The Foreign Hand Tie - Cover

The Foreign Hand Tie

by Randall Garrett

Public Domain

Science Fiction Story: Just because you can "see" something doesn't mean you understand it--and that can mean that even perfect telepathy isn't perfect communication....

Tags: Science Fiction   Novel-Classic  

From Istanbul, in Turkish Thrace, to Moscow, U.S.S.R., is only a couple of hours outing for a round trip in a fast jet plane--a shade less than eleven hundred miles in a beeline.

Unfortunately, Mr. Raphael Poe had no way of chartering a bee.

The United States Navy cruiser Woonsocket, having made its placid way across the Mediterranean, up the Aegean Sea, and through the Dardanelles to the Bosporous, stopped overnight at Istanbul and then turned around and went back. On the way in, it had stopped at Gibraltar, Barcelona, Marseilles, Genoa, Naples, and Athens--the main friendly ports on the northern side of the Mediterranean. On the way back, it performed the same ritual on the African side of the sea. Its most famous passengers were the American Secretary of State, two senators, and three representatives.

Its most important passenger was Mr. Raphael Poe.

During the voyage in, Mr. Raphael Poe remained locked in a stateroom, all by himself, twiddling his thumbs restlessly and playing endless games of solitaire, making bets with himself on how long it would be before the ship hit the next big wave and wondering how long it would take a man to go nuts in isolation. On the voyage back, he was not aboard the Woonsocket at all, and no one missed him because only the captain and two other Navy men had known he was aboard, and they knew that he had been dropped overboard at Istanbul.

The sleek, tapered cylindroid might easily have been mistaken for a Naval torpedo, since it was roughly the same size and shape. Actually, it was a sort of hybrid, combining the torpedo and the two-man submarine that the Japanese had used in World War II, plus refinements contributed by such apparently diverse arts as skin-diving, cybernetics, and nucleonics.

Inside this one-man underwater vessel, Raphael Poe lay prone, guiding the little atomic-powered submarine across the Black Sea, past Odessa, and up the Dnieper. The first leg, the four hundred miles from the Bosporous to the mouth of the river, was relatively easy. The two hundred and sixty miles from there to the Dnepropetrovsk was a little more difficult, but not terribly so. It became increasingly more difficult as the Dnieper narrowed and became more shallow.

On to Kiev. His course changed at Dnepropetrovsk, from northeast to northwest, for the next two hundred fifty miles. At Kiev, the river changed course again, heading north. Three hundred and fifty miles farther on, at Smolensk, he was heading almost due east.

It had not been an easy trip. At night, he had surfaced to get his bearings and to recharge the air tanks. Several times, he had had to take to the land, using the caterpillar treads on the little machine, because of obstacles in the river.

At the end of the ninth day, he was still one hundred eighty miles from Moscow, but, at that point, he got out of the submarine and prepared himself for the trip overland. When he was ready, he pressed a special button on the control panel of the expensive little craft. Immediately, the special robot brain took over. It had recorded the trip upstream; by applying that information in reverse--a “mirror image,” so to speak--it began guiding itself back toward Istanbul, applying the necessary corrective factors that made the difference between an upstream and a downstream trip. If it had made a mistake or had been discovered, it would have blown itself to bits. As a tribute to modern robotics and ultra-microminiaturization, it is a fact that the little craft was picked up five days later a few miles from Istanbul by the U.S.S. Paducah.

By that time, a certain Vladimir Turenski, a shambling not-too-bright deaf mute, had made his fully documented appearance in Moscow.

Spies, like fairies and other such elusive sprites, traditionally come in rings. The reason for this circumstructural metaphor is obscure, but it remains a fact that a single spy, all by himself, is usually of very little use to anybody. Espionage, on any useful scale, requires organization.

There is, as there should be, a reason for this. The purpose of espionage is to gather information--preferably, useful information--against the wishes of, and in spite of the efforts of, a group--usually referred to as “the enemy”--which is endeavoring to prevent that information from getting into other hands than their own. Such activities obviously imply communication. An espioneur, working for Side A, who finds a bit of important information about Side B must obviously communicate that bit of information to Side A or it is of no use whatsoever.

All of these factors pose complex problems.

