Tuesday, 3 January 2017

The Penpal

2 January Prompt:
"On February 10, 1962, a captured CIA spy was exchanged for a captured Soviet spy. Francis Gary Powers’ CIA spy plane was shot down over Soviet Union airspace, and Soviet spy Rudolf Abel was caught by the FBI in Texas."

Francis was a nerd. Yet what he lacked in brawn he more than made up for with brains. Everyone in town knew him as “the science guy”. Unfortunately he fitted every nerdy stereotype known to man, not doing himself any favours with his thick black-rimmed glasses, odd haircut and pocket protector.

How different his life would have been had he not responded to the pen-pal letter. It was 1955, how did a Russian get to respond to an advert in a childrens “How to be a Detective” Annual? Not that Francis knew he was Russian at the time, and he was not even vaguely suspicious when Rudolf from Stupino, asked him after a few years, “So, have you ever thought of being a spy?” How was he to know that Stupino was just outside Moscow? It sounds American, dammit.

With images of secret cameras, wired briefcases and fast women, Francis, thinking it was all in good fun, admitted that it would be pretttty cool to be a spy! For months they had made up stories and posted their “spy ideas” to one another, and Francis had developed a pen with invisible ink for secret messages, and posted one off to Rudolf in Stupino. Francis realised that there may be a market for such a device….

Why don't you invite Rudolf to come and visit here?” Francis' mother suggested at dinner. “You boys have been writing to one another for years nowWouldn't you like to meet him?” Francis, reminded of the neat stack of letters in his top desk drawer, thought, “Why not?”

That summer Rudolf arrived with a small suitcase and a big smile. He was everything that Francis wasn't. Tall, athletic with a square jaw, and an arrogance that had not been evident in his writing. Francis found him odd in person. Why did Rudolph feel the need to state the obvious and spout Americanisms all the time?

Rudolf, one of five children, born into a poor Russian family, was gifted with more brawn than brains, and with enough charm to make up for it. From a young age he vowed that he would not grow up penniless, seeking charity to feed and clothe himself. He dreamt of big houses and shiny, fast cars. The Annual he had found in a trashcan, (one man’s' trash is another man’s treasure), was his treasure and he would frequently sit and pour over its pages. The American Dream. Could he ever have that life? A headline caught his eye “Find your own Pen Pal.” Maybe, just maybe…. He scanned the advertisements and one stood out: “I am Francis. 16 years old. Boy. Hobbies: Science, Reading, Inventing. Write to me at...” Rudolf scribbled a note in his best English, grateful that Francis couldn't hear his accent. He was 4 years older than Francis, but hey, it would be a window into the world he wanted to be part of. He counted out his rubles and sent off the letter. He waited.

Everyone wants to be part of something, and Rudolf was no different. At 20, he realised that the only way he would get to America, was illegally. He signed up to join the KGB and after rigorous physical and psychological testing, was accepted. His first mission began almost right away – end goal: Get into the USA, make a life for himself and work undercover. Months of intense training in the English language, American customs, history and literature followed. Rudolf spent hours in his tiny room, reading English books out loud and watching American movies. He would incorporate these into his letters to Francis and get the American opinion. Everything Rudolf did, was with the end aim of infiltration and he congratulated himself that he had found his way in – it was through Francis.

"Where did it go so wrong?"

Perhaps asking Francis if he ever thought of being a spy was not a wise question after all. He wasn't an idiot and sooner or later he would realise that Stupino is not in America. “Damn. Why didn't I think of that!” The smallest errors give the biggest clues.

What a twisted turn of events.
Two spies. Penpals.


696 words


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