IN THE JUNGLES outside of Havana, Cuba, a squadron of black ducks crossed the sky at dusk, like bats. According to the tourist guidebooks it was considered a very bad omen. The ducks arrowed together, seeking evening prey among the numerous gnats and insects rising from the island’s steaming jungles.
Then, as one, the flock of black ducks veered, quacking in instinctive fear as they skirted the imposing edifice of a grim fortress perched atop sheer, rugged cliffs high above the sea. Curling ocean waves crashed against the rocks below with a roar like a lion, guarding the citadel.
The treacherous road that led up to the spiked front gate of Morro Castle stopped in an ancient courtyard. Knotted vines protruded from the ground, buckling the flagstones. No welcome mat lay at the foot of the barred wooden doors; the daily newspapers had not been delivered in some time. An ominous sign announced in Spanish No Soliciting.
Over the years, the dark fortress had been used by an endless stream of torturers, mad scientists, and megalomaniacs with their tiresome schemes of taking over the world. By now, the locals had stopped paying much attention to Morro Castle, tending instead to their cane or tobacco fields, knowing that in an emergency some hero would eventually rectify the situation and all would go back to normal again.
As the sun set across the Caribbean, and soupy clouds gathered for an evening squall, Morro Castle’s new inhabitants were up to the usual hi-jinks. . . .
* * *
“Asombroso!” cried the Cuban intelligence colonel, astounded as he sat back in a creaking wooden chair, clapping a hand to his head to hold his beret in place.
His hair was black and thick, his bloodshot eyes dark and flashing. He wore a rumpled khaki uniform, adorned with numerous stars and medals he had pinned on himself. Some of them hung crookedly from his uniform, because when in front of a mirror, the Cuban colonel spent more time admiring his huge black beard than studying the neatness of his dress.
Across the stone-walled tower room, the Russian colonel said placidly, “Da, Comrade Enrique.” Unlike his companion’s, his own olive uniform was immaculate and well pressed. He used a ruler and a level every morning to make sure his medals hung straight. “Here, see for yourself.”
The Russian stood up to place a SECRET folder on the rugged wooden table in the center of the chamber. Rusty manacles dangled from the edges of the table, and faded reddish stains adorned the hewn boards. Other torture instruments hung from hooks on the walls, available for the use of any of the castle’s tenants; all of the equipment had been left behind as a courtesy by the castle’s former inhabitants, before the revolution.
The Russian colonel knocked a jingling manacle out of the way, more interested in the photographs he removed from the folder. He held them up to the flickering light. The Cuban colonel hurried over to see the photo of the redheaded man — a face he had observed many times on WANTED posters, arrest warrants, propaganda leaflets. “Ai! It is him!” Astonished, he said, “Sacred mother of a dog, Ivan! This is incredible!”
“Our peerless KGB has verified it utterly,” Ivan said with a sniff.
“I thought the KGB was disbanded with the fall of the Soviet Union,” Enrique said.
The Russian shrugged. “It is now part of the Ministry of Mapmaking. New department, same job.” He held a second photograph up to the flickering light. “See for yourself, Comrade.”
As he looked more closely, Enrique saw that it couldn’t be the same man, not in the same place, not with the same clothes. Could it be some hoax . . . or was it exactly what they had been hoping for?
“Come,” said Ivan, gathering his photos and clapping a hand on the Cuban’s shoulder, “this is our chance. They say that Communism is dead, just because it is in a coma. But you and I know better: There are millions of loyalists toiling around the world, ashamed to admit their true feelings, their longings for the glory days of the Soviet Empire, their innermost hopes for a glorious future. All they need is a little victory to make them feel better, just one small country to topple in a revolution — like in the old days, when everyone was eager to embrace the loving principles of Stalinism—”
Ivan had a faraway look in his eyes, and he stared off at the wall, as if gazing at some glorious, distant sunrise. Enrique was lighting a cigar. Ivan’s voice then took on a hard, intense quality as he continued: “Once we bring one country down, my friend, the loyalists of the world will rise up with their hammers and their pitchforks and their Molotov cocktails and their nerve gas and their intercontinental ballistic missiles, and they will throw off the intolerable shackles of their horrible capitalist tormentors!”
Enrique shook his head in wonder. He was frankly baffled by capitalists and their strange way of life. The only time he’d ever seen a real, horrible capitalist tormentor was when he’d once been assigned to a firing squad detail, and he hadn’t really gotten a good look at the man through the gunsights.
“Sacred nostril of a yak!” Enrique said, puffing his cigar smoke into Ivan’s face. Ivan coughed. “Are you sure this will work? Pedrito Miraflores is a madman” — he decided he’d better quickly cover himself — “a loyal Communist madman, but a madman nonetheless. If we put your plan into effect, we could get into more trouble than we bargain for.”
