Throwback Thursday: “City of Spies” by Ken Kalfus

Issue 21, 1993

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“City of Spies” Ken Kalfus

Cristoph Czarnecki loves Z., this city of cafés, tuxedoed waiters, wide boulevards and medieval walls, and he envies Darryl Davidson his permanent position here. He suspects Davidson of biasing his reports – perhaps by raising doubts about Ephraim Ettinger – in order to maintain his post, and wonders if he himself would be capable of the same duplicity, for the same reason. He could make a strong case against Davidson. After all, Davidson was seen in a café with Fingerman just the other day. Ettinger is assigned to watch Fingerman; Czarnecki might reasonably claim that the purpose of Davidson’s rendezvous with Fingerman was to compromise Ettinger’s operation. Of course, the meeting may have been entirely innocent, but Czarnecki could emphasize its impropriety, thereby demonstrating that his own presence in the city was critical.

On the other hand, Czarnecki must suspect the ease with which his operatives learned of the meeting and the wealth of details in the report. The two men took a window table: during the long interview, according to the report, Fingerman had a beer, a sausage, three espressos, part of a strudel and then a cognac. Czarnecki wonders if he’s being tested, to determine which interpretation he will place on the meeting. Someone acting in concert with Davidson and Fingerman may be hoping to maximize his own importance by undermining confidence in Czarneckïs credibility.

Czarnecki paces the faded carpet in his hotel suite, relights his pipe and gazes through the thick, leaded window into a tangle of trolley cables wrapped in a gauze of dusk. On his desk lies Davidson’s skeptical evaluation of Ettinger’s accusations against Fingerman. Czarnecki recalls Gödel’s Theorem: a mathematical system cannot be fully described within the terms of the system. Every set of premises generates a paradox, which can be resolved only by another set of premises, which also generates a paradox. There is a corollary applicable to espionage. An agent’s loyalty cannot be proven merely on the basis of his reports. You must make a judgment based on surveillance of the agent, compiling intelligence that will go into a report that in turn must be evaluated by someone else, who will require surveillance of you.

According to Ettinger’s report, Davidson says, Fingerman claims that Goldinski is loyal. Ettinger, however, charges that Fingerman has destroyed the evidence against Goldinski. Davidson says that Ettinger is lying; that Ettinger has, in fact, attempted to compromise Goldinski. But if Davidson knows that Czarnecki knows he’s met with Fingerman, he must assume that Czarnecki will use that information to support Ettinger. Davidson, Czarnecki reasons, must know then that Goldinski is indeed loyal, and expects that Czarnecki will be discredited by backing Ettinger, thereby undermining any charges against Davidson himself.

Czarnecki leaves the hotel and from a callbox at the outskirts of the city telephones Goldinski. Without identifying himself, Czarnecki offers him conclusive evidence against Hibberd that, he tells Goldinski, is actually false. He then posts a recording of the conversation to Fingerman. Ettinger, he knows, will intercept the tape, preventing Fingerman from protecting Goldinski, if Goldinski accuses Hibberd. Davidson will continue to discount Ettinger’s charges, and will be discredited when the charges are confirmed. But Hibberd’s phone is tapped; Goldinski’s suite has been searched; Fingerman’s secretary has betrayed him; Ettinger’s wife has been indiscreet; Davidson’s files have been stolen; Czarnecki has been followed from the hotel by a busboy. Documentation is enclosed. Christoph Czarnecki returns to his writing table in his hotel suite and stares through thick, leaded windows out into the city, where other spies sit at their writing tables in their hotel suites, staring through thick, leaded windows out into the city.

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