To begin with, the espioneur must get himself into a position in which he can get hold of the information he wants. Usually, that means that he must pass himself off as something he is not, a process which requires time. Then, when he gets the information he is after, he must get it to his employers quickly. Information, like fish, becomes useless after a certain amount of time, and, unlike fish, there is no known way of refrigerating it to retard spoilage.

It is difficult to transmit information these days. It is actually easier for the espioneur to transmit it than to get it, generally speaking, but it is difficult for him to do both jobs at once, so the spy ring’s two major parts consist of the ones who get the information from the enemy and the ones who transmit it back to their employers.

Without magic, it is difficult for a single spy to be of any benefit. And “magic,” in this case, can be defined as some method by which information can be either obtained or transmitted without fear of discovery by the enemy. During World War I, a competent spy equipped with a compact transistorized short-wave communications system could have had himself a ball. If the system had included a miniature full-color television camera, he could have gone hog wild. In those days, such equipment would have been magic.

All this is not à propos of nothing. Mr. Raphael Poe was, in his own way, a magician.

It is not to be supposed that the United States of America had no spy rings in the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics at that time. There were plenty of them. Raphael Poe could have, if it were so ordained, availed himself of the services of any one or all of them. He did not do so for two reasons. In the first place, the more people who are in on a secret, the more who can give it away. In other words, a ring, like a chain, is only as strong as its weakest section. In the second place, Raphael Poe didn’t need any assistance in the first place.

That is, he needed no more assistance that most magicians do--a shill in the audience. In this particular case, the shill was his brother, Leonard Poe.

Operation Mapcase was as ultra-secret as it could possibly be. Although there were perhaps two dozen men who knew of the existence of the operation by its code name, such as the Naval officers who had helped get Raphael Poe to his destination, there were only five men who really knew what Operation Mapcase was all about.

Two of these were, of course, Raphael and Leonard Poe. Two others were the President of the United States and the Secretary of Defense. The fifth was Colonel Julius T. Spaulding, of United States Army Intelligence.

On the seventh day after Raphael Poe’s arrival in Moscow, the other four men met in Blair House, across the street from the White House, in a room especially prepared for the purpose. No one but the President knew the exact purpose of the meeting, although they had an idea that he wanted more information of some kind.

The President himself was the last to arrive. Leaving two Secret Service men standing outside the room, he carefully closed the door and turned to face the Secretary of Defense, Colonel Spaulding, and Leonard Poe. “Sit down, gentlemen,” he said, seating himself as he spoke.

“Gentlemen, before we go any further, I must conduct one final experiment in order to justify Operation Mapcase. I will not explain it just yet.” He looked at Lenny Poe, a small, dark-haired man with a largish nose. “Mr. Poe, can you contact your brother at this moment?”

Lenny Poe was a man who was not overawed by anyone, and had no inclination to be formal, not even toward the President. “Yeah, sure,” he said matter-of-factly.


The President glanced at his watch. “It is now five minutes of ten. That makes it five minutes of six in the evening in Moscow. Is your brother free to move around? That is, can he go to a certain place in the city?”

Lenny closed his eyes for a moment, then opened them. “Rafe says he can go any place that the average citizen would be allowed to go.”

“Excellent,” said the President. He gave Lenny an address--an intersection of two streets not far from Red Square. “Can he get there within fifteen minutes?”

“Make it twenty,” said Lenny.

“Very well. Twenty minutes. When he gets there, I’ll ask you to relay further instructions.”

Lenny Poe closed his eyes, folded his arms, and relaxed in his chair. The other three men waited silently.

Nineteen minutes later, Lenny opened his eyes and said: “O.K. He’s there. Now what?”

“There is a lamppost on that corner, I believe,” said the President. “Can your brother see it?”

Lenny closed his eyes again. “Sure. There’s a guy leaning against it.”

The President’s eyes brightened. “Describe him!”

Lenny, eyes still closed, said: “Five feet ten, heavy set, gray hair, dark-rimmed glasses, brown suit, flashy necktie. By the cut of his clothes, I’d say he was either British or American, probably American. Fifty-five or fifty-six years old.”

It was obvious to the Secretary of Defense and to Colonel Spaulding that the President was suppressing some inward excitement.

