A spring morning. A bench overlooking an artificial lake. A paved path traversed by the occasional jogger. Two middle-aged men arrive from opposite directions and sit, not too close together, on the park bench. One sips from a paper cup of coffee and makes a face, then takes out an iPhone. The other looks around furtively before addressing him.
COLONEL IVANYEV: Agent Beluga, Moscow Center is very eager for your report.
AGENT BELUGA: One sec…this coffee is terrible. I just want to leave a negative review for this place on Yelp.… There we go. Done!
IVANYEV (urgently): Agent Beluga, we must be swift. I suspect that man walking his labradoodle may have listening devices secreted under the beast’s curly hair. What is the status of your mission? Have you succeeded in your objective?
BELUGA(proudly): Yes Colonel. Steph – sorry, Agent Pashmina – and I have finally broken through. Our family has penetrated the inner circle.
IVANYEV: Excellent. We are sorely behind in an analysis of the current major policy influencers. Who is the rising power now?
BELUGA: Of course, it’s hard to say. As in the Motherland, fortunes climb — and then are dashed to pieces in the blink of an eye. But at the moment it is Sophia Paulson that everyone looks to.
IVANYEV: This is a new name for us! She is a rising star?
BELUGA: Absolutely. When Amy told us she’d made it onto Sophia’s sleepover invite list, we knew we were in. This is the most popular clique in her middle school, bar none.
IVANYEV: “Sleepover?” Is this like a sleeper agent?
BELUGA: Much more involved. These girls play a very deep game, Colonel, very involved. You can go from Best Friends Forever to Frenemy with the speed of a text message. It’s a hall of mirrors and you have to watch your back at every moment. You must understand, Colonel, we’ve trained Amy for just this opportunity – we made her watch “Heathers” for the first time when she was four years old. A tough choice, but it was necessary — the families of these girls are the key.
IVANYEV: So these are the persons of influence at high levels?
BELUGA: Absolutely. Sophia’s dad Kevin is in PR, and he gets luxury box tickets to damn near everything. Last year, he and four other Dads from Sophia’s class took a “Guys Weekend” to Vegas. Rumor is he did it just to cheese off Sophia’s mom right after the divorce. Anyway, supposedly this year Kevin’s putting together a group to go to Burning Man. And if Amy and Sophia are tight, I just might have a shot at an invite.
IVANYEV: This “Burning Man” — it’s like taking a steam, I’m told.
Beluga: More or less — but that’s all just an angle — part of the complex agent’s “legend” we’re maintaining, as we were taught back on that ice-bound training compound north of Omsk, all those years ago. The real objective is Sophia’s mother – Carola. By getting Amy and Sophia into a carpool together for band practice, Agent Pashmina is now this close to Carola – and she’s the real objective. She is the “broker.” Do you understand?
IVANYEV: Ah – I begin to see. She trades in information.
BELUGA: Yes. And interest rates. Very low interest rates.
IVANYEV: Economic data! Yes, this is what Moscow Center is keenest to get. Quickly, Agent Beluga – as I fear that woman power-walking over there has passed us a disturbing number of times, even considering the robust velocity of her arm-swings – what have you learned?
Beluga (whispering): She’s a mortgage wizard! Steph says she can get us a 90-day lock on 4% fixed…. We’ll refinance and roll the home equity loan up into it.… And if Amy can get us all seated together at the band concert, I’m betting she’ll offer to waive closing costs.
IVANYEV (also whispering): This is perfect. Putin needs to finance down payment on a summer place on the Bering Sea. He says it will be good for keeping watch on Sarah Palin…look out! The labradoodle!
The Colonel flees, and is brought down by the pursuing hypoallergenic dog, as a team of FBI agents in pink “Run for the Cure” baseball caps secure Agent Beluga.
Bill Tipper is the Managing Editor of the Barnes & Noble Review.