the left cheek of one of the younger commandos whose performance had evidently dissatisfied Henry. He was administering corporal punishment, no less, and the junior commando was expected to submit without protest. Blackford's fleeting impression was that the discipline was being exerted with inappropriate gusto. But these were Brits, he reminded himself. And those of them who went to public schools were used to rough treatment and submissive behaviour. Though the episode was distasteful, Blackford accepted it rather as in the spirit of Sparta than of de Sade. He walked by without comment, and though Henry saw him later in the day as they met for a drink and supper, no mention was made of the episode.
Henry was in charge of forty men, each of whom would know exactly what was expected of him. The objective was plain. Within three hours of their landing they would control the communications ganglia of Tirana, âexecute' (would âassassinate' have been the more correct word, Blackford wondered? Nice distinction, he thought, good for a post-cold war seminar someday) a half-dozen top officials of the government, most importantly Enver Hoxha, the bloody Stalinist dictator, declaring Hysni Shtylla, the exiled leader of the patriotic, liberal National Front, prime minister. All of this to be followed in rapid succession by recognition of the new government by the allied powers and, a month or two later, a genuinely democratic election. (Hoxha had a year earlier staged elections at which the vote in his favour had come in at a reassuring 99 per cent.) A bold and unorthadox stroke in that, using predominantly Western commandos, trained not in a foreign country but in the heart of Great Britain, it violated orthodox arrangements aimed at coups d'Ã©tat. But Secretary Dulles had campaigned for the liberation of Eastern Europe. The relative independence of adjacent Yugoslavia and the relative geographical isolation from Bulgaria, the next-closest unswerving Soviet satellite, argued the military plausibility and the geopolitical excitement of a genuine Western salient in the cold war, instead of the tiresome, enervating, stultifying countersalients to which the West had become accustomed in Berlin, in China, in Koreaâwherever. Don't push the Soviets, wait till they push, then counter-push. The liberation of Albania would be the dramatic turn in the cold war, the initiative, finally, returned to the West.
Henry and Blackford permitted themselves to fondle the subject, on which they were receiving briefings every day on Operation Tirana. Neither needed to be indiscreet, after all; certain aspects of the operation weren't discussed, for obvious reasons. Blackford was surprised when Henry asked him, âDo you know when in fact we are due to take off?' Blackford could answer truthfully, âHell, no. I've never seen tighter security than on this one. I doubt Eisenhower has been told.'
That night he woke. He looked at the luminous dial of his watch. It was just after four. Blackford tended to sleep soundly, but when he did wake he made it a practice to let his mind wander wherever it choseâan amusement that had been the advice of his mother when he was a teenager. âThat way, darling, you will find out what it was that woke you up, then you can deal with it in your mind, and then you can go back to sleep.' A kind of one-man Ouija boardâBlackford remembered the hours he and his mother, when he was a boy, would sit over the Ouija board and encourage a psychic something or other to move their talisman this way or that, the idea being that the psychic presence would propel the hand toward the correct answer to the questions crowding your mind. He was very much alarmed, on arriving at Greyburn College, to which his stepfather, Sir Alec Sharkey, had dispatched him at age fifteen, to hear the headmaster announce that the boys were forbidden to play Ouija. (Greyburn was affiliated with the Church of England.) A theologian who served as a trustee of Greyburn had declared at a meeting of the board of trustees that the surrender of one's mind to an impersonal force was immoral, arguably an invitation to the devil to take charge of the dispossessed mind. In the years since then Blackford had allowed himself to wonder whether that was the last dogmatic pronouncement ever made by the Church of England, which he had heard described, by one of Sir Alec's cynical old friends, as âthe last bastion of not very much.'