The Russian shook his head with a smile. “Or it might be an opportunity we cannot afford to pass up.”
Just then, the single bulb that lit the dim room buzzed and died with a pop. The only light came from Enrique’s cigar. “Come,” Ivan said. “Let us go down to the operations office, where there is better light.”
* * *
Deeper inside Morro Castle, switchboards and radar receivers were strung along a fortified outside wall that opened to the churning sea. Uniformed operators moved about. Everyone paused to look up as the two colonels entered, then they briskly went back to work with redoubled efforts. (Rumors of impending layoffs had rippled through the staff of the evil fortress.)
A reedy, nervous-looking aide hustled over to hover beside Colonel Enrique, awaiting his orders. Enrique ignored him.
“I have more evidence that Miraflores has a double,” Colonel Ivan said. “We have an espionage photographer in New York. He operates as an undercover mime near the Office of Naval Intelligence. He took these photographs.” The Russian snapped his fingers, indicating an attaché case on a console.
The reedy aide dashed over to the case, rummaging through papers and folders and antacid wrappers until he dragged out a sheaf of photographic enlargements, labeled Other Evidence.
“There, Comrade, is the proof!” the Russian colonel said. “Is it not wonderful?”
The aide handed the photos to Colonel Enrique, who fanned them out, staring at the top image. The curious aide crept close enough to peer over the Cuban colonel’s shoulder, but Enrique elbowed him sharply in the ribs; the aide scuttled away, holding his side.
The color portrait showed a roguish man in stained jungle combat clothes and a big red star upon his cap. The cap covered shaggy red hair, as if he had sawed it to the proper length with a serrated knife. Two guns hung at his hips, a bandolier of bullets crisscrossed his chest, and several grenades had been clipped to his belt.
“I am already quite familiar with our man Pedrito Miraflores,” Colonel Enrique growled.
Colonel Ivan said smugly, “Now look at the other one closely.”
It was a formal studio portrait of what appeared to be the same person, the same red hair and blue eyes, but some sort of alter ego — this young man was an American naval officer holding his cap under his arm and staring with wide, bewildered eyes toward the camera. His red hair had been neatly cut and combed.
“Tom Smith,” Enrique read the label below the portrait. “Lieutenant junior grade.” He looked up in astonishment. “Holy brother of a lemur! They do look just alike, even side by side. That is too much to wish for. Don’t tell me they’re both the same height and weight!”
“They are,” said the Russian colonel. “They also both speak Spanish and English perfectly. It would be ideal for us to make a switch.”
Enrique shuffled up two more snapshots, one of each: Pedrito Miraflores swinging into a sports car on a Havana street, grinning hugely as if he knew he was posing for a spy camera. In the other photo, his spitting image, Lieutenant Tom Smith, stood looking somewhat mystified as he received an engineering award amongst top Navy brass.
“Sacred tailbone of a mollusk,” Enrique said, scratching his huge beard and shaking his head in disbelief. His dark eyes shone with the possibilities. “The good God bless the KGB, or the Ministry of Mapmaking, or whatever they’re called these days! This could be the greatest intelligence coup of all time! What if we could make a switch? By putting Pedrito in his place, we could infiltrate the United States intelligence service, while using Smith as a scapegoat down here. That Navy buffoon could take the fall for all of Pedrito’s crimes.”
“I thought you’d like my idea,” the Russian colonel said. “We will get our best man, Bolo, to oversee all the details.” He raised his bushy eyebrows over watery gray eyes, then lowered his voice. “Now how about another case of those cigars, Enrique? Monte Cristo No. 2. My, uh, wife likes them very much.”
Ignoring the request, the Cuban colonel whirled to snap at his aide, who still stood nursing his sore ribs. “Quick, quick — get Maria! We must begin immediately. This is a marvelous plan for us to set in motion.”
The aide dashed off, returning a moment later with a straggly haired brunette woman, whose face wore the hardened, deadly look of a dedicated revolutionary. Her mouth was an angry line. “Sí, Colonel?”
“Fast, fast, Maria!” Enrique said. He fumbled in the photos and eventually found a phone slip, peeling it from the back of one of the enlargements. “Get this number. Plan G goes into operation at once, at once!”
“Sí, Colonel! At once!” Maria seized the slip of paper, scanned the numbers, then stuffed the paper in her mouth, chewing it to bits before the colonel could stop her. He admired her dedication.
She grabbed the phone as if she were trying to subdue it, then dialed the number. “Operator,” she said, her mouth still stuffed with wet paper. Her inflection remained deadly. “Operator — get me the New York Office of Naval Intelligence. I must speak with Lieutenant Tom Smith.”