Wednesday, March 18, 2015

A Harmless Question

Jack met Winfield years ago at a mutual friend's house in Atlanta. He was there to visit his old pal Earl who wanted to buy some of Jack's old comics. Some years before Jack had stopped investing in collectible comics, but he still had a few choice items to get rid of and Earl was interested in them. After brief introductions, Jack asked what Winfield did for a living.

"I work for the *** Intelligence Agency," he said. "I've been a Federal employee for most of my working life."

 Winfield was a nice enough fellow but didn't have a lot to say and seemed the type who was just as happy listening to conversations as taking part in them. Later, after he'd had time to think back on it, Jack figured that it was probably a great quality to have considering Winfield's line of work. Being a good listener seems to be at the heart of what he would do.

Jack had made time to spend most of an afternoon at his friend's place to discuss comics and to show the old books that he had for sale. The intelligence guy had an interest in comics but didn't actively collect old books the way it was with Jack and Earl. But he knew enough to be able to talk about comic book creators and publishers.

After a while, Jack realized that there was a question he wanted to ask the other guest, but didn't know how he'd react to it. This was in the days before the Internet was widely available (at least to Jack) and his only sources of news information were TV, radio, and whatever domestic and foreign newspapers he could search through at the local library. But it was something that he was really curious about, so he just decided, hell with it. I'll ask him.

"Tell me something--and if I'm out of line, just let me know. I was wondering about a foreign policy event."

"Sure," he said. "If it's out of line I'll tell you." Winfield wasn't being a smart ass; it was just a fact.

"Okay, then. What I've been curious about was whether or not the US or the US and some European countries whacked Alexander Lebed."

"Alexander Lebed? The name sounds Slavic."

"Yeah. A retired Russian military officer who was into politics. I was wondering if he was assassinated or if his death really was an accident."

He shrugged. "Sorry.  I don't know anything about Russia. That's not my area of expertise. I am an analyst, but I don't  deal with eastern Europe."

"Oh. Okay, then." And Jack let it rest with that and Winfield genuinely didn't seem upset that he'd asked the question.

After that Jack went back to talking to their host about comic books and sports and the weather and whatnot. They all thumbed through old comics and sat and drank beer and conversed.

But one thing about Winfield was that the wheels had not stopped turning since that question. He'd apparently got it stuck in his noggin and the gears were engaged.

"Was he alone?"

"What? Was who alone?"

About two hours had passed since Jack asked him what he feared might be a sensitive question.

"This guy. Alexander Lebed. Did he die alone, or were one or more of his closest associates killed with him?"

"Oh," Jack said, surprised that he'd decided to bring it up again out of the blue. "No. He was killed in a helicopter with his advisers. I've forgotten how many were killed. Several."

"Well, then it was an assassination. Maybe we did it. Or someone did."

And that was that. He didn't say anything else about it, and Jack didn't, either. He ended up selling the old comic books--the last of his once large collection--to Earl and soon Jack left. He never saw the other guest again.

Grave of Alexander Lebed.

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