NSA Headquarters, Ft. Meade, MD
Zig was nervous. He had been at the National Security Agency for only a few weeks. So far, it wasn’t what he expected. In hindsight, it had been unrealistic for him to go into the intelligence field with expectations of driving a bulletproof black Audi on covert missions all over Europe. Instead of a life that resembled a James Bond film, Zig’s German studies degree and NSA job application brought him long hours in his cubicle, pouring over email intercepts and computer bulletin boards for signs of extremist activity in Germany. He was using his language skills and serving his country, which was nice, but he simply didn’t think he was very good at it.
Zig promised himself that if he made it through the day without getting arrested, he would find a new career. In fact, depending on how his meeting went, he thought he might be available for that new career before lunch. You see, Zig screwed up on that fine Wednesday morning over his daily cup of orange tea. He stretched his interpretation of international law and NSA surveillance directives when his short attention span got the best of him. He didn’t think it was a big deal to snoop through Professor Richter’s laptop, as the professor checked his email in a Berlin café. Zig’s flawed justification was that he wasn’t stealing anything; he just wanted to know what book was next.
Besides, he was a fan. He had always been. He tracked down every one of Professor Richter’s books and articles, and even bought Pyramids and Aliens twice—first in hardcover and then again when the paperback came out with a blue cover. He also had multiple copies of The Bermuda Triangle UFO Conspiracy, The Secret History of KGB Astral Projection, and Tales of Man. The other member of the Richter fan club was Julia, who just finished her first year with the CIA. Zig and Julia met back in college, in the West Chester University marching band. They had been best friends ever since.
As fate would have it, Julia was in Berlin that week, visiting her mother’s family. Zig was amazed when she told him Professor Richter was going to announce his new book at Humboldt University. He couldn’t be there, of course, but he was dying to know what book was next in the series, so he could beat her to the punch when he got that inevitable gloating phone call. No harm no foul, Zig thought as he broke through the firewall with a few clicks of the mouse. He chuckled as he scanned the documents folder and found a password-protected PDF labeled Operation Tristan. He assumed it was Richter’s next book.
It took Zig thirty seconds to crack the password. The PDF opened, but there was only one problem—it wasn’t Richter’s next book. Zig knew he was in trouble the second he saw the cover page He immediately called Julia. Unfortunately, Zig couldn’t explain the situation to her, nor would she have believed him if he could. Zig wasn’t sure what Julia could do to help him, if anything, but he begged her to track Richter down and keep an eye on him until he could talk to somebody. Julia agreed because Zig was already on thin ice at work. She didn’t want to see him get fired.
Deep inside, Zig knew the dossier was Pandora’s box. Once it was opened, there was no going back. It might be sheer entertainment and fiction, like everything else the professor had written. But then again, it might be something else. He prayed that Julia could keep tabs on Professor Richter, just in case the document turned out to be authentic. Then came the hard part. He took the elevator up, and traversed the maze of hallways that led to the Director’s office. The door was open, so he knocked on the doorframe.
Deputy NSA Director Christian Sheppard didn’t look up. So Zig knocked again. Louder.
“I don’t have a meeting right now,” Sheppard grumbled. “Talk to Cabrini and schedule one.”
Zig knocked again. And again and again.
Finally, Sheppard looked up from his intelligence report on the Chinese subs in the Gulf of Mexico. “What do you want? Better yet—who the hell are you?”
Zig’s palms dripped with sweat. “Good morning, sir. I’m Michael Zigmund,” he stammered. “I’m an analyst in the Germany group, downstairs. I need to talk to you. It’s kind of important.”
“Did you speak to your supervisor about this first?”
Sheppard looked back down. “Go back and take it up the proper channels. If it’s important enough, I’ll see it.”
“We don’t have time.”
That got Sheppard to look up. In fact, Zig suddenly had his full and undivided attention. “Does this concern an immediate threat to national security?”
“I think so,” Zig replied anxiously.
“What is it?” Sheppard was deadly serious. He grabbed a red phone. “Let’s go kid, get it out!”
Zig gulped hard. “The incident in question happened in 1945. During the Battle of Berlin.”
Sheppard stared at him in disbelief. “The Battle of Berlin? As in … World War II?”
“The Nazis called it Operation Tristan. It involved a supernatural weapon. Does that ring a bell?”
Sheppard took off his glasses, brushed his dyed auburn hair back and groaned. “No, that doesn’t ring a bell. In fact, we stopped worrying about witchcraft, ghosts, astrology, psychic submarine tracking, and all of that other paranormal crap a long time ago. You’re wasting your time. More importantly, you’re wasting my time.”