So he lay in bed and thought â¦ and soon his mind turned, naturally, to Sally. Sally Partridge, Yale (almost) Ph.D., specialty, nineteenth-century English Literature with emphasis on Jane Austen. My gal Sal, he had referred to her a few letters back, intending only to be affectionate. She had replied, â“My gal Sal” is entirely too proprietary for my taste, Blacky my boy (and how do you like “Blacky my boy”?). Are you aware that Jane Austen's principals referred to each other as, e.g., “Mr. Knightley” and “Miss Woodhouse” even after they were about to be engaged?' Blackford had replied that Miss Partridge certainly would not, he had to assume from their three-year, uh, friendship, wish to be bound by all the protocols that bound the characters in
âhe was showing off here, as he wished her to know that he knew where Mr. Knightley and Miss Woodhouse had figured in Miss Austen's oeuvre. Thus they corresponded, she desiring above all things to complete her dissertation and receive her doctorateâbut not, really (and why should it be necessary?), at the expense of losing the affection of her âbeautiful Blacky,' as she used to call him at Yale until he laid down a flat, uncompromising prohibition: âYou call me that one more time, Sally dear, and you will be the ex-girlfriend of your beautiful Blacky.' She had laughed; but she knew when to retreat, though sometimes in her correspondence even now she would tease him about his striking features and sculpted physique confident that by doing so she would irritate him. They were well matched to fence in their correspondence and they both enjoyed the sport, even though sometimes they hit below the belt. More often, they were satisfied merely with a caress to reach below it.
So now, in the predawn, he got up and batted out on his portable typewriter a quick note to her, with the usual evasions about what he was up to and, in particular, where he was writing from (she thought him still in Germany), and no evasions about his longing for her.
Well, Mother, I have a) let my mind wander, b) decided it was Sally who woke me up, and c) coped with that problem by writing to her. But I still can't go back to sleep.
So he put on shoes, trousers, and an overcoat and stepped across the hall of the Bachelor Officers' Quarters to the door, and walked out into the cold. It had been stipulated that not even the administrative staff would leave the ten-acre compound save on business, and only when accompanied by another member of the staff, so he would confine his stroll to the area. He walked absentmindedly in the general direction of the officers' mess, muffling himself against the cold.
He noticed, in the radio shed directly across from BOQ, a sliver of light from the window and wondered who else would be up that early. Should he go in and tell whoever it was who was suffering from insomnia about his mother's let-your-mind-loose nostrum?
He approached the window and attempted to look in, but the little tear in the screen, though letting a shaft of light escape, was too narrow to see through. In the stillness he could hear, faintly but distinctly, the telltale
of the telegrapher, and he wondered what on earth Sergeant Esperanto, the radio specialist charged with the responsibility of instructing the five radiomen attached to the five squads, was doing at that hour. He even permitted himself to wonder whether his curiosity should be official, as well as personal and transient.
He would think about that; and so he resumed his walk, wandering distractedly past the commandos' barracks, past the playing field and the mess, past the armoury. Having come to the boundary of the compound he could go no further aimlessly, and so he followed the large barbed-wire fence in a lazy counterclockwise direction back towards his own quarters, for one final attempt at what would now be time for a mere catnap before reveille.
It was windy, and the grey British cold fingered his neck, and so he fastened the top button of his coat and thrust his hands in his pockets and asked himselfâfor the first time, oddlyâwhether he was glad or sorry that he had not been asked to participate in Operation Tirana itself.
If it worked, Tirana would be a most emancipating spiritual event, with infinite strategic implications for the Cold War: a fitting celebration of the first anniversary of Stalin's death, if indeed it should happen that the commandos would set out on March 5. And those who participated in it? Why, they would qualify for King Henry's most celebrated gallery of the gallants (âWe few, we happy few, we band of brothers â¦'). If it didn't work, they would perhaps qualify as the century's Charge of the Light Brigadeâexcept for the important distinction that the overseers of this operation were not lunatics, like the Earl of Cardigan. Moreover, when he arrived at Camp Cromwell three weeks ago his spirits had been low, after those long months in Germany. Would he have been revived by joining this expedition?
Would he, if asked, have volunteered? He could not give himself an answer that seemed absolutely reliable.
He was back now by the radio shed, and looked over at the window. The light he had seen was off. He approached the window. No sound. The telegrapher's roll had stopped. Well. Probably something Sergeant Esperanto had forgotten to do the night before and was catching up on.
