Web of Fear
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by Marie Prato
Description: Marcia wanders the streets of Cracow, Poland searching for the man she once intended to marry ... She's unaware that her every move is being watched. Is Lazarz still alive? Which side did he spy for? Marcia refuses to give up searching for some kind of closure and finds more than she bargained for.
eBook Publisher: ebooksonthe.net, 1999
eBookwise Release Date: February 2005
5 Reader Ratings:
Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [316 KB]
Reading time: 225-315 min.
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Communism has crumbled. The Soviet Union has been dissolved. Politicians shake hands and the world rejoices. The two greatest nations in the world can stop the propaganda, spying and treachery that has gone on for decades. The Cold War has ended.
But what of the secret agents that crossed the ocean from both sides--many as spies and a select few to commit acts so highly classified that only recently have rumors of their existence begun to surface? Can these agents be allowed by the now "friendly" nation or even by their own government to lead a normal life or any life at all with the knowledge they possess?
Many of these secret agents came to the United States during the Cold War with hardened hearts and years of propaganda in their minds. They expected to do their job and, if they were lucky, return safely to their own country. But some agents got more than they bargained for. Some found love.
For these agents and the United States citizens who fell in love with them the ending of the Cold War has no meaning. They know that the web of fear that entrapped them during those years will never let them go.
Monday, March 18, 1996
Icy fingers of air raked my cheeks as I hurried along a store-studded street near the University of Cracow. Passing in front of a tiny shop with ceramic bowls in its window, I looked at the warm glow from the lights inside the store. Better to move on. I had been walking from store to store for the last two hours. That was enough for this morning. I had gotten the lay of the land, so to speak. It was time to go back to the hotel and decide on the best way to proceed.
Despite the March wind, Cracow's streets were filled with pedestrians. Directly in my path, three teenagers ambled along giggling and talking in Polish. Below their heavy coats, the kids were dressed in the same uniform as teenagers back in the States--jeans and sneakers. As I debated whether to pass the group on the right or the left, I noticed one of the boys handing something to the girl. I saw the girl unwrapping a piece of candy. As she fumbled with the wrapper, the thin covering slipped from her gloved hands and floated down to the icy sidewalk. Stopping so quickly that I almost tripped over her, the girl bent down to pick up the small piece of paper. As I passed the group, I saw the girl clutching the litter in her gloved fist.
What seemed to be Poland's daily dose of snowflakes began falling from the gray sky. I quickened my pace. Another block and I would be at the restaurant. Last night, after arriving on the train from Warsaw and checking into The Old World Inn, I had eaten at the hotel restaurant. The potato pancakes were the best I had ever tasted. And all the tables in the restaurant were covered with immaculate white lace tablecloths. Lazarz hadn't lied about that--almost everything else had been lies--but the tables in the restaurant did have lace cloths on them.
I jabbed a gloved finger in the corner of each eye, trying to halt the tears before they had a chance to flow out and freeze on my face. And Lazarz had told the truth about loving me. Nothing that had happened could make me believe he hadn't loved me. And if I needed reassurance, all I had to do was take a deep breath. The mere fact that I was still alive was proof enough.
If you go to Poland you will never come back, I heard my uncle saying. Then Lazarz's voice whispered to me, "No one will ever hurt you as long as I am alive." How could Lazarz promise that? How could I believe anything he promised?
Spotting the gray stone facade of my hotel, I congratulated myself that I hadn't booked a room at one of the new hotels that recently had sprung up in Cracow since the fall of Communism. While in Poland, I wanted to stay in rooms rich with experiences. Lazarz loved the traditional. In Warsaw I had stayed at The Haven, one of the few hotels that had survived the Nazi occupation. And here, just like in Warsaw, I both feared and hoped for some contact to be made. Contact by whom or what method I didn't know.
Trudging up the concrete stairs, I hurried toward the warm glow of the lights. "Like a moth hurrying toward a light bulb," whispered a taunting voice that seemed to come from somewhere deep inside me. "A light bulb that will turn the moth into a Crispy Critter." Before I could change my mind and run toward the airport, I walked rapidly through the beckoning door.
"Excuse me, Ms. Delmonico," said a fair-haired man, walking toward me. "The hotel manager wants to see you."
"Why?" I asked, a sense of numbness stealing over me as I pulled off my gloves. "Is there a problem?"
"I do n-not know," stammered the man, looking everywhere but at my face. "Please. Go to manager's office."
"Why?" I asked again.
"Please, go. Take elevator to third floor and turn right," said the hotel employee in a pleading voice. "Please go. See, the elevator is ready. Go up."
He fled back to the safety of the reception desk.
The same elevator that had probably carried Nazis to their beds during World War II and, although I tried to push the thought from my mind, Jews to their doom, groaned and creaked as it took me and a middle-age couple to the floors above. I tried to imagine what James Bond would do in a case like this. In Ian Flemming's books, 007 always looked smug and confident when he was in danger. Of course, Bond could afford to be detached about his pending doom--after the scene he would be going home to a nice warm bed and a fatter bank book. What might I have at the end of my visit to Poland? If I was very lucky, I would still be alive and allowed to board the plane home. But I had known the danger I could be in when I had decided to use myself as bait. I had been warned years ago by the CIA that if I went to Poland I wouldn't be coming back.
