Spies in Chicago

by Jason Wardell


The L rolls past at 2:57am,
the floorboards creak and shudder.
It will come again, but for now
tranquility has returned to the room.

A young man stands at the door
listening to the hall beyond.
Footsteps fall at the stairwell
loud, clunky boots
reverberating off the walls and low ceiling
echoing between his ears
slow, precise steps
again and again

his hand falls to the Steyr at his hip
he clutches frantically at the cool metal
one finger
on the trigger
one hand
on the door
he closes his eyes and listens
as the boots strike wood.

four rooms down, he hears a key jingle
a door knob jiggle
a squeak and a slam.

the man exhales
slides to the floor
drops his panacea
lowers his head to his hands
and begins to weep.

The church bells ring at 3am.
The young man slowly stands
places his peace beside the bed
and switches on the television
for background noise.

The vacuum tubes heat
and gently hum
behind him, on the black and white box.
The vacuum tubes heat
and gently hum
at his fingertips, on the radio.

He grabs a small notebook
from his back pocket
he turns a small dial
soaring past static.

One thumb flips the cover
one thumb nudges the volume
setting it just above audible.

What follows is dead air
light music, perhaps.

It trails off.

What follows is a sequence of numbers.
A male voice, deep and monotonous speaks.
Seven. Four. Nine. Five. Zero.
Matching his notebook
Six. Three. Two. Four. One.
Matching his thoughts.

What follows is the future
Knowing what tomorrow holds.

Staring at the radio, a bead of sweat forms
at the peak of his forehead
ice slowly trails down to his eyebrows
he is too intent to notice it
or even to brush it away.

The numbers repeat.

A female voice interrupts.
Ten. One.
Ten. One.
His eyes dart to the notebook
His pulse races in anticipation
Ten. One.
Ten. One.
His face numbs
His heart stops
He reads the entry.

Location Compromised
Unable to Extract

The window rattles as another train passes
Footsteps at the stairwell
Heavy, awkward boots
approach his door
multiple pairs
fall and rise
fall and rise

His hand falls for the gun
but it's not the door he's aiming at.

The barrel touches his forehead.
His finger touches the trigger.
Firm fists fall against the door
Knocking, knocking.
Louder and louder.
He closes his eyes
and silently pleads for forgiveness.

The man exhales.


The L rolls past at 2:57am,
no noise seeps through
tightly sealed windows.
No floors shake as the behemoth rolls past.

A young boy sits at his bed
in a 10th floor apartment,
rolling the dials on a shortwave radio.

Static and Japanese music
seems to be all that ever comes in.

He should be asleep
but he is drawn to the device
he adjusts the dials and switches.

Was it this time?
he thinks, checking his watch
as the minute hand passes 12
and the radio sparks to life.

A deep male voice rings in his ears
he grabs for a small spiral notebook
so he can jot down whatever he hears.

Ten. One.
Ten. One.

What follows is dead air
light music, perhaps.
Oldies, he laughs.

The boy shivers
and bunches up his blankets.


Author's Note: "They are what you think they are."

Posted on 03/20/2004
Copyright © 2022 Jason Wardell

Member Comments on this Poem
Posted by Nadia Gilbert Kent on 06/07/04 at 06:36 AM


Posted by Charles E Minshall on 07/21/04 at 06:30 AM

Well written tale Wiley...Charlie

Posted by Vimal Rony on 07/28/04 at 08:15 PM

I didn't even realise how long it is and that is how grippingly u have written this piece.Well done,Wiley.

Posted by Leah Laiben on 07/30/05 at 05:28 AM

what an unbelievable read!!!! i only wish for words like these.

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