Something. Who knows.
But the question remained on his mind when, back in bed, he finally drifted off to sleep.
The following day, at breakfast, Henry and his squad leaders were informed by Colonel Mac: âToday is D-Day.'
It was just after dark when the three buses arrived for the forty-one men and their equipment. They were ready, in camouflage gear, their faces and wrists blackened. âYou won't need this'âJoe Louis took the charcoal from Isaac Abraham and tossed it under the barracks. He put his huge arm around the younger man's shoulder and, their heads tilted slightly toward each other as if they were off to the ballroom to dance cheek to cheek, the brothers walked to the waiting bus, the young gladiator and his older trainer escorting him to the arena.
They had all mounted the buses except for Henry, who stood for a few moments alongside the lead vehicle talking with Colonel Mac and Joe Louis. Henry signalled to Blackford to join them. Henry was at once calm and discernibly excited: Blackford knew the feeling. It had come to him on all three of his missions in France ten years ago, before mounting his fighter plane on the way to what could always prove the terminal engagement.
The colonel and the major now extended their hands and Henry took them, his cigarette between his lips, his beret tilted over his abundant black hair. He reached out then for Blackford's hand and gripped it tightly, his brown squinty eyes alive with excitement. He turned and got into the bus. The convoy moved out of the gate slowly, as to a funeral, and headed the thirty miles to the military airfield where the C-54 transport was waiting for them.
It had previously been disclosed to the eighteen-man training staff at Cromwell that no one would be permitted to leave the compound until the all-clear signal was given. Of the cadre, all but the two cooks and four orderlies knew the nature of the mission for which they had been training the Special Platoon. Knew, then, that if Operation Tirana succeeded, word would come quickly of its success: there could hardly be anything enduringly secret about a coup d'Ã©tat in a communist country effected by democratic forces. If word did not come, then the mission had failed. In that event it would be a matter of days, perhaps weeks, before they would learn what had happened, the extent of the failure. Knew, concretely, how many of the commandos had escaped, how many had died.
âFigure twenty-four hours if the news is overwhelmingly good. No news in forty-eight hours, the mission has failed. It's that simple,' Colonel Mac had said as the buses pulled out.
It had been difficult to sleep that night. The officers, in their section of the bar, speculated endlessly on the variables that might affect the exact time of the commandos' landings. If the planes took off
at 2300 as planned, and if the March winds were at the prevailing force and from the prevailing directionâand this the meteorologist had predicted for that nightâ
they would begin to land at 0322âabout five-thirty in the morning, Albanian local time.
âBut hell, Colonel, they're not going to leave at 2300. It will be maybe 2315, who the hell knows?' the adjutant said.
âWho the hell knows?' Colonel Mac repeated. And then, forcing a change in his portentous manner, he turned to his second in command. âJoe Louis. You got any voodoo ancestors? Any witch doctors back there? If so,
The major closed his eyes and with exaggerated introspection bowed his large head slightly. Then lifted it and, with a voice of great gravity, said, âThe first commando will reach the ground outside Tirana at
âNow my voodoo ancestor wants to be paid for that piece of information. That will cost you a rum, Colonel Mac.'
âMake that a double rum,' the colonel grinned.
And so it had gone until, tacitly acknowledging their helpless remoteness from the sceneâthere was nothing left to do, save to prayâthey gradually disbanded. And went to bed, if not to sleep.
If the plan had worked from the first with optimal success, the triumphant radio declaration would have flashed out of Tirana at 1200 local time, 1100 British time.
Sergeant Esperanto stood by the shortwave set in the radio shed. But at the officers' club there was also a good strong radio. âIf they beam out of Tirana, the BBC will pick it up in ten seconds,' Colonel Mac had said, twiddling with the dial to get the best signal. âWe'll get it right here.'
And that had been the longest afternoon.
At five Blackford could stand it no longer and went out for a solitary walk, again passing the radio shed where, through the glass panel door at the entrance, he could see into the room where the light had come from two nights earlier. Sergeant Esperanto was sitting at his desk, the shortwave receiver on; Blackford could hear muffled voices and even the sound of static. He resumed his walk.
