In general, You don’t expect to find a KGB agent on your airplane. Even if you are on your way to Moscow.
Our flight was Seattle to New York, then New York to Moscow. Three of us were going together on this trip, Bob, Paul, and myself. Naturally, when I showed up to the gate, they were, naturally, nowhere to be found. This really was to be expected, much like anyone else, we were up late the night before our big trip doing what anyone else would be doing before a big, exciting trip, pouring cement. Something had prompted Paul to finish some project at the last minute before we left, and in our rush, we had made several mistakes in our forms, leading to lots of spilled concrete, and hours more of work. This left me rather bleary the next day as I was wandering the terminal.
So I hit the bar.
I have written before about the sheer joy that the Airport bar can be, and this was no exception. I have always followed he policy of Never Fly Sober, and this was to be no exception. A few drinks in, and Bob found me at the bar. I would say that he found me by chance, but seriously, at the airport, where else would I be? We threw down a few more beers and it was time to head to our gate. One Problem.
Paul was notorious for being late, and this was no Horizon flight to Portland, if he missed this, then he was really screwed. We left the bar and hung around the gate, watching everyone else load the plane. Bob chatted up the stewardesses working the gate, and I paced about nervously. Finally, as the gates were literally closing, Paul came running down the ramp, arms flailing wildly, shrieking his trademark war cry as he came. With a mix of relief that he made it, and some trepidation that we were now associated with this screaming lunatic, we took our seats.
The rest of the flight was nothing more than drinking, bob trying to pick up the stewardesses, and more drinking. It’s not cheap to drink on a plane, but this was an investment we knew would pay dividends. Once the plane landed at JFK, and we were poured out of our seats into the terminal, the trouble began. First off, we were pretty lit, something they really love at airports. Second, our hour and a half layover was cut to about 30 minutes due to the plane being late. Apparently some assholes had slowed down the departure from Seattle. To top it off, our connecting flight was in the international section of JFK, which was all the way across the airport, somewhere in New Jersey. There was no possible way to make it on foot.
We ran out the door to the taxi pickup, and paid a taxi to loop us around the airport to the other wing. Again, running and screaming down the hallway, we made it to the gate at the last possible second. Reluctantly, the stewardesses showed us to our seats, and we were set. Especially once we realized that the drinks on an international flight were free, a move the whole airline would regret.
After a few hours of travel we were starting to get bored and started to introduce ourselves around. pretty much everyone wasn’t in a "new friends" mood, but we were tolerated back in the galley, as that kept us from bothering the other passengers. It was there that we met the Spaniard.
The Spaniard was just as drunk as us, and he and Bob hit it off. The Spaniard spoke no English or Russian, but Bob spoke some Spanish, and we all spoke drunk, so we were in. We staggered up and down the aisles between the galleys for a while, laughing like the madmen we were. And getting not the normal dirty looks from the waitstaff, but a much more panicked look. A look of fear. Even I noticed that change after a while.
Finally, the fucking Copilot pulled me aside.
"Hello Sir." he spoke is quiet tones, "Do you or your friends work for the government?"
"muhugga? um What?"
"How do you know that other gentleman?" The copilot had a look of concern on his face that annoyingly sobering.
"You mean the Spaniard? Well, we just me him here. Why?" I was starting to share the concern.
"The gentleman is not from Spain." His tone was getting quieter.
"He’s not from Spain?" I was way past confused at this point, "then who is he?"
The copilot pulled me further back into the Galley, "He is an ex-KGB agent who is being released as part of a spy trade. Federal marshals put him on the plane in New York, and informed the crew. Since it was a non-stop flight, they felt no need for an escort. But he didn’t believe us. He was pestering us for the first two hours to know who his contact was."
I was dead sober at this point. What the fuck? "Contact?"
The copilot continued, "once you started talking with him, he assumed it was you three, or at least your Spanish speaking friend. It’s actually been good for the crew, since it calmed him down, but we felt you needed to know. "
At that point he left. I was still standing with several stewardesses and a big bucket of extra-crispy confusion. I had to figure out what to do. I looked down the aisle, and saw the "Spaniard" in my seat, next to Bob, both laughing maniacally. Paul was in his seat across the aisle, passed out. I had to figure out how to tell Bob.
First, I got more drinks. The adrenaline alone burned off at least the last four drinks, and that wouldn’t do. Second, I waited for the Spaniard to take a piss, and deftly stole my own seat back. I smashed down next to Bob, handed him a drink and tried to clue Bob in.
"Dude, this guy’s not Spanish, he’s KGB."
"He’s KGB. Spy Swap, just out of prison. The Copilot told me. He thinks you’re his contact" I was using my best quiet holy-shit-were-fucked voice.
The words were tough for Bob, but he got the tone.
"what the fuck are you talking about?" Bob whispered back.
I gave him the whole rundown again. and he was stunned.
Well, that explains a lot," Bob said, "He kept asking all this weird shit and giving me looks like I was supposed to know something. Crap! What do we do now?"
We both looked around. Paul was drooling on himself, and a bit on the lady next to him.
"Ha!" said Bob, "Put on your headphones and fake sleep."
Without question I did. We did our best fake snoring, and within a few minutes, the Spaniard was back and trying to wake bob. After a few shakes, he gave up, patted him on the shoulder, and went to his own seat to sleep. It didn’t take long for us to pass out for real, only to wake up as we landed.
We were a bit suspicious of the story that we were given by the crew as we left. And we staggered towards Moscow Passport Control drunk, confused, and with a sense of wonder and confusion. As we hit the bottom of the stairs, we saw our Spaniard friend coming down another set of stairs. As he stepped off, a door opened behind him and a small crew of military folk, decorated in full dress uniform, greeted him with hugs and congratulations. He looked over, and saw us in line for Passport Control.
In perfect English, he yelled, "Thanks for the fun. I will see you around Moscow." And with a big smile he left through the little side door.
We stayed in line. The sign over our heads said it all.
"WELCOME TO MOSCOW"