“You’ve lived a life of extremes, but this is a matter of operational discipline.”

Kobalt (WIP) – Chapter 60: “Lines of Investigation”

Fort Hunt, Virginia



With the onset of October, the nature of Kat’s training began to change. She was gradually phased out of the standard intelligence gathering seminars conducted by cross-agency educators and slowly introduced to the Frühlingsmorgen scenario. Colonel Jones herself took over Kat’s indoctrination, as well as providing her with a different kind of counsel.

It was becoming custom for them to take coffee at one of the cafe stands located inside one of DC’s many converted historical buildings. Jones favoured this one because the chairs and tables were set up beside a burbling fountain, something that was part of her personal tradecraft. Positioning a conversation near a flowing water source was, Kat had long ago learned, the best way of masking a covert discussion. There wasn’t a microphone or recording device advanced enough to make words intelligible out of the gentle chaos of flowing, liquid noise. 

“Not that you’re going to be doing a lot of covert operation,” Jones said as she sipped her cappuccino. “This mission is more about performance. Speaking of which, it’s time for you and your new husband to be seen around town. We’ll be sending you on to New York soon, get you throwing around money, making friends with people in the reconstruction business.”

“Schmoozing,” Kat said with a smile, looking into the fountain. It was one of those standard three-tiered circular affairs, its tiles full of copper pennies and silver nickels. At least fifty dollars sitting under stale water. 

“I’d like your attention, Katerina.” 

“Sorry, Colonel,” Kat turned her gaze back to her commanding officer, blushing a little.

Jones gave her a subdued smile. “He’s really got you stuck, doesn’t he?”

Kat shrugged. “I don’t know. He wanders, of course.”

“And you?”

Kat shook her head. “I’m not the type, really.”

“Well, my dear, you’re going to have to broaden your horizons. You may find yourself in some intimate situations with men who aren’t so charming to be around. Your history may make that difficult.” 

“It’s the mission, isn’t it?” 

“Yes, but that’s not enough,” Jones set down her cup. “I decided to take this part of your training in hand myself for this reason.”

“I thought Fisher was going to… “ she didn’t like the word train. “Orient me on such matters.”

“Miles Fisher is the ideal work partner for you precisely because he has no judgements about these matters. But you’ll need help learning to manage your emotional well being. You’ve lived a life of extremes, but this is a matter of operational discipline.”

Kat watched her mentor as she opened her cigarette case and fitted a cigarette to her short holder, then pushed the case across the table to her. She thought she understood why Cecille Jones had elected to give Kat this instruction, because Jones herself had been obligated through biological happenstance to live a life counter to her choosing. Kat had only seen her once in what Fisher referred to as her “disguise”, during an interdepartmental briefing. 

To the outsiders, she must have appeared to be a perfectly ordinary middle aged man— shaved head, thick auburn eyebrows, wire rim glasses, and a colonel’s uniform fitted broad across her shoulders.  Except for the artificial brows, she wore no cosmetics, and her gestures lacked the refinement Kat was accustomed to — in fact, she had remained very still, only gesturing or unlacing her fingers when it was necessary. 

Kat had felt hideously uncomfortable on her behalf, though Jones herself appeared to be totally at ease. The act was seamless, the other gruff-voiced officers tasked with providing logistical support taking absolutely no notice of the imposter in their midst. If she hadn’t been made aware of Jones’ identity, Kat wouldn’t have clocked her for an instant. When it came to faking her way to fulfilling the expectations of men she didn’t want to trust, she could not be in better hands. 

“That man over there on the other side of the fountain,” Jones indicated with her cigarette. “The suit and the weight problem. Say there’s a chance he has a personal acquaintance within the Frühlingsmorgen group. You meet him in a swank hotel bar in Hamburg, and your beau is too drunk to carry on the talk. You’ve you got your legend rehearsed like it’s gospel. You need a location. A name. Anything. Do you think money’s going to buy it for you?”

Kat observed the man, a middle aged, balding man thumbing through a paper. He had a fat neck, and a paunch that required some expensive tailoring that just failed to flatter. He was not the kind of man Kat found repellant, but rather the kind she hardly noticed at all. She squinted slightly as she tried to fit him into Jones’ scenario. 

“Bear in mind you’ll have Miles on hand to play the cuckold,” Jones said. “So how do you proceed?”

“He’s German?” Kat shrugged. “Maybe a German wife is unhappy in her new Jewish marriage.”

