Q&A with the Characters

Lots of readers have suggested an interview with Mai and Alexei—together. Of course, in the real world, spies don’t give interviews unless they’re moles, defectors, or whistleblowers. The Federal Aviation Administration, where I worked for many, many, many years would periodically issue a volume of agency history, so I decided Mai and Alexei could be interviewed by Mr. Zamora, The Directorate’s Chief Archivist.

Let me know what you think. I might do it again with other characters.

Transcript of Archive Session 1
B. Zamora, Chief Archivist
M. Fisher, Director
A. Bukharin, Retired Operative

ZAMORA: Thank you, Director, and Mr. Bukharin for your time. Mr. Bukharin, I know you don’t usually come to headquarters, so thank you for agreeing to do this here.

BUKHARIN: I’ll never pass up an opportunity to actually see my wife.

FISHER: Oh, let’s flash the dirty laundry, shall we?

ZAMORA: Uh…Well, let’s get started. Director, why don’t you describe the circumstances of your recruitment?

FISHER: That’s in my dossier, which you have access to.

ZAMORA: Of course, but my approach to the archiving of The Directorate’s history is less bureaucratic. I’d like to hear it in your own words.

FISHER: [Sigh] Very well. I was not yet sixteen years old and got in a spot of trouble. My guardian, who was then chief of The Directorate’s London Station, used that trouble to recruit me.

ZAMORA: What sort of trouble?

[Silence for 9.6 seconds]

BUKHARIN: Sex, drugs, and rock and roll.

FISHER: You’re mansplaining.

BUKHARIN: Only because I know you’ll leave that out. The purpose of an archive is… [Silence for 10 seconds] Are you married, Mr. Zamora?

ZAMORA: Uh, yes. My wife is, well, the assistant chief archivist.

BUKHARIN: Really? How has that worked for you? Because, as you see, it’s sometimes touchy for the director and me.

ZAMORA: Well, I work the day shift, and she works the night shift. We see each other at the change of watch. That seems to have worked well for us.

BUKHARIN: Don’t give my wife any ideas.

ZAMORA: Yes, well, sex, drugs, and rock and roll. Director, would you like to be specific?

FISHER: Not really, but since I do understand the purpose of an archive… When I was 15, my financial guardian—a different individual from my custodial guardian—gave me my first American Express card. No limit of course. I promptly purchased a plane ticket to Amsterdam, where I knew Ian Flynn and the Ulster Kings were based for their upcoming European tour. I bought—


FISHER: —my way into a rehearsal, introduced myself to Flynn, and told him I was 18. After two weeks of barely wearing any clothes or leaving his hotel suite, ingesting a prodigious amount of marijuana, and sitting in on the Ulster Kings’ rehearsals, my guardian found me and brought me home. Sex. Drugs. Rock and roll.

[Silence for 11.2 seconds]

ZAMORA: I see. At such a young age, what types of things were you recruited to do for the London Station?

FISHER: Filling and clearing dead drops, reporting on gossip from society parties and diplomatic functions, the occasional face-to-face exchange.

BUKHARIN: That was how we met.

FISHER: Not exactly. We didn’t exactly meet, as in introducing ourselves. You barged in where I was hiding and announced, without any proof, that you were there to rescue me. When I didn’t cooperate with you instantly, you jammed a hypo in my neck, stuffed me in a tool cart, and hauled me away.

BUKHARIN: The Paris Ritz was crawling with Stasi, and you weren’t cooperating, so, yes, I sedated you to get the data tapes you’d secured in your meet. I told you then, try to think of it as my helping you complete your mission.

[Silence for 14.8 seconds]

FISHER: Anyway, Mr. Zamora, as a probationary operative, my activities were limited to those types of operations classified as offering minimal danger. I was under the direct supervision of the station chief, probably much more so than a typical recruit since the chief was also my guardian.

ZAMORA: Still, face-to-face exchanges, the Vienna Procedure, I believe it’s called, can be dangerous. Mr. Bukharin alluded to—

FISHER: Mr. Bukharin’s version is overly romantic. He’d like to think that I laid eyes on him as a 16 year-old and fell instantly in love with him. It was quite the opposite, I assure you, but, yes, there is a modicum of risk in the Vienna Procedure. However, if I’d followed protocol, I wouldn’t have ended up in a hotel room hiding from the Stasi.

ZAMORA: Would that be your advice to future recruits, then? Follow your protocols?

[Sustained laughter from FISHER and BUKHARIN.]

BUKHARIN: I’m sorry, Mr. Zamora. Mai and I have always had a history about protocols and how both of us insisted upon following them then insisted upon ignoring them and never at the same time.

FISHER: The protocols are there for a reason, of course, but in the field you have to remain flexible.

BUKHARIN: Yes, instead of adhering to rigid protocols when someone is there to rescue you.

FISHER: Jesus Wept, you do know that was almost 50 years ago? Why are you harping on that still? If you’d shown me some identification instead of barging in and demanding I come with you, it might have gone down differently.

BUKHARIN: She hid in a closet. The first place anyone would look. Her hand to hand skills were nonexistent. She wasn’t ready for a Vienna Procedure by any means, but I think John Stone, her station chief, was determined to push her into her parents’ legacy whether she was ready for it or not. I told him that at the time. I also told him Mai didn’t have what it took to be an operative. But I was wrong.

FISHER: Mr. Zamora, please note the exact time he uttered, “I was wrong,” so it can be preserved for posterity. I’ve waited in vain for so many years to hear that from him.

[Sound of a message alert on a mobile phone.]

FISHER: Excuse me one moment, Mr. Zamora. I’m called back to the Operations Center. We’ll have to continue this another time. I’m sure Mr. Bukharin can regale you with stories to illustrate all my shortcomings as an operative and the director.

BUKHARIN: We might even discuss how you had that emergency message staged to skip out on this.

FISHER: If that’s the case, then I was taught by the best.

[Sound of footsteps and a door closing.]

ZAMORA: I have to ask…

BUKHARIN: Go ahead.

ZAMORA: Did she stage that summons from the Ops Center?

BUKHARIN: She did have an excellent training officer who taught her how to extricate herself from any type of sticky situation.

ZAMORA: But… You were her training officer.


ZAMORA: How is it you… Why do you, well, put up with her attitude?

BUKHARIN: The answer is quite simple. I love her.

[Session ended when A. Bukharin received an “important text I have to respond to in person.”]