“Very good, Mr. Poe!” he said. “Now, you will find a box of colored pencils and a sketch pad in that desk over there. Can you draw me a fairly accurate sketch of that man?”

“Yeah, sure.” Lenny opened his eyes, moved over to the desk, took out the pencils and sketch pad, and went to work. He had to close his eyes occasionally, but his work was incredibly rapid and, at the same time, almost photographically accurate.

As the picture took form, the President’s inward excitement increased perceptibly. When it was finally finished, Lenny handed the sketch to the President without a word.

The President took it eagerly and his face broke out in his famous grin. “Excellent! Perfect!” He looked at Lenny. “Your brother hasn’t attracted the man’s attention in any way, has he?”

“Nope,” said Lenny.

“Fine. The experiment is over. Relay my thanks to your brother. He can go ahead with whatever he was doing now.”

“I don’t quite understand,” said the Secretary of State.

“I felt it necessary to make one final experiment of my own devising,” the President said. “I wanted Raphael Poe to go to a particular place at a particular time, with no advance warning, to transmit a picture of something he had never seen before. I arranged this test myself, and I am positive that there could be no trickery.”

“Never seen before?” the Secretary repeated bewilderedly. He gestured at the sketch. “Why, that’s obviously Bill Donovan, of the Moscow delegation. Poe could have seen a photograph of him somewhere before.”

“Even so,” the President pointed out, “there would be no way of knowing that he would be at that spot. But that’s beside the point. Look at that necktie!”

“I had noticed it,” the Defense Secretary admitted.

It was certainly an outstanding piece of neckwear. As drawn by Leonard Poe, it was a piece of brilliant chartreuse silk, fully three and a half inches wide at its broadest. Against that background, rose-pink nude girls were cavorting with pale mauve satyrs.

“That tie,” said the President, “was sent to me fifteen years ago by on of my constituents, when I was in Congress. I never wore it, of course, but it would have been criminal to have thrown away such a magnificently obscene example of bad taste as that.

“I sent it to Donovan in a sealed diplomatic pouch by special courier, with instructions to wear it at this time. He, of course, has no idea why he is standing there. He is merely obeying orders.

“Gentlemen, this is completely convincing to me. Absolutely no one but myself knew what I had in mind. It would have required telepathy even to cheat.

“Thank you very much, Mr. Poe. Colonel Spaulding, you may proceed with Operation Mapcase as planned.”

“Dr. Malekrinova, will you initial these requisition forms, please.”

Dr. Sonya Malekrinova, a dowdy-looking, middle-aged woman with unplucked eyebrows and a mole on her chin, adjusted her steel-rimmed glasses, took the proffered papers from the clerk, ran her eyes over them, and then put her initials on the bottom of each page.

“Thank you, Comrade Doctor,” said the clerk when she handed back the sheaf of papers.

“Certainly, Comrade.”

And the two of them went about their business.

Not far away, in the Cathedral of St. Basil, Vladimir Turenski, alias Raphael Poe, was also apparently going about his business. The cathedral had not seen nor heard the Liturgy of the Russian Orthodox Church or any other church, for a good many decades. The Bolsheviks, in their zeal to protect the citizens of the Soviet Unions from the pernicious influence of religion, had converted it into a museum as soon as possible.

It was the function of Tovarishch Turenski to push a broom around the floors of the museum, and this he did with great determination and efficiency. He also cleaned windows and polished metalwork when the occasion demanded. He was only one of a large crew of similarly employed men, but he was a favorite with the Head Custodian, who not only felt sorry for the simple-minded deaf-mute, but appreciated the hard work he did. If, on occasion, Comrade Turenski would lean on his broom and fall into a short reverie, it was excusable because he still managed to get all his work done.

Behind Comrade Turenski, a guide was explaining a display to a group of tourists, but Turenski ignored the distraction and kept his mind focused on the thoughts of Dr. Sonya Malekrinova.

After nearly ten months of patient work, Raphael Poe had hit upon something that was, to his way of thinking, more important than all the information he had transmitted to Washington thus far.

Picking brains telepathically was not, even for him, an easy job. He had the knack and the training but, in addition, there was the necessity of establishing a rapport with the other mind. Since he was a physicist and not a politician, it was much easier to get information from the mind of Sonya Malekrinova than to get it from the Premier. The only person with whom he could keep in contact over any great distance was his brother, and that only because the two of them had grown up together.