"Are you an American?" asked the woman in the elevator. "Yes," I answered. "I live in New York. Not in the City, though," I quickly added, as if I didn't want to be tainted by the crime and dirt in Manhattan. "I live Upstate, about fifty miles from Manhattan." I was nervous or I wouldn't have been giving out so much information to strangers.
"My wife and I are from Australia," said the man, as if his accent hadn't already given his origin away. "We've been here about a week. But we are leaving tomorrow."
"Have you enjoyed your visit to Poland?" I asked.
"Very much," answered the man.
"I bought such beautiful amber jewelry in Cracow," added his wife. "I feel like a thief paying so little for the many exquisite gifts I bought for myself and our daughters. And the hotels, restaurants, and stores in Poland! They are so desperate for tourism and money that my husband and I have been spoiled splendidly everywhere we go."
"Are you here with a group?" asked the husband.
"No," I answered. "I came alone to see some of the religious shrines."
"Alone?" asked his wife. "Aren't you afraid to travel by yourself?"
"I've been to Lourdes in France, Fatima in Portugal, and other shrines around the world," I answered. "Going alone gives me more time to meditate." I didn't tell her I refused to let myself be afraid.
After saying good-bye to the friendly couple and wishing them a safe trip home, I got off the elevator and turned right. Two doors down was a small brown sign on a half-opened door. In the room, at a long rectangular table, sat two women. The woman at the head of the table facing the door was heavyset with short, frizzy blonde hair. From the door, I could see the top of her white uniform and the yoke of the woman's blue apron. The expression on her pale, round face reminded me of a woodchuck I had seen in Canada. Terrified, its torn leg still caught in a trap, the animal was being hauled by a farmer to a barn across the road. The younger woman sitting at the side of the table had a thin face, framed by straight blonde hair just touching the collar of her navy blue wool suit.
"Sorry," I said, backing out of the doorway. "I was told the hotel manager wanted to see me but I will come back when you are free."
"It is fine," answered the thin, blonde woman as she got up from her seat.
I detected only a slight accent in her English.
"We are waiting for you," continued the blonde. As I entered the room, the woman closed the door behind me.
The blonde woman and I shook hands and smiled at each other. I was proud to see that my hand had been as cool and steady as her own when we shook hands.
"Please sit down," the young woman instructed, pointing toward a wooden chair away from the table and midway between her and the woman in uniform. "This woman is the supervisor on the floor where your room is," said the blonde, nodding in the direction of the older lady.
"Is there a problem?" I asked, feigning a look of puzzlement.
"There is a very big problem, Ms. Delmonico," said the woman, who knew my name but hadn't bothered telling me her name or the name of the supervisor.
"And what is the problem?" I asked, looking directly at the supervisor. The only reaction from the large woman was a twitch on the left side of her face. Aside from that slight movement, the supervisor sat in the chair like a statue.
"What is the problem?" I repeated, turning toward the woman in the suit. Lazarz had told me that in Poland anyone caught stealing had their hand cut off. What would be the punishment for possession of drugs or guns? Maybe someone had already put cocaine or ammunition in my coat pockets. I folded my hands in my lap to keep them from digging through my coat and purse. If their game was to accuse me of being a thief or possessing something illegal in order to arrest me or have me deported, more than likely, whatever I was going to be accused of had already been planted in my room while I was out.
"I have been asked by the hotel to speak to you," said the young woman, her alert blue eyes fastened on me. "We must watch everything. Everything we watch."
I tried to appear calm as I waited to hear the charges against me.
"It is a serious problem the hotel has called me here to handle," continued the woman. "A very serious problem."
"What is the problem?" I asked for the third time. "What have I done that is so serious?"
"I have been told that you dirtied a towel and a rug in the bathroom," answered the pretty blonde. "It is a very big problem. Much work has been done to this hotel. We watch everything. We look at everything."
My mouth dropped open as I stared in surprise at the blonde woman.
"I dirtied a towel and the bathroom rug?" I repeated, purposely emphasizing each word. "Then it is no problem. I will pay for the towel and the rug. How much did they cost new?"
"Big, big problem," again said the manager, locking eyes with me. "We watch everything. We look at everything."
"I will pay," I offered again. "Tell me the amount and I will give you the money."
"A lot of work has been done on this hotel," repeated the manager. "We own most of the old hotels in Poland. We watch everything."
"Do the same people who own this hotel own The Haven Hotel in Warsaw?" I asked.
"Yes," answered the blonde. "We own that one too."
"I stayed there when I arrived in Poland. There are big roaches running around that hotel," I accused. "Do you know what a roach is?"
"I know what a roach is, yes," answered the blonde.
"I didn't complain about roaches running around to the owners of that hotel," I said. "Now, you are complaining about a dirty towel and rug?"
The blonde turned to the woman in uniform and spoke to her in Polish. The elderly woman stammered out a response.
