The man who held Henry Jennings' future in his hands looked up from the paperwork sitting on the desk in front of him. "Your background is...unusual, Mr. Jennings," Section Chief Aderholt observed.
"Yes, Sir. I suppose it is."
Unusual. That was one way to put it.
"Your resumé is impressive, especially given your upbringing."
My upbringing. Right. "Thank you, Sir."
Aderholt kept staring at Henry. What did the man expect him to say? Henry weighed his options and decided to wait him out. This man's testimony had helped put his parents away. The records were sealed. Aderholt had no idea that Henry knew. Nevertheless, it was making the section chief uncomfortable, he was certain of it. This excited Henry, but he tamped down the emotion. He'd think about that later.
At last, Aderholt leaned back in his chair. He glanced back at Henry's application. "You majored in Political Science and minored in Russian. Did you really teach yourself to read Russian?"
Actually, in the beginning, Henry had gotten considerable help with that from his Russian half-brother. It wasn't as hard as he had expected. It turned out they both had inherited their father's facility with languages. In return, Henry had helped Misha with American English. Mostly, they'd watched television together. Misha had loved Dallas. Henry had preferred Magnum P.I.
"Yes," Henry said. "That is correct." Sometimes it was just easier to tell people what they wanted to hear, as long as you didn't over-elaborate. Misha was living in Canada now, and he preferred, understandably, to stay under the radar.
"Who was your favorite Russian author, if you don't mind my asking? Is it Tolstoy?"
Henry relaxed. This was an easy question. For one thing, Aderholt knew zip about Russian literature so he could say any damn thing he wanted and Aderholt wouldn't know the difference. Tolstoy was a great writer but that happy families crap was—crap. All happy families were not alike.
Once upon a time, Henry had believed his family was happy. He'd had a happy enough childhood. Sure, his parents had acted weird at times but whose parents didn't? Sometimes they were short with one another but not often enough to worry him. In fact, his parents' brief separation had come as a complete surprise to him. Even his mother's months long absence in the summer of '81 hadn't set off any alarm bells, even though the great aunt she'd left them to care for was a woman they'd never heard of before—nor heard from since.
Paige had been much quicker to catch on to what was happening than he'd been, and a lot smarter than he'd given her credit for. "This isn't normal," he remembered her insisting to him.
He gave a truthful answer to Aderholt this time. "Tolstoy is a great writer but I prefer Dostoyevsky. I particularly enjoyed Crime and Punishment," Henry said with a straight face.
His sister had been right. There wasn't anything normal about the Jennings family. The whole deal had been a sham. Their parents' marriage was fake, and he and his sister were conceived to help maintain their cover story. The odd hours his parents kept and his father's bi-weekly "business" trips began to make sense once Henry knew what his parents really did and who they really were.
Finding out that his parents were spies for the Soviet Union was the single worst moment of his life. He'd been almost as shocked to find out that his sister knew, not everything, but enough. At the time, Henry hadn't understood. Why hadn't she gone immediately to the authorities, why instead had she allowed herself to become trapped in their parents' web of lies? He knew better now. His sister had paid a terrible price for that knowledge. He'd been much luckier, in a way. It wasn't until Paige began having nightmares that Henry himself had begun to suspect anything was amiss.
Aderholt cleared his throat. "I understand that you've had no contact with your parents since the prisoner exchange in..."
This question Henry had been expecting. The answer wasn't a secret—and it would have been in his background check—but it had to be asked. "I've had no contact with my mother since the trial—her choice, not mine," he said carefully. "I last spoke with my father in 1995 when I visited Moscow."
His father hadn't seemed surprised when Henry had told him about Paige's nightmares. "Your mother had them, too." He had sat across from his father in the federal prison's visiting room. Stan had used his connections to arrange the contact. "She's not as tough as you think she is..."
Then why won't she see me? He was 16 at the time. Outwardly, he was coping well. "I'd rather not talk about Mom," he had said.
Instead, they'd discussed hockey. And college. His dad hadn't gone to college. He had seemed happy about Henry's decision to apply to the University of Maryland, less enthused about his choice of major. Dad wouldn't say it out loud but Russian studies was a bad choice for the son of a convicted Soviet spy. By the end of his sophomore year, Henry had switched to Political Science. He had taken enough Russian for a minor, however, and he'd kept on studying the language in private.
"Since the breakup of the Soviet Union, we've scaled back our counterintelligence operations in that arena. Have you thought about applying to the CIA, the NSA, or one of the other intelligence branches?" Aderholt asked.
