The following is a fictionalized account of actual work my father did for the Air Force from 1963-69. Among other things, he spent time as a courier for the cryptography department.
Wayne awoke to the sound of hammers on metal. Jerking up to sit, he reached consciousness after realizing his hands were in tight fists, and he had handfulls of bedsheet in each white-knuckled palm. Eyes focusing, he glanced around the dark room, his heart beating to the pace of the hammering.
There was no movement in the room. His suitcase lay untouched on the floor, next to his briefcase. A dull light from a streetlight fell on the room through the curtains. The cold crept in around his chest and arms where the heavy covers had fallen away. With a suddenness he realized he was hearing the radiator.
The digital clock read 2:17. Wayne did some quick math and realized it would be noon back home by now. It was no use sleeping now. Despite the nice steak dinner last night, he was sure all his energy was thoroughly spent in just trying to keep warm. He felt a rumbling for a warm meal. He turned on the lamp, pulled the heavy comforter around him and grabbed his briefcase - if he was going to have any success ordering coffee and eggs, he would need the translator book.
The lock’s code was a simple 6268, but just out of habit he spun the four numbered wheels to 5932. The secret compartment popped open, revealing only handcuffs. Wayne rubbed his eyes, shut the compartment, and turned to the correct code. He remembered the odds. “One in ten thousand,” he said. Even if someone were to get their hands on this briefcase, even if they knew how to find the compartment, they would spend days guessing the correct code, and by then the cipher for all the information would have changed. Of course, that was of no consequence at this point. The information had already been delivered.
Six two six eight, and the typical looking briefcase opened. Half a ream of blank paper and some new pens and his translator book. He flipped through and practiced a couple times before making the phone call to room service. “Koff-ee E yates… coughy E yaits… pausaholsta.” Would that work? He picked up the phone by the window and peeked out the window. Through the falling snow, he could make out the turrets of St. Basil’s cathedral in the distance.
As he looked over Red Square, he allowed himself a moment to wonder about the information he was delivering. Would it harm this country he was sleeping in? These missions seemed exciting the first few times, but he was tired of them now. How many more times would he be handcuffed to a briefcase to deliver a cipher to someone across the world? He knew the information was safer than he was. Ciphers could be changed, even after men were lost. He pressed zero and made his attempt at Russian.
He felt his whole body relax as the PanAm flight lifted off, and was thankful that the handcuffs were not necessary on the return flight. He watched the stewardess make her way toward his aisle, pushing her cart, and noticed her accent was southern. It wasn’t Texan, but maybe Georgia? Even still, the thought of being in his home state was delightful. In about eight hours they would land at JFK international, where he would board a second plane to Albuquerque, and he would immediately be driven to Kirtland Air Force Base. He listened to the soft lilt in the woman’s voice as she slowly pushed closer.
“Can I getcha anything?” Her smile was generous, her lips perfectly red.
“I imagine I could get a bargain on some vodka,” he said, playing up his Texas accent a bit.
The woman giggled. “One serving or two?” She went for the small, palm-sized bottles. Her hair was dark, her skin milky.
“Thanks, but actually I’ll just have a beer. Whatever you got.”
She served him and locked eyes with him just as she leaned over with the bottle, and wished him a good flight. He resisted the urge to turn and look at her as she pushed the cart away.
He eyed a copy of the New York times in the seat pocket in front of him, and forced his attention on it. It was a few days old. President Johnson was making some declaration about the People’s Liberation Army in Vietnam. He reminded himself of why he enlisted in the Air Force in the first place: The alternative was no better.