"I am told that the owners of this hotel do not own the hotel you are speaking of," answered the blonde. "Sorry. The owners of this hotel own most of the hotels in Poland so I thought they owned The Haven as you called it. I don't work for the hotel."
She doesn't work for the hotel? I thought, trying my best to maintain the same expression on my face so she wouldn't know I had caught her slip. The man at the front desk had told me the hotel manager wanted to see me. If she doesn't work for the hotel, who does she work for? Would this hotel go out and hire an interpreter to accuse me of dirtying a towel and small rug? Not likely.
"I washed my hair last night and used the towel," I explained. "The towel got dirty. I walked on the rug. Some dirt from my shoes may have gotten on it. Put them in the wash and the towel and rug with be clean. For that matter, use some bleach on all the towels. The linen in this hotel is dingy and gray."
"I am told the towel and rug are very dirty. It is a big problem."
"I'll go to the room and bring them down," I answered, standing up. "Then we can settle this."
"Please, sit," stated the young woman. "I will call and the maid on that floor will bring the towel and rug down."
I took a quick glance at the heavy, elderly woman at the head of the table. She was still sitting straight and stiff in her chair. Her eyes continued to stare at the closed door. We waited in grim silence until the maid knocked on the door.
"It looks clean," the blonde said, surveying the towel and rug that the maid had brought into the office. "Before the towel was dirty so it was a problem. Now it is clean so there is no more problem."
The maid left and Ms. Non-Hotel Employee turned toward me. I looked directly into her eyes and smiled. As I continued to look into her eyes, the phony smile she had maintained throughout my interrogation slowly began to disintegrate. Amazed, I watched the blue eyes turn into slivers and the woman's nostrils flare. With her face contorted by anger, the blonde sneered at me. This was contact--not what I had in mind or the kind I wanted but it was definitely contact.
For a moment I was stunned. Then I realized why she was staring at me with such animosity. I hadn't stopped prying in the United States and, as long as I'm alive, I never will stop. Not this bitch with the cold eyes or anyone else will make me stop looking for answers about the man I love. As long as I am alive, I silently vowed, I will be a thorn in their side until I find out the truth.
For several moments we stayed locked onto each other's eyes. Her face was the first to shift back into a phony smile. Two can play this game, I thought. I smiled back at her. Checkmate.
"The towel and rug are clean," announced the blonde. "You can go now."
"If this is how the hotel owners act over a towel, remind me not to steal anything while I'm here or go out with any spies in Cracow. Have a nice day."
I sauntered down the hall toward the elevator feeling pretty pleased with myself. Move over 007! I had kept my cool and pretended that our little discussion had been about dirty towels when we both knew what the purpose of our meeting had been. "We watch everything. We look at everything," she had warned. So now I knew. Just like in the good old United States, I was being watched and followed. But by whom?
I knew the KGB had been officially dispersed when Communism collapsed in 1989. Although the leaders of the United States and Russia had called an end to the Cold War and, just last year, a Russian space station had its first American visitor, the two great powers, along with all the other nations were still sending agents to steal military, scientific and industrial secrets from each other. And all of these countries were not above using any organization, whether they condemned them publicly or not, to do their dirty work. Lazarz had been in Russia. Uncle Sean had said Lazarz might be connected with the KGB.
Maybe the woman who had interrogated me at the hotel was, like Uncle Sean, from our own homegrown CIA. But I quickly ruled that out. The CIA had never threatened me directly in the United States and I couldn't see them coming out into the open in Poland. They didn't want me--only Lazarz.
What about the Neo-Nazis? When East and West Germany was reunited in 1990, many people feared that revised nationalism would encourage the Neo-Nazis to attempt to form another fascist government. These fanatics needed money and connections if their plan was to succeed. What reason would they have to want Lazarz? Damn Lazarz's secrecy. Why couldn't he have trusted me more?
The Russian Mafia was another possibility. But, from what I had read about the violent Russian Mafia which had become home to many displaced KGB agents, the "hotel manager's" threats seemed too subtle to have come from them. My bet was that the woman who had "warned" me came from Polish Intelligence. And I was being told politely, very politely to watch my step. Yes, it had to be Polish Intelligence. This was Poland where teenagers were afraid to drop candy wrappers on the street. Whatever else he was, Lazarz was Polish.
That had been the story of my life since 1986. There had been nothing but problems since I had met Lazarz at a bar near my apartment. Problems for my family and everyone else I turned to for help. Problems that had forced me to seek help from people connected with the Mafia and the Klan. Problems that despite the fall of communism, the turnover in the CIA, and the disbandment of the KGB never seemed to end.
"A very serious problem," I whispered, mimicking the blonde. "We watch everything." You brought me nothing but problems, Lazarz. Nothing but grief.
Taking off my coat, I cursed my miserable luck. Why had this inner voice that had warned me about so many things throughout my life decided to go on vacation when I met Lazarz? "I wish I never met you," I whispered, tears beginning to trickle from my eyes. Yet, even as I wallowed in self-pity, I knew that I was lying to myself. There wasn't one single minute I had spent with Lazarz that I would give up even if I had known on July 4, 1986 what I knew today.