He could pick up the strongest thoughts of any nearby person very easily. He did not need to hear the actual words, for instance, of a nearby conversation in order to follow it perfectly, because the words of verbal communication were strong in a person’s mind.

But getting deeper than that required an increasing amount of understanding of the functioning of the other person’s mind.

His ability to eavesdrop on conversations had been of immense benefit to Washington so far, but is was difficult for him to get close enough to the higher-ups in the Soviet government to get all the data that the President of the United States wanted.

But now that he had established a firm mental linkage with one of the greatest physicists in the Soviet Union, he could begin to send information that would be of tremendous value to the United States.

He brushed up a pile of trash, pushed it into a dust pan, and carried it off toward the disposal chute that led to the trash cans. In the room where the brooms were kept, he paused and closed his eyes.

Lenny! Are picking this up?

Sure, Rafe. I’m ready with the drawing board anytime you are.

As Dr. Sonya Malekrinova stood in her laboratory looking over the apparatus she was perfecting for the glory of the Soviet State, she had no notion that someone halfway around the world was also looking at it over her shoulder--or rather, through her own eyes.

Lenny started with the fives first, and worked his way up to the larger denominations.

“Five, ten, fifteen, twenty, twenty-five, thirty--forty, fifty, sixty...” he muttered happily to himself. “Two fifty, three, three-fifty, four, four-fifty.”

It was all there, so he smiled benevolently at the man in the pay window. “Thank you muchly.” Then he stepped aside to let another lucky man cash a winning ticket.

His horse had come in at fifteen, six-ten, four-fifty for Straight, Place, and Show, and sixty bucks on the nose had paid off very nicely.

Lenny Poe took out his copy of the Daily Racing Form and checked over the listing for the next race.

Hm-m-m, ha. Purse, $7500. Four-year-olds and up: handicap. Seven furlongs. Turf course. Hm-m-m, ha.

Lenny Poe had a passion for throwing his money away on any unpredictable event that would offer him odds. He had, deep down, an artistic soul, but he didn’t let that interfere with his desire to lay a bet at the drop of an old fedora.

He had already decided, several hours before, that Ducksoup, in the next race, would win handily and would pay off at something like twenty or twenty-five to one. But he felt it his duty to look one last time at the previous performance record, just to be absolutely positive.

Satisfied, he folded the Racing Form, shoved it back into his pocket, and walked over to the fifty-dollar window.

“Gimmie nine tickets on Ducksoup in the seventh,” he said, plonking the handful of bills down on the counter.

But before the man behind the window grating could take the money, a huge, hamlike, and rather hairy hand came down on top of his own hand, covering it and the money at the same time.

“Hold it, Lenny,” said a voice at the same time.

Lenny jerked his head around to his right and looked up to see a largish man who had “cop” written all over him. Another such individual crowded past Lenny on his left to flash a badge on the man in the betting window, so that he would know that this wasn’t a holdup.

“Hey!” said Lenny. His mind was thinking fast. He decided to play his favorite role, that of the indignant Italian. “Whatsa da matta with you, hah? Thisa no a free country? A man gotta no rights?”

“Come on, Mr. Poe,” the big man said quietly, “this is important.”

“Poe? You outta you mind? Thatsa name of a river----or a raven. I’m a forgetta which. My namesa Manelli!”

Scusi, signore,” the big man said with exaggerated politeness, “ma se lei è veramente italiano, non’ è l’uomo che cerchiamo.

Lenny’s Italian was limited to a handful of words. He know he was trapped, but he faced the situation with aplomb. “Thatsa lie! I was inna Chicago that night!”

Ah! Cosè credero. Avanti, saccentone.“ He jerked his thumb toward the gate. “Let’s go.”

Lenny muttered something that the big man didn’t quite catch.

“What’d you say?”

“Upper United States--the northern United States,” Lenny said calmly shoving his four hundred fifty dollars into his pocket. “That’s where Chicago is. Never mind. Come in, boys; back to the drawing board.”

The two men escorted Lenny to a big, powerful Lincoln; he climbed into the back seat with the big one while the other one got behind the wheel.

As soon as they had left the racetrack and were well out on the highway, the driver said: “You want to call in, Mario? This traffic is pretty heavy.”

