As the army surplus truck rolled into Shiprock, Pierre and his friends had begun to create a plan for defeating the Bulgarians in their plot to steal the plans for the American acoustic weapon. They realized that they could not confront the Bulgarians directly — these were dangerous, violent, and well-trained agents who were determined at all costs to get the secrets they had been sent to steal. And it seemed as though they had a confederate inside the lab who would be passing the secrets to them. Pierre and his friends had one advantage — it seemed likely that they had at least a day’s head start at this point, since the Bulgarians had almost certainly lost their trail on the road to Albuquerque. But what could be done in less than a day to prepare their plan?
They decided that their plan must involve deception. Pierre realized that there was no real possibility of the Bulgarians sneaking into the secret lab and finding the weapons secrets by just looking around. The fences, guards, and dogs would make that impossible. So the American confederate must be the key to their plan. Somehow the Bulgarians must have located a worker at the lab who had access to the secrets and who would smuggle out the information the Bulgarians needed. And this meant that they must have a way of secretly contacting that person — call him W. So what if the French team could perform a “man in the middle” attack on this plan? Perhaps they could intercept the Bulgarians’ message on its way to W; change the message; and direct that the secret package be taken to a different rendezvous point. Brilliant, if it could be managed! This would be a very clever way of preventing the Bulgarians from getting the secret to the acoustic bomb, and it would also allow the French teenagers to bring the secret back to France.
Shiprock is a small town. Since the four French agents had a day to explore, they tried to identify some places where a watcher could observe the Bulgarians when they left a message for W. It would need to be inconspicuous; it would need to be close to the secret lab; and it would need to give them the opportunity to quickly switch messages. But this could all be done. They drove their truck to a fast food restaurant on the edge of town and parked in a remote part of the parking lot. They then walked to the neighborhood of the laboratory. And as they walked, they discussed disguises. They decided that Jack should dress up as a worker on a ranch nearby, with a denim jacket and a big cowboy hat. Olivier would dress in a Boy Scout uniform, available at the Dollar Store in town, and would set up a “Boy Scout Cookie Sale” table on the main street just down the road from the laboratory. (That was good for Olivier, because he had developed a particular fondness of American cookies!) Pierre would purchase a “long board” — a skateboard that skilled riders could zoom along on and practice jumps and other tricks. This is something Pierre was able to do. And Margritte would disguise herself as a McDonalds worker — the uniform was available at the Dollar Store too. (As a fashionable young person, she really didn’t like the silly yellow hat that came with the uniform, but she was willing.) Their idea was that they would observe the street in a carefully planned but random-seeming pattern, and keep their eyes open for the Bulgarians when they arrived.
And what about the Bulgarians? What had become of them? They had had one misadventure after another in their efforts to catch up with Pierre and his friends. First, it had taken them the better part of a day to get from the place in the Colorado desert where they had lost their trucks to Colorado Springs, where they were able to buy a used commercial van. It was painted in a curious way — Colorado Springs is the home of the Rodeo Clown Hall of Fame, and evidently this truck had seem some time as a clown truck! It was acceptable transportation, but it did attract attention. On top of that, as soon as they got into New Mexico they started arguing about which direction they should go — towards Albuquerque or towards Shiprock. They had come to blows, and two of them had to be left in a small hospital in Shama, New Mexico because of some bruising they had gotten in a fistfight with their pals. In the end they were at least 24 hours behind Pierre and his friends when they finally turned towards Shiprock. So when they rolled into Shiprock late on a Saturday night, they were quite ready for a night’s sleep in the Best Western in town before proceeding with their plan. They had a quick meal at the McDonalds, where Magritte saw them without being spotted, and she returned to the others to let them know that the Bulgarians had arrived.
Pierre and the others had been sleeping in the truck rather than risking discovery in a motel. Now that Pierre and his friends had located the Bulgarians at the Best Western (now down to a team of six men) their job was easier. Pierre suggested that he would follow them the next morning to see whether he could figure out where they planned to leave a message for their confederate W. On his long board he would just look like a New Mexico teenager, bored in a small town. Meanwhile, Olivier and Jack would work on formulating an alternative message for W, which they planned to substitute for the Bulgarians’ instructions. Here is roughly what they imagined the Bulgarians would leave as a secret message for W:
BRING PACKAGE OF GROCERIES TO PINE TREE CAMPGROUND AT 7:00 PM SUNDAY; LEAVE PACKAGE IN TRASH CAN AT ENTRANCE. REWARD WILL BE FOUND AT RENTAL OFFICE HELD FOR DRAGOMIR BORISOV.
(The Bulgarians were not very good at making up plausible American names. Since Dragomir Borisov is a very common name in Sofia, they thought it would be inconspicuous in Shiprock too.)
