Canard: A false or baseless rumor
“Colonel Lewis? You wanted to see me, sir? I thought our meetings were the third Wednesday of every month…. Did something change?” I ask him briskly, smoothing my skirt as I take a seat in his office. He smiles, the wrinkles beside his eyes coming out to play as his icy stares assesses everything from my posture to my outfit choice.
“We have more information. Which soldier did you talk with last week?” I chuckle and push a strand of hair behind my ear. He turns off his radio quickly, Glenn Miller’s In the Mood promptly getting cut short.
“You mean which soldier did I sleep with?” He rolls his eyes, bumming out his cigarette as he plans how to respond. “Those were your orders, were they not?”
“Just give me a damn answer. You signed up for this post. You wanna help your country don’t you? Well the President is suspicious of those damn commies and nazis and fascists alike and we have very kindly asked you to do a little digging for us. Now, tell me which soldiers you spoke to.” I cross my arms in my lap, his terse tone making me inwardly sigh. There would be no changing his ways. None at all.
“Jack Livery, Spokane, Washington. Small man, short temper, full of compensation. He worked with a Russian commander named Gurkin. I was him until Wednesday when he was deployed. He told me to keep it quiet, his wife was a Catholic.” John Lewis writes the name on his notepad and then looks up at me, silently asking for me to continue. “Then I met a man named Will Hoffmann. We didn’t sleep together but we talked and I met his brother. Navy man by the name of Ben Hoffmann.”
“Fuck. Don’t talk to Ben Hoffmann again.” He urgently leans forward and messes with some files on his desk as if I were able to read secrets. “We have him covered.”
“Don’t worry so do I. Funny thing happened with him, Johnny Boy! Turns out we both work for this colonel… oh what was his name, ah yes, you. Care to explain why we operate with a German spy? I thought we were against them!” He rubs the bridge of his nose in defeat. Everyone was downright fed-up. The weather was hotter, the war was still here, and the men and women under the command of Colonel Lewis hadn’t received answers since the day they started.
“Do you want to know your real job? It’s not to sleep with these men. It’s to find out their secrets. What do they know? What are they telling others in careless, casual whispers? This is the difference between life and death on the homefront. My board and I saw trust in you, we have been training you, yes? That is why you meet with me face to face rather than through letter using code. We trust you. We trust Ben. He started taking on international missions a month or two ago, but we need another operative. A more convincing target for the minds at work here. You, Carina Malikov, are the perfect candidate, so we were simply testing you. From now on you will be held to a higher standard. I expect you to act your age, and to respect your authority. You are property of the US military now. Meetings will move to every other monday, beginning next Monday. These will be joint meetings with Ben until he is deployed again. You will not be deployed until I feel you are ready.” I smirk and nod. So, it appears ol’ Johnny Boy was finally recognizing my potential. What a catch.
“Yes, sir.” All I can mutter are those two words but inside I was a bottle rocket exploding into a billion pieces. Finally, I was moving up from a high class prostitute to a woman of respect, well, at least more respect than I had received before. Ben was annoying and stubborn, not to mention he kept talking about how he was German, but even then he was better with working alongside the scum of the bars. As soon as they realized the extent of my potential I would be working more missions and going more places than Ben had ever gone. Mark my words. “Yes, sir.”
Lewis chuckles at my repeated words. “I’m not done with you yet, Malikov. We’ve been hearing of some false leaks. The latest canard is from a soldier I am not of obligation to name, but from your reports it appears you have not encountered him. He is revealing reports that our last forces in Bataan have surrendered. This, I am afraid, is true. We will not release this until Roosevelt releases this. Have you heard any of this?”
I shake my head. “So far, sir, the only men I have ‘encountered’ as you so kindly put it, are men fighting in Europe. I apologize. The only man who has fought in the Pacific is Ben. Even then, I’m sure you coached him on not talking about his service.” Lewis nods and looks up at me.
“He has never served. I have him registered under Halsey just in case, but he has never seen combat. He’s been our operative for some time, and before that a student who spoke more than fluent German. Hard to come by, and a rare treasure, especially when he so closely believed in the United States effort. Like I said before, we have only started seriously training him recently. Ben Hoffmann has never seen action, and as long as he is under my command I pray he never does. We need him, and eventually you, to be running routine international missions. Do you know Russian?”
It took a second for me to process that Ben had never been in actual combat. My blood seemed to chill. I considered myself a person who could read people easily, when they were lying, when they were telling the truth, etc., but Ben… Ben had evaded me in every possible way. He had been lying to me that whole time. The son of a bitch. Then when Lewis cleared his throat I realized I still hadn’t answered the question. “If you are asking if I am Russian, then yes, somewhat, but if I speak it? No. Mother was always very hush hush about her heritage. The only words I know are Privyet and Babushka and those won’t get me very far in Moscow will they.”
“No, ‘hello’ and ‘grandmother’ will not be enough. I’ll get you a tutor. He’s a friend of a friend in Moscow. Louis Antonov. He should be in town relatively soon, as soon as I ask him to be in fact. As soon as he gets here he will immerse you in the language. No choice. You want to take this to the next level? Become fluent in Russian, then we will take you seriously. Ben’s meeting with me starts in five minutes so I have to shove you out and tell him that he will have to start working with a partner. A Russian at that? He will be less than thrilled for sure. Maybe say hello to him on the way out. Be cordial. See if he remembers you.” Lewis winks and puts my file back in his drawer. I smile as best I can as I leave. My heart sank at the thought of an American loss, especially in the Pacific, but as soon as I remember my promotion my heart soared once more. The war was in my hands now. Or at least, it would be as soon as I learned Russian.
The blonde boy stood from his chair as I exited Lewis’s office, he smiled at me. It was a knowing smile, he knew why I was there, but he wouldn’t fully know until Lewis sat him down and told him the cold hard truth. The last I see of Ben is his knowing smile, and I don’t stay to find out the rest. I was going to be happy for myself, even if he wasn’t going to be too happy about the arrangement in the end. I wasn’t sure I cared too much what he thinks right now, not if it meant the United States and its allies would come out victorious. That’s what matters to me.