The big man beside Lenny leaned forward, over the back of the front seat, unhooked the receiver of the scrambler-equipped radiophone, and sat back down. He thumbed a button on the side of the handset and said: “This is Seven Oh Two.” After a short silence, he said: “You can call off the net. You want him brought in?” He listened for a moment. “O.K. Are we cleared through the main gate? O.K. Off.”

He leaned forward to replace the receiver, speaking to the driver as he did so. “Straight to the Air Force base. They’ve got a jet waiting there for him.”

He settled back comfortably and looked at Lenny. “You could at least tell people where you’re going.”

“Very well,” said Lenny. He folded his arms, closed his eyes, and relaxed. “Right now, I’m going off to dreamland.”

He waited a short while to see if the other would say anything. He didn’t, so Lenny proceeded to do exactly what he had promised to do.

He went off to dreamland.

He had not been absolutely sure, when he made the promise, that he would actually do just that, but the odds were in favor of it. It was now one o’clock in the morning in Moscow, and Lenny’s brother, Raphael, was a man of regular habits.

Lenny reached out. When he made contact, all he got was a jumble of hash. It was as though someone had made a movie by cutting bits and snippets from a hundred different films, no bit more than six or seven frames long, with a sound track that might or might not match, and projected the result through a drifting fog, using an ever-changing lens that rippled like the surface of a wind-ruffled pool. Sometimes one figure would come into sharp focus for a fraction of a second, sometimes in color, sometimes not.

Sometimes Lenny was merely observing the show, sometimes he was in it.

Rafe! Hey, Rafe! Wake up!

The jumble of hash began to stabilize, becoming more coherent--

Lenny sat behind the far desk, watching his brother come up the primrose path in a unicycle. He pulled it to a halt in front of the desk, opened the pilot’s canopy, threw out a rope ladder, and climbed down. His gait was a little awkward, in spite of the sponge-rubber floor, because of the huge flowered carpetbag he was carrying. A battered top hat sat precariously on his blond, curly hair.

“Lenny! Boy, am I glad to see you! I’ve got it! The whole trouble is in the wonkler, where the spadulator comes across the trellis grid!” He lifted the carpetbag and sat it down on the lab table. “Connect up the groffle meter! We’ll show those pentagon pickles who has the push-and-go here!”

“Rafe,” Lenny said gently, “wake up. You’re dreaming. You’re asleep. I want to talk to you.”

“I know.” He grinned widely. “And you don’t want any back talk from me! Yok-yok-yok! Just wait’ll I show you!”

In his hands, he held an object which Lenny did not at first understand. Then Rafe’s mind brought it into focus.

“This”--Rafe held it up--”is a rocket motor!”

“Rafe, wake up!” Lenny said.

The surroundings stabilized a little more.

“I will in just a minute, Lenny.” Rafe was apologetic. “But let me show you this.” It did bear some resemblance to a rocket motor. It was about as long as a man’s forearm and consisted of a bulbous chamber at one end, which narrowed down into a throat and then widened into a hornlike exhaust nozzle. The chamber was black; the rest was shiny chrome.

Rafe grasped it by the throat with one hand. The other, he clasped firmly around the combustion chamber. “Watch! Now watch!”

He gave the bulbous, rubbery chamber a hard squeeze--

SQUAWK!“ went the horn.

“Rafe!” Lenny shouted. “Wake up! WAKE UP!”

Rafe blinked as the situation clarified. “What? Just A Second. Lenny. Just...”

“... A second.

Raphael Poe blinked his eyes open. The moon was shining through the dirty windows of the dingy little room that was all he could call home--for a while, at least. Outside the window were the gray streets of Moscow.

His brother’s thoughts resounded in his fully awake brain. Rafe! You awake?

Sure. Sure. What is it?

The conversation that followed was not in words or pictures, but a weird combination of both, plus a strong admixture of linking concepts that were neither.

In essence, Lenny merely reported that he had taken the day off to go to the races and that Colonel Spaulding was evidently upset for some reason. He wondered if Rafe were in any kind of trouble.

No trouble. Everything’s fine at this end. But Dr. Malekrinova won’t be back on the job until tomorrow afternoon--or, this afternoon, rather.