If the French agents were able to discover the secret drop box where the Bulgarians would leave their message, they intended to substitute this message instead:
BRING PACKAGE OF GROCERIES TO BIG BOY RESTAURANT ON CAYENTE ROAD AT 6:00 PM SUNDAY; LEAVE PACKAGE UNDER OUTDOOR TABLE AT ENTRANCE. REWARD WILL BE FOUND AT PAWN SHOP HELD FOR RANDY BEGAY.
Finally, they had one last deception to prepare. They wanted the Bulgarians to be satisfied with the secret plans that they were given by W. So they went back to the Dollar Store again and bought the operator’s manual for an old-fashioned television, which had a great many technical descriptions and diagrams of the tubes, electronic circuits, and cautions that old-fashioned televisions usually involved. Taking this manual back to the truck, they carefully cut the pages from the manual, stapled them together, and prepared a cover sheet that contained the following information:
TOP SECRET — IF FOUND RETURN TO FEDERAL RESEARCH LABORATORY FACILITY, SHIPROCK, NEW MEXICO
JULY 10, 1965
This 40-page document was placed in a padded envelope that they carefully closed and sealed.
All was ready. If only they could discover the location of the planned dead drop where the Bulgarians would leave their message for W. They began their watching at 6 am the next morning. By 7 am the Bulgarians were having a big southwestern breakfast at the diner at the Best Western motel — they had developed a great fondness for huevos rancheros with lots of cheese and salsa. After breakfast Olivier spotted two of them walking carelessly down the main street, whistling and seeming to be out for a quiet stroll. They even bought a box of cookies from him, apparently so they could blend in. But he noticed that they paid unusual attention to the drain on the street just past the corner, and one of them stopped to tie his shoe just over the drain. It would appear that Olivier had discovered the dead drop.
An hour later Pierre zoomed down the street on his long board, only to take a nasty spill on the road. A watcher would imagine that he had hit a stone and the long board had upended him! While regaining his feet, he felt in the drain — there was a metal tube lying just inside the drain! Quick as only a clever Parisian teenager could manage, he opened the tube, removed the piece of paper, and replaced it with the message that Jack and Olivier had prepared. Then he collected his board and rolled away. The whole accident had taken less than a minute!
It was now Margritte’s turn to be the watcher. She strolled down the street in her McDonald’s uniform, apparently on her way to work. As she turned the corner onto the main street, she saw another young woman walking towards her. This young woman carelessly dropped her handbag and leaned down to pick it up — and just as quickly as Pierre, retrieved the metal container from the drain. Then she walked off quickly but without signs of hurry. Margritte noticed one distinctive thing about her — she had bright red hair. But Margritte immediately formed the impression that the hair was a wig. And from the young woman’s gait, she also formed the impression that this was indeed not a woman, but a man! And it was a man of about 28 years of age, about 1.7 meters in height, and slender in build. Margritte was sure she would recognize him if she encountered him without his disguise. If fact, she was a bit amused — she had learned much better skills of disguise during her own training in Sofia than this dolt showed!
The fake message was passed, and now the French team had to work fast. They needed to have one person ready to collect the secret file at the Big Boy at 6 pm; another to drop the fake file at the drop point specified in the Bulgarians’ message well before 7:00; and yet a third to place an anonymous call to the US Army office at the laboratory telling them that an employee of the lab would be picking up a suspicious package at the pawn shop at 8:00 pm. It was all very complicated, but they managed each of these arrangements without fail.
And how did it all turn out? Just about as well as M. Grosnez could possibly have hoped! W did in fact drop the secret plans at the Big Boy restaurant as directed; he apparently had great confidence in his Bulgarian employers. The Bulgarians received the fake package of drawings that Jack had thoughtfully dropped for them at the expected drop point. When the Bulgarians opened the package they were satisfied — these technical drawings and all the electronic circuits and technical descriptions seemed to be exactly what they had imagined that the secret design of an acoustic bomb might look like. And a US Army military police detective was waiting inside the pawn shop when W arrived. W was quietly arrested. (He turned out to be a lab tech who had a gambling problem, and who had been bribed by a different Bulgarian agent some three months earlier.)
Everyone returned home. Jack went back to his retirement home in Arizona with great thanks from Pierre, Olivier, and Margritte, and Pierre and the others returned to New York in time to rejoin the international study group at the docks in Brooklyn where the Rapide was preparing to depart for Marseille. Margritte’s Bulgarian life was over, of course — she could never return to her home country. But M. Grosnez, when he was informed by Pierre of her loyal and courageous service to France during this hair-raising adventure, arranged that her mother’s citizenship in France would be extended to her as well, and Margritte began her studies in college in Lyons almost as soon as she arrived in France. And what about Pierre? He returned to Rue de Racine in Paris, threw down his rucksack, and called out to Maman and Papa, “Je suis revenu, mes parents!”, which you can easily translate for your selves: “I’m home, mama and papa!”.