The Marvelous Mind of Marilyn Hansen, Episode 6: Gathering Information
By Lauren Derrick
Madelyn Gray stepped out from the back seat of a black sedan onto the sidewalk. She wore a lavender lapel jacket and matching skirt with a smart Jackie Kennedy–style hat. She offered a ticket that did not scan, but the girl with the ticket reader didn’t seem to notice. If something had gone wrong, neither the girl’s face nor Madelyn's face betrayed an ounce of worry. If anyone else noticed, they said nothing.
Madelyn strode into the auditorium with steady deliberation. Swaths of people stood in groups or sat anxiously in their seats, a low buzz of chatter filling the air. The lights were low, but Madelyn easily found her way to a center row only a stone's throw away from the stage.
A man that looked as though he had a few years even on Madelyn peered up at her from his wheelchair. He had only a few remaining streaks of white hair, and his right eye sagged hopelessly. He grinned lopsidedly.
“You made it.”
Madelyn primly took her seat and opened her program. “Of course I did. You set me up splendidly with that Uber driver. Thank you, Jonathan.”
His grin pulled even further to the left, and he bobbed his head in a genteel fashion. “You're very welcome. Good to see you.”
The stately woman nodded. “You as well. Heaven knows it's been long enough.”
“I'm looking forward to working with you again,” Jonathan said warmly.
Madelyn's fingers reverently brushed the glossy pages of the program. “You know, this is the one thing I've missed most these past forty years. When I saw Chicago here back in the 70s, all my girlfriends told me that I had to bring a date because I needed someone to bring me home safely after the show.”
Jonathan nodded and huffed. “Still got to be on your guard. City isn’t safe for anyone. You know anything about this one?”
Madelyn smiled. “I have the soundtrack. I also read the Wizard of Oz as a girl. Quite a difference from the film. In the book her shoes were silver.”
“I wouldn't know. I saw the film—everyone did. Can't say I've ever read the book though. Was it any good?”
“I loved it as a girl,” Madelyn said, pausing thoughtfully, “though—even then—I felt that Oz got off too easy. The people never saw him for the humbug that he was.”
Jonathan snorted. “True to life, eh?”
A group of teenagers excitedly squeezed past Madelyn and Jonathan into their seats as an announcement marked the beginning of the production. The lights dimmed further, and Madelyn sat with rapt attention. As the music began, she placed a hand to her heart and then dabbed at a tiny tear that had begun to form. Jonathan solemnly observed the gesture but said nothing.
As the other audience members exited after the production, Madelyn and Jonathan remained in their seats. They chatted briefly about the show before Madelyn remarked, “If Marilyn doesn't already realize I'm here, she will soon. We will likely need to change out the phone and the credit card with some regularity to avoid her.”
Jonathan shook a little with soft laughter. “I'll be impressed if she or the agency can track you down in under a week. Don't you worry, though. I have my boys watching it—and, er, damn. I guess one of them is actually a woman. They're professionals. They'll set you up with a new card and phone as soon as you've been active enough to draw suspicion. You've got the cash though? Just in case?”
Madelyn nodded regally. “Yes. Thank you, Jonathan. You've really come through for me.”
“My pleasure, Maddie.” Jonathan assured her. His eyes wandered back to the stage. “You sure Marilyn will follow you?”
“I left her no choice. She'll come.” Madelyn answered serenely.
“And… do you think she'll want to side with us when she does?”
Madelyn followed Jonathan's gaze to the closed curtain surrounding the stage. She pursed her lips together, deep in thought. Finally, she turned back to her friend. “She has a personal stake in all of this. Marilyn is… particular about how she uses her capabilities, but she does use them. If we ask her in the right way and at the right time, I’m certain she’ll see sense.”
Jonathan cleared his throat and looked pensively down at his hands. “I thought you were going to play the guilt angle on her, since she locked you up. I'm glad you seem to have something better in mind. If memory serves, Marilyn's not one to be easily manipulated.”
Madelyn laughed. “We don't have to manipulate her, so don't worry. She doesn't feel guilty for locking me up, anyhow. I don't even blame her for it anymore. She was right. I wasn't looking at the bigger picture.”
Jonathan's left eye watched Madelyn curiously as she nodded to herself.
“No, she was right all along.” Madelyn said softly. “I was risking my exposure over little fish. No good could have come of that. But we have much bigger fish to fry now, and this is our best chance. I intend to make it count for something.”
The next morning, Madelyn put on a white pantsuit and a matching, wide-brimmed hat. She strolled confidently into the lobby of a mid-grade hotel, with her wheeled carry-on luggage squeaking softly behind her. She approached the desk, thanked the receptionist, and checked out. Scuttling out onto the sidewalk, Madelyn spotted a black sedan waiting. Jonathan rolled down the window from the back seat and waved to her. Madelyn grinned. The driver came and took her luggage while Madelyn ducked into the vehicle.