For a moment, Henry panicked. The only job he'd ever wanted to do, the job he had been preparing himself for his entire life was to be an FBI agent. After his parents had been arrested, instead of Henry ending up in the foster care system, Stan Beeman had taken him in. Henry had lived with Stan while he finished high school. He had looked up to him, learned from him, depended on him.
"No, sir. I hadn't. But if you think another agency would be a better fit..." Henry held his breath. This was it.
"Don't worry, son. Stan Beeman's recommendation was enough to get you in the door. Your academic background, coupled with your military record... We all agree. There is a place for a young man like you in today's FBI."
For the first time since the interview began, Henry allowed himself to smile. Everything was falling into place. It would take time for his superiors to trust him, which was understandable. But once that trust was established, his hard work would begin to pay off.
When Henry had visited Moscow, his father had appeared much older than he'd remembered. His hairline had continued to recede and what hair remained was nearly gray. His eyelids were red. His posture was slumped.
"I didn't want any of this to happen. This kind of life, it's not what your mother and I wanted for you." He'd looked tired—defeated, even, as he'd said it. Henry hadn't bothered to argue with him. "We won't be able to help you, you know that. And you won't be able to visit us openly, not if you are serious about the FBI," his father had warned, lowering his voice.
Henry wasn't so sure. Even knowing who his parents were and the heinous crimes they had committed, once they got to know Henry, most people bent over backwards to give him the benefit of the doubt, even the men who had put his parents in prison. Maybe the rest of the agency wouldn't be so...forgiving. He would just have to wait and see.
He'd call Stan when he got home. First, he would need to make his scheduled meet with Gabriel. His mentor was finally getting to retire.
"It is hardly a sure thing but if you are accepted into the FBI academy, you will be our first success story, Henry, a true second generation illegal."
He'd been an easy recruit back when Gabriel had first approached him. His parents were in prison. His mother was headed for death row. After Pastor Tim and his wife were arrested, Paige went into a downward spiral of guilt and blame. Matthew was preoccupied with her problems. Stan had done his best to act like a father to him, but work was his priority. Henry was left to try to sort things out for himself. He was lonely. He was afraid of the future. He was angry at his parents. He missed his parents. Nothing would ever be the same.
Gabriel had offered him hope. At first he was suspicious. Who was this old guy and what did he want from Henry anyway? But gradually, Gabriel won him over. He had known his parents from the very beginning, and he told Henry the story of their early lives in America. Gabriel explained what it was like in the Soviet Union during World War II, and the hardships everyone endured. It helped explain why his parents had been willing to sacrifice so much. All Henry had to do, at first, was agree to come to Gabriel's apartment and talk.
Not long after Henry had agreed to the meetings, a lawyer had appeared to defend Pastor Tim and his wife against the charges being brought against them. Once they were free on bail, Paige began feeling better. Gabriel reassured Henry that his parents weren't being abandoned, that Philip and Elizabeth were considered heroes in their own country. Negotiations would continue at the highest levels to bring them home.
Now everything had changed. The agency which had originally recruited Gabriel had been dismantled by Russia's first democratically elected president. The empire he and Henry's parents had served no longer existed, leaving the United States of America alone at the top.
It was dangerous for one nation to have that much power, Gabriel had argued. "Help us, Henry. The Russian people need you. The world needs you."
That remained to be seen. Gabriel had been right: the sure way for Henry to demonstrate his allegiance to the United States of America was to volunteer for military service. To his surprise, Henry had liked the comradeship, the structure, and the sense of purpose. Serving in the Army Reserve had helped pay for his schooling, and had given him a leg up toward his end goal: working for the FBI. It had made him feel as though he was part of something bigger. He supposed it was similar to how his parents and Gabriel felt about their work. Henry had formed bonds with the soldiers with whom he had served, and it pained him to think about betraying their trust. He didn't mention those feelings to Gabriel.
Gabriel and Stan were both like fathers to him. Two men from bitterly opposed worlds. Which one of them would he betray? But he knew he had already betrayed both of them. He had lied. He had put his own comfort and safety ahead of theirs. You can love someone and still betray them. That's what fathers do to sons and sons to fathers. That's what his father had done to him, what both of his parents had done to their children, in the name of serving their country. You say to yourself, It couldn't be helped. This was how it had to be.
Today they would say their goodbyes and Gabriel would introduce Henry to his new handler. By the time the meeting was over, Stan would be home, waiting for Henry's call.
He couldn't wait to tell them the good news.