That night at the officers' mess, and later at their club, conversation was forced, and mostly the men were silent, playing cards and drinking beer. At one point Joe Louis spoke.
be regrouping; any number of things could, actually, have just slowed them down.' No one commented. If Colonel Mac had been correct in his projections then the mission hadâfailed.
The following morning after breakfast the physical training director, Master Sergeant âNewt,' announced in an imperious voice that there would be a handball game at 1100 for âall' the enlisted men, a game at 1400 for âall' the officers. The winning enlisted team would play the winning officers' team at a Grand Encounter at 1600. The losers would stand the winners drinks after dinner, âall they bloody well can drink!'
It was a welcome diversion.
Blackford didn't know when the idea had come to him, but without hesitationâafter observing from his window in his quarters Sergeant Esperanto lope off to the court at five minutes before elevenâhe walked out and across the yard to the radio shed.
He entered it, and went through the open door to the room whence the light had shone.
He did not know what to look for, but instinctively he opened the drawers of the sergeant's desk. He knew something of radios, and discovered nothing in the logs of the past few days to arouse his attention. But he did note that although the exact time of all transmissions was carefully noted, there was no entry in the logbook for the early morning hours of two days ago. Or indeedâhe flipped the pages backâany record of any transmission at any time later than ten at night, or earlier than eight in the morning.
He spotted the sergeant's jacket, hanging on a hook on the door, and reached into its pockets. From one he drew out a small cardboard-bound telephone directory. He flipped through it: there were perhaps thirty numbers. He studied them alphabetically. Adams, J â¦ POR 4377. He looked at each entry, noting nothing more than that most of them were London numbers. His eyes paused over âClaus, R â¦ KEN 21881.'
Why five digits?
He examined the other numbers, all of them the conventional British three letters followed by four digits.
He took a leaf from the scratch pad on the desk and wrote down, âClaus, R KEN 21881,' put the paper in his pocket, and walked out.
Three days later Colonel Mac left a handwritten notice on the bulletin board.
âThe gates of the compound will be open at 0700. The staff is at liberty. Make the usual arrangements.' He scrawled out his name. And then he added at the bottom of the page, âR.I.P.'
It was the Albanian affair that finally decided the question for Rufus. He was not by temperament an advocate, but he had to make himself exactly that, an advocate of radical intervention in London.
The Agency had only just begun its postmortem. It would take months and monthsâthese investigations
took months and monthsâto assemble all the data. And under the circumstances surrounding Operation Tirana, some of the data would never be assembled. What was nowâahead of any such investigationâgruesomely plain was this: there were five different sites where the British-American-Albanian team landed. At every one of those sites, âthey' had been there. Ready and waiting. Not only that, they had evidently known at which of the five sites Agent One had been scheduled to land. Because Agent One, unlike the others, hadn't been executed right away. The deadly cool Albanian military, no doubt under specific supervision of the KGB, had taken their time in dealing with Agent One. Perhaps a week, or even twoâit was a full month before The Album, as they now uniformly referred to it, had come in (âone of the best examples of exhibitionistic sadism
ever seen,' the Director had muttered on closing its gory covers). The second to last photograph in that album had shown Agent One seated on a chair, an Albanian newspaper in his hands, the glaring eight-column headline clearly visible. His upper body and head showed bruises and lacerations. His chest was bound by a strap to the back of the chair, but his arms were obviously under his own control as he held up the newspaper dated March 20, 1954.
That was the first of the two final photographs in The Album.
The second picture, the final picture, showed a small hole through the newspaper, which had dipped down from eye level toward the floor. Agent One was slumped forward, a large bullet wound on his forehead. It had been the moment of his execution.
