I sat on a barstool, a martini in my hand. Before the first sip touched my lips, an older gentleman appeared beside me. His head was clear of any hair that might have grown in his youth, but his face was confident with a strong brow and rounded cheeks. I could tell he must have been handsome in decades past.
“Look straight ahead,” he ordered, his deep voice displaying a thick Eastern European accent.
My eyes snapped to my wide-mouthed glass.
“Are you her?” He lit a cigarette.
“That depends. You got a name?”
He blew a cloud of smoke on the mahogany bar. “You want a name or do you want information? Because you can’t have both.”
He was one of the most wanted communist secrets agents of the Cold War and that was how I met him…
Okay, not really.
But it sounds WAY cooler than how things really went down. 🙂
Yes, I did really meet with a communist spy on Monday. And, yes, the Czechoslovakian government did have a death warrant on his head for decades. But these days Lawrence Martin-Bittman is a very pleasant older gentleman living in Rockport, Massachusetts who paints watercolors for a living.
It’s a far cry from his days as Deputy Chief of Prague’s bureau of black propaganda. During the ‘50s and ‘60s, the man scuba dived into lakes to plant false Nazi war chests, he organized trips to manipulate foreign reporters, and he spread pro-communist propaganda worldwide. But that was before he emigrated to the states under political asylum to escape the Soviet tankers that invaded Prague in 1968. And before he was sentenced to be executed if he ever stepped foot back in his home country. And before he became a professor at Boston University.
He kinda makes your life seem dull, doesn’t he?
I mean, seriously, I wrote a couple of YA novels. Lawrence Martin-Bittman has written about a dozen books (under his given name, Ladislav Bittman), all on his experiences as a communist spy. Heck, he even went on to teach a journalism course about how to detect the types of propaganda he was so successful at spreading.
And it was this expertise, in the field of disinformation, that led me to meet with him. I’m in the midst of new WIP that deals with international espionage and global propaganda, and how lucky am I that I happened to graduate from the one University linked with the foremost expert on the subject? Thanks, BU for hooking up an alumna!
The man couldn’t have been nicer. He invited me into his home, spoke to me for two hours, and offered me his opinions on everything from how to start a privatized espionage ring (more common than you might think) to whether the famous WMDs were the part of the greatest disinformation operation in world history (probably not).
He even gave me a print of one of his paintings. And he’s really good. Check it out.
It’s a view of his hometown of Prague, a city that welcomed him back in the mid-90s when they finally lifted their death warrant. A city I happened to have been visiting on 9/11 when my apartment (five blocks from Ground Zero) was being caked in dust. A city I remember vividly and am happy to have represented in my home.
It was an honor to meet Mr. Martin-Bittman. And I thank him so much for obliging me.
I mean, come on, it’s not often you get to meet a real James Bond. Though he doesn’t like to be referred to as 007. Instead, he named his artist studio “006.5.” I think that makes him even extra cool.
POP-CULTURE RANT: Dolly Parton
Okay, I get that she’s this big country music icon, but my God, did American Idol suck this week. Any one of them could be going home. And the fact that America had to cast those votes is a sad case of “blaming the victim.” Poor David Cook sang a song about a “Little Sparrow;” there’s no way to make that bird cool, no matter how well you sing it. And I realize that Dolly has had dozens of Number One hits with these records. But country music fan or not, that entire show, in the words of Simon Cowell, was “utterly forgettable.” What’s next? Idols very special tribute to line dancing?