(Author's note. This is a puzzle. If you can't figure out who it's about it won't make a lot of sense. I'll post an explanation in feedback in a few days if nobody else does.)
April 3rd, 1968
The room is quite without character. It's clean, though not clinically so. It's tidy, but it's hard to arrange one table, one ashtray and two chairs in an untidy manner. The walls were painted recently and, except for a large mirror, they're quite bare. There is no window and the door is locked.
The room's occupant looks scared. He has neither the skill nor the will to hide his apprehension. He is a slight figure with shoulder length hair and fashionable attire. He looks like so many young Americans of the day, another anarchic, rebellious hippie.
For the third time, he checks that his cigarette packet is empty. With no clock in the room, the empty packet and the full ashtray are the only indications of how long he's been waiting. His nervous glances at the mirror are not vanity: He knows he's under surveillance.
Behind the mirror, two humourless men in suits are indeed watching him. "Now we see through a glass, darkly, but then face to face."
"I think its time for a little one on one with Mr. Landis. Better start the tape."
A key turns in the lock. The door opens to admit a severe looking man in a grey suit. As the door closes behind him he draws the vacant chair up to the table and sits down sliding an unopened packet of Marlboros toward the nervous young man.
"Shouldn't there be two of you? I mean, you're the good cop, right? So where's the bad cop?" The young man's bravado does little to hide his disquiet and doesn't stop him reaching for the cigarettes.
"Firstly Mr. Landis, I'm not a cop. I represent the NSA, that's the National Security Agency –"
"I know what the NSA is. You still work for The Man." The venom in the young man's voice is palpable. He says "The Man" in much the same tone as Jews say "the holocaust"
"Secondly, I ask the questions here, not you. Shall we begin?"
"Where's Cathy?" The hippie's tone is petulant.
"Didn't I make it clear? I ask the questions, you give the answers and when - and only when - you've answered each and every one of my questions to my satisfaction, you may be reunited with your young lady. Again, shall we begin?" The man is polite but there is iron in his voice that velvet words can't hide.
"Ask your questions, G-man." The hippy tries for a defiant tone, but fails rather.
"You can start by telling me your real name. There is no Jerry Landis in Newark, New Jersey. We're running your fingerprints now, but that takes a while, days if we have to check them with Interpol. Do you really want to be here that long?"
"That wasn't so difficult, was it? And your Date of Birth?"
"October 13th, 1941"
Behind the glass, the second grey suit picks up a telephone and passes on the new details to those charged with identifying the young man in the custody suite.
Back in the room, the Q&A continues. "While my colleagues are checking that, let's assume you're telling the truth and move on apace. Why did you compromise one of our operations this afternoon?"
"Do what? You're the first G-man I've ever met." Paul Kane is truly perplexed by this line of questioning.
"On the greyhound from Pittsburgh this afternoon, you were overheard by one of our agents, discussing another passenger: an elderly gentleman, wearing a gabardine suit. Remember?"
"Sure. Cathy said he was a spy. We were just playing parlour games. Passing the time. Is that what all this is about?"
"How did you know he was a spy?"
"I just told you. We were playing a game."
"How did you know he was a spy?"
"I didn't! It was a game!" Paul leans toward the interrogator, his voice raised in anger, born of frustration. Then it dawns on him. "You mean...? He really is a spy?" He slumps back in his chair... "Holy Shit."... And reaches for the cigarettes.
"A very dangerous game, Mr Kane."
"Are you threatening me?"
"On the contrary. It was you who threatened Dr. Roskow."
"I don't know a Dr. Roskow. All I know is my girlfriend and I were playing word games on the bus then we got grabbed by the cops at the terminus. No one would tell us why and they wouldn't give me my phone call. I know my rights. This is an illegal bust so, if you think you've got anything on me, you've blown your entire case." He smiles knowingly. It's the first time since he was picked up that he hasn't looked scared. "You screwed up, G-man." There is triumph in his tone.
"Mr Kane, you weren't arrested. NYPD have no record of you and won't have until someone reports you as a missing person. Our records show that Jerry Landis is voluntarily helping us with our enquiries and has waived the right of counsel. However, if we should find it necessary to arrest you later, someone will find the cannabis resin so carefully concealed in your bag. We missed it the first time but, when your friend started gabbling about 'real estate', we took another look and – transporting narcotics across a state line makes it a federal offence Mr. Kane."
Paul Kane visibly sags in his chair. There will be no more angry outbursts. The interrogator gives him a moment to digest this information before he continues. "Tell me about Pittsburgh."
"What's to tell? I just caught the Greyhound there."
"Why were you in Pittsburgh?"
"I told you. I was there to get the bus to New York."
"So you were just passing through?"
"Right! Just passing through."
"I was visiting with friends in Saginaw."
"I don't know, Man, just friends. We met. We travelled awhile. We went our separate ways. You know how it is."
"No. I don't. When did you leave Saginaw?"
"Four, no five... five days ago." Paul puts a hand up to his eyes and massages his brow for a second. Fatigue is catching up with him.
"And yesterday, you were only catching a bus in Pittsburgh?"