“You,” Jones stabbed the cigarette in her direction. “First person. How do you play it?”

“I wait for my husband to pass out,” Kat said, still watching the man. “I start talking about old times, my family. I tell him I miss home. I give him a secret or two, something that reads “Nazi”. I let him get me more drunk. I let him… walk me to my car? Hotel room?” 

“Then what?”

Kat took a deep breath, and closed her eyes to aid her imagination. “I let him invite me in. I let him make me another drink. I let him put his hands…”

She shuddered suddenly, unable to continue. She opened her eyes, trying to clear her mind of the image. Jones was watching her compassionately, and she felt her cheeks burn. She was about to make an excuse for herself when Jones withdrew something from her purse. 

It was another cigarette case, this one a red leather-bound affair with an inscription. Quickly, Jones flipped it open, and showed Kat the contents. Underneath the spicy black cigarettes, a compartment was visible, which included a packet of small pills, two rubbers, and a tiny bottle of what looked awfully like —

“Water, starch, a little bit of salt and bacon lard. Shake it before you put it in the condom. That’s after you drop the pill in his drink, or get him to take it nasally or orally. A full dose will put him out for a good three hours. You’re going to want to grease him up, maybe do some other playacting to set the scene, but if he wakes up next to you, and you sell it, most men will choose believe whatever enhances their ego.”

She handed her the case. Kat took it, letting out a sigh of relief. She turned the thing over in her hands, smoothing her thumbs over the fine leather. “That never would have occurred to me.”

“I want you to understand that I have no expectation that you sleep with anyone you don’t want to sleep with,” Jones said firmly. “But that doesn’t mean all doors are closed to that line of investigation.”

Kat nodded, then swallowed as she looked at the faintly embossed German inscription on the outside of the case: An meinen liebsten kleinen Kumpel – Sili N.

To my dearest little pal 

– Sili N. 

She raised her head to Jones. “Silas Nyssen? That’s his diminutive?” 

Jones nodded, taking a hard drag before stubbing the cigarette out in the ashtray. “The guy has cousins out the yin-yang you can impersonate, but it can cover all manner of scenarios, including mistress or even wife.”

“Not the one I would’ve gone with,” she considered. “But as you say. It’s a good trick.” 

“If you’ve got the nerve for it, which I know you do.”

Kat finished her own cigarette, frowning as she put it out. She met her mentor’s gaze once again. “What if I do… want to? With a target? How do I keep my head?” 

“How did you keep your head with Masson?” Jones said by way of suggestion. “Fisher can advise you better on how to work a lover, or even a platonic friend. He’s got a talent for mixing work and pleasure and forgetting he’s even got an agenda… but he also remembers everything said to him.”

“I’m good at that part,” Kat said with a little bitterness.

“New York is the time for you to get that education,” Jones said with a smile. “Then you’ll be on your honeymoon down to Florida, where you’ll get flight out of Homestead Airfield. Eight hours later, you’ll be in London. It won’t be enough time for your reputations to precede you, so I expect you to use that time to set up your campaign. By the time you make it to Europe, that transatlantic gossip will already be circulating. You’ll have to commit to it.”

“I understand.”

“No, you don’t,” Jones sighed. “You can’t understand deep cover, not until you’ve lived it.”

“What about Fisher? He’s lived it, hasn’t he?”

“He has, perhaps a little too successfully. It’s part of the reason I’m pleased you’ve developed a bond,” Jones’ smile was suddenly just the slightest bit maternal. “He needs something real in his life, and has for a long time.”  

Kat felt the burden of that settling on her shoulders like a blanket made of lead. Her partner had been extremely attentive, as much as any new husband, but there was still the force of hesitation acting on both of them. She knew she was developing real feelings for him, but she found it impossible to tell if those feelings were matched on his side, or if he was simply like this with all of his partners.

Words remained unsaid between them. Words Kat herself had never spoken, not even to Jerome at their most simpatico. She looked up at Jones, recalling what Fisher had said about her relationship to E. Max, and she could see them together suddenly. They were matched in temperament, as well as their respective alienation from this society. They would’ve been quite something back in pre-war Berlin, she thought, feeling a little sad for the demise of what had once promised to be a much freer, more accepting world.

“You’re booked on the express to Grand Central in three days,” Jones said abruptly. “We have a lot of work to do between now and when you’re sworn.”

“I’m ready.”