“Ready for this?” Jonathan asked with his lopsided grin.
Madelyn smiled cordially. “Quite. Did you ever meet Audrey?”
“Perhaps briefly, long ago. Can't recall.”
“Pity. I think she'll like you.”
They sat silently for the next hour until the car pulled up to a hospital. The driver helped Jonathan with his wheelchair and deposited Madelyn's bag onto the sidewalk. The two made their way inside, up the elevator, and through to the southernmost wing of the building. Several minutes later, Madelyn approached a busy nurse behind a desk.
“We're here to visit Audrey Cox. She was my dear friend, years ago. I believe she was moved into room 3407 last week.” Madelyn said with a small smile.
The nurse passed a clipboard to Madelyn without looking up. Madelyn filled in the lines, recording her name as “Mary.” The nurse asked for identification.
Madelyn rubbed the area just under her ear. “I'm sorry, dear. What did you say?”
The nurse looked up and repeated her request for identification. Madelyn looked straight into her eyes.
“Oh! Of course.” She pulled out a blank card from her purse. Jonathan handed his ID over as well, which Madelyn stacked on top of her blank card. She passed them to the nurse.
The woman examined the cards and handed them back. Minutes later, they were being led back to the room. Madelyn pushed Jonathan in his wheelchair. The elderly man covertly pointed towards the security cameras he spotted, and Madelyn carefully adjusted her hat to hide her face from their view.
Audrey Cox was a leathery-faced old woman with thinning hair and yellowed eyes. Those eyes seemed to softly track Madelyn and Jonathan as they entered the room. Her arm, restricted by a series of tubes, jerked a little.
Once the nurse left, Madelyn took a seat next to Audrey's hospital bed. “Audrey, do you remember me? Madelyn Grey? Marilyn's twin sister?”
The tired, aged stare seemed to bulge slightly as Audrey's entire body convulsed.
“You...” She croaked.
“Yes. Hello!” Madelyn smiled pleasantly. “This is my associate, Jonathan.”
“Pleased to meet you,” Jonathan muttered, fumbling in his pocket.
“This is a nice hospital.” Madelyn remarked. “I see you're still using the name 'Audrey.' It must be stressful, using false information on your health insurance. Things would be so much simpler if we had universal healthcare, no? Still, I suppose it's nice that you've been able to keep using the same name. Consistent.”
The panic in Audrey's eyes was unmistakable. She glanced from the door to the window, as if searching for an escape or some ally to save her. She found none.
Madelyn made herself comfortable. “Is your recorder ready, Jonathan?”
Jonathan finished extricating the recorder from his pocket and held it up. He pressed the record button. “Ready.”
Madelyn nodded to him and then looked Audrey in the eyes. “Audrey… dear Audrey. You certainly knew how to keep your head down during your time at the agency, didn't you?”
Audrey squirmed. Madelyn took her hand in a comforting way, like a mother might do to soothe a restless child. “It's all right, dear. We understand—no double agent should go out of their way to attract unwanted attention. Keeping your head down was the best way to stay safe. Now, don't you worry. Jonathan and I are your friends. We aren't here to harm you. You didn't do any real harm, now did you?”
Audrey glanced from Madelyn, to Jonathan, then back to Madelyn. Her lips parted a little, but she didn't utter a word.
“You see? I'm sure you can't think of a single reason why we'd be after you so many years later. No. Jonathan and I are only here for information.”
Audrey looked intently into Madelyn's eyes. She mumbled. “D-don't remember… very much...”
Madelyn gently squeezed Audrey's hand. “It was so very long ago, wasn't it? Don't worry, I can help refresh your memory. Now let's see. They let you go once the Sunshine Act was signed. You remember that, don't you? Yes, I can see you do. We needed to quickly change from a government-run agency to a private entity, and there were lay-offs. Your strategy of staying under the radar didn't make you a valuable enough asset to keep.”
Audrey's eyebrows furrowed, and she gave Madelyn a pitiful, confused stare. Madelyn nodded. “You were never one to speak out, but you fought the decision to let you go with a passion. No one thought you cared about the job that much. They didn't realize that you were gathering intelligence for a Soviet agency.”
Madelyn's voice suddenly quieted as she stared into Audrey's frightened, paled eyes. “No one knew what price your family back in Kyiv would have to pay if you didn't deliver. You would be suspected of treason. Oh, Audrey, we don't blame you, dear!”
Jonathan seemed content to silently record the monologue in his wheelchair, and in fact, he watched Madelyn with great interest. She continued.
“Of course, you weren't a high enough classification to know everything, but even you knew about Robert Byrd's assignment in Moscow. He was someone your superiors were very interested in. You knew my sister and I were assigned to work with him, which is why you began inviting me out for drinks. I'm afraid I found that suspicious, dear, even back then. Pity, that.