"I hitched. It took me four days to get to Pittsburgh. I only had a couple of hours before the next bus east so I hung out at the terminus."
"So you hitchhiked from Saginaw. Hard to check that. Was Cathy with you?"
"Check what you want G-man. No, Cathy wasn't with me. I met her in Pittsburgh."
"Where you were just waiting 2 hours for a bus?"
"Shit, Man. Cathy's just a chick I hooked up with. We were just passing time." Paul's voice is clipped, even terse. Tiredness is really getting to him.
"So you've only just met her? Only, you seemed very concerned about her when I came in, considering she's such a recent acquaintance."
"Fuck you G-man! Last I heard it wasn't a crime to care about my friends."
Unfazed by Paul's outburst, the interrogator continues in his calm monotone. "How very altruistic of you. When you met, did you approach her or did she approach you?"
"It was kinda mutual, I guess. We just gravitated towards each other."
"Its not like there was anyone else around. 'Cept a few suits and some of those clean cut, All-American types. Look, we just hung out for a couple of hours, ate some pie – you know, the ones with the 5-cent deposit on the dish? – split a pack of cigarettes then caught a bus together."
"Tell me about the journey. Who started the game?" The interrogator takes the young man's assertions at face value and moves on.
"I don't know. Cathy I think. I really can't remember. I do remember saying something about this old guy's bow tie but... Look man, we were just passing time. I wasn't paying that much attention. Didn't expect to need an alibi for a parlour game."
"Tell me about the rest of the journey. Perhaps it'll jog your memory."
"We'd run out of cigarettes, I remember that much 'cos I asked Cathy for one and she reminded me that I'd smoked the last one already about an hour earlier. We got kinda bored – you know how it is when you get too bored even to hold a conversation? – Anyway, she started reading some magazine. I think it was on the seat when we got on. Dunno what it was about, just left her to it and watched the world go by. It was going dark. I dunno when Cathy fell asleep, I only noticed after the moon came up and I wanted to ask her if she knew where the hell we were. She was sleeping on my shoulder and it'd cramped up with being in one position so long. I was hungry too. That slice of pie had been too little too far back. Then we got to the turnpike and I knew where I was again so I just counted the cars until the bus stopped and we got off. You know the rest. Your goon squad grabbed us right there."
"How many what?"
"Cars. You said you counted them. How many were there?" It was the first hint that the interrogator had a sense of humour.
"I lost count." The young man is sarcastic. The interrogator's lighter tone as emboldened him.
"So who started the game?"
"I've told you, I don't remember who started it." His voice is plaintive.
There's a discrete knock at the door. The interrogator leaves the room. He is gone only a minute but in that minute Paul's anxiety increases exponentially. They've got him for the drugs, which is bad enough, but this old man on the bus – what's he got himself into here?
The interrogator returns, sits down and steeples his fingers before him. He studies his fingertips for a few seconds before speaking. "Mr. Kane, you are a most fortunate young man. I am given to understand that Dr. Roskow is safe and well. We still have to check out your story and that of your... companion, so you'll be moving shortly to more comfortable quarters but, if you've been honest with me, you could be out of here in a day or two."
Relief washed over Paul like a breaking wave. His shoulders slumped, his head bowed and he drew a couple of deep breaths before replying. "Can I see Cathy?"
"Not at the moment. Later maybe."
"You're gonna hand me over to the Feds aren't you?"
"Why would you think we'd do that, Mr Kane?"
"Because you found my stash. You said it was a federal offence."
"As I said, you are a most fortunate young man. I've been apprised of your former convictions for possession of narcotics. All very minor but, nevertheless, you have a record. We shall red flag that record so that, should you ever decide to add to it, it will come immediately to my attention and two pounds of cannabis resin with your fingerprints on it will come to the attention of the police shortly thereafter. The same will happen if ever so much as a whisper about one Dr. Roskow passes your lips."
"I thought blackmail was supposed to be illegal too."
The interrogator shakes his head slowly, almost theatrically. "I regret the need for coercion Mr Kane. I'd like to believe we could rely on your patriotism, truly I would. However, my superiors require rather more substantial guarantees than my Panglossian opinion. You have a second chance, Mr Kane. I advise you to make good use of it."
With that, the interrogator stands and turns toward the door.
"Thank you." Paul's voice is small, barely audible.
"Goodbye Mr. Kane. Let us both hope our paths do not cross again." He taps the door, which opens in response and clicks smartly shut behind him.
Some time later, security officers transfer Paul to a cell with a cot in it. One of them returns half an hour later with a tray of food and some more cigarettes. Here he remains incommunicado throughout the next day. Food arrives at appropriate intervals but nobody speaks to him.
Early on the morning of his third day in custody, before breakfast, his bag is returned to him a couple of pounds lighter and he is released from a building which, from the outside, looks completely undistinguished: Just a bland, nameless office block in a bland district of New York. He looks around him, trying to find some landmark to guide him away from there. The only recognisable thing in sight is Cathy, looking wan and more than a little shaken by her own ordeal. They embrace, holding each other rather too tight, like frightened children clinging to their parents.
Eventually hand in white-knuckled hand they go off in search of somewhere to eat breakfast. Neither of them mentions the bus journey.