“Well, how about—”
Sheppard cut him off. “Look, I’ve never heard of Operation Tristan. Whatever it was, it happened far too long ago to affect our mission in the here and now, which is to protect the United States of America. Put the occult books down and get back to work.”
“With all due respect, maybe you aren’t high enough up the chain of command to know about Operation Tristan,” Zig said rather innocently. “Can I talk to the President?”
“The president of what?” The conversation was growing tense and strange. Sheppard contemplated calling security.
“The United States. He was just sworn in.”
“I know who he is, asshole,” Sheppard shot back. The rogue analyst no longer seemed dangerous, just incredibly stupid with no social skills whatsoever. He wondered if someone put him up to it.
Zig held up the dossier. “Can you take a look at this? It’ll only take a minute.”
Sheppard didn’t look. Point of fact, he would rather carve his eye out with a spoon than be badgered into doing something by an analyst. “Mr. Zigmund, how long have you worked here at the NSA?”
“Six whole weeks?”
Sheppard smiled. The stupid questions suddenly made sense. The guy was a newbie—a computer nerd run amok. Sheppard decided to screw with him. “Maybe you were absent that day, Mr. Zigmund, but you should have gotten the memo. We don’t grant first-year analysts emergency meetings with the President to discuss World War II.”
“But … ”
“And even if he had time to meet with you, there is nothing you can tell President Duarte about World War II that he doesn’t already know. I gave him The World at War DVD set for Christmas, which is narrated by Laurence Olivier. And let me tell you something else.”
“That son-of-a-bitch was the best narrator in the history of human civilization—and a couple of other ones too. Including the chimps, the parrots, and probably 99.9% of talking dogs, but good luck getting the agent to read your script. I’m telling you, Mr. Zigmund, Laurence Olivier was a rock star in his day. Don’t let anyone tell you any different.”
Zig was stunned silly. The conversation wasn’t going as planned—he was being openly mocked. Nevertheless, he pressed on. “Sir, this is serious. I think I found something.”
“Fantastic. Go write a long report about it. Use Times New Roman, double space everything, and use lots of goddamn commas. You can never have enough goddamn commas. But don’t bother me again; I have work to do.”
Sheppard pointed to the cup in Zig’s hand. “Coffee?”
“Orange tea, actually.”
“Whatever. Drink your drink and get the fuck out.”
“Drink your drink and get the fuck out.”
“I don’t understand—”
Sheppard talked over him again. “That’s what this bouncer used to say at the Chapeau Rouge, in Prague. I’m giving you the same advice they dished out at the best bar on Earth, when it was time to go home. Drink your drink and—”
“I got it … I got it … thank you.”
Sheppard pointed to the door.
Zig did an about face and walked out. Oh well. I tried. His consolation prize from that debacle of a meeting was that he didn’t have time to confess to stealing the dossier from Richter’s computer. Which meant that he could keep his job for a few weeks while he sent out resumes.
Before Zig could put his alternate career plans in motion, the strange and chaotic Wednesday took an unexpected left turn. He did a double take when he saw the stars in front of the elevator—they were on the shoulders of General John Hastings, the Director of the NSA. This is no coincidence, Zig said to himself. This is fate. He’s supposed to be here. God Bless America.
Zig’s approach caught the attention of the two Secret Service agents at General Hastings’ side, a precaution implemented after the abduction of British intelligence officers in Brussels a few years earlier. “General Hastings, can I please talk to you for a second?”
Hastings didn’t acknowledge Zig’s request. He looked at his watch and contemplated his upcoming meeting with the Secretary of State. Before Zig could ask again, Secret Service agent Michael Jones stepped in front of him and eyed his ID badge. “You don’t have the credentials to speak to the General without an invitation. In fact, you’re not even supposed to be on this floor. Scram.”
Zig ignored him. He waved the dossier in the air. “General Hastings, please take a look at this.”
Agent Jones grabbed his arm. “Sir, I’m going to ask you to leave now, or you will be subject to arrest.”
“But I need to talk to General Hastings,” Zig complained loudly. “I have something to show him.”
Agent Jones tightened his grip and called for backup. Zig struggled and pushed him away. The papers flying into the air marked the exact moment when the situation passed the point of no return.
The security team moved fast. Zig shouted as they took him to the floor. “General Hastings! I need to talk to you!”
General Hastings stood to the side and watched the wild wrestling match. When Zig was finally in handcuffs, the general stepped over him and got into the elevator without saying anything.
Zig called out one last time as the doors closed. “Operation Tristan!”
Excerpt from the novel My Immortal: The Vampires of Berlin, by Lee Rudnicki