In 2010, while Nicholas Reynolds worked at the CIA Museum, this Oxford-trained historian discovered information for a book he penned with a deeply researched and captivating narrative. Writer, Sailor, Soldier, Spy, reveals his discoveries for the first time, bringing to light the whole story of this hidden side of Hemingway's life: his troubling recruitment by Soviet spies to work with the NKVD, the forerunner to the KGB, followed in short order by a complex set of secret relationships with American agencies, including the FBI, the Department of State, the Office of Naval Intelligence (ONI), and the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), a precursor to the CIA.
A double agent? Oh, Ernest, say it isn't so!
Although, in direct contradiction of my own words, I find the idea exciting. Think of the books we could write with that premise. Take me, for instance. An aging--okay, okay--OLD fluffy romance author traveling the world doing research and spying at the same time. Think of the situations I could get into. Well, I could. And I bet you or any of your characters could, too.
Take the time I was in Berlin and went off on my own while Calvin happily sat in a Starbucks, sipping on espressos and writing. The only German I knew was please and thank-you. I mean, one must be polite wherever you go. But Pollyanna here felt she could handle any situation with a smile.
I stumbled upon a Jewish synagogue guarded by German police. There was a new exhibit of pre-WWII Jewish treasures, buried from the Nazis, recently unearthed and cleaned up that were now on display. Neo-Nazis had threatened to bomb the synagogue where I later found out Einstein and the family of Mandelsshon, German composer, once worshipped. As I went through the metal detector, a guard spoke to me in a harsh tone.
He repeated his statement.
He motioned for a female guard, who was bigger than Atalla the Hun, and she glared at me while repeating the same phrase.
She yelled it.
I nervously smiled. My facial muscles had started to cramp. What in the world was wrong?
She finally grumbled, shrugged, and waved me on.
That night when we had dinner with Kelly, Calvin's son, and his Berliner wife Katrin, he inquired about our day. I told him about my experience at the synagoguee. Kelly asked what the guards kept repeating. I told him. Both he and Katrin started laughing. "Vonnie, they were telling you your zipper, your fly was down."
See how easy it is to come up with story ideas for your writer turned spy? I'm in the process of spiffing up a romantic suspense I'd written about five years ago. I need to update technology and insert more humor. In what was once Mona Lisa's Room, soon to be NIKO: Licensed to Kill, a simple American art teacher goes to Paris and does the same thing I did in the first two paragraphs. From then on my imagination took over.
A grim-faced guard stepped in front of Alyson Moore when she raised her camera to take a picture. “Madame, in the Louvre, we do not photograph the Mona Lisa.” His lips fashioned a thin line of disapproval.
Alyson’s eyes scanned the crowd, for even as the security guard admonished her, scores of other tourists, their arms upraised, used cell phones to snap photos. “Am I the only one trying to take a picture here?” Without waiting for a reply, she pocketed her camera, and the snippy, tight-assed guard moved on.
She shouldered her way through the early morning crowd in the Salon Carrẻ to get a closer look at the painting encased in bullet-proof glass. Seeing Da Vinci’s masterpiece was a dream come true. No one, not even an overzealous guard, would spoil her time with Mona.
Once the museum opened its doors at nine sharp, and Alyson passed through security, she hurried to see this woman of mystery. The throngs of people already crowding the room surprised her.
She slipped between two men and stepped closer to the leading lady of the gallery. Alison’s nose twitched from the sweet and sour blitz of assorted perfumes and various degrees of hygiene. Murmurings of adulation echoed off the gallery walls as if the Mona Lisa were a five-hundred-year-old rock star. How had one painting achieved such stardom?
If the ever-present guard wouldn’t allow photographs, she’d sketch some of Mona’s fans standing, spellbound by her enigmatic smile. When she finally tugged her large sketchpad free from the tight confines of her yellow leather bag, other items fell and scattered.
Alyson crouched to retrieve pieces of charcoal, just as the man standing next to her bent to place a black shoulder bag, the style European men were so fond of carrying, on the marble tile floor.
Their eyes locked.
“Excuse me, you’re standing on my things.” Alyson pointed to his shoe. The man, face damp with perspiration, scowled, raised his foot and snatched her navy scarf, hotel keycard and passport, crushing them into a ball. He stuffed the wadded scarf into her outstretched hand and stood.
Alyson reached, fingering for the last charcoal pencil that rolled beyond her reach. She straightened and realized the man in the dark green t-shirt was walking away. The tattoo of a scorpion on the back of his neck. “Sir? Sir, you’ve forgotten your bag. Monsieur?”
He didn’t respond.
She called after him again.
The man disappeared into the crowd.
The museum guard approached. “Is there a problem, Madame?”
“Yes, that man left his shoulder bag here.” Alyson indicated the black canvas bag on the floor. “He set it down at the same time I dropped some things.” She held out her navy scarf to show the guard and suddenly it hit her that her scarf was empty. She shook it out to make sure. “My hotel key and passport!” Pulling apart the sides of her shoulder bag, she rummaged through its contents, hoping against hope she’d shoved them inside without thinking. Still, with her passport the same shade as her scarf, she assumed it was wrapped in the scarf’s folds. “I don’t believe this. He took my keycard and passport. Why would he take my things and leave his bag behind?”
The guard’s eyes widened for a second. “Madame, you are sure the man left this bag?” He pressed a button and spoke into a speaker attached to the lapel of his uniform, a scowling gaze intent on Alyson.
“Yes. He…he was setting it on the floor at the same time I squatted to retrieve my fallen items. I asked him to move his foot since he was standing on them.” Alyson groaned as realization sunk in. She was in a foreign country with no passport. Oh, hell!
The guard cautiously unzipped the shoulder bag. Yellow wires. The man depressed the communications button again and spoke rapid-fire French. Pandemonium erupted. Armed guards rushed toward the abandoned black bag. Once the word “bomb” was uttered, visitors screamed as they stampeded from Mona Lisa’s room.
Suddenly, Alyson stood in the eerie deafening silence with only the pounding of her heart and the cocking of guns reverberating in her ears—she and the black bag containing explosives surrounded by eight armed guards. Holy shit!
I'm not sure when I'll have this book ready to self-publish, but I'll be sure to let you know.
I can't get over it. Old Ernest a spy. Who-da-thunk-it!
You'll find me at www.vonniedavis.com