I know, Lenny replied. That’s why I figured I could take time off for a go at the ponies.

I wonder why they’re in such a fuss, then? Rafe thought.

I’ll let you know when I find out, Lenny said. Go back to sleep and don’t worry.


In a small office in the Pentagon, Colonel Julius T. Spaulding cradled the telephone on his desk and looked at the Secretary of Defense. “That was the airfield. Poe will be here shortly. We’ll get to the bottom of this pretty quickly.”

“I hope so, Julius,” the Secretary said heavily. “The president is beginning to think we’re both nuts.”

The colonel, a lean, nervous man with dark, bushy eyebrows and a mustache to match, rolled his eyes up toward the ceiling. “I’m beginning to agree with him.”

The Defense Secretary scowled at him. “What do you mean?”

“Anybody who takes telepathy seriously is considered a nut,” said the colonel.

“True,” said the Secretary, “but that doesn’t mean we are nuts.”

“Oh, yeah?” The colonel took the cigar out of his mouth a gestured with it. “Anybody who’d do something that convinces all his friends he’s nuts must be nuts.”

The Secretary smiled wanly. “I wish you wouldn’t be so logical. You almost convince me.”

“Don’t worry,” said the colonel. “I’m not ready to have this room measured for sponge-rubber wallpaper just yet. Operation Mapcase has helped a lot in the past few months, and it will help even more.”

“All you have to do is get the bugs out of it,” said the Secretary.

“If we did that,” Colonel Spaulding said flatly, “the whole operation would fold from lack of personnel.”

“Just carry on the best you can,” the Secretary said gloomily as he got up to leave. “I’ll let you handle it.”

“Fine. I’ll call you later.”

Twenty minutes after the Defense Secretary had gone, Lenny Poe was shown into Colonel Spaulding’s office. The agent who had brought him in closed the door gently, leaving him alone with the colonel.

“I told you I’d be back this evening. What were you in such a hurry about?”

“You’re supposed to stay in touch,” Colonel Spaulding pointed out. “I don’t mind your penchant for ponies particularly, but I’d like to know where to find you if I need you.”

“I wouldn’t mind in the least, colonel. I’d phone you every fifteen minutes if that’s what you wanted. Except for one thing.”

“What’s that?”

Lenny jerked a thumb over his shoulder. “Your linguistically talented flatfeet. Did you ever try to get into a floating crap game when you were being followed by a couple of bruisers who look more like cops than cops do?”

“Look, Poe, I can find you plenty of action right here in Washington, if it won’t offend your tender sensibilities to shoot crap with a senator or two. Meanwhile, sit down and listen. This is important.”

Lenny sat own reluctantly. “O.K. What is it?”

“Dr. Davenport and his crew are unhappy about that last batch of drawings you and I gave ‘em.”

“What’s the matter? Don’t they like the color scheme? I never thought scientists had any artistic taste, anyway.”

“It’s got nothing to do with that. The--”

The phone rang. Colonel Spaulding scooped it up and identified himself. Then: “What? Yeah. All right, send him in.”

He hung up and looked back at Lenny. “Davenport. We can get his story firsthand. Just sit there and look important.”

Lenny nodded. He knew that Dr. Amadeus Davenport was aware that the source of those drawings was Soviet Russia, but he did not know how they had been obtained. As far as he knew, it was just plain, ordinary spy work.

He came in briskly. He was a tall, intelligent-looking man with a rather craggy face and thoughtful brown eyes. He put a large brief case on the floor, and, after the preliminaries were over, he came right to the point.

“Colonel Spaulding, I spoke to the Secretary of Defense, and he agreed that perhaps this situation might be cleared up if I talked directly with you.”

“I hope so,” the colonel said. “Just what is it that seems to be bothering you?”

“These drawings,” Davenport said, “don’t make any sense. The device they’re supposed to represent couldn’t do anything. Look; I’ll show you.”

He took from his brief case photostatic copies of some of the drawings Lenny had made. Five of them were straight blueprint-type drawings; the sixth was a copy of Lenny’s near-photographic paintings of the device itself.

“This component, here,” he said, gesturing at the set of drawings, “simply baffles us. We’re of the opinion that your agents are known to the Soviet government and have been handed a set of phony plans.”

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