Nothing else symbolized the stark struggle of the Cold War quite like the Berlin Wall. As a young American expat living in Spain in the early 1970s, I lived with constant reminders and vestiges of 1940s Europe coupled with the realities of the West’s struggles with Communism. Socialists of a different stripe, the Fascist regime of Franco was no fonder of the Soviets than we were.
I remember one particular morning when the mechanic on our street called me into his shop. An American serviceman was there with his family. Their car had broken down and the mechanic needed an interpreter. Sadly, I wasn’t much help as I had lost most of my functional use of English by then. I called one of my siblings over and our families soon became fast friends. The father of the family was a U.S. Army serviceman stationed in Frankfurt. His wife was German. At fourteen, she had made her way out of East Berlin across the death strip with her mother. The Wall wasn’t a news story to me. It was malevolent and real.
Standing at the Brandenburg Gate on June 12, 1987, President Ronald Reagan issued a clear challenge to Mikhail Gorbachev, the head of the Soviet State. “Mr. Gorbachev, open this gate! Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!” As Reagan predicted it would, the Wall fell in the face of faith, truth, and freedom.
A Cold War story would be incomplete without an attempted defection under the shadow of the Wall. Submitted for your enjoyment is Chapter 3 of Gypsy Spy, “Defection”.
Victor Bendercoff had converted the bottom floor of an abandoned building into an interrogation post and holding cell. He liked gleaning information from his “detainees” outside of the hearing walls and halls of the Kremlin. Not only was he able to keep some information as bargaining chips for himself, he was also able to intimidate his captives better in the primitive surroundings of the long unused edifice. Today’s catch would be most rewarding.
He had had Yuri Velhoussen under surveillance by request of his superiors for the past four months. At his insistence, they had given him clearance to information on the project Dr. Velhoussen had been directing in Prague. The information was frightening. If he had been successful in defecting to the West, it would have marked the end of the Soviet Union as a superpower. His superiors held the suspicion that Velhoussen had developed a more powerful weapon privately than the one he had manufactured under government supervision in the secret basement labs of the University. His first goal in the job had been achieved. He had, on a tip, found Velhoussen in East Berlin. He had also been able to capture the Western agent who was leading him over to the other side. His superiors would enjoy making a media circus of the man after all the interrogations were complete.
Victor kept the detention van in his rearview mirror as he turned into the short driveway that had been cut into the cracked sidewalk. With his remote control, he opened the wide, louvered door which led into his special small-scale, high-security prison. He hit the remote control again when he saw that the van was all the way in the building. He parked his sedan and got out. His two guards in the van got out and headed to the rear of the vehicle. Immediately, he heard loud obscenities. He ran over to them to see what the matter was. Propped up in the padded cube was Professor Yuri Velhoussen, renowned physicist, his chest awash in blood. There was no sign of their other captive. The charred metal around where the door latch used to be told its tale.
“How?” his man asked, eyes wide open and jaw slack. Victor kicked the door shut. His anger not satisfied, he punched the driver knocking him to the floor.
“It doesn’t look good for either of you,” Victor said.
Charles Drake waited for a full hour past the rendezvous time. He lit a cigarette and decided to wait a little longer. If this defection went well, they wouldn’t have to be concerned over the unification of Europe. But it was already obvious something had gone wrong. He had hand-picked the guide for this mission. The papers had been falsified by one of the best counterfeiters “recruited” by the Secret Service. They had poured over the details of this plan for months prior to the operation. A half-hour and three cigarettes later, Drake walked away from the Wall in disgust.
Once back at the embassy, he checked his coded messages file. A single sheet lay inside. He deciphered the text and read, “Phoenix, Blackhawk. Code Red. Outcome Blue/Black. Coordinate Schedule C.” Code Red: his guide had been intercepted. Outcome Blue/Black: the defector had been captured and killed. Coordinate Schedule C: they would meet in two days at a bar in Bonn. Drake sighed heavily. Why had they killed him? Had reports of the sun filter been exaggerated? Did the Soviets not need the scientist? Had he tried to resist capture? Had the Leoppard struck?
He picked up his red phone. He dialed the number. After four rings someone picked up. “Secure line,” he said.
“Secure line,” a voice replied.
“Set Operation Tiger fully active.”
“The buttons are set.”
“We can’t miss this time.”
“We won’t. The piece falls this time.” On that assurance, Drake hung up. He reached into his desk drawer and pulled out a pint of whiskey. He gulped a heavy shot and leaned back into his chair. The piece better fall this time, he thought, or God help us all.