“So, when you knew getting close to me wasn't an option, you requested a honey trap for my sister. A charismatic Soviet spy with an impressive American accent. You knew there were secrets to Byrd's success, and your superiors wanted those secrets. You see, we already know about all of this. There's really only one tiny little thing I want from you to help my sister.”
Madelyn paused to let the words sink in a moment, then continued. “All these years, you see, Marilyn never really knew why the man she loved suddenly disappeared from her life. She has been in the dark, completely oblivious to the truth that you and I both know. We don't have much time left on this earth—not in this geriatric state—not much time left to finally find peace and closure. Marilyn deserves to know the truth. She was always kind to you, wasn't she? I remember she always brought you a birthday card. Not that it was your real birthday, but still. As a spy in a foreign country, her kindness mattered to you, didn't it? You'll help me, won't you?”
Audrey looked puzzled, then seemed to consider. Her pale, wrinkled lips parted. “H-he's dead.”
“Yes. So you know you won't even be putting anyone in danger.” Madelyn soothed. “It's all water under the bridge at this point, as far as the governments are concerned. The Soviet Union is long dead, anyway. Which is why you're still here, isn't it? Russia wouldn't own you and bring you home.”
Audrey nodded slowly, looking disturbed but not quite as panicked as before.
“If you can simply confirm the name of this man, we will leave you in peace.” Madelyn offered simply. “Jonathan here may even come visit with a crossword puzzle sometime. I know you probably don't get many visitors these days.”
Several long moments passed as the beleaguered patient glanced around. A tear slid down Audrey's leathery, wrinkled face. Her voice was barely audible, and Jonathan leaned in with the recorder as she spoke. “B-Boris. Boris Kaval...”
Marilyn pouted, feigning hurt. “Audrey! I thought we were friends. Who are you trying to protect here, love? A dead man or a dead government? I don't want to have to threaten you with your health care, dear, but if you're going to force my hand...”
Audrey trembled, sinking down into her pillow.
Marilyn closed her eyes and took a cleansing breath. “Audrey, I know you said Boris… but I'm sure what you meant to say was Friedrick… Am I right? One of us is going to have to show a remarkable degree of honesty today. It could be you… or it could be me. Filing a report on insurance fraud.”
The woman went pale and her voice melted into a hoarse whisper.. “H-how? How can you know that name?”
“Unimportant, love.” Madelyn said dismissively.
“Y-yes. Friedrick Borodin. He went by Frank H-hansen. I don't know… I didn't know...”
Madelyn patted Audrey's hand fondly. “That's fine, dear. It's all in the past. And we really don't bear you any malice.”
Madelyn and Jonathan moved towards the door. “We'll send some flowers in for you—best wishes for your surgery tomorrow. Please don't let what I said worry you. You've been quite helpful, and we really don't mean you any harm.”
Before she opened the door, however, Madelyn slowly spun around to spare the sickly woman one last glance. “After all, dear, we can't very well hold you responsible for the sins of your government, now can we?”
The cafe was chosen randomly on the drive back from the hospital. The driver recommended it, and Jonathan tipped the man extra for his recommendation. He and Madelyn sat, enjoying soft music and sipping soup. Once again, Madelyn had adjusted her hat to block the view of the security camera.
“That was quite the interrogation.” Jonathan remarked, dipping a breadstick into his minestrone. “Who knew she had all that in her head?”
Madelyn delicately tore a piece from her own breadstick. “It went well. She really believed we figured all that out on our own. That's good.”
Charles chewed the soggy bread, swallowed, and gave Madelyn a grin that didn't lack for width despite its inability to reach his right eye. “It was just like watching an episode of Matlock. Beautiful.”
“I'm glad you were entertained, Charles, because we still have several more visits to make.” Madelyn sighed. “I'm afraid they won't all be quite this productive. I wasn't completely confident that I was right about Audrey. It was a stroke of luck that she really was what I suspected and still had enough memory and presence of mind to be useful.”
“Fine, fine.” Jonathan assured her. “I know how to work.”
Madelyn lifted her spoon to her lips and, noiselessly, drained it.
“People might get suspicious,” Jonathan remarked after a moment, “and start to wonder how we are able to gather so much information.”
“Lucky that the truth is so difficult to believe.” Madelyn smirked. “To be frank, however, I don't worry about that. Nobody with any degree of sanity is going to come to the conclusion that I've somehow read their mind. They'll explore countless absurd scenarios before that even begins to seem plausible, so no need to concern yourself over the secret. It's safe.”
“Oh, I'm not worried about that.” Jonathan chuckled. “I'm worried that people will start to wonder how we're such damn good spies.”
Madelyn smiled. “Let them wonder.”