The balance of The Album was devoted to full-face photographs of forty men. Thirty of them were hanging from a gibbet. The others had been shot, some in the head, some in the chest. The Albanian asset, a native of Tirana, had finally been heard fromâa full twenty-six days after D-Day. His radio message was remarkably languid in rhythm, given what he had to communicate and the hazardous circumstances under which the transmitter must have operated. The message, delivered in near-pastoral tones, was that Operation Tirana had been âa great disappointment,' that âas far as your contact can establish,' all forty-one of the operation's agents that had parachuted into the five points about the city had been âawaited by the indigenous military' which had âbanded them together.' Some had been shot on being captured. The balance had been driven to the People's Jail and âthere, one at a time, they were hanged on the gallows in the courtyard.'
âWho is this character we got out there?' the Deputy had growled. âSounds like he was covering a fucking sports eventâsorry about that,' he muttered. (People did not use obscenities around Rufus.)
The Album, unadorned in the brown-paper wrapping posted in London, had been addressed to the U.S. Ambassador by name. His deputy had opened the package, alone in his office, and, examining it, had no idea what it was all about. He summoned an aide from the Eastern European division and asked if he was familiar with the language in which the headlines were written.
Yes. âIt is Albanian.'
âWhat does the headline say?'
âIt says, “
COUNTER-REVOLUTIONARY PLOT FOILED/INVADERS AND TRAITORS FOUND, EXECUTED
The deputy knew nothing about the operation the epitaph of which had been sent to him in this cheap leather album. He rose and went to the ambassador's officeâAmbassador Joseph Abercrombie Little, a portly man of late middle age. It had once been written in the Hershey (Pa.)
that J. A. Little knew more about the manufacture of chocolates than any single other living being outside Switzerland. He had been made ambassador in recognition of his devotion to the Republican ideal of worldwide nourishment. He was reluctant, on surveying The Album, to betray ignorance similar to his deputy's of what it was all about. He turned then to his deputy and told him, in knowing accents, that he would discuss the entire matter (âIt is deeply confidential, Reginald') with the CIA station head, Anthony Trust, whom he summoned by leaning over and depressing the switch that put him in telephonic contact with his secretary. He nodded to the DCM, who knew the meaning of that particular nod and excused himself from the room.
Anthony Trustâtall, slim, young, dark, sharp-eyed, well groomed, almost playfully cheerful in expressionâcame in. Wordlessly the ambassador handed him The Album.
âWhat do you make of this, Anthony?'
Trust opened The Album. After turning a few pages, the cheer drained from his face. He sat down and continued, slowly, to turn the pages. He dwelled at some length on the final two pages. The ambassador waited impatiently.
âSir, who else knows about this?'
âOnly Reginald. Oh yesâand the Eastern language specialist, What'shisname.'
âYou will need'âTrust's demeanor had evolved, inoffensively, to that of the senior, addressing a subordinateââto instruct them most forcefully not to mention to anyone what they have seen.'
âAre you familiar with the â¦ operation?'
âYes. Yes, sir.'
âWhat do you propose to do with'âJoseph Abercrombie Little pointed to The Albumââthat?'
âI shall need to cable Washington from the Code Room.'
âWell, go ahead. And,' the ambassador turned his head down as if to survey other, perhaps more urgent matters appealing on his desk for his attention, âif you have an opportunity to do so, you might suggest to your superiors in Washington that I am more useful as ambassador if I have some idea of what is going on around here.'
Anthony Trust said nothing, forced out a routine smile, and walked out.
It was six in the morning in Washington when the Director took Trust's call. He had specified that any development concerning Operation Tirana was to be reported directly to him. When, on D-Day plus 1, nothing had come in, the gloom among the officials who had planned it displaced any other concern. The Director, during those agonising first few days of total silence, very nearly gave up even attempting to concentrate on anything else. He had even had to pinch himself to listen to a discursive soliloquy by the President of the United States in the Oval Office on the subject of the communist penetration of Guatemala. What was difficult in the Oval Office proved very nearly impossible when talking with his brother, the Secretary of State, who desired from the Director âinput,' as they were then beginning to call it, for a speech he was preparing to deliver to the Council on Foreign Relations on the subject of âThe United States and Spain: A Fresh Appraisal.' And, following those first few days â¦ still nothing. Nothing, nothing at all, about an operation involving forty-one men. Until now. The call from London. The report on The Album.
The Director reached his office before seven. The three designated officials he had had summoned were there waiting for him.
Rufus spoke. âThe very first question, Allen, is: Do we show The Album to the Brits right away or do we bring it over and examine it ourselves first?'
âAttwood'âthe reference was to the head of the British MI5ââalready knows about the transmission from our asset. All that The Album does it add concrete proof that what we suspected turned out to be so. Gruesomely so. We shall have to let him knowâlet him examine The Albumâright away.'
âYes of course. You're quite right.' It was unusual for Rufusâthe most experienced, the least impulsive man the Director had ever known, in public life or privateâto pose a question as involving serious alternatives and then instantly to acquiesce in the implication that it was a silly question to begin with. The Director made a mental note to probe the matter (what did Rufus have in mind in questioning whether the British should be shown The Album?) when the two were alone.
And so it was resolved. Trust would take The Album to Attwood at MI5, have it copied, and then fly directly, whether on commercial or military aircraft, to Washington with the original.
âI can't pretend I am looking forward to examining the album described by Trust,' Allen Dulles said, rising. âI'm going to have a little breakfast.' He nodded at his colleagues, motioning to Rufus to stay as the other two left. âSweet roll with your coffee?' Rufus allowed his eyes to skim his own paunch, resolved that it was not inordinate in a man sixty years old, and nodded. The Director came right to the point.
âYou've got something heavy on your mind, Rufus.'
âWe all do, Allen.' Rufus was appropriately dressed for someone who had something heavy on his mind. But then he was always dressed as if on his way to a funeral. Or, for that matter, to a wedding: dark three-piece suit, grey tie, white shirt. Somehow it was right for him, and in any event, no one ever burlesqued Rufus. He had hair only above the ears and at the back of his head. His brown eyes were either sound asleep (that was when Rufus was given over to analysis, parting company with his surroundings as though hermetically insulated from them) or fiercely active, concentrating on what was being said or on what he was saying; analysing, dissecting, probing.
âTreason is heavy stuff,' said the Director, somewhat sententiously. âAnd treason is our business. So I guess it is fair to say we always have
heavy on our minds.'
âYes,' said Rufus. âBut this is different. Every detail. Every last detail. The penetration by Soviet forces of Operation Tirana is almost unique.' (Rufus was too cautious to say about anything that it was âunique'; if questioned on the matter, he'd have commented that only God could know whether anything was âunique.') âWe mount the most important countersalient since the beginning of the cold war. A bid actually to split offâto liberate, to use your brother's wonderful, if hubristic, wordâan appendage of the Soviet Empire. We are not only frustrated in bringing off the operation, we are checkmated at every technical level. We plan five entirely separate drops. And it appears there were five ambushes there waiting for them. They knew the coordinates of the five different drops. Only one Westernerâas a matter of fact, it was I who selected those five drops from the twenty-five locations nominated as possible candidates for the operationâknew the drops' locations. One man on our side knew all these details. And KBG-Albania knew all those details. A comprehensive job of treason. It isn't a case of one man overhearing one critical conversation, because there never was one critical conversation. What we are facing is a manâa thingâthat has got hold of the entire mechanics of our enterprise.'
The Director puffed on his pipe and stirred his coffee. âI think you are probably right. So where do we go from here?'
âTo the Soviet Embassy, I would say.'
And so Rufus disclosed what had been brewing in his mind since it became clear to himâwell before the Albanian transmission; before The Album's arrival in Londonâthat Operation Tirana had been a total disaster. Otherwise,
of the forty-one special and specially trained agents would have got through. When none did, Rufus sensed that none ever would.
Rufus now argued that a special team physically enter the Soviet Embassy.
âYou do mean the Soviet Embassy in London?'
âI do mean the Soviet Embassy in London. London is where the coordination on Tirana was done. The information we need is in the Soviet Embassy in London.'
